Essiac Poultice and Herbal Poultices for Healing
At least since the first time a person chewed up a plantain leaf and plastered it onto a cut, poultices and plasters have played a huge part in medicine. The technology has advanced since then. Even though it has been largely ignored and misrepresented by the medical-industrial complex of today, the poultice (and its twin sister, the plaster) remain powerful methods, easily and cheaply available to any of us, for use in healing many of the major and minor ills which might befall us from time to time. Skin cancer and Multiple Antibiotic Resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MARSA) infections are two examples of ailments which modern medicine has trouble dealing with, but which are amenable to treatment using an herbal poultice.
A poultice is the application of--usually warm--wet herbs or herbal tea with a cloth to hold it in place. A plaster differs in that the cloth is left out of it and the herbs are applied to the skin directly as a slurry. Poultices can be roughly divided up into three types, depending upon their main mode of action: 1) Poultices which deliver medicinal compounds to the site, 2) Poultices which draw toxins or infection out from the site and 3) Poultices which protect and heal the site of application. There is often considerable overlap between these three, but this classification is useful in targeting which herbs to apply to your body based upon what you are trying to heal.
The basics of making a poultice are, well, pretty basic: You brew the herbs up you want to use to make a strong tea (in general you would boil roots or bark and steep leaves or flowers), then soak a clean cloth in the tea/slurry, and place it onto your skin, wrapping it with more cloth to keep in the warmth. When the poultice cools, replace it with a warm one. Any clean absorbent cloth works: a washcloth, bandanna or rag, if you want to get fancy use cheesecloth or gauze. If you have open wounds or an active infection boil the cloth first; Since the tea was made with boiling water it should be already pasteurized, if not strictly sterile. Use your most careful and clean technique, clean pot, etc. A good washup with Mugwort tea or hydrogen peroxide might be called for before the poultice. Clean the poultice cloth well when you're done and you can usually reuse it; Just be sure to boil it if you are dealing with an infected wound.
The simplest poultice is for protection or healing at the site. If you have a scrape or rash, a mild burn which is healing slowly or something else which requires that you step up skin healing at the site, a few days of applying a poultice (maybe 20 minutes per day), should move you easily past the initial stages of healing. Good herbs to use include Chamomile, St. John's Wort, Comfrey, Slippery Elm Bark, Houndstounge and (fresh) Plantain; There are many, many different herbs which can be used, but these are some of the more common ones (in a temperate climate), easy to find in the field or in commerce. If you are less concerned with short-term soothing, try Oak Bark which is particularly strengthening of the skin. The poultice will leave the area soft, clean and vibrant; You can feel the healing power of these simple herbs kicking in: promoting skin granulation, relieving irritation and speeding up your natural healing process, right at the spot which needs it most.
A special case of this type of thing is using a bit of Pine Pitch to cover a small wound. If it is mildly infected (for example, a pimple), the Pine Pitch should clear it up pretty quickly. If there is a splinter or tiny piece of glass in there, the pitch will help to pull it out, setting it up for future removal with a tweezers. Just be careful about wearing this to bed: Pitch on your sheets or in your hair can be hard to get out. For longer term or night-time use, cover the Pitch with a bandaid or some toilet paper/napkin/paper towel fastened with a piece of tape. At the very least Pine Pitch will keep a serious wound clean until you can get to someplace where you can really clean it out and get medical attention if needed.
Historically, a poultice for pulling out toxins or infection was a very common thing. There are countless old-time remedies for "drawing out", using things like manure (definitely not recommended), grated potatoes, cornmeal, bran, bread (real bread, not store-bought-starch-plus-chemical additive "bread"), and charcoal. Of these, charcoal is far and away the strongest. Charcoal will absorb pretty much anything, and as a poultice it will help to relieve any ill which manifests as waste products trying to get out of your body. Charcoal poultices will maximize your skin acting as an organ of elimination.
You can cheaply and easily buy activated charcoal powder at most drugstores or, if you heat with wood, use the bits of charcoal you're left with (do NOT use "charcoal" briquets of the type you barbecue with): be sure it comes from a clean piece of wood (no plywood, painted or treated lumber), smash it/grind it up and you're ready to go. Apply it as a slurry, covering it with a wet warm cloth, keeping it warm with fresh cloths as needed. Place the poultice over an ulcer or similar toxic oozing, or place it over your kidneys or liver or any organ which could use a boost flushing out some toxins.
If you have a bacterial infection which won't heal, you may want to use a poultice of Chaparral. Any infection which hasn't gotten in too deeply, even MARSA, will eventually succumb to a Chaparral poultice. If you possibly can, soak the whole limb in a strong Chaparral tea. Failing that type of access to the site, a poultice will be a powerful supplement to any healing protocol. Please don't drink Chaparral tea, or if you do, drink it very sparingly; It is extremely stressful to your liver. Used externally, Chaparral pulls the infection right out of your body and leaves behind a healthy dose of bactericidal chemicals.
If you have a fungal infection, make up a poultice from White Sage, Western Red Cedar or Redwood. Use the tea instead of an herb slurry which could be a little irritating. This will help with ringworm (a fungus, not a worm) or athlete's foot, stuff like that. With athlete's foot, you can usually soak the whole foot but, if you can't, then a poultice will work. White Sage is one of the best, especially for a yeast infection which has taken root in your genital area. It provides instant relief: almost unbelievably soothing of the itching and burning. Repeat daily until the infection is gone.
A poultice can deliver a wide variety of medicinal compounds to various parts of your body, limited only by the wide variety of different herbs you might want to use. One of the most common uses was applying Comfrey poultices over the site of a broken bone; Comfrey delivers growth factors which will accelerate the knitting together and regrowth of the broken bone. This specific use was common and officially sanctioned (in the USA) in human medicine at least until the 20th century, and lingered on in veterinary medicine until well into the century; Plenty of people still used poultices at home in the early 20th century, but the medical profession had pretty much eliminated them from "practice" by then, with super effective Comfrey being the last to go.
Also of huge historical popularity was the Mustard plaster, used to stimulate. A warm paste of ground Mustard seeds was smeared onto the chests of millions at the first sign of a sniffle, and it was routinely used for pleurisy and pneumonia, stimulating extreme action in a sluggish set of lungs. Frequent additions included Onion (raw or baked) and grated Garlic. I suspect that this was an attempt to combine plaster use with crude aromatherapy; More seriously, it was used as preventive medicine at a time when a simple chest cold could mean a death sentence if things went wrong. The Onion and Garlic were added for their antiviral properties.
For pain Hops can be used as a poultice, although drowsiness might result with overuse. For rheumatic pain, a Lobelia poultice is called for; potential overstimulation can be prevented by diluting the Lobelia with Charcoal or Bran. Use a Sage (Salvia) poultice to relieve inflammation or caked breasts. Smartweed is also used for inflammation, especially applied over the bowels.
Red Root is especially useful for swollen lymph glands or a sluggish lymph system, applied as a poultice together with some drunk as a tea. Red Root poultices can also be used for breast cancer, although you may find that your lymph glands under your arms will swell as the Red Root drives the cancerous wastes out of the breast and into the lymphatic system. If this happens, apply a second poultice to the underarm area; It might be best if you just did this right at the outset. It is vitally important that you do NOT use an antiperspirant while dealing with breast cancer, as it will directly clog up the lymph glands under the arm, trapping the cancerous wastes inside of the breasts. The lymphatic system is the only effective way for waste to leave the breast, and Red Root will just worsen conditions if the lymph glands are clogged. Antiperspirant use is potentially an important cause of breast cancer due to this effect, although there seems to be little to no research on this.
For cancer in general, especially cancer near the body surface as in breast, salivary gland or skin cancer, Essiac tea (a blend of Burdock Root, Sheep Sorrel Root and Leaf, Slippery Elm Bark and Turkey Rhubarb Root) can be applied as an occasional poultice (maybe every other day at most), combined with regular drinking of the tea. The same cautions mentioned under Red Root poultices apply when treating breast cancer with Essiac tea. If the poultice causes weeping skin, sores or extreme inflammation of the breast, discontinue Essiac poultices for the time being and use a Red Root poultice on the underarm area combined with a Charcoal poultice on the breast in order to speed up the evacuation of the wastes cut loose by the Essiac tea. When things settle down a little, you might want to use a straight Slippery Elm poultice to help heal up the skin again, then go back to the Essiac poultice.
As there are so many more uses for herbal poultices than I could ever possibly cover in a reasonably short article, I would like to wind this all up by introducing a seldom-used plant which makes easy little "mini-poultices" all on its own. The common Houseleek, Sempervivum tectorum, also known as Hen and Chicks, is a fleshy leaved ground hugging spreading plant, very popular in urban landscapes. Pick a leaf pad (from an unpolluted site), split it in half, and apply the wet inner side to a skin cancer, taping it on with a bandaid or surgical tape, leaving it in place until it dries out. Peel off the dead skin which will develop, and repeat with a fresh piece of Houseleek. This unassuming but strong plant also works for disappearing warts, and has even been used as a freckle remover, so powerfully does it pull things out of the body. At the same time, you can bruise a few leaves to soak them in cold water overnight and freely drink the cold decoction as an astringent.
This humble plant amply demonstrates the best characteristics of herbal medicine: Gentle yet effective, non-toxic yet powerful and ubiquitous yet underappreciated, just like the wonderfully versatile poultice. I hope that an enhanced appreciation of a good old-fashioned poultice or plaster will empower you to create more health for you and your family.
[This article was first published here on December 28, 2015 and was written and submitted by Florita Brillar]
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