When it comes to a natural remedy for almost anything, from sore muscles and burns to insect bites, a poultice is a great way to tackle it. As a kid, I remember my grandmother creating this remedy when I had my first bee sting. I had no idea what she was doing, but it worked and I went from a teary-eyed boy to back to playing in my tree house in no time!
Grandma didn’t just make this stuff up either. Poultices have long been noted as traditional medicine, with some poultices made from what I would call some not so pleasant ingredients. In fact, the most frequented poultice historically recorded was made with cow manure mixed with clay for abscesses and burns. Don’t worry — I’m not suggesting you go out and find cow manure, and my grandma did not use cow manure. No, this poultice comprised a sock filled with hot salt, known as a salt poultice, which was a recommended treatment for mumps and toothaches.
Now that I have sparked your curiosity, a poultice is totally safe and easy to make. So what is a poultice, exactly? It’s a natural, at-home remedy that’s typically filled with beneficial herbs that can quickly heal an area, fight inflammation and improve blood circulation. Using a combination of ingredients, such as powdered clay, salts, charcoal and even essential oils, along with leafy herbs, you can make a poultice by wrapping these types of healing combinations in a piece of cloth and placing it directly on the affected area or the bottom of the feet.
A poultice is a great option because the affected area gets direct contact with these natural remedies, allowing healing through immediate absorption through the skin and, ultimately, drawing out any infection. Additionally, the bottom of the feet is an area where the skin is able to more easily absorb the natural remedy you apply.
If you have the flu, an onion poultice with ginger can be very effective. For sore, achy muscles or insect bites, you can make an epsom salt poultice. What’s great about a poultice compress is that you can apply it directly to the source of pain or inflammation, it’s completely natural, can provide benefits quickly, and it’s a great alternative when sitting in an herb-filled tub is not easily available. (1, 3, 4)
What, specifically, can poultices do? For starters, they’ve been shown to treat skin diseases. According to a study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, a poultice made using houttuynia cordata (HC), known as the “poison-eating plant,” a commonly used herbal remedy in Japan, was very effective in treating skin problems. In the U.S., HC is known as “fish mint, lizard tail, chameleon plant, heartleaf, fishwort, and bishop’s weed.”
The particular HC poultice studied was prepared from smothering fresh leaves of the plant and used for the treatment of some skin diseases. The study showed antibacterial effects against some infections, suggesting that HC may be very effective for bacteria-developing skin issues and inflammation. (5)
Furthermore, poultices may help fight diabetic ulcer wounds. The effects of using traditional medicine as a topical treatment in the form of a poultice for treating diabetic ulcer wounds was confirmed as very effective. Specifically, B. orientale extract hydrogel was used in a study and may be presented as a potential treatment for diabetic ulcer wounds. This extract has long been used for the treatment of various skin diseases, such as stomach pain and urinary bladder issues due to the antioxidant, anticancer and antibacterial activity of the extract of the leaves. (6, 7)
This type of homemade remedy also helps with insect bites and sore muscles. I mentioned an epsom salt poultice, which is great for insect bites. The magnesium found in epsom salts may help alleviate the pain and inflammation caused by injuries, such as sprains and strains, as well as swelling that may be the result of a sting due to a biting insect. An epsom salt poultice can help reduce pain associated with sore muscles or help relieve pain from bruises. It can also help draw out the pain associated with an insect sting.
Poultices have also been shown to be great for eliminating coughs and congestion. An onion poultice can do wonders for flu-like symptoms, including coughing and congestion. Onions are high in sulfuric compounds, such as thiosulfinates, sulfoxides and other odorous cysteine sulfoxides, which is what gives onions their distinct taste as well as the cause of tears while slicing them! It’s the thiosulfinates found in onions that have the ability to kill off salmonella and E. coli.
Onions are amazing immune-boosting foods containing quercetin, which helps the body fight free radicals. You can make a poultice using lightly sautéed onions and a little coconut oil. You can add some fresh ginger and garlic too, then wrap the ingredients in the poultice and place it right on the chest to help draw out the infection. Remember that you will need a waterproof wrap so juices don’t seep out onto your skin and make a mess. (8)
A poultice is great, but be aware of the ingredients before applying. If you have sensitivities to any of the ingredients, remove immediately. If heating a poultice, don’t apply it while it’s hot. Make sure it cools first so that you do not burn your skin.
Try this DIY poultice remedy below, and start the healing.
DIY Healing Poultice Remedy
- 1 ounce freshly grated or chopped turmeric
- 1 ounce chopped lemongrass
- 1/2 cup small raw sliced onion
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 1 ounce freshly grated or chopped ginger
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 2 drops oregano essential oil
- 10 drops eucalyptus
- White cloth, muslin or a waterproof food wrap
- Thick string (optional)
- In a pan on low heat, add the coconut oil and lightly sauté the ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, onion and garlic. You can put a lid on it for a few seconds to let it steam. You want it to remain mostly dry or slightly moist from the coconut oil. You can use a tiny bit of water if needed as you do not want it to burn.
- Turn off and move the ingredients to a bowl to cool.
- Add the essential oils and stir to blend well.
- Next, lay out your cloth. Take a big spoonful of the mixture and place it into the center of your cloth.
- Now, just fold or lay the outside pieces on top of each other so you have a pack. Some like to pull long pieces up into a “handle” at the top and tie it with yarn or thread. It doesn’t really matter as long as you keep the ingredients nestled tightly in the cloth so nothing falls out or becomes loose when in use.
- Next, place the poultice on the affected area for 20–30 minutes two or three times a day.
- You can place it in the fridge and reheat in a steamer or microwaves, using it four or fives times, before making a new one.
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