There are many ways to use medicinal herbs. Teas, infusions, decoctions, and tinctures are the most widely used, but poultices, compresses, and plasters can be easily prepared for home use.
Herbal poultices are made from fresh or dried herbs and blended with oil, vinegar, or water into a paste. Poultices are then applied directly to the affected area (or on top of a thin layer of cheesecloth), covered with a thicker cloth, and left in place for as long as possible (or up to four hours). Poultices, plasters, and compresses may be taped to body or wrapped with gauze to stabilize. A thin layer or olive oil can be applied first to help keep herbs from sticking.
Herbal plasters are made by spreading a thin layer of honey or ointment on a clean cloth and adding powdered herbs. The plaster is then applied to the body. Powdered herbs like ginger and mustard are good for treating lung and chest congestion. Use comfrey for clean skin abrasions. Herbal plasters may also be left in place for up to four hours.
Herbal compresses can relieve cysts and abscesses. Make a compress by soaking a cotton cloth in strong, hot herbal tea and applying to affected area (but not so hot that it burns the skin). The heat enhances the activity and opens the pores for faster healing. To stimulate circulation, alternate compresses with hot tea and cold water.
Compresses are often used to help heal wounds and muscle injuries. A cold compress is used for headaches. For headache, use white willow bark, peppermint, or lavender in a strong decoction or infusion (tea). Let cool and soak a clean cloth with the liquid. Place in freezer until cold. Hold against temples, forehead, or back of neck until room temperature. Repeat if necessary.
Poultices can be made from the remains of herbal tea. Use the pulpy plant material as a poultice and have the patient drink the tea. If treating a boil or skin rash, prepare a pot of chamomile tea. The tea will work from the inside, and the poultice from the outside! Use a hot water bottle over the poultice to keep it warm.
Sometime poultices, plasters, and compresses will need to be changed every hour. It depends on the condition being treated.
The effectiveness of a poultice, plaster, or compress is increased if the permeability of the skin is increased. Permeability of skin is increased after a sauna, after a massage, after a hot bath, in high humidity, or with any rise in body temperature. Skin is also more permeable if natural oils are removed due to washing with strong soap or detergents.
Certain areas of the body are more permeable than others and include the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and thin skinned areas such as the forehead, face, neck, shoulders, armpits, and scalp.
*Herbs work with other medicines to boost their potency so always consult with your healthcare provider before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medicines.
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