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Poultices

Traditional remedies to the rescue

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Poultices

Until topical creams entered the marketplace, poultices were a common and effective remedy. Try these poultice recipes and create your own homemade treatments.

Some of us old enough to remember mustard packs and bread poultices might also recall the second verse of the classic nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill,” where a poultice receives honourable mention:

"Up Jack got and home did trot
As fast as hecould caper;
And went to bed and bound his head
In vinegar and brown paper.”

Although we never learn if the treatment was effective, I would like to speculate that it was.

Until topical cremes entered the marketplace, poultices were a common and effective home remedy. Also called cataplasms and drawing salves, they have offered healing and relief for a long list of ailments, including inflammation, boils, strains, slivers, abscesses, cysts, tumours, chest congestion, sprains, and insect bites. They work by increasing circulation to the area, soothing the inflammation, and drawing out poisons or toxins.

Poultices can be prepared several ways and from a variety of ingredients, but they are most often made from fresh or dried herbs that have been mixed into a thick paste. They are usually warmed, applied directly to the skin or put between layers of natural cloth, then gently secured in place. They can be left on anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

Before Experimenting With Poultices, Consider the Following:

  • Make sure the infected area is clean.
  • Do not reuse the herbs for another application. Once applied, they should be disposed of.
  • In most cases poultices should never be applied to open or large wounds.
  • Some ingredients, such as cayenne, mustard, onion, and garlic, can be irritating and may cause blistering; ensure they are not applied directly to the skin.
  • Discontinue use of poultice if any redness occurs.

Here are Some Simple Recipes to Get You Started.

Plantain leaves (Plantago lanceolata), found in many backyards, are effective for taking the sting out of insect bites.

Pick several leaves and macerate by either chewing or rubbing between your hands until very bruised. Apply to the insect bite until it stops stinging (often only a few minutes).

A carrot poultice works surprisingly well on a small wound that is closed but risks infection.

Boil a peeled, chopped carrot until soft and then mash. While comfortably warm, but not hot, apply to the wound and wrap with a cloth to keep in place. A strong stinging or throbbing sensation is usually felt. When the sensation dissipates (approximately 20 minutes), remove and discard the carrot.

Mashed potatoes are very soothing for earaches.

Boil and mash a potato and shape into a form large enough to surround the ear. Place in between thin layers of cloth. While still warm, gently hold the poultice over the ear until the aching subsides.

An onion poultice is a powerful antidote for boils.

To prepare, finely chop enough onion to cover the boil. Place the onion between two pieces of cloth–do not apply directly to the skin. Leave on for at least an hour.

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