How to Make and Use an Herbal Poultice

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How to Make and Use an Herbal Poultice
Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Remedies » How to Make and Use an Herbal Poultice

A friend recently asked how we had helped my son’s spider bite a few years ago and I told her our protocol of poultices of activated charcoal, baking soda, bentonite clay and plantain (alternating). She said: “Great, but what is a poultice… is that recipe on your blog?”

I realized it wasn’t and I can’t believe I’ve never shared how to make a poultice before. They are an age-old remedy that has been largely forgotten in modern times.

What is a Poultice?

Poultices are one of my favorite ways (and safest ways) to use herbs and other remedies on the skin and we use them for a wide variety of things. They provide the benefits of the herbs but aren’t as concentrated as essential oils or tinctures.

A poultice is basically a paste made of herbs, clays, activated charcoal, salts or other beneficial substances that is wrapped in a piece of cloth and placed on the skin. Often, a waterproof layer of plastic or waterproof cloth is added and the poultice is left on for several hours at a time and changed several times a day.

This can be done with fresh or dried herbs or other beneficial substances. The benefit is that the body gets constant contact with all of the beneficial parts of the herb or plant for an extended period of time. Poultices are often used to help boils, burns, splinters, infections and other skin problems. Some poultices can even be used externally to help internal problems.

Last time I talked with my Amish friend, she mentioned using a poultice on a burn and I asked her about all of the different poultices she used with her family. She shared some of her favorites and I wanted to pass them on to you, along with some of my favorites.

Like any natural remedy, these are not meant to be a substitute for medical attention but only an addition or for use in minor cases where medical attention isn’t necessary.

How to Make a Poultice

As I mentioned, a poultice uses the whole herb, plant, clay, salt or other remedy. A compress, alternately, uses a liquid extract of an herb or remedy.

The herb (or remedy) is made into a thick paste with hot or cold water. Hot water is usually used for poultices that are trying to draw out or remove an abscess while cold water is used in poultices for inflammation.

Traditionally, a fresh or dried herb is ground with a mortar and pestle and mixed with water to form a paste. These days, a blender or mini food processor can also be used to smash the herb. Ground dried herbs can also be used.

I prefer to pour a tiny amount of really hot water over any fresh or dried herbs to help extract the beneficial properties and then let them cool to the desired temperature before applying to the skin.

The thick paste can be applied directly to the skin or wrapped between two layers of clean cloth before applying (depending on the herb). Cheesecloth or thin, organic cotton are great choices for this, but it is just important to have a cloth that won’t absorb too much liquid or that is too thick to let the herbs come in indirect contact with the skin.

Last time I used a poultice for a burn on my wrist, I wrapped the herbs between two layers of cheesecloth and placed directly over the burn. I then wrapped it with plastic wrap to keep it on the skin. If I’d know about it, I would have used this reusable waterproof food wrap instead of the plastic wrap and I’ve since added some of these to our first aid kit for this purpose.

With our son’s spider bite, I covered the poultice with some waterproof gauze and taped it into the skin since it was on his upper leg and there was no easy way to wrap it completely around his leg. The specifics will change based on the remedy being used, but the basic method is the same: thick paste, inside cloth, on wound.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons (or more as needed) of fresh or dried herbs, healing clays or activated charcoal as needed
  • Enough hot water to form a thick paste
  • Organic cheesecloth or cloth for covering
  • Waterproof covering to keep poultice on

Instructions

  1. Make a thick paste with the desired herb, clay or charcoal and water.
  2. Apply directly to the wound or place between two layers of cloth and apply the cloth to the wound (depending on the cloth and the wound). Leave for 20 minutes to 3 hours as needed and repeat as necessary.

Types of Poultices

I’ve used a variety of different poultices over the years, from ones as simple as chewing up plantain leaf and spitting on a bee sting to take away the pain and ones as elaborate as an 8 herb and clay mixture. These are the ways I’ve used poultices (plus the ones my friend shared):

  • Spider bite: Alternating activated charcoal and baking soda poultices on a spider bite – We alternated these two every 3 hours for the first 24 hours, at which time the bite was noticeably better. At this point, we switched to alternating bentonite clay and plantain poultices for another two days until the redness was completely gone. The doctor was not sure what type of spider bite it was and we weren’t able to catch the spider to bring with us. It had cleared by the time we went back for a follow-up so we never knew for sure.
  • Onion poultice for illness: There are many remedies that I would use that are not recommended for children, but one easy remedy that seems to work incredibly well is an onion poultice on the feet. This one was recommended by my Amish friend and while I don’t do it unless it is really needed (because it smells and is a lot of work), it hasn’t failed me yet. It is made by slicing or dicing an onion and lightly sautéing with a tablespoon of water just until the water evaporates. Then, placing a slice or paste of the onion between two layers of cloth. I apply this to the feet and wrap in waterproof cloth/plastic and cover with socks. I leave this on for half an hour and and repeat every 3 hours as needed until the illness is gone. This can also be applied to the chest or back for coughing and congestion. A friend used a smaller version of this over the ear (being very careful not to get anything in the ear and to have cloth between the onion and the ear) for an ear infection with success.
  • Insect Bites: Plantain poultices directly on the skin are great for bee stings and insect bites. In the summer when plantain is growing all over our yard, I use fresh, but I also keep dried plantain on hand in the winter because it is so inexpensive and useful. This poultice is also said to be helpful for boils, though I haven’t tried this myself.
  • Cabbage for Mastitis: I got mastitis for the first time when our last baby was about a year old and we were traveling. I didn’t have my usual remedies with me, so I used what I could find in the small town where we were staying. Organic cabbage leaf poultices helped with the pain but to step things up, I added garlic as well. I would place a cabbage leaf directly on the sore area, then place 2 sliced garlic cloves and then a piece of cloth and then my bra. I was able to avoid antibiotics.
  • Garlic for Warts: Another one that my friend suggested but that I’ve never tried is using a fresh garlic poultice for removal of warts. She said she made a paste of fresh garlic and applied just enough to cover the wart but not the healthy skin around it. She then covered with a bandage and left on for several hours a day until the wart was gone.
  • Clay for Splinters and Boils: Bentonite clay and other healing clays are often used in a poultice to draw out splinters or to help resolve a boil. I have personally tried this for a particularly stubborn splinter and was able to get it out much more easily. This is made by making a thick paste of water and clay and applying directly to skin and then putting the cloth over the clay.
  • Salt or Magnesium Poultices: My friend also recommended salt or epsom salt poultices for drawing out infections or abscesses. We used this recently when my daughter skinner her toe outside and got a big scab. We cleaned the area well, but there was a tiny rock that had gotten into her toe. A few days later, her toe was swollen and hurting. While we waited to get in to the doctor, I applied poultices of epsom salt and baking soda (between layers of gauze) and we cleaned it gently. After a few hours, it popped on its own before it had to be lanced by the doctor, and about a tablespoon of pus came out. I would not consider this an alternative to medical care, especially for abscesses like this, but rather a remedy until it can be looked at by a doctor to make sure the infection has not spread. She did not need any further treatment.

Have you ever used a poultice? Would you consider using one if you needed to?

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

82 responses to “How to Make and Use an Herbal Poultice”

  1. Jules Avatar

    Just wanted to jump on here and say this recently worked for us. My girl got an infected earring hole- and by the time she told me it was sore it was bad and very swollen and I could see it had pus inside. It was a long weekend here so couldn’t go to the doctors, so we cleansed with salt water and made a poultice of epsom salt and baking soda with a few drops of tea tree oil. We band-aided it to her ear and next morning we changed the poultice. We tried to get the earring back in (we had taken it out) but couldn’t as was too sore. We made another poultice and took it off midday. We managed to get earring back in and lots of gunk came out. I then realised we could leave earring post in without the back on and put the poultice over the earring post so it touched the skin, and taped it in place. I didn’t want to put salt on the metal, so we switched to using bentonite clay and charcoal with tea tree oil. We also cleansed with saline every poultice change. When doctors finally opened the doc didn’t even give me a script and said it looked good! Took about two days. We are a couple days on from that and I’m now cleansing with saline and tea tree 2-3 times per day but all is still looking good. Last time this happened she ended up on oral antibiotics and it wasn’t as bad as this time. So grateful for avoiding oral antis this time around

  2. Val B Avatar

    Hi, I used a plantain poultice on a grease burn. I just broke up a clean soft fresh picked leaf, spreading in on a larger broad leaf plantain leaf, covering the burn (beyond a blister) with the broken parts on my open blister. Then wrap with elastic bandage. I changed it every 6-8hrs (even over night) decreasing time on and off as days pasted, with air time between changes. I had no infection, no pain. I could feel it warm up when it was drawing. No scare. Duration about 8 days. Interesting point at poultice change, the bits of broken plantain would be like firm hard bits, never hurting the tender blister.

  3. Barbara freeman Avatar
    Barbara freeman

    Does anyone remember the snuff poultice or mustard poultice for flu?

  4. Susan Manderson Avatar
    Susan Manderson

    My father (Scots Irish) used hot milk and bread for a poultice. He made a not-too-runny mash out of it, made sure it was fairly hot, and placed it on the infection, then bandage with gauze. In this case it was a large acne pimple, almost a boil, on my mother’s forehead. Leave it on until it dries, possibly re-apply. It was so effective that she was annoyed over the hole it left when the infection was drawn out.
    We also used slippery elm bark on a cat’s infected paw, and it worked much the same way, drew out the pus and left a hole where it was drawn out. Apply warm, bandage, let it dry.

    Another effective poultice that I’ve seen used on horses is sugar. Make a paste out of ordinary white sugar or brown, pack it into the wound, and because sugar really “draws”, it will remove the infection, and kills bacteria. Saw a vet use it on her own horse’s leg. Also honey – knew a cowboy who raved about honey keeping a horse’s cut clean and disinfected. Not a poultice per se, but disinfectant.

  5. Tami Avatar

    I have severe nerve pain in my gum from a dentist that damaged both back molars. One molar had to have an emergency root canal. Now I can’t get rid of this pain. What can I do to relieve the pain. The secondary molar is fine. Please Help! Thank you

  6. Josephine Niolu Avatar
    Josephine Niolu

    I have a question. I have just been made aware that I may have an Umbilical Hernia. Is there something I can do other than having surgery.

  7. Amy Avatar

    Hi Katie,
    Can you clarify more on how to make the poultice you used for Mastitis? As well as how long to apply for infection? Thanks! Also, I know you are not a doctor but if you have any specific herbs for a bacterial fallopian tube/ ovary infection other then what posted here Id really appreciate any input you may have for this.

  8. Tien Avatar

    Where do we get the right materials (“fresh or dried herbs, healing clays or activated charcoal”.

    I have no idea what Bentonite clay or, healing clays are, or where to purchase activated charcoal.

    Thank you.

  9. Sharon Kelowna Avatar
    Sharon Kelowna

    Warm milk with a chunk of bread … removes slivers in 12 hours. Both my granddaughters have been very happy about this absolutely painless fix. An added bonus is it also removed any of the redness and infection at the same time.

    1. Pam Avatar

      I had skin cancer surgery on my shin and they just told me if it wasn’t healed in 3 MONTHS!!! To call them! It has been 5 weeks and it is a gaping hole in my leg!!!i remembered my grandmother using poultices for everything! Can you please tell me what to use and how to make the poultice?

  10. Laurel Ann Avatar
    Laurel Ann

    Isn’t their a poultice to help pull the infection out of a abscess

  11. Tracy Avatar

    Thank you! It seems I’m always coming across references to poultices, but without instruction on how to do them. This was most helpful. Thank you!

    A couple of items you mention, I have already incorporated into my medicine closet…. Bentonite Clay. I’m never without this. Not only good for splinters and boils, but also is amazing on spider (and other insect bites), drawing out toxins so quickly and relieving the pain and itching almost immediately. Also have used it on allergy related hives. I trimmed a bunch of evergreen bushes, not knowing that I was allergic to them. Quickly broke out into rather vicious hives. Applied a clay paste, and the next day they were nearly gone. I also keep activated charcoal pills. Helpful for the rare occasions that you have intestinal troubles. Oh, and one last item for the medicine chest. Not a natural product, but an heirloom one. Felsnaptha Soap. Yes, the same stuff grandma used for laundry is still available online and also in Walmart’s laundry soap section. Whenever we think we’ve gotten into poison ivy, we scrub up with this. It cuts oil and keeps it from spreading.

  12. Timothy Avatar

    Hello Katie, reaching out to you for some advice. My yellow Lab is 15 and in her last days. She is no longer able to walk, and we are making her as comfortable as possible. She still has a good appetite and thirst, is alert and occasionally we get a wag out of her tail. Since she has been unable to walk for months, she has developed a couple pressure sores, one we have nearly completely healed using Hydrogel, vaseline gauze packing, and covered with non stick Telfa pads. She still barks quite often, and has developed a sizable wound on the saggy part of her jowls. I would like to address this with some sort of poultice for wounds, then wrap her snout with an ace bandage that has been cut in half, length wise, to prevent her from barking. It is the barking and rubbing of her canine tooth on the jowls that has cause the wound. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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