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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Taddiken

Healing Poultices: Traditional Remedies for the Modern Era

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

Have you ever had the opportunity to take a handful of fresh plant material and affix it to a wound? Ever had the chance to wear onion earmuffs? What about making a paste out of an herbal powder and plastering it on your chest for a cough, cold or flu? If some of this sounds familiar, then it may have been passed down through your family, or you might see a naturopathic physician. These are just some of the wonderful poultices I may prescribe to my patients with anything from a boil or abscess to an upper respiratory infection.

I’ve had personal experience with poultices, and love prescribing them for indicated treatment with patients. I remember as a young mother, my daughter developed an abscess on her mid-thigh. It had increased in size until it was about the size of a walnut and was inflamed which, of course, had me quite concerned. This was before I was a practicing physician, so I relied on our naturopathic physician for treatment. He told me to shred up a raw potato and place the mass on my daughter’s wound. Then wrap it up in something to keep it tight and adhered. We chose saran wrap and cheesecloth. We also administered a homeopathic remedy and she went to bed. The next day the entire wound had broken open and started to drain easily and painlessly. My daughter was so happy it no longer hurt, and we were relieved that it was clearing up and that the inflammation had dissipated overnight. We cleaned it up and kept it clean while allowing it to clear in the fresh air until it was completely cleared in a week or two.

Healing poultices have been around for thousands of years. They remain in many naturopathic practices because they work so well and are generally quite fast-acting. They act as a medicinal pack on any area of disease and deliver healing properties locally to the area of concern. There are a number of types of poultices, but a few typical ones may be used more regularly. It’s always important to double-check with your naturopathic physician if a poultice treatment is right for your individual concern. If someone has a weakened immune system and shows slow healing capabilities, a poultice treatment may not be the right place to start.

Dr. Taddiken’s Favorite Poultices:

Potato/Carrot Poultice

First clean the affected area with hydrogen peroxide.

Then grate a raw russet potato or carrot.

Place the grated material directly on the skin or between two layers of muslin or cheesecloth. Ensure there is enough of the plant material to cover the affected area.

Wrap the area with a larger piece of muslin, cotton cloth, or a towel and fasten it in place. You have a further option to wrap in saran wrap in order to keep the material from leaking onto the sheets while sleeping.

The poultice can be kept in place up to 24 hours at which point you will want to clean the affected area and reassess. When trying to drain an abscess, for example, you might only need an overnight poultice and it will start draining by the morning. Fresh poultice can be reapplied until the wound has completely healed.

Onion Ear Muffs

Onions are known for their anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. They are amazingly curative as bacterial magnets! When used for the relief of ear infections they help to draw out the bacterial organisms if present and relieve the pain.

First slice a small, white onion in half (big enough to cover the ear).

Place both halves in boiling water to warm up (caution: pay attention to keeping the temperature comfortable).

Cover onion halves each in a muslin or cotton cloth.

Place over affected ear/s for about 5-10 minutes at a time.

Repeat 3-4 times throughout the day.

Mustard Poultice/Plaster

Mustard has been used for centuries for its many medicinal properties. It increases blood flow at the skin’s surface relieving pain in musculoskeletal and rheumatic disorders, as well as aiding with lung congestion in respiratory disorders.

Ingredients to mix together:

  • ½ cup mustard powder

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 egg white

  • Small amount of water

Mix all ingredients together to form a paste.

Spread paste between two layers of muslin or cotton cloth.

Place on chest and cover with saran wrap or a plastic bag, and then a towel to make more comfortable.

Keep the plaster placed no longer than 20-30 minutes. Remove sooner if a burning sensation occurs.

Do not use while sleeping or if there is an inability to feel a burning sensation. Only do 1-2 times per day.

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