How to Create a Poultice

Four Methods:Selecting HerbsMaking a PoulticeTreating Common Problems with a PoulticeApplying a Poultice

Poultices harness the healing benefits of herbs to treat a variety of afflictions. While poultices shouldn't be used to address serious health problems, using hot and cold poultice compresses to sooth inflammation, skin problems, and some other problems can help to ease pain and discomfort. Learning to select appropriate herbs for common afflictions, create poultices, and apply them can help you promote natural wellbeing and all-around health.

Method 1
Selecting Herbs

  1. 1
    Learn about the different types of herb poultices. There are many different herbs that can be used in a poultice, but they are often divided into three categories. A poultice may be one of the following types:[1][2]
    • Astringent. Astringent poultices cause your skin to contract, which can be helpful if you need to remove splinters or fragments of foreign objects. Astringent poultices may also be helpful in to drawing out an infection. Astringent herbs include witch hazel, oak bark, yarrow, and flax. These herbs can be used fresh or dried. Activated charcoal, baking soda, and bentonite clay may be used as well.
    • Heating. A heating poultice is used to increase circulation to an area, thus increasing the warmth of the area. This type of poultice can relax muscles, relieve congestion in the lungs and sinuses, and help relieve sprains and strains. Mustard and onions are most commonly used in a heating poultice.
    • Vulnerary. In herbal medicine, a vulnerary is an herb that promotes wound healing. They are usually a bit gooey because they contain mucilaginous and oily material in order to soothe and protect the wound. Fresh herbs are best as vulneraries, but powdered or dried herbs can be used as well. The most commonly used vulnerary herbs are comfrey, marshmallow, flax, slippery elm, okra, and plantain.
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    Choose the right variety of herb for your ailment. Different herbs should be used in a poultice to address the particular symptoms of the ailment that you're attempting to remedy with the poultice. The medicinal properties of different herbs vary, so it's helpful to invest in a handbook or field guide about local flora so that you can have a better sense of what's available and how it can be used.[3]
    • Most herbal remedies are unverified and based mostly on historical anecdotes and folk stories. That doesn't mean that they don't work, only that they can't be medically confirmed and should be used in conjunction with traditional medicine.
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    Try mint for congestion. One of the most commonly grown and used herbs for use in poultices is mint, which is especially useful in treating congestion and other respiratory issues. Fresh mint makes an effective and pleasant-smelling poultice on the chest to help with upper-respiratory issues or congestion. Peppermint, wintergreen, and other common mints are all effective when used this way.
    • Herbs that have a similar effect and could be used to replace mint include lavender, lemon balm, calendula, and licorice root.
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    Use chaparral, dandelion, and yellow dock for skin problems. Skin dryness or oiliness are commonly treated with a combination of these three herbs. Containing similar fatty acids and phytonutrients, these herbs can be somewhat effective at helping to clear up skin condition, along with regular washing with soap and warm water.[4] Use a poultice of these fresh herbs as a home remedy for acne, eczema, psoriasis, and some mild rashes.
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    Treat inflammation and discomfort with goldenseal or slippery elm. General pain or rheumatic discomfort may be treated with a poultice of goldenseal and slippery elm. Other herbs used for similar afflictions include elderberry, fenugreek, flaxseed, slippery elm, and lobelia.
    • Slippery elm in particular is valuable in treating inflammation, displaying protective, emollient, expectorant, diuretic, and nutritive properties in healing. Slippery elm contains a significant amount of nutrition, comparable to oatmeal.[5]
    • In the American South, goldenseal was once commonly used in poultices to treat sore breasts from lactation, sometimes combined with sage.[6]
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    Try onion for ear or sinus pain. While it may not provide the best-smelling poultice, onion is a commonly used treatment for ear or other sinus related pain, as well as foot odor. In either fresh or dried form, onion can make an effective poultice for its astringency and potency. In Ayurvedic medicine, onion poultices are also commonly used on the chest to address chest pains, congestion, and other breathing-related ailments.[7]

Method 2
Making a Poultice

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    Prepare your dried or fresh herbs. While fresh herbs are generally preferable for their abundance of nutrients, dried herbs also make effective and sometimes more easily available poultices. As long as you've got the right herbs, a good poultice can be made from fresh or dried herbs.[8]
    • Grind dry herbs with a mortar and pestle, then place the powder in a bowl. Cover with hot water to form a paste. Make sure that there is enough to cover the area. Don't over-saturate the herbs, just slowly add enough water to wet the herbs and mix them into a paste.
    • Chop at least a cup of fresh herbs and combine them with one cup of water on the stove. Boil for approximately 1-2 minutes to start breaking the plant matter down gently and form a more integrated mixture. Retain the liquid, which is full of nutrients.
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    Wrap the herb mixture in a muslin or thin cotton cloth. All-natural fabric needs to be used to wrap the herbs for a poultice, and the most common are muslin or thin cotton bandaging. The fabric needs to be non-irritating and breathable, so that the herbs can heal the affected area.
    • Lay out the cloth flat on a clean plate, or another clean surface. Cut strips of cloth large enough to cover the affected area you want to treat. Make sure that the cloth is wide enough to hold all of the herbs as well.
    • Pour the herb mixture into the center of the cloth, spreading them into a large enough layer to cover the affected area with the poultice. Leave the cloth flat on the surface and try not to wrap it up or cover it yet.
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    Top the herbs with some plastic wrap. To keep your mixture moist, you may want to top the herbal mixture with a layer of plastic wrap. The layer of plastic wrap will also help to keep the poultice contents from getting onto your hands while you hold it in place. The plastic wrap will form the "back" of the poultice, the part that faces away from the skin and the wound.
    • Cut out a small square of plastic wrap and drape it over the pile of herbs, tamping down the edges around the pile. Don't push down too hard, or you'll squeeze all of the liquid out of the mixture.
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    Wrap the poultice and tape it tightly. After covering the herbs with the cling wrap, wrap up the cloth and tape it tightly to form a secure little package. Use some medical tape to secure the edges and keep it in a tight bundle, as flat and as secure as possible.
    • If there's any seepage, that's fine, but you don't want your poultice to be too leaky. It should feel similar to a teabag that's been squeezed out after being steeped.

Method 3
Treating Common Problems with a Poultice

  1. 1
    Create a basic first aid poultice. This poultice can be used for minor scrapes, cuts, bumps or bruises, similar to the way you might use a band aid or a cold pack. However, if the injury won’t stop bleeding or if a cut is longer than an inch (or deeper than ⅛-¼ inch), call a physician.[9][10]
    • Mix equal volumes of slippery elm (as a liquid) and Goldenseal (as a powder or dried herb) and combine it into a poultice. The slippery elm works as a vulnerary and goldenseal has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Replace the poultice every 2 hours for the first 24 hours.
  2. 2
    Soothe insect and spider bites with an astringent poultice. You can use an astringent poultice to draw out any venom or toxins from the bites. Alternate an activated charcoal poultice with a baking soda poultice every 4 hours for the first 24 hours.[11][12]
    • For most insect and spider bites, you can make a compress with about 1-2 teaspoons of activated charcoal and baking soda.
    • After the first 24 hours, use a plantain poultice.
    • Insect and spider bites take about 4-6 days to heal and you can use a poultice for the first 2-3 days.
  3. 3
    Ease respiratory infections with an onion poultice. Slice and dice 1-2 medium sized onions-- any type of onion will do. Heat the chopped onion on low heat in a small amount of water (1-2 tablespoons) until the onions are soft. Drain the excess water and place the onions into the poultice. Allow the onions to cool down so that they are at a comfortable temperature to have against your skin. Then, tie it off and place it on your chest. Replace the poultice every 2 hours.[13][14]
    • Though it is not usually done, in the case of respiratory infections, peppermint leaves can be added to the onions. The menthol in the mint leaves can help relieve congestion and diminish the onion scent.
    • You can use the onion poultice for 2-3 days. If there is no improvement or if the person develops a fever, or if they cannot eat, drink or sleep for a period lasting more than 12 hours, call your physician for advice.
  4. 4
    Get rid of warts with a garlic poultice. Peel and chop 1-2 cloves of garlic and make a poultice large enough to just cover the wart and not the surrounding skin. Leave it on for 6-8 hours every day. After removing the poultice, rinse off the area with warm water. Alternatively, you can leave it on overnight and rinse it off in the morning.[15][16]
  5. 5
    Make an anti-inflammatory poultice. Inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis as well as various rashes can respond well to poultices if the area of skin is relatively small or if all the involved skin is located close together. Herbs with anti-inflammatory properties that can be used in poultices include ginger, sage, thyme, turmeric, and slippery elm.[17][18]
    • If you use fresh ginger, peel and chop it into a few small pieces. Then, heat the pieces in a small amount of water before mashing and creating the poultice. Use the poultice every day for 3-4 hours, rinsing well with warm water after every use.
    • If you use slippery elm, you will not need to add water because slippery elm is usually sold as a thick liquid.
    • Use these poultices for as long as the skin is inflamed. You should see some improvement within 1-2 weeks. If not, try switching herbs. Always let your physician know that you are using poultices as well.
  6. 6
    Provide relief for muscle aches, pains, strains and sprains with a mustard poultice. Mix 1 tablespoon of mustard powder with 4 tablespoons of flour. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and make your paste. Make your poultice and wrap it or lay it on the injured area for no more than 1 hour at a time.[19][20]
    • If you are gluten-sensitive, make sure to use a gluten-free flour.
    • Keep in mind that mustard powder should always be diluted because otherwise it can cause rashes. Check the area to make sure there is no rash or reaction from the mixture. If there is a rash or reaction, remake the poultice using ½ tablespoon of mustard.

Method 4
Applying a Poultice

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    Secure the poultice over the area using a bandage. Once you've secured your poultice into a nice package, lay it over the afflicted area, with the side with the cling wrap facing up and the other side contacting your skin. Depending on your affliction, it might be important to clean the area thoroughly first with soap and water.
    • If you're having congestion in your chest or your sinuses, the best place to put the poultice is on your chest, just under your chin.
    • If you're having skin problems, the best place to place the poultice is directly over the afflicted area. The same goes for inflammation and other internal issues. Secure the poultice as close as possible over the part that needs fixing.
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    Use hot poultices for inflammation. Different temperatures are traditionally used for different afflictions, to soothe, relieve, or heal, depending. If you've experienced some variety of inflammation, internal or external, it's most common to use hot compresses, as soon as possible after you've mixed up the hot herbs and created the poultice. Make sure it's comfortable to the touch, but as hot as possible.
    • A good way of remembering this is that hot inflammation needs to be treated with a hot poultice. Things like wisdom teeth flare-ups, inflamed tonsils, hemorrhoids, or other kinds of infection.[21]
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    Try warm poultices for soreness. If you're trying to treat sore joints or muscles with a poultice, it's a good idea to use a heating compress, which combines a room-temperature poultice with a heating layer of bandages.
    • After placing the poultice, wrap a small hand towel or blanket around the other side, then secure it with bandages to hold it in place. You can cool the area topically with the poultice, then heat the area deeply with warm layers.
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    Apply cold poultices for skin problems. Anything that's irritated on the surface should be treated with cold compresses. After you make your herb mixture and wrap the poultice, toss it into the fridge for a few minutes to cool it down. Anything that's scraped or irritated needs to be treated with a cool compress and poultice.[22]
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    Talk to your doctor about using poultices. Poultices may be helpful for common conditions and minor aches and pains, but you should check with your doctor if your condition does not improve or if it gets worse. If you’re in serious pain or discomfort, seek medical attention as soon as possible.


  • If you have any allergies, be cautious when applying herbs to your body. Do not apply an herb or other substance to your body if you have a known allergy to it.

Sources and Citations

  1. Tilgner, S, (1999), Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, ISBN 978-1881517030
  2. Brinkner, F, (2004), Complex Herbs-Complete Medicine: A Merger of Eclectic and Naturopathic Visions of Botanical Medicine, ISBN 978-1888483123
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Article Info

Categories: Herbal Health | Hot and Cold Compresses