Many of us remember as children, being soothed by a grandmother’s home remedy. A sore throat, a bee sting from playing outdoors, or a stomach ache from eating too much candy seemed monumental to us at the time.
However, once grandma worked her magic, our ailments disappeared. Sitting amongst a small group of friends interested in natural remedies, I posed the question, “What was your grandmother’s favorite poultice?”.
Interestingly, each person had a different but equally useful answer.
How To Make A Poultice
A poultice was traditionally made by placing fresh plants or natural substances directly on the affected area. As always you have to match the appropriate plant or substance to the particular condition.
Disclaimer: Please remember that these are general remedies. For acute or serious chronic cases, you may need to work with a practitioner.
The inner part of an aloe leaf for instance is a very effective remedy for a minor kitchen burn.
In some Native American tribes, soft Mullein plant leaves soothed diaper rash when placed directly on a baby’s skin.
⇒ What Happens If You Smoke Mullein?
There is another preparation method: gather an herb or natural substance, mix it with water and make a paste to put on the affected area. You will hold this paste in place with a cloth. There are multiple benefits from this type of poultice.
Most of us already have the ingredients for a basic poultice, yet may not know how to make one, or what some of the benefits are.
A poultice can reduce infection, subdue inflammation, relieve itching, extract poison or toxins, and heal a wound or burn.
In general, follow these basic steps. Remember: assess the condition and if you need to seek medical attention for something serious, do not hesitate to do so.
- Gather a quarter cup of herbs or a natural substance to make a paste (i.e.: baking soda). If you are dealing with a smaller area you can cut this recipe in half.
- Mix ½ – ⅓ cup of hot water with the herbs or powder.
- Place the mixture on a cotton cloth about half the size of a normal washcloth.
- Lightly pat the mixture down.
- Turn the cloth over and place it on the affected area.
- Secure it with a tie or rubber band.
- Let the mixture soak into the skin for twenty minutes.
- Remove the cloth.
- Pat the area dry, gently.
- Reapply as needed depending on the condition.
Let’s start with the easiest condition first and move to those that are more challenging.
Subdue Inflamed Insect Bites And Mild Itching
My grandmother’s favorite poultice was baking soda or sodium bicarbonate.
As a child, it was the first natural remedy I learned to make myself. It has multiple uses that extend far beyond cooking.
Baking soda has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It is an alkali, a soluble salt that interacts with acids.
Use the following steps as a remedy for bee stings and conditions that create mild itching.
1. Mix 3 tablespoons of baking soda with just enough water to make a paste.
2. Place the paste on the cloth.
3. Secure the cloth with a band and wait 20 minutes.
In the following cases, my friends had a unique memory of their grandmother healing an infection.
Now, let’s apply this basic process using the different substances my friends remembered their grandmothers using.
Extract Toxins, Poisons, And Heal Wounds Using Plantain
One of my friends had a grandmother from the Abenaki tribe in Vermont who swore by plantain poultices, a very traditional tribal remedy for skin ailments.
Plantain poultices are quite powerful. You will find this unassuming herb growing in lawns, along trails, in driveways, or neglected parking lots. Plantain leaves with ¼ cup to ⅓ cup of water will create a paste.
Plantain has very prominent veins that start at the base of the leaf and go up to the tip of the leaf. It is an analgesic, has a numbing effect on skin tissue combined with extraction power.
A seemingly mild herb, it contains allantoin and can promote rapid regeneration of healthy skin on ulceration, or abrasion.
Heal Chest Congestion And Coughs With Onion
One friend’s grandmother came from the Midwestern region of the US. She used onion poultices routinely on her large family as a cough remedy; when one person started coughing, soon, the family came down with the same ailment.
An onion poultice is easy to make, effective and very inexpensive. It is a wonderful traditional home remedy for bronchial infection.
Onion juice is an expectorant. When absorbed into the chest and the bronchioles, it loosens mucus and subdues inflammation.
Use a warm onion poultice if someone has a hard time breathing, has an upper respiratory infection, a sinus/upper respiratory infection, or a serious cough with mucus.
Onion poultices work for lingering coughs that do not seem to fade away. Actually, onions contain vitamins and minerals like quercetin, which helps enhance immunity.
Onions are high in Sulphur and are antibacterial. If you have very sensitive skin on your chest this remedy may not work for you because it may irritate your skin. Use your best judgement.
⇒ Why Put Onions In Your Socks Before Sleeping
The method is quite easy:
- Slice two 1/4 inch slices from a medium sized onion.
- In a pan with a little bit of water warm the onions up for just a couple of minutes.
- Put them in a washcloth, a tea towel folded in half lengthwise, or square of clean cotton fabric.
- Make sure the onions are just warm, not hot.
- Place the slices side by side on the upper part of the chest.
- Leave the slices there, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Remove, dry the area, and cover up with warm comfortable clothing.
Heal Burns With An Aloe Poultice
Split the spine of an aloe leaf and open it, placing the gel side face down on an affected area
A friend who came from the Southwestern region of the US remembered her grandmother using aloe poultices. You can grow this plant very easily in a sunny window in your own home.
An aloe leaf is an excellent way to heal a minor burn. Simply cut a large leaf from the plant and split the leaf down the edge. Open it up and place the gel side face down on the affected area.
Aloe offers cool relief to sunburned or blistered skin. Aloe soothes, Is anti-inflammatory, dries quickly, and makes its own ‘band aid’ when the gel dries and forms a protective layer.
The gel repairs damaged cells. Its astringent quality tightens and tones the skin. Reapply as often as needed until the burn goes away.
One of my favorite proverbs says that: “If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.” If we cannot call her now, we can at least recall the simple wisdom that relieved our pain instantly.
yes, very good information…
Some good information, just make sure of the plants you’re using for your poultice. I was in the ER when we had to help someone that got treated with some poultice treatment with an unknown plant. Contact dermatitis was our diagnosis. Some allergic response.
Make sure they are clean to use aka not heavily sprayed by your neighbor killing that plantain “weed” or not in the dog’s yard.
Same thoughts about wildcrafting foods, know exactly what you’re selecting and make sure it’s not contaminated. If you’re using it, or eating it, I suggest you plant and grow it yourself.
My Granny used these poultices. She was West Virginia Appalachian. Good info for everyone to have.
A very effective poultice for wasp or bee sting: using tobacco, wetted with water and applied as per above. I was 5 years old and got 7 wasp stings in the palm of my hand. Mom got chewing tobacco from my grandfather, wet it and applied the poultice. In just a few minutes, it felt much better. In 2-3 hours, it was hard to see the stings.
EyeDoc: Tobacco was always considered a gift from God because it has so many uses in healing. Cancer, hitler declared tobacco (the red devil’s weed) to cause cancer. He then ordered his researchers to prove it. Their report was accepted by every nazi organization around the world, including the UK and Penn State and the DNC. Germany in the 50s redid the reports and called them bogus. The USSR, China, Japan and others also did them and said they were utter lies. niio
red, I have not tried growing tobacco yet, but I am trying to grow both Virginia Jumbo and Tennessee Red varieties of peanuts. I know it’s a late start for this year, but the seeds germinated in just a few days so I planted some in a couple of large containers, and sprouts have just started to break through the soil within a week. I think we will have enough growing days left to produce some peanuts since we usually have 70-80-90-degree daytime temps through SEP and into OCT, it’s the nighttime temps into the 40’s starting about NOV that seems to trigger a lot of my garden plants to go dormant or die off. I will try planting the cool weather varieties about NOV this year, and succession plant every couple of weeks until we get frost anytime from DEC through MAR.
I found a local vendor for fruiting varieties of banana plants, so I may buy a couple 6-8 inch starts and try to grow a couple bananas next year.
The Kabocha that came up “wild” in the open ground right next to my tomato containers is zooming, sending runners in every direction, and some vines even climbed up into and wrapped their tendrils into the tomato cages, has been flowering profusely, and has a lot of 1-2 inch baby Kabocha showing on several vines. After seeing this I have been planting squash seeds in a lot of open ground locations around the yard, especially next to my gardening containers so they get the runoff water, just to see what happens, and so far have four new squash sprouts that survived, but I have to direct the vines to grow in the directions I want so they don’t smother the other plants.
I have been moving some containers into different places to see which location(s) they do better in, and currently have potatoes in four different locations to see which area they do best. Of the five bell-peppers that wintered over, I moved two into a partial shaded area and are doing much better than the ones I left in full sun, so I’ll move them all to the partial shade areas. The containers that had spinach, pak choi, and kale that already bolted this spring, I left in place and replanted with bush green beans that are doing much better than the leafy greens did, so is another location learning event.
I saw a very detailed video of how to correctly locate the “main run tunnels” and trap pocket gophers, so decided to try trapping gophers again and last week killed two in the first attempt, so this weekend I’ll be searching for more “main run tunnels” and set the traps again.
My home gardening learning curve continues.
dz: My learning curve keeps heading up, as well. You can find wivian (midwife/rural/semi-domesticated) at Natives Seed Search. It’s usually planted at the start of the monsoons. Wild tobacco is tolerant of drought and heat, as well as frost. Here, it seems to do best when it grows near ant colonies and eventually kills the ants because the roots are toxic. Nothing feeds on black radishes and everything stays away from the roots. Baker’s Creek carries them, German and Spanish. Any spicy winter radish would work. This time of year, forget the roots, and hope the pollen doesn’t get blasted. I need to plant some around the brown turkey fig because squirrels are tunneling under it. Some sulfur in their burrows helps to chase them off for a while as it converts to sulfuric gas and CO2 (both are fertilizers).
I never tried kabocha, but like calabacita (tatume in Baker’s creek catalog). They love the heat and dry air, and can grow 20 feet or more. They tend to be borer resistant, as are the chilacayote squash. Both are blooming and calabacita is considered the best summer squash and a fair winter squash, as well but wow do they sprawl. I have had chilacayote in storage for 2 years and they were still good and high in sugar. Those are climbing fences and going to top them soon. One bunch is already in the mesquite, LOL.
Did you plant Asia cowpeas? AKA yardlong, and they love this gentle Arizona heat (102F today), and tolerate drought. niio
red, yes, but the seeds I originally bought are labeled as Orient Wonder yard-long bean, and Dark Green Long Bean. I saved a bunch of seeds from last year and then planted a few of each in each container to see which does best, but they all came up and I can’t tell the differences. They have been flowering and have several beans up to about 12 inches, and a lot more 1–2-inch beans all over.
I also have one container for bitter melons that has several fruits, a couple are about 6-8 inches so my wife will start harvesting some soon, but if we wait too long, they turn yellow and go to seed, so she needs to cut them while still green.
My grapes are doing differently this year, one has twice as many grapes as last year, the other has half as many, and a couple grapes have started to change from green to a rosy color. I hope they are as sweet as last year, but I still don’t know what makes them sweet or sour.
A couple more peanut sprouts have broken the surface, so I hope I get a few to flower and produce. I read it takes 120-180 days to harvest peanuts, so I think I’ll be okay since it will be about six months before danger of frost.
I also have a lot more sweet corn growing this year than ever before, in two different locations to see how they do in each, and so far so good. I have some dent corn seed but don’t want to cross-pollinate so I didn’t plant it – maybe next year.
for tobacco, we don’t really get the monsoon rains as you do, we are west of the mountains so the monsoon rains from Mexico usually travel northward on the east side of the mountains. I may do some research and try it later, but have plenty of gardening projects going already, and I am still working full time, so time can be an issue.
dz: If you have a bug or bird problem, the best beans for us where bean beetles are native are purple. Mine are yori cauhui, a yardlong (green) from the Tarahumara. These are the only beans that thrive here, even resprouting after light frosts. What’s great about cowpeas, they produce a lot of extra foliage nectar, like at leaf nodes for predatory insects to feed on. They also put more nitrogen in the soil than they use.
I never raised bitter melon. Grapes, shish, the Thompson didn’t bloom, likely because it was pruned too hard, but the Red Flame put on many times more grapes than last year. Both get nailed by hard winds, but the Thomson is more sheltered. Both get the same fertilizer, which is a thick layer of straw and some sulfur. I was told phosphorus is a major contributor to sweetening grapes, but when picked dead ripe, if they are a sweet variety, they should have a high level of brix/sweetness. They like rich, well-drained soil with a Ph under 7.
The BT fig now has a handful of sulfur in the hole under the mulch. While squirrels do a lot of good, aerating the soil and fertilizing it deep in the subsoil, they also cause problems.
Peanuts don’t look too swift, but we’re getting something like Santa Ana winds, very hot and dry.
I’m watering the maize with zinc in the water to keep the maize dwarf mosaic, a virus, under control. The virus doesn’t affect panic grass, but kills maize and damages sorghum. It also helps with curly top, a bean virus that makes leave look rumpled.
Yeah, our monsoons hit SW Mexico and move along the west of the Sierra Madre, then over the border and spread out to the northeast. You should get plenty of winter rains while we get a little. So far, we’re in a more or less neutral zone for el Niño and la Niña. Winter had little rain, a la Niña with warm weather. Usually the hotter summer is, the more rain we get. According to the weather bureau, the la Niña/el Niño cycle is occurring far more often than it should. One should hit every 4 years, not one or both each year. Volcanism and solar flares will affect them. niio
red, we never get plenty of rain here, ever. The annual rainfall here averages about 10 inches total per year, you get more total rain where you are at, but it all comes down in a few weeks there, where we get an inch or two of rain over a week, then hot and dry for weeks or months, then an inch or two of rain, then weeks or months of dry, over and over, so a lot of seeds will sprout and grow for a few weeks, then everything dies off. Good for weeds, rough for edible gardening, so I have to water regularly to grow what I currently grow.
red, the Asian Yard Long Beans we have really are super long green beans, not cowpeas. I usually start harvesting them when they get about 18-24 inches long but before the seeds have developed, which may be starting in a week or two from now, and they keep producing into Fall as long as I keep harvesting the beans. They do great here all through summer as long as they get regular watering but will die off when the nights get colder about OCT-NOV, no matter if watered or not. We will have a lot of freezer bags of long beans in the freezer before Halloween. I also have pole and bush green beans growing and producing beans, so will be bagging and freezing those also.
In the Fall I will plant green peas, more Pak Choi, more spinach, kale, Chinese cabbage, and broccoli and see how they work out as winter crops for my climate.
dz: a wet year here is 16 inches total. We usually get some winter rains, an inch or so but a yearly average is 13 inches. Any trees or other perennials have to be protected for the1st year from wind. Mountains go up from 3,000 feet in the canyon floor to 8,000. The canyon is wide open to the west, and narrows badly as it moves south creating a wind tunnel.
We took some aged yogurt (it was in the fridge since 22 May) and made cream cheese with it. Milk that had been in the fridge just as long, but not soured, was made into yogurt. Man, I love the taste of fresh yogurt. niio
dz: both are in the family of vigna so growers refer to them as cowpeas. my yardlong, yori cahui, is a red and was developed from from ‘peas brought to Mexico by slaves from Africa. Asian cowpeas/vigna came out of Africa via slave ships to India and spread into Asia. That’s my story an’ i’m stickin’ to it. What Asians did is wild, creating some types only for candy, making noodle beans (yardlong), reds, green, and so on. niio
They forgot one about putting sliced onions in your socks before bed. To ward off amorous women you don’t want to sleep with.
Cheap birth control.
Take a big bite out of the onion, too…as you can never be too careful.
These remedies remind me of my maternal grandmother as well as my paternal great-grandmother.
Thanks for sharing.
When I was little and had a cough or chest cold, my grandma would make a “mustard plaster”. She mixed it up, put it inside a cloth, then put it on my chest for a while when I went to bed. I have no idea what was in it but it seemed to work pretty well.
Another folk remedy she used was to tape a piece of bacon fat over a boil. The fat would bring the head of the boil to the surface.
My grandmother also made mustard plasters. Do not know what was in it and really do not know if it worked. But her attention and putting them on me felt good and made me at least something was helping. Great memories.
You can find how-to on-line. Just be careful to not blister the skin when using, but wow, is it powerful. niio
Over a year ago I got an inguinal hernia. After doing some research, I found a place that will ship you a poultice made from a comfrey plant as used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans for healing wounds and even broken bones. Using this poultice in conjunction with a hernia belt I have avoided surgery and can now do pretty much all I want to do physically without much worry of rupturing the hernia further.
My uncle was badly wounded in WWII in Italy with gangrene from shrapnel. A Sicilian woman made him a poultice with bread, probably sourdough. There was probably something else but she said she had not much to work with. He was in and out of consciousness from pain, but he said it healed it like a miracle.
Probably moldy bread. An aflatoxin that makes penicillin. I don’t know that it’s all that good (if the skin might absorb the aflatoxin), but I do now it works. niio
Sounds like Bread and raw milk poultice.
While growing up – if we had a sliver or a nail became infected – my mother would make a paste of flaxseed meal and water and put in gauze over the area – tape it and left it until the paste dried. It would draw infection to the surface where it could be washed with peroxide. If really deep – might have to reapply until brought to the surface. We would put it on b4 we went to bed – and in the am it would be dry. If our hand or foot was involved – we would soak it in Epsom salts and then apply the flaxseed poultice.
My grandfather swore by a product called Steinfield’s salve. It is no longer on the market. It would pull out splinters and infection like Dee explained with her mother’s flaxseed poultice.
When I was young I was stung very badly all over my face by yellowjackets. My mom and aunt used baking soda paste all over my face. It helped the stinging, but my face still swelled up.
Here’s a little info on mustard plaster poultice from an interesting website.
DIY Medicinal Mustard Plaster
Mustard and tobacco have thousands of years of use behind them and seem to be some of the more effective natural remedies. Wild mustard is widespread, wild tobacco more limited. Red has posted good info on tobacco in the past.
When a mere boy I was stung in several places by a pus moth caterpillar. Most painful insect or animal attack I ever had. Mom called the Doc, he said if I didn’t have anaphylaxis to soak a cloth in household ammonia and hold it to the stings. Gave pretty good relief. The pus moth has stingers in it’s many little feet, leaves a trail of fiery triangular welts. Bet tobacco would be good.
For serious wounds the best poultice is a thick slurry of sugar and iodine, or honey and iodine, honey by itself can help. Everybody should be familiar with treating infected wounds with with sugar, honey, and iodine.
The old time drawing salves worked well. Maybe Ravens granny
used it to suck out his ear wax and it was so strong it sucked out his brain as well.
One thing I have never seen Is the use of a Netty pot.
Buy them cheap at Walgreens Walmart, CVS etc.
Whenever i even get a slight notification of some nasal infection from allergies to colds, flu etc. I use it and some times even before the next day what ever it was coming on, disappeared!
I know most people wold not like to stick up salt water in their nose – but who has ever came out of a swimming pool and not had water in their nose and didn’t die?
Slivers – old fashion hot water in a glass small bottle. Once the glass is very warm empty and cover the sliver. glass cooling down makes a vacuum making the sliver rise to get a hold of.
2nd wood glue. Place over sliver, let dry ,pull out! Quicker than the bottle.
Drip candle wax onto prickly pear glochids, but only if you are a manly man.
I use duct tape. 🙂 But, the wax trick sounds as good. niio
good info to learn and practice
There’s wild, native tobacco (AKA wivian/midwife) coming up all over now. Here, southern AZ middle desert, it’s drought and frost hardy. Ants carry away seeds from the mother plant to their gardens. When gardeners realize the seeds kill fungus, they reject any coming in. The seeds get dumped outside the colony where they sprout and drive roots into the CO2 rich soil of the colony. Like all tobacco in it’s variety it does best with some shade, but it also will thrive under a direct 110F sun. If smoked straight, it will get you stoned, so be careful. For domesticated Hopi and other ‘rural’ tobaccos are good, and ornamental, so can be raised in hidden gardens. One wild tobacco, tree tobacco, has little nicotine and is worthless as a medicinal. But, animals will eat it as they will any tobacco. niio
When we would get stung by insects or nettle my grandmother, Oma, would put baking soda on it and then pour vinegar over it. It bubbled and felt so good. She would make a paste and let it sit. My mother also used it and so do I. My mother also made a liquid with asprin, camphor, alcohol, golden seal and other stuff for insect stings. It worked immediately! We called it her Magic Potion.
When I had beestings, my grandmother coated them with a paste of aspirin and water. Worked fast! She also made poultices with mustard powder mixed with warmed goose grease spread on old flannel to put on the chest. Boy did they stink, but worked for bad chest colds. She used goose grease for the base of all her poultices, said she thought it had something in it that helped the other ingredients absorb into the skin, or generally work better. There was another proprietary poultice base called Antiphlogistine she liked to use. It worked well.
Now it’s put out as a cream for sore muscles, not the same formula.
She always used clean old flannel rags for the poultices, “helped keep the poultice warm longer”.
She used Musterole for chest colds and Vicks Rub for stuffy noses and chest colds. Had to watch for skin reactions on all the poultices, they could burn or cause a rash if left on too long or were too hot.
Honey with lemon, mixed half and half, for sore throats, either by the spoonful or in tea; also put a teaspoonful added to a 1/2 shot of whiskey or red wine for a fever. Made you sweat it out! She made her own aspirin from willow bark and vodka, measured it out with an eyedropper, about 5 drops for a dose.
I loved it
This blog is wonderful I really like reading your articles