Here is an example of how to make a soothing poultice using yarrow (Achillea millefolium), an antiseptic and antiinflammatory herb. You can find out more about making herbal remedies on courses offered at Holt Wood in Devon, including ‘Harvesting from the Medicinal Forest Garden’ and ‘Medicinal Herbs in Historical Practice’, more details can be seen on our Events page.

Herb poultices

For a poultice, you process whole herbs into a paste for direct application to the body, and this can be used in skin complaints such as superficial burns, splinters, bruises and cuts. You will need to crush, chop or grate herbs into a pulp, and add just enough water to make a paste. You can add flour, clay, bran, honey, soap etc. to make the paste thicker. The paste is spread evenly on the skin up to 1-2 cm thick. Using muslin helps to hold the herb mixture in place, for a small area you can use an empty teabag, for a large area use a pillow case. Leave on for 30 min or longer and repeat as needed. It can be helpful to apply a thin layer of oil on the skin first. Larger amounts of herb paste can be made in a blender, and could also be made using dried herb moistened with water, though generally fresh herbs work best. 

A compress is also applied direct to the skin but is usually based on a piece of cloth soaked in a herbal infusion or decoction. Here is a basic recipe for making a yarrow poultice, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, good for applying to bruises, cuts, stings or rashes

Recipe: Making a soothing yarrow poultice

You will need:

25-50 g fresh yarrow herb (a good handful of leaf)

Water

Pestle and mortar, muslin and scissors

1. Pick leaves and brush off insects and dirt. 

2. Chop or tear the herb coarsely, and place in the mortar.

3. Add a little water and crush and mash herbs into pulp or paste using the pestle. 

3. Cut a piece of muslin about twice the area of skin to be treated, and spread the herb paste onto the layer of muslin. Fold over the muslin onto the herb, like a sandwich.

4. Apply the muslin with herb paste direct to the affected area, tie on with strips of muslin, leave on for 30 min and repeat as needed.

Yarrow poultice in pictures

Gather herb, pick clean and and roughly chop into mortar
Mash the herb with a little water into a paste

Place herb paste on a piece of muslin
Apply direct and if needed tie on with muslin strips

Other herbs for poultices

This recipe can be adapted to use other fresh herbs. Suitable soothing herbs for use as a poultice include plantain (Plantago spp) especially for insect bites or stings, splinters, boils, also chickweed (Stellaria media) or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Antiseptic marigold (Calendula officinalis) flowers and leaves can be used for bruises, burns, cuts, sore and inflamed skin. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) or St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) help in healing superficial wounds, repairing skin damage and recovery from bruises and sprains.