Some of the most enjoyable herbal remedies are for less-serious ailments. Use what you have in your garden to give yourself a much-needed dose of relaxation and decadence.
Prepare a Poultice
What is a poultice? A homemade poultice is made by mashing herbs, plant material or another substance with warm water or natural oils to make a paste. The paste can be applied directly to the skin and covered with a piece of clean cloth. If the herb used is potent such as onion, garlic, ginger, mustard, etc., you may want a layer of thin cloth between the skin and the herb. The cloth can then be covered with plastic wrap to hold in the moisture. The poultice can be changed every 3 to 4 hours or whenever it dries out. You can make a poultice to draw infection, treat boils and abscesses, relieve inflammation or a rash or simply draw the poison from a bee sting!
A compress is used the same way but usually warm liquids are applied to the cloth instead of raw substances. Tinctures or herbal infusions are great for compresses.
The list of ingredients to use for a homemade poultice is endless!
Some great "food" poultices are made with onion or garlic and potatoes or cabbage. Yes, I said potatoes and cabbage!
Onion and garlic are great for infections and for the treatment of insect stings and bites, as well as bruises, sprains, and strains. While, potatoes and cabbage can be used to treat inflammation and even arthritis pain.
Plantain (the herb not the fruit) is a favorite poultice ingredient, both for its ability to soothe infections, eczema, rashes and even acne. Another wonderful herb is yarrow (Achillea millefolium), the leaves of which can be used on deeper wounds. Ideally, a poultice should be kept on overnight and reapplied as often as necessary.
As an emergency remedy, the old-fashioned method involves picking some leaves, chewing them up, placing the paste on the affected skin and covering it with whatever cloth is handy. If your need isn’t an emergency, you can harvest the plant, herb or root, grind it into a fine powder, add warm water to make a paste, apply it to the skin and cover it with a warm hand towel and tie it with a cotton cloth to keep it all in place. This works especially great with comfrey (Symphytum officinale).
The beauty of a poultice is that it can be made in the field on the fly. Almost any broad, green leaf will work to some extent in soothing the skin and drawing out undesirable elements from the wound. Traditionally, comfrey poultices are used to heal bones, wounds and traumas to muscles and other tissues. Because it causes such rapid cell proliferation and healing, though, a comfrey poultice should never be applied to deep wounds or puncture wounds, as there is a possibility of the skin healing over an infection and sealing it in.
In the middle of summer, colds and flu are generally far from our minds, but this is a great time to stock up on bug fighters of all kinds.
If you are fortunate enough to have an elder tree (Sambucus nigra) growing in your garden or your neighborhood, you have access to one of the most powerful antiviral medicines in the world. Dried elderberries are made commercially into teas and tinctures. The best and easiest way to harness their flu-fighting power is to juice them (then cook the juice before consuming).
To make tasty elderberry pops, pick the elderberries at their ripest and rinse them in a colander. Put the clean berries in your blender, adding a bit of water, if needed, to get things going. Once you have the elderberry juice, put the juice in a nonreactive pot and cook it until it boils, then simmer for 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool, then fill ice cube trays about 3/4 full and freeze for an hour until firm enough to insert Popsicle sticks. Then let freeze until solid. If someone comes down with a summertime virus, have them suck on the deep red-purple pops and pretend they got them from the Good Humor man. The chill will feel good on scratchy throats, and the elderberry will go to work fighting the flu bugs.
You can experiment with adding your children’s favorite juices to the elderberry juice before freezing. If a virus hits during the colder months, dissolve a couple of elderberry cubes in a cup of warm or hot water, and sip the elixir to banish the bugs from your immune system. Keep in mind that elderberries are antiviral and not antibacterial, which means they work great for flus and anything else caused by a virus but are ineffective at combating ailments caused by bacteria.
A Fresh Cup of Tea
Nothing could be simpler or provide you with more instant gratification than tea made with fresh herbs from the garden. There’s something tremendously satisfying about going into the garden and tearing off a few leaves here, a few flowers there, pouring some boiling water over them, and sitting down for a cup of freshly harvested tea in the middle of the afternoon.
According to Richo Cech, author of Making Plant Medicine (Horizon Herbs, 2000), the plants most appropriate for fresh infusions are angelica, calendula, catnip, dandelion, gentian, horehound, lemon balm, lovage, plantain, self-heal and thyme. This is not to say you can’t experiment with making fresh infusions of other herbs, though. Along the way, you’ll find that fresh herbs impart a far more glorious color to water than their dried counterparts.
As a general rule, the medicinal properties in dried herbs are more accessible for extraction than in fresh herbs because the process of dehydration causes the cell walls to become more fragile and to give up their contents more readily. For this reason, it will be necessary to use a larger quantity of the fresh plant when making tea than you would of the same plant in dried form. So for fresh herb tea, it’s best to finely chop or tear the plant (some people prefer the mortar and pestle route) and loosely pack it in a glass jar. Cover with boiling water and a lid (to prevent volatile oils from escaping) and steep until it has cooled enough to drink, about 20 minutes. Strain the infusion into a glass or drink it straight from the jar. You might try this method with a mixture of mint, lemon balm and catnip for a refreshing, calming tea.
If you’re a gardener, the back yard in summertime is your supermarket and your playground. It also can be your pharmacy. Why stop at clipping flowers and picking tomatoes when you can make teas, bath products, poultices, oils and medicinal foods from the fresh herbs growing right outside your door?
Summer is the peak season for fresh, seasonal remedies to treat all the dings and scratches you and your family are likely to get from working in the garden, climbing trees, building forts and mixing it up with nature. It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of the garden’s abundance by filling up your medicine cabinet with remedies for the coming months. Imagine having a ready answer when someone in your family comes down with the flu, has an ear infection or just wants to pamper herself with an herbal bath.
If you keep in mind some general rules about how to process different plant parts, when to harvest the part of the plant you’re interested in, and the difference between using fresh and dried herbs, the rest is up to your creativity.
Naturopathic Lifestyle Educator and Wellness Coach, Sonja Upham, received medical missionary training and lifestyle education at Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center in Alabama and Hallelujah Acres in North Carolina. She moved from her position as Webmaster and class lecturer at Uchee Pines back to North Carolina where she serves as Assistant Health Ministries Director at her local church, and Co-founder of HeavenScent Wholistic Health, along with her husband Dave. Furthering her education she attended Global College of Natural Medicine, receiving her Master Herbalist and Holistic Health Practitioner certifications. She is currently working towards her doctorate in Naturopathy.