Old Fashioned Medicine – Herbs and Hot Water

Old Fashioned Medicine – Herbs and Hot Water

Note: If you read this post, please be sure to read the followup post as well which give further important information on the treatment of cellulitis and other infections of the skin.Spring Vetch

I have recently attended to a great number of acute injuries to the hands and feet of various family, clients, students and assorted other people. Several of these issues required fairly prolonged treatment over period of days to weeks, with several applications/treatments a day. In quickie cases, I like to use tinctures or other ready made preparations I have on hand, but with something like this it’s much more useful to make water based herbal preparations as needed, and usually cheaper too. In every case I resorted to using a strong infusion as a soak for the affected body parts.

In one case, the foot had been cut in several places by a piece of dirty, rusty metal. The wounds appeared shallow and minor so were not properly attended to. A week later the foot began to rapidly swell from toes to ankle, turning somewhat purple and very hard in the process. The wounds were scabbed over and there was some redness around them, but not nearly enough to warrant the dramatic swelling and pain. The discomfort grew to the point where the person was not even able to walk, and then so bad they couldn’t have their foot below heart level without a terrible throbbing pain occurring. Also, it was worsening by the minute, and I could WATCH the swelling rise just while standing and looking for a minute or two. There was considerable stiffness from the calf down and the person could no longer feel their toes at all. The foot was also very hot, and so tender to the touch it was exceedingly difficult to examine.

I gave myself a 12 hour timeline for treatment, if it wasn’t considerably better in that time I would recommend a doctor’s office, which would likely result in strong antibiotics and massive scolding to the client for not seeking “appropriate” medical treatment earlier.

So, I infused the following into very hot water for half an hour (this is not a strict recipe or anything, just my intuitive choices and the reasoning behind them) for external application.

3 parts Rose (A favorite anti-inflammatory healer of mine that helps greatly lessen or eliminate heat from infection)
3 part Beebalm (One of my tried and true herbs for serious infections, especially those of the fiercely acute kind)
3 parts Mugwort (Great for pain and swelling, as well as serious inflammation)
2 parts Sweet Clover (For swelling and inflammation)

Internally, I used a triple herb tincture consisting of 3 parts Usnea, 3 parts Oregon Grape Root and 2 parts Beebalm flower. This was mainly to address infection and get the immune system. This person is already taking Balsamroot and Redroot for other reasons, or I might have added one or both of those to the formula as well. And yes, I can hear you all muttering Echinacea under your breath at me, but as most of you know, I have attitude about Echinacea and I’m busy proving I don’t need anything but local plants for my practice ;)

Even after the first application of the infusion that evening, the swelling slowed and then began to recede. I used water as hot as was bearable, soaking a cloth in the infusion and then wrapping the foot in the cloth until it began to cool, then repeating until the pot of infusion got too cool to use. I followed up with a lanolin based salve of Pine to help draw out the infection which seemed to have a mind to burrow into the body.

Next morning, the swelling was visibly reduced, pain was lessened but there was an awful itch happening in the foot, and a red rash around the areas that were the most swollen. At first I thought the rash was broken blood vessels, but no, it was really a red rash. I thought about it being an allergic reaction to the herbs used, but in retrospect I realized this person had already used all of the herbs included in both the external and internal formulas without trouble. So maybe it was the foot trying to eliminate some of the infection byproducts or other unpleasantness. The latter made the most sense to me, so I continued with the treatment. Foot soak, tinctures and salve every three to four hours during the day, and extra long soak first thing in the morning and right before bed. During the second day of treatment, strange hard white goo oozed from one of the wounds that he re-opened during treatment (a very good thing to have the wounds opened back up in this case). After two days of treatment, I changed the salve to a lanolin based formula of Cottonwood, Alder, Elder flower and Sweet Clover for its general healing, rebuilding abilities along with continued anti-bacterial treatment.

About a week later, the foot is still healing, though the swelling is mostly gone and the stiffness is only present in the evenings. The rash comes and goes, but the wounds have now healed to barely pink scars. At this point, I’m using a soak of Plantain, Comfrey and Larrea to help draw and heal, with less emphasis on anti-infective qualities. I’ve also switched the salve to a Plantain/Evening Primrose (again, in lanolin) for similar reasons.

The other cases were less serious, but similar. One was a red, welted rash that appeared to be a reaction to some unknown irritant, another was a sliced up finger and so on. Because of what I have on hand, my herbal soak was fairly similar each time, although I added Mallow flower, Lavender and Oats to the herbal soak for the rash because of the soothing qualities, and avoided any salve so as not to hold in the heat and itchiness of the rash (and I asked her to let the soak cool to lukewarm before using it as well). Each time, the condition/issue has cleared up remarkably well. In some cases, I recommend whole body immersion in herbal baths, although that’s not terribly practical on site here at the Center with no plumbing and all.

I do love how the simplest things, just weeds and hot water, can treat issues that would have a doctor looking very grave indeed. Acute cases can be so gratifying too, often going from frightening to fine in 24 hours, and can make one appear to be a very competent herbalist too! In reality, while they can look more minor, chronic cases are the most difficult and most likely to defy treatment, but it’s nice to have some variety in one’s frustration/satisfaction levels.

As a side note, if you live in the SW, White Sage (S. apiana) and Larrea make a great all-purpose soak, it’s crazy-wonderful smelling in a desert kind of way and very effective. If you don’t live in the SW, I can pretty much guarantee you have some equally amazing herbs nearby that will work just as well.

Note: See that pretty purple flower up there on the left? It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Currently blooming all over the Canyon. I believe it’s a wild astragalus of some kind, probably not the edible kind ;)

9 Comments

  1. Alchemille
    Apr 20, 2008

    This is amazing that you were able to treat such a severe condition with such little treatment (although you did it several times a day over several days).
    I have recently found myself interested in hand and foot baths (manuvulves & pedivulves in french)…It is a side of herbalism that unfortunately is being forgotten (or under estimated) though still practiced by old-timers in remote regions of France and Europe. I also remember my mother preparing a (cold) maceration of herbs for her hands and forearms during her last pregnancy.
    There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of litterature on the topic but I ordered a copy of “My Water Cure” by Sebastian Kneipp…I’m looking forward to read it ;).

  2. Susan
    Apr 20, 2008

    The classic text on herbal healing baths is the translation of French herbalist Maurice Messegue’s book. A great resource. It has been published under two different titles, one of them, I believe, “Herbs and Men” or something like that.
    I recently had a case of serious staph or strep infection in the groin following a bite of some kind, all red and broken out in multitudes of white pustules and red streaks advancing up the abdomen by the time the client sought my help. I used herbal washes/compresses in addition to internal herbs. Used mostly what I had on hand: Calendula, Red root, Echinacea. It cleared up beautifully. The client had recently been assisting a chronically hospitalized elderly relative who had had two similar such infections, so it may have been MRSA, but the client didn’t get near an MD to find out! ;-)

  3. Lisa
    Apr 22, 2008

    Hi,
    I hope you are still reading comments on this particular essay. I am a somewhat disallusioned RN working as a “Home IV Nurse”, mostly placing special IVs and teaching patients to give themselves antibiotics at home for severe infections. I find myself increasingly doubtful about the ‘good’ I am doing, though my patients typically do get well (although we do have a population of frequent flyers, mostly diabetics). I have my doubts that modern medicine will survive as most of it depends on oil, which is going to be less available as there is only a finite amount to bring up out of the earth.
    Anyway, I am very interested in herbal treatments for infections. What your patient presented with sounds like a very bad cellulitis (infection just under the skin and the skin itself). This is probably the most common infection we treat. I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.
    Did the person you treated complain of fever, chills, nausea and/or vomiting or other symptoms? If so, did you treat them separately or did they resolve as the swelling and redness decreased?
    Did you have the patient return to see you daily to check his progress?
    Have you heard about the use of garlic in treating MRSA infections? They’ve been studying it in the UK and have had great success with stubborn infections healing after using it both as a salve and internally.
    You described itching and a rash the next day. I have found that when the swelling decreases rapidly the patients almost always complain of itching due to the loosening of the stretched skin. The rash is often petechiae (a flat red rash caused by bleeding under the skin). We often recommend applying a soothing lotion as long as the skin is not broken. And tell them not to scratch as the skin is very fragile.
    I am learning so much from your blog and another one, The Herbwife’s Kitchen! I am trying out some of the recipes and am having a great time. I also recently got the book, “The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook” and am looking forward to learning more about this vital practice. My own great aunt (she died when I was a baby) was a midwife and ‘granny healer’ in her own rural community, so I come by my interest naturally!

  4. Kiva Rose
    Apr 22, 2008

    Lisa, thanks so much for reading! You asked some very interesting question. There was no nausea, chills or vomiting in this case, though I have seen that was some other severe infections. Nor was there swollen glands amazingly enough, but the client is already being given immune and lymph herbs for a chronic condition.

    I agree that is is cellulitis, and have an update to post about the treatment later today, as I ended up changing the regiment a bit and now it is healing even more rapidly.

    Yes, I saw the client daily, it was too scary looking not to.

    Yes, I am familiar with garlic for MRSA, and I would have used garlic in this case had the client been more compliant that way LOL. Usnea, Alder and Honey are my currently favorite treatments for suspected antibiotic resistant bacterias. They all work really really well in my experience, although it is more successful in cases where the client does not have a compromised immune system because of diabetes etc.

    Welcome to the amazing world of herbalism!

  5. Tamara
    May 1, 2008

    I have been reading this with interest because my daughter has a case of cellulitis. I was putting salve on it and would notice it would look slightly redder with the salve although it helped the bumps and itch. I don’t have alder on hand wish I did….nor do I have usnea…I do have honey. Do you apply it topically? I do have some dried bee balm flowers…I have calendula, plantain. I usually use what feels right…I have been giving her burdock tincture as well. I’m thinking chickweed poultice now…I’m going to stay away from the salve for a while and see how that goes. Anyway, I do appreciate the posts here.

    Tamara

  6. Kiva Rose
    May 2, 2008

    I think the chickweed poultice is a very good idea from the sounds of it… where’s the cellulitis and what’s it from?

    I use the honey topically yes… but it’d be good to have more details before making any specific suggestions.

    Thanks for reading!

  7. Tamara
    May 4, 2008

    Hi Kiva Rose! Thanks for replying. I have been trying the chickweed poultice. It looks better around the sight ..bug bite? on her inner upper arm…but the redness is still spreading slowly. She got a hangnail last year which got very infected very fast with red streak going up her arm. She had open heart surgury as an infant and seems to have strong reactions to mosquito bites as well…has her whole life. They swell up and can get infected. She is 19 also has acne (skin problems) I give her tinctures of burdock, dandelion….and yellow dock. Her diet is improving and she’s drinking more water. She chose to go to the doctor who gave her antibiotics and she still has cellulitus..now her dr says over the phone if it’s not better to take her to er to have antibiotics through an IV. I would like to try and avoid this if possible. All her life, docs have give me a hard time because I question things….
    Thanks Again,
    Tamara

  8. Kiva Rose
    May 4, 2008

    Wow, sounds like a very sensitive situation. Any idea what kind of bug bite? Tick bite by any chance?

    Do you have echinacea on hand? I would suggest fairly large doses either as a tincture or decoction throughout the day. Other good possibilities included oregon grape root or chapparrel.

    Plantain infusion or tincture taken internally would also be a good idea. A hot cup of strong beebalm tea could help as well, probably best repeated a couple times a day.

    I would use a wash of the plantain with some of the above herbs added, chamomile or bidens could help too, if you have either. Sweet clover, Yarrow and Mugwort are all good choices too.

    It’s important that whatever treatment she chooses to go with, she be very consistent, being sure to take the tincture internally every few hours, and same with external treatment if possible.

    Is she showing signs of septicemia or similar? Swollen glands, chills, fever? If there are any such signs, it’s extremely important to keep a very close eye on the situation and consider the iv antibiotics if the infection spreads to the blood.

    I have used the honey successfully but be careful to watch and make sure that it’s working and not worsening things by any chance. Be sure to change the dressing several times a day.

    Once she recovers I would suggest she take something tonifying for her immune system, like elderberry, on a regular basis along with eating tons of bioflavanoid rich foods and herbs, especially berries. Depending on her constitution, Peach might be really applicable here in the long run to calm the immune system.

    Hope some of this helpful to you!

  9. Tamara
    May 8, 2008

    Kiva Rose, thank you for your kind response. No fever, chills, swollen glands…it’s not oozing anymore…the skin appears to be drying up…but the redness is still spreading very slowly up the arm. It appears redder at times. But we feel it is starting to improve in that it isn’t swollen anymore. I’m not sure what kind of bite it was…she tends to pick and scratch places at times (a bad habit) I want her to try some of your suggestions. I read the follow up article about the person you have been treating. Sometimes things appear mysteriously and then disappear just as mysteriously (I’m talking about infections or rashes) fascinating story about using the yerba manta…..anyway….I do appreciate you taking time to reply and I feel the information you shared with me will be helpful.
    green blessings,
    Tamara

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