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.
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 😉