Archive for June, 2007

Herbs for irritated skin: spit poultices.

The theme of this month’s Herbal Blog Party is “Soothing recipes for irritated skin.”

Now, I can think of a lot of wonderful recipes for salves, ointments, lotions, sprays, liniments, etc. But when I think about how I use herbs in the summer for my own skin, I think of the simplest recipe of all: the “spit poultice.”

A spit poultice is exactly what it sounds like. Pick a few leaves, chew them up a bit, spit them out, and put them where they’re needed. I use spit poultices for bites and stings, scrapes, cuts, bruises, burns, and just about any other mishap my skin might encounter in the summer.

Here are some of my favorite herbs for spit poultices:

All Heal (Prunella vulgaris). All heal (also called “heal all” or “self heal”) is a great all-purpose spit poultice—no surprise, considering its name. It’s good for cuts, bruises, burns, bites, and irritations of all kinds.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa). Also called “wild bergamot” or “sweet leaf,” bee balm is one of the best plants to poultice on burns of any kind.

Chickweed (Stellaria media). Chickweed is incredibly soothing. It’s wonderful for irritations of the eye; also stings and superficial inflammations.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Comfrey poultices are good for interior swellings (bruises and sprains) and exterior abrasions (scrapes and superficial cuts).

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). Ground ivy is a great poultice for bruises, especially dark purple ones (think of the classic black eye).

Moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia). Moneywort (also called “creeping jenny”) is a good poultice for all sorts of wounds, especially old ones that refuse to close.

Plantain (Plantago major or P. lanceolata). Plantain is the classic spit poultice herb. A plantain spit poultice is the best thing I know of for any kind of bite or sting. It works great for redness and swelling in general, too.

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). This much-maligned plant makes a great poultice for running sores and ulcers.

Violet (Viola sororia or V. odorata). Violet’s mucilage makes it lovely for burns (including sunburn), but it’s also great for bruises, irritations, and swellings.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Yarrow is especially good for deep, clean cuts. Bruises, too. It’s one of the best herbs to stop bleeding, particularly when there’s thin, bright red blood.

Most of these are common underfoot plants. If you need a spit poultice, you can usually look around and find at least two or three of them. And most of them are good for most skin problems in a pinch. (But don’t use comfrey on deep wounds—it can cause the skin to heal over a wound that isn’t ready to be sealed off.)

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Home.

levels.JPG

I’m moving.

Home.

To the Greenbrier Valley in southeastern West Virginia, where I grew up.

The Greenbrier Valley is not like any other place in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s not close and steep like the Allegheny Plateau farther west. It’s not long and snaky like the Ridge and Valley just to the east. It isn’t high and alpine like the Allegheny Mountains to the north or low and humid like the Great Valley to the south.

In geologic terms, the Greenbrier Valley is a patch of Mississipian limestone and sandstone, honeycombed by caves, eroded by the Greenbrier River, and sitting smack on top of the Allegheny Front.

In geographic terms, it’s rolling farming country (called “levels”) mixed with higher knobs and ridges. Cattle, sheep, logging, and (more and more) tourism. Stately farms and back-hollow hideouts. Southern culture with mountain skepticism.

I grew up in the Little Levels of Pocahontas County.

Now I’ll be living in the Big Levels in Monroe County.

This picture was taken maybe 500 feet from our new house.

(The plants, you ask? What about the plants? Too much to write about yet.
Rocks first, then plants.)

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