Over the years I’ve had many clients and customers share stories with me about how their great, great, great, great, great grandmother used a poultice made from local plants to heal an injured limb or treat an infection. Before the development of antibiotics, NSAIDs, and steroid medications we had the herbal salve or poultice that was made according to Native American or early European healing traditions, and handed down through the generations. Herbs like comfrey, st. john’s wort, calendula, chickweed, mullein, plantain, goldenseal, chaparral, and myrrh gum all have a history of use in the early healing traditions as having antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties. These botanicals along with beeswax, olive oil, and tallow have been prized for their tissue and wound healing effects.
I can hear the question now, “well that’s really cool, but modern medicine has given us some life-saving drugs like antibiotics and anti-inflammatories that treat injuries effectively. So if these herbals really worked why do we have these drugs?” Well…if you have a serious physical injury that requires medical intervention, by all means, see a doctor or go to the emergency room! But, for minor skin irritations, sores, burns, cuts/scrapes, bites/stings, swollen tissue, and wounds, a good herbal salve may be an effective, inexpensive strategy.
Comfrey (Traumaplant) is one of my favorite botanicals for soft tissue, muscle, and bone injury. Not only is comfrey evidence-based, meaning its medicinal properties have been well researched, but it’s extremely safe and a very effective healing agent. Comfrey contains a substance called allantoin that encourages healthy cell growth and stimulates the white blood cell component of the immune system. This makes wounds heal faster with less infection. Comfrey also contains chlorophyll and a host of vitamins and minerals.
Interestingly, if I was a wounded charioteer in ancient Rome, physicians would apply comfrey leaves to my injuries to stop the bleeding. Better yet, if I lived in the Middle Ages in Europe and I stumbled on some rocks while chasing my herd of goats, monks at the local monastery would pack my wounds with a poultice of comfrey. Comfrey was used as a healing agent in the armies of Alexander the Great, the U.S. Revolutionary War, and World War I.
It is a classic that has stood the test of time!
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics