The poultice has been used for healing over thousands of years; in fact, we can consider the poultice to be one of the earliest forms of medicine, with mud and clay preparations being among the first known.
I did not have poultices on my radar until the day I tripped on a small, unseen dog hole and fell like a crashing oak to the ground. My knee was twisted and the torrent of swear words coming out of my mouth could probably be entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. I dragged myself into the house and crawled onto the couch. My partner, Peter, applied ice packs and pillows and I thought surely in a few hours I would be walking again.
While the swelling had come down from the ice packs, I could not bear weight at all on the knee. Then the idea came to me: earth element, healing … poultice.
Mixing two clays together with arnica essential oil and witch hazel, I slathered my knee with the cool, dark mixture, wrapped it in flannel and waited. When the clay had dried, I reapplied the poultice again. Four hours later, the bruising had lessened considerably and I was able to put weight on the ball of my foot. It was one of those small eureka moments.
About five days later, when I was back to normal, I set about putting poultice on anything that moved. This included horses, dogs, Peter, cats, an unhappy rooster, and an unsuspecting toad. I even managed a poultice fly-by on a hen’s leg.
The Art and Science of Making Poultices
Clay is clay, isn’t it? That’s what I thought until I began researching and testing clays. Where is the clay from? Which clay family is it in — kaolinite, illite, smectite or vermiculite? Does it absorb or adsorb? Or both? What mesh it is, and what efficacy rating does it have? All these things can significantly affect how effective the final poultice preparation will be.
Absorbing and adsorbing actions of clay
Clays with absorbing properties expand when wet, acting like a sponge to soak up toxins.
In contrast to absorption, certain clays have adsorption properties. Adsorption occurs when molecules of one substance adhere to the surface of another substance. Clays that are negatively charged act like a magnet, pulling positively charged toxins to them.
Calcium bentonite is one of the clays that can both absorb and adsorb. However, these kinds of clays cannot be prepared with metal objects; they cannot be mixed in metal or stainless steel containers or stirred with metal or stainless steel utensils, as the clay’s electromagnetic charge will act on the metal, drawing it into the clay and reducing the clay’s ability to adsorb when later applied to the skin.
How poultices work
Poultices were once referred to as “drawing salves” because of the actions that removed or assisted the flow of debris through an opening in the skin (e.g., a wound, boil, ulceration, bite, or abscess). Poultices increase circulation, which, in turn, increases oxygen to the area being treated.
Poultices that contain smectite clays (such as calcium bentonite) or kaolin clays (such as sea clay) are powerful osmotics that help to remove excess fluid, allowing fresh tissue fluid to circulate into the area, bringing protective blood cells, nutrients, and oxygen to the site.
Other kinds of poultices
The ancient Egyptians used honey, tree resin, meat and lard for poultices, while the early Chinese dynasties used specific herbs and foods: carrots, bran, mustard, capsicum, opium, and ginger. In India, the early Ayurvedic practitioners made poultice bags filled with herbs, dipped the bags in warm oil, and then massaged the body with the bag. The purpose of this poultice was to increase perspiration, thus stimulating a release of toxins.
American Indians made poultices from clays, various foods and plants including roasted onions, pumpkins, bloodroot, and red clover.
In the seventeenth centuries, there were porridge poultices and flax meal poultices. On ships, bread or biscuits were used for poultices by combining crumbs with boiling milk and herbs, including sumac (for strains and sprains), marshmallow and hops (to relieve migraines), and charcoal or black powder (for wounds). Even dried horse manure boiled in urine and applied for gangrenous wounds is quoted as a poultice by Lydia Child in her 1837 book The Family Nurse.
Potato poultices were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries for eye problems such as conjunctivitis. Another popular poultice was comfrey for sprains and strains. Dandelion poultices were used for itchy skin and rashes. Cabbage leaves were applied as poultices for gout, rheumatism, varicose veins, and for decreasing the discomfort of breastfeeding mothers.
For hundreds of years, horseman have used mud as a basic poultice for equine legs and feet.
The art of healing with poultice
When we apply poultice to a leg, hoof, paw, or wound, we bring to the clay our own unique vibration, our own healing energies. When we work the poultice onto a leg or into a hoof, we help activate the healing properties of the clay and the herbs. We literally engage and actively participate in the art of healing.
Sadly, to me, poultices today have become commodities: mass- produced, blended in huge stainless steel industrial vessels with stainless steel mixing blades.
That’s why BioStar offers Artisan Poultices. These poultices use the highest quality clays (even exotic varieties like Red Moroccan) and hand-crafted essential oils. They are made individually by hand in our special poultice room. The poultice room is very quiet, allowing our poultice-maker to mix and blend each ingredient to gain the best consistency. Every poultice is made individually — never in a bulk batch.
• Traumera: for Wounds, Stings, Abrasions, and Hives
• Hoof & Sole: For Hooves and Paws
• Origin LLM: for Lumbar, Limb, and Muscle
Poultices aren’t just for equines
While poultices are common in most barns and tack trunks, using poultices on dogs is less common.
Strains and sprains, particularly of joints in dogs, respond very well to poulticing, and can be wrapped with something as simple as a wash cloth or vet wrap to keep the poultice wet for a few hours. A poultice on the sore pads of a dog paw works very fast to reduce inflammation. I also dab poultice on tick bites, using the clay as a drawing salve.
I have also used a poultice on a cat who had an abscess below the ear from a cat fight (barn cat versus house cat…the barn cat won). The abscess healed up amazingly fast from a poultice made of clay, colloidal silver and calendula. As fast as the poultice worked, the other interesting reaction was from the cat; he never tried to rub the poultice off, either by rubbing his head against the furniture, or using his monkey-cat paws to clean the area.
Poultices for humans
I have found that having poultice on hand has become one of my staple go-to ingredients for a wide variety of issues including swollen joints, bee stings, bug bites, spider bites, tick bites, sore muscles, strained muscles, and a nice relaxing facial.
The most important consideration with poultices is the healing action of clay and herbs and hands that increases circulation to take debris, toxins, and inflammation away from the site of injury or strain.
To some people, poultices are messy, time-consuming, a bother, and may seem old-fashioned in these high tech times we live in. But there is something elemental and earthy about poultices. They connect us with the earth, and they connect us to the powerful healing energetics of our hands. Poultices may be old medicine, yet they remain one of Nature’s most powerful healers.
Take a look at our informative video on BioStar’s Artisan Poultices: