Poultices & Compresses

Poultices and compresses have been used for thousands of years as a natural healing method. Both are used for relief for burns, abscesses, skin infections, boils, and infections.  They can be used for both external and internal ailments. They are not used as much in modern times because they are a bit more time-consuming as compared to herbal capsules or teapills, but they are still very effective and are a good way to end a day with some relaxation.  In our quick-fix world, we too often rely on tablets and pills to "fix" things.....

Be sure to consult your naturopathic doctor, physician, or herbalist before beginning a new herbal regimen. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact us.


A compress, also known as a fomentation, is a clean cloth that has been dipped in a herbal solution (like a tea or tincture) and is then applied to the affected area. They can be used either hot or cold. Many people alternate using hot and cold treatments in order to get the maximum benefits from a compress. 

Types of Compresses

Different compresses work well for different types of ailments. Below are some of the more common compresses and their uses.

Type of Compress



Castor Oil Compress  Castor oil  External application only – breaks up lumps, bumps, adhesions, irritable bowel, constipation, uterine fibroids, cysts in the ovaries, gallstones, kidney stones, bone spurs from calcium deposits, chest congestions with hot water bottle, brain tumours.  See: Castor Oil Packs
Chamomile Compress  Chamomile Tea  Soothe nervous digestion, increase circulation.  Often applied to the abdominal area while alternating hot and cold treatments
Comfrey Compress  Comfrey Root  Sprains
Ginger Compress  Ginger Tea  Sprains, strains, inflammation, indigestion, kidney function
Horsetail Compress  Horsetail  Sprains
Lavender Compress  Lavender Tea  Often used on the onset of a headache and to relieve muscle tension
Thyme Compress  Thyme tea or extract   Coughs, colds, respiratory issues, phlegm, and congestion.  Usually laid over the lung area to help with respiratory congestion


A poultice is defined as a moist material (usually made of herbs, pastes, and other fillers) that is applied to a sore or inflamed part of the body in order to provide relief. Poultices can also be used for eruptions, boils, carbuncles, abscesses, and infected wounds.

How to Make a Poultice

Making a poultice is easy! You can make them at home in minutes.


  • 2-3 tablespoons of fresh or dried herbs and fillers (fillers might include clay, activated charcoal, or flour)
  • Hot water

Special Equipment

  • Cheese cloth or a thin cloth for covering the affected area
  • A waterproof covering to hold the poultice in place and keep the moisture and heat in (plastic wrap works fine)


  • Gather your ingredients.
  • Start with four ounces (4 oz. / 115 g) of herbs slightly bruised. It is best for the herbs to be in a ground form.
  • Turn the powder into a paste.
  • Pour boiling hot water over the powder, enough hot water to make a thick paste.
  • Put the paste on some gauze.
  • Apply the paste in a layer about 1/4th inch thick on a piece of cotton cloth large enough to cover the area completely. 
  • The cloth can be gauze or a light material to ensure that the herbs can penetrate through.

Use your poultice.

  • To keep the heat in, cover with a piece of plastic. 
  • Leave it on until the herbs have cooled. 
  • Whole herbs can be used as well.
  • Do not reuse the same poultice.
  • Clean cloth is needed each time the problem area is addressed.
  • The poultice is to be used on an area that has been thoroughly cleaned. 

Type of Poultice




 Cabbage and  Garlic   Mashed cabbage leaves & garlic Mastitis, swelling and inflammation

Mash sufficient grated cabbage leaves and at least 3 cloves of garlic. Mix. Apply to some gauze and insert into bra.

 Cabbage leaves,  whole  Cabbage leaves Reduces discomfort from inflammation and swelling

Either dip a leaf of cabbage into boiling water till it becomes tender or beat it till it is mashed up with a meat cleaver.  Fit over injured area e.g. the uncomfortable, swollen breasts of mother who is feeding her newborn baby, swollen knees, ankle.  Cover with a cloth, cling wrap and bandage it on.

 Cayenne   ½ tsp of cayenne pepper, ¼ tsp olive oil Arthritis, aches, pains

Spread olive oil onto clean gauze and sprinkle cayenne pepper on.  Oil will hold powder in place. Wrap foot either in cling wrap or put a sock on over the gauze dressing. You can hold gauze in place with some plaster if desired

 Charcoal   Charcoal, psyllium, hot water  Neutralises poisons (used in hospitals for drug overdoses and accidental poisoning

Mix together 1 part psyllium to 3 parts charcoal with a little clean water until a jelly consistency. Roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap with a rolling and make strips. Place in the freezer.  Cut with scissors to the correct size. Strip off plastic layer on the bottom.  apply to wound or sting. Leave top layer of plastic behind. Bandage in place.

 Clay   Clay Splinters, infections.  These packs are great for drawing splinters to the surface for easy removal

Follow manufacturers instructions. Form a paste and place over infected area. cover with gauze and / or a bandage. If wound is open do not put clay directly onto wound - place on gauze first and put clay side down, before covering

 Comfrey   Comfrey root Strains, sprains, broken bones.  This is often applied over and below a cast to help with the healing of broken bones

Standard poultice application applies. See instructions under How To Make a Poultice, above.

 Garlic   Garlic antibiotic, anti-fungal remedy. Great for warts

Make a paste from the garlic and spread onto the wart/s. Do not put onto healthy skin. Cover with a dressing. Repeat dressing daily for several days.  

 Ginger   Ginger root

Joint inflammation, pain.  It might feel as if the skin is burning (hot), but ginger will not damage the skin.

Standard poultice application applies. See instructions under How To Make a Poultice above.
 Onion 1  Sautéed onions

Illness, coughing, congestion.  This poultice is applied to the bottom of the feet and then covered with socks.  It can also be applied to the chest to help with respiratory issues. also useful for earaches and boils.

Standard poultice application applies. See instructions under How To Make a Poultice above.
 Onion 2  Raw onions For respiratory problems

Slice onion rings finely.  wrap onion in gauze and fold over making a small parcel. Place onion side dowwn onto skin.  Cover with bandages or cloth.  Do not leave longer than 2 - 3 hours as it can irritate the skin. Do NOT leave overnight.


 Chewed up

 plantain leaves

Insect stings and bites.  The chewed leaves are often applied directly to the sting or bite area for substantial relief.

Standard poultice application applies. See instructions under How To Make a Poultice above.
 Potato   Organic potatoes

Tissue inflammation (eyes, conjunctivitis, abscesses, tender parts of the body.

Grate potatoes finely.  Place grated potato onto a gauze dressing (in the centre), fold dressing to form a square. Place potato side down. Cover poultice with a bandage.


 Magnesium, Epsom Salts or Bicarbonate of Soda 

Infections, abscesses`

Mix equal quantities of magnesium and epsom salts or epsom salts and bicarb together, with a little bit of water to form a paste. place on a clean gauze dressing, salts side down and cover with a bandage or plastic wrap. Leave in place for 2 - 3 hours until inflammation / infection clears.

 Turmeric 1  Turmeric root Boils and infections

Grate root and place on gauze. apply gauze turmeric side down and hold in place with a bandage or plastic wrap.

 Turmeric 2

 Turmeric powder,

 olive oil / coconut oil

Boils, infections, inflammation

1 to 2 teaspoons turmeric powder depending on size being treated,  Spread oil onto gauze, sprinkle turmeric powder over oil. Place turmeric side down and cover with bandage or plastic wrap. Note: may stain the skin, but does wash off, in time.

 Yarrow   Mashed yarrow root Rashes and minor wounds Standard poultice application applies. See instructions under How To Make a Poultice above.

For those interested, take a look at this Open Source video by Barbara O'Neill: discovering Good Health: Poultics and Their Applications.  Be warned, it is over an hour long but well worth the viewing...  https://youtu.be/_OKpkSaCecE

How to apply a herbal poultice
How to apply a herbal poultice
Potato poultice - also applicable for ginger, garlic etc
Potato poultice - also applicable for ginger, garlic etc
Wrapped Potato Poultice
Wrapped Potato Poultice