Podcast 135: Accessible Herbalism for Wound Care
Everyone gets hurt sometimes. Knowing how to take care of injuries at home is an excellent skill to have. You can prevent a minor injury from becoming something serious with a few simple steps: stop the bleeding, clean & disinfect, then help the healing process. Bringing in herbalism for wound care support is going to be a major boost to this process, making it go faster & more certainly in the right direction!
We also discuss strategies for coping with chronic wounds. When we work with herbs for wounds that are chronic, such as diabetic ulcers, they can make improvements even where these have been recalcitrant and slow-to-heal. In all cases we’re careful to adjust our herbs based on the state of the wound – particularly wet vs dry wounds – and to choose preparations that make sense for the type of wound we’re working on.
Herbs discussed in this episode include: yarrow, cayenne, chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, thyme, oregano, sage, lavender, garlic, onion, cinnamon, clove, black tea, juniper, cedar, pine, calendula, plantain, goldenrod, & seaweeds.
This is part 7 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.
We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi. I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Yeah. Well, we’re back and we’ve got some new content for you. We’re continuing our accessible herbalism series today, and we’re going to talk about wound care.
Yes. This is part seven in the accessible herbalism series, which is a series of strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially that crop up in underserved areas.
So our purpose with this series here is to offer community herbal information in an accessible and inclusive way, so people can take actions to support their own health.
Yes. In many parts of the country, there just isn’t access to medical care. And in cases where it is available, sometimes it is understaffed. And so it’s difficult to actually even get an appointment. So we wan’t to acknowledge that lots of people do have access to good quality medical care, but lots of people don’t. And so we want to provide some skills and some tools that will help to fill that gap.
Yeah. This isn’t medical advice because that’s not what we do. But what we’ve got here is some safe, accessible self care strategies that will help to improve your health outcomes. We believe that all people have a right to accessible high quality healthcare. And until that is realized.
For all people. Yes.
And honestly, even after that, we do want all people to have the tools to care for themselves as well, as much as possible.
Our plan is to work with a relatively small number of easy to get and inexpensive herbs. So you’ll notice the same plants turning up frequently in different places. Of course, there are many other plants that can work well for each of these issues that we’re talking about, but the ones that we’ve chosen are effective and accessible and affordable. And also we are working with herbs that are generally safe and generally don’t have interactions with pharmaceuticals unless we specifically make a note of that. And we are trying to make a note every single time that one of those comes up so that it is easier for you to work safely with your situation and with the plants that we’re talking about.
Yeah. So there’s going to be a printed version of this collected work available at the end of the series, along with some information about how to start a community health collective. And we’re making all of this available free to everybody, because we want everyone to have these kinds of skills. So if you’d to support this work, and if you want to see everything collected as we get it all together, then you can do both those things at commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid. All one word.
All right. And before we get started, one other thing that we want to tell you, we have to tell you, and also we want to tell you, that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.
Yeah. The ideas we discuss in our podcasts do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. And these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.
And also we want to remind you that your good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. So this means that the final decision in any course of therapy, whether you heard it on the internet or discussed it and it was prescribed by your physician, that choice is always yours.
Yeah. All right. Well, today’s topic should be relatively applicable to all of the humans that are out there. There’s less individual variation when it comes to wound care.
Yeah. I mean, pretty much if you’re a human, at some point you’re going to have to deal with it.
Yeah. And you know, this is also a topic where less than other things that we’ve discussed on our pod or in this series, there’s going to be less about your lifestyle choices when it comes to wound care.
Now some lifestyle choices might make you more likely to get into wounds, you know, running around in the woods barefoot, climbing trees, occasionally that kind of thing will happen. But, you know, those small, tiny wounds, those are actually like, they build resilience. They toughen you up a bit, you know? So there’s that, but today we’re talking more about the kind of thing where you might get scared, you might get upset. You’re definitely going to need a bandaid, if not, maybe some stitches.
Yeah. We’re not going to be talking about like bullet wounds or some sort of impalement wound where maybe the object is still stuck in you. Those require a lot more training and they’re out of the scope of what we’re talking about here. But we’re sort of talking about that middle place of wounds, like bigger than a paper cut. Maybe you’re going to need a couple of stitches. And the other category of wounds here that we’re going to talk about are chronic wounds. So this might be a person who has diabetes, who has a diabetic lesion or ulcer on their leg, and it just doesn’t heal. It just stays there.
It could be bed sores.
Yeah. Also exactly, exactly. So in in any kind of a situation where you’re dealing with very serious wound, we obviously want to acknowledge that emergency medical care might be needed. But depending on the wound, you might also be able to start helping while you’re waiting for them. So in any of those serious cases, definitely use your judgment and call for help when you need it.
Three Steps to Care for Bleeding Wounds
Alright. So let’s say that we’re dealing with one of these, like you said, kind of mid range – It’s a pretty big range – but yeah, dealing with that kind of wound. Now, anytime we’re looking at a bleeding wound, there’s going to be three steps that we need to remember. And we’re going to keep them in mind and drill them in and do them the same way every time. Right? So your steps are number one, stop the bleeding. Number two, clean and disinfect the wound. And then number three is where we start to help the healing process to take place. So stop the bleeding, clean and disinfect, then heal. Don’t do them out of order.
No, no. And that’s the thing that when you’re faced with a loved one. You know, maybe it’s your child, maybe, you know, whatever, and they’re bleeding. And it kind of looks big and a little scary. It’s easy to get nervous. It’s easy to kind of have that panic start inside and to sort of think, Oh no, what do I do? And maybe even though these are only three steps, it’s really normal to freak out a little bit when there’s a bunch of blood. And so you might be like, Katja, Ryn, I’m not going to screw up three steps. I won’t do them out of order. But in the moment where you’re faced with all the blood…
Sometimes it’s just like, Ah, ah, cover it up! Bandage it up! Get the thing on there right away. I don’t want to look at it anymore.
So, that can absolutely happen. But you don’t want that to take place, right? If you do that, if you just throw a bandage on and cover it and wrap it up tight, then you know, you haven’t cleaned out bacteria. There could be microbes, there could be infection that gets started. It’s just not the way to go. So it’s normal to feel nervous or to get overwhelmed, but coming back to these simple checklists is really, really helpful in that moment. So you say, all right, we’ve got a wound, it’s bleeding. Okay. First thing we stop the bleeding. Then what, then what? All right. We’ve got to clean it. Yes, yes. Clean it out and make sure no infection has a chance to get rooted in there. And then we can work on healing it up and helping to move that process along.
Yeah. Now there’s one other step here. And that is put on some gloves. Because if you’re working with your own child obviously maybe you just take care of it right away. But if you’re providing first aid to a stranger, or if you’re working with an immunocompromised individual, or if you yourself are immunocompromised, then you should definitely put on gloves before you get started.
Yeah. So that’s like step zero, right? Just protect yourself, protect the person that you’re trying to help. And a lot of times that means gloves or other kind of protective gear.
Even if it is a family member, but it’s a family member with some sort of immune compromised situation going on, then you might still put on gloves because you just don’t want any extra thing to possibly be a risk factor. So, just to have that out there. If you are planning to be in a situation where somebody might get hurt. Maybe you are going mountain climbing or going out to a protest or anything in between, then bring some gloves with you just in case. Because that is important step in this process.
Yeah. You know, we often pack our first aid kits so that when you first open it, the first thing right on top, easy at hand is a pair of gloves. So you can just grab that. Put that on, and then take out your bandaids or your gauze or whatever else you need.
Stopping Bleeding with Elevation and Pressure
All right. Well, okay. So, let’s say we are faced with a wound and it is bleeding and maybe it’s kind of bleeding a lot. So the first thing we’ve got to do is stop the bleeding, and the best way to do this is with pressure. If you’re able, it’s great to elevate the wound. So to, you know, if it’s on your hand, put it up over your heart, or if it’s on your foot. But sometimes you can’t do that. It’s hard to elevate your thigh up above your heart. That’s not really going to happen. So when that’s possible, great. That’s just going to make it a little easier because it’s harder for blood to travel against gravity.
Yeah. It just reduces the pressure up there.
But for the most part, it’s going to be pressure. Now, sometimes you might hear an herbalist say to put yarrow or cayenne into a wound to stop the bleeding.
Usually they’re talking about powder. Sometimes with yarrow, like fresh leaves because it has like the featheriness to it.
Yeah. And it is true that those plants can help to stop bleeding. They do have a styptic effect. But I really don’t like to do that, because in the end you’re still going to have to get all that powder back out again. And honestly the styptic action is not strong enough to mean that you aren’t going to have to apply a lot of pressure. So, that’s not something that I find to be a really efficient way to work with a wound. I would really just like to apply a lot of pressure.
Yeah. At the very least, even if you do this, or you know people who do, then recognize that you’re not done, right? Like we had a friend who was a chef and was like, yeah, I would like cut my thumb and then like throw some cayenne in it because it was just right there on the table. And then like maybe put a bandaid on and then just keep going because you’ve got to move. You’ve got to keep doing it.
You’ve got to get the dinner out. Yeah.
So, okay. Like sometimes in lots of situations in first aid, you’re like, all right, just cover this up and then we’ll go to somewhere safer or to where we can take a break or whatever else. Okay. That’s fine. But don’t skip the step where you open it up, clean it all the way out for real. It’s just too important. And so for us we don’t even want to want to start down that path. And also the styptic powders, they’re never as effective as a good hard squeeze.
Yes. That also brings up the point that it is a good, hard squeeze. And if somebody is really bleeding, you might have to put more pressure on than your hands have strength to provide. So you may need to lean your body weight into the wound to stop bleeding. To have the person on the ground or on a table or wherever so that you can put more of your body weight of pressure. Or there may be a situation where you even maybe have to kneel on the wound. And so as soon as you start thinking about that, you’re like, Ooh, this is going to be uncomfortable for the person who is injured. And that is true. So when we’re thinking about how to apply pressure, we also need to think about the person, so that we’re not applying so much pressure that we add damage to the situation. We’re only applying enough pressure to get the bleeding to stop, but sometimes it can be more pressure than you think.
Yeah, it might be surprising. And it’s going to vary, you know, based on like the person’s body and their build in a lot of ways. Someone has a ton of muscle and they were cut in an area with that, you’re gonna need to squeeze really hard. If somebody is kind of frail and thin and wiry, then in that case, then gentler pressure might be sufficient to do it. But yeah, our guidance here is that in most cases it’s more pressure than you expect.
MOre than you think, yeah. You might be like, woo, I’m really pushing and nothing is happening. Now sometimes if a wound is very deep, there’s actually no amount of pressure that you can provide to stop the bleeding. Because it could be that there is an artery that has been cut deep down in. And in order to get that bleeding to stop, there are tools that need to be applied. There needs to be more direct pressure inside the wound. And that’s going to be outside of the scope of what we’re talking about here. So in that case, if you’re applying as much pressure as you feel that you can, and the bleeding is not stopping, then that’s when you’ll need to call for help. But if it is slowing down, it’s good to know that it can take 10 or 15 minutes of consistent pressure for it to stop enough to be stable. You’ll see that it’s slowing down, but maybe you’ll also notice that if you ease off the pressure, it starts bleeding again. Sometimes it just takes awhile, especially if the wound is larger, for the platelets to all start to coagulate, to get sticky and sort of stabilize the situation so that the bleeding stops. So that’s a sort of a tricky middle line that you have to walk. Is stuff slowing down enough that I can handle this myself and I can wait the 10 or 15 minutes until the bleeding has stopped? Or is this really not slowing down and I need to call for help. Even if you call for help, keep applying pressure. Because even if the best you can do is slow down the bleeding until emergency services get there, that is still helpful.
Yeah. That could save a life for real. Okay. But for less serious wounds, again, even ones that might require some stitches, but with most ones like that, you’re going to be able to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure with your hands, with body weight. Just squeeze it up real good until it slows down enough that we can move on to step two.
Cleaning and Disinfecting the Wound
Yes. So, that’s going to be cleaning and disinfecting the wound. Now this is really important. Because, let me tell you, it is so much easier to prevent an infection from happening than it is to deal with an infection once it gets started.
Yeah. So you really do not want to skimp on this step. But the flip side of that is it can be really hard for people to clean a wound, because we get a little squeamish. We start to think like, Oh, there’s a lot of dirt in there. And I’m going to have to pick that out with tweezers, and it’s going to hurt them. And I feel sorry that I’m going to hurt them. And that can start to make you feel a little bit skittish and make you kind of try to be super gentle. But what ends up happening when you do that is that the whole process takes much longer. And when you’re trying to be super gentle, you might try to get a piece of dirt and miss several times before you actually get it. If you just steal yourself and have kind of a compassionate, no mercy attitude towards it. And you’re just like, listen, man, this is going to hurt and we got to do it. So here we go. We’re just doing this. Obviously not trying to hurt them, but just trying to go in with a very steady hand and say, yup, this is probably going to hurt. And I’m cleaning this out now. It will take so much less time and you’ll be much more steady than you would be if you are really stuck in that head place of, oh no, oh no, oh no, I’m going to hurt them. So again, so much of taking care of wounds is taking care of the wound itself. But the other part is keeping our own selves calm so that we can do the work we need to do without having shaky hands or, you know?
Yeah. And so you can project calm to the person that you’re working on, right? Because if you come up to somebody and you’re like, all right, we’re going to clean your wound out now…then they’re not going to feel very confident in your care there, right? And that could make the whole situation more difficult for everybody. So yeah, just try to fake it if you have to. But…
You can puke later, if it’s turning your stomach. And if it is, there’s no shame in that. That has happened to me so many times. But just, you know, put a lid on it and puke later. Just do what you need to do to distance yourself in this moment. I remember once in college I fell off a borrowed mountain bike and just had so much dirt in like 10 million small cuts on both hands. And they were just filled with dirt. And nobody, like it was summer and the school nurse wasn’t there or something, I don’t know, maybe it was a Sunday. And nobody had the…they were like, no way. I don’t want to pull that out of your hand, it’ll hurt you. And I’m like, you guys, it’s got to come out. Like somebody needs to do this and nobody would do it. So I had to do it. And it was the same thing. It was like, I did it a couple of times and I was like, Oh, it’s going to hurt. And then I was just like, you just have to clamp down on that and just do the job and I can feel bad about it later. And it got so much easier, you know? So, having that experience in my own body also makes it easier for me to then translate that experience to somebody else and be like, this isn’t going to be fun. But we’re just going to do this and you get a lollipop afterwards, you know?
Yeah. Alright. So when we’re cleaning a wound, sometimes that does actually involve getting tweezers and pulling out little debris and rocks and bits of stuff like that. Sometimes if you have a clean, damp towel or a sponge or something like that, we can brush things away and rub them out and then go in a little more precisely afterwards. But you might also work with a wound wash. And a wound wash is a really great place to put herbs in. If you’re going to squirt water into a wound to clean it out, then why not make it be herbal water, right? Herbal tea.
Yes, and really squirting water in is exactly what we’re talking about here. Like a wound wash is where we’re going to have just a little bit of gentle pressure behind the water so that the water washes away debris that needs to be removed. Maybe it’s not bad enough to need tweezers, but just putting a clean cloth against it isn’t getting the job done. So like just a little pressure behind it. And you could hold the wound under the sink. But why, but why not have herbal tea doing that instead, because now you’re getting that disinfectant action or the extra benefits and assists from the herb that you wouldn’t get from just sink water.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, with that, you’re rinsing it away, but now you’re also getting disinfectant actions from the herbs and also actions that are preparing the body to move on to the stage of healing from the plants that you work with right there. So yeah, there are lots of different things that you can work with as a wound wash. Sometimes we’ll work with rose water, just plain old rose water…
from the grocery store
that you would cook with. Just get that into a bottle where you can squeeze and you can get force. With a wound wash you’re not just kind of like dribbling water over and letting it kind of run off. You want it to have some pressure behind it.
Like a sports water bottle.
Yeah. Now there are about a billion herbs that will be helpful here. So we’re going to list, I think, way more herbs than we would normally include in a segment of this series. But we’re going to just make a really big list of herbs you can find at the grocery store that are going to be super, super helpful for these situations. So, I think we should start it off with chamomile, because as everybody knows, that is one of my very favorite herbs. It has both antiseptic actions and is starting to prepare to move towards the healing process. And so in this stage where we’re cleaning, I don’t want to put salve or any kind of healing anything onto a wound yet. It is not time for that. But working with an herb that has both antiseptic actions and is going to start the preparation for, the foundation for, the body to transition to healing, and it’s in, any way, it’s just a water based extract. That’s fine at this point. So, chamomile has both of those and also chamomile helps to relax the nerves in the area and sort of slow down the pain signal that is going to the brain. So, while it’s not going to take all of the pain away, it’ll take the edge off the pain. It can relieve some of it. It can slow down the signal of pain just to make it all a little bit less uncomfortable.
Yeah. Pretty lovely. Now you could also look at any members from the mint family of plants, well, the smelly ones, right? So that could be minty smelly, right? Like peppermint and spearmint. Or it could be like warming or spicy or pungent smelly, like thyme, oregano, or sage. And then there’s lavender, which is like…kind of somewhere in between. I don’t know. It’s lavender-y.
Yeah. Rosemary also, would fit. I mean, goodness, even….oh, tarrragon is not a mint, but you often find that at the grocery store, like with the sage and the rosemary and the oregano, you might also find tarragon.
Yeah. You could work with that for sure. But, so you’re getting the sense here that we’ve got strongly aromatic plants where you can smell them from across the room. Those smells, the chemicals that make those smells, are also anti-microbial. And a lot of times they can also help with that healing process, you know, to initiate that. So, those plants are very helpful, very abundant, and they have the kinds of qualities that we’re looking for in this activity. So, that’s just what we want.
Yes. Now garlic and onion are also widely available and they have this same antiseptic type of action, a little bit different mechanism. But you can find these at the grocery store also. Now with chamomile and all of these mint family plants, and tarragon that isn’t a mint family plant but we can put it in there because it’s in the same section of the grocery store, we would make a tea with these plants if we had the option. You know, if you’re on top of a mountain and you don’t have time or the ability to boil water, and you had these plants fresh, you could put them just in water. But it would be better to make tea. Have a lid on it so that you capture that volatile oil component, that aromatic smelly part of the plant, because that is where so much of the antiseptic action is concentrated. But in the case of garlic and onions, you don’t have to make a tea. You can, and that’s fantastic, but maybe you don’t have time to. With garlic and onion you can chop them up into like chunky pieces and put them in water. Maybe it’s warm water, maybe it’s room temperature, water. But shake it very thoroughly for about five minutes. Because as you may have experienced yourself, even if you just get garlic juice on your finger, there’s a lot of garlic action happening on your finger. It will taste like garlic for a long time. It will be hard to wash out. It’s just that juice, even though you didn’t do anything to cook it. So that’s what we’re working with when we’re talking about garlic and onion. It is that juice. And if we can get it into the water, which we will do most effectively by shaking. If we just let it sit there, it will come into the water. But if we shake it, it will come into the water faster. So that will give that anti-microbial action to the water. And that’s a really great way to work in an antiseptic kind of way, because all you need is the garlic or the onion, and something to chop it up with, and a squirt bottle of water. You don’t have to be in a situation where you can boil water and make tea. And also it’s much faster.
Yeah. Right on. Some other kind of kitchen spice herbs that can help out here would include cinnamon and clove. Both of those have some really pronounced antimicrobial effects. And both of them, but more so the clove, they also have some pain relieving actions to them as well. So with these, again, you, you would need to be making the tea before you prepare them, before you administer them.
If you wanted to work with cinnamon and clove without boiling, it, you’d kind of need to let it sit all the way overnight. It’s not like the five minute solution like garlic and onion will give you.
Right. Yeah. And then, you know what? Even plain black tea, green tea bags that you’ve got around, those two have some real benefits as a wound wash. They’re a little bit astringent, you know, they have some quality to help to knit the wound back together. That can also help with clotting, if that’s still an issue at this phase. And they’re antiseptic, you know, even the caffeine in green and black tea is itself an antimicrobial agent.
Yeah. Plus all of these herbs, by different mechanisms, have anti-inflammatory action. And remember, anytime that we say anti-inflammatory what we really mean is Goldilocks inflammatory, right? You need some inflammation in order for the wound to heal, but we don’t want it to spiral out of control. So, we want to just keep it right in that Goldilocks place. And these herbs are going to help do that, to allow the perfect amount of inflammation. But as soon as it gets up over a kind of useful amount of inflammation, then they will help to bring that back down to right in that place where it’s kind of optimum. So, that’s really great.
Yeah. So, with most of these herbs, kind of everything except the way you mentioned with garlic and onions, with all the others, we’re going to make a strong tea to work with this. A strong team, grrr, right? And then we’re going to strain it very, very well. Strain it to the fullest extent possible. And then once it’s cooled down a bit, you’re going to go ahead and put it into that squirt bottle. And that way you can just point it right at the wound and direct your stream and wash things out. And get that good herbal antimicrobial protective stuff in there at the same time.
Yeah. You know, if you don’t need the squirt power, like the gentle jet power to do the washing. And there’s no visible dirt, but you are just working on the anti-microbial level. It’s fine to just dip a clean cloth or like pour some on a clean cloth. And you don’t have to wait for it to cool all the way off that way. It can be a little bit faster. But if you do that kind of a method where you just use a clean cloth to lay over it or to like wipe it a little bit, make sure that you do not dip the cloth into the tea another time. We want to, ideally we’d like to use multiple clean cloths to do this job, but you might not have multiple. So, in that case you can ladle the tea onto the cloth so that you don’t contaminate your whole thing of tea. Or if you can pour it, you can pour it onto the cloth and then wash again. And again, it’s best if you have like a nice stack of clean cloths. It’s just that you don’t always have that situation.
Now I really prefer not to put alcohol on a wound, because although alcohol does have sterilizing action, it also damages the cells that are trying to heal. So around the edges of the wound it’s almost like you can imagine a chain of cells that are not so damaged that they will die. They are either still okay, but the cell that was connected to them has been damaged, or they’re only slightly damaged and they’ll be able to heal. And they’re forming that ring around the wound. If we put alcohol into the wound, just straight alcohol, then we will damage those cells. We will also sterilize the wound, but I would prefer not to work that way simply because I don’t want to add more damage to the wound that’s already there. So in an emergency situation, yes, I will do that. But my preference is to not work with alcohol. Now, if there is a situation in which alcohol is the only thing I have available, maybe I have some herbal tinctures available. Then a really good way to do that is to either mix it with water so that you dilute the damage that can happen, or to just very lightly spray a fine mist so that… Do all the cleaning with water first or tea so that all the dirt and everything is out. And now you’re just trying to do the antimicrobial part. Okay. You can just do a very fine spray of alcohol. Try to kind of minimize that damage or again, kind of like come into that Goldilocks zone. Like, okay, we can do the sterilization, the anti-infective part, but not have so much alcohol that we’re also damaging the cells around the area.
Right, exactly. A fine mist sprayers is pretty helpful for getting that into that nice Goldilocks zone. And the herbs that are in there are going to help to mitigate that to some extent, too. So when we’re talking about using tinctures of that sort there, it’s really basically the same kind of herbs we’ve already been discussing.Any of those mint family plants, like the thyme, rosemary, lavender, peppermint. All of those with those strong aromatics, they’re going to have a good antimicrobial quality to them. Other aromatic plants can also help out here. So think of something like juniper, cedar, or pine. So, those are all evergreens. But, you know, plants like that, any of the evergreens, honestly, you can work with in these topical ways as antimicrobials. So those can be really good, but then honestly, even things like chamomile or calendula, if you have tincture of that around, they can also serve the purpose here as well.
Yes. With chamomile and calendula in particular, you get a mild anti-microbial action, which is then increased by the alcohol itself, but they also have a vulnerary action. And that means they encourage cells to heal and grow. So, it’s almost like those herbs can kind of mitigate the damage that the alcohol was going to cause. So, that’s a great choice. You may be in a situation where alcohol is the only way that you can sterilize the wound. But at least maybe you have the option to work with a plant that you’re sort of almost like formulating with the alcohol to take the edge of the damage off the alcohol itself.
Helping it Heal
Yeah. Alright. So then once the wound has been cleaned out, then we’re going to move on to the stage where we’re helping it heal. But first we want to recognize that this might take several rounds of application or of work to really be sure that the wound is protected, that there’s no more risk of infection. A little cut, some scrape on the knee or whatever, it’s not a big deal. You can clean it. You can move on. It’ll heal itself in a few days, no big deal. But for a bigger wound, especially when it’s still fresh, you might need to clean it once or twice a day. You might need to give it new bandages, you know, once or twice a day, sometimes even more than that. We want to do this both to keep everything clean, but also so that we have a chance to check on the progress of the wound and get eyes on it at least a couple of times a day.
You know, also the herbs and the preparations that we’re going to work with to encourage and support the body healing the wound will change as the wound progresses. So, when we check on it daily or multiple times a day, that gives us a lot of opportunity to get direct feedback. Are the herbs that I’m working with working, and what stage of healing am I in, and do I need to shift the herbs that I am applying here., But especially in the case of a chronic wound, like some sort of an ulcer kind of wound, we’re going to need to clean that one every day too. In this case, we’re generally not going to be cleaning dirt out of that wound, but instead it will be like old pus and dead tissue. Now that’s really important because that pus and dead tissue can actually form a kind of seal over the wound which will prevent air flow from getting in. And that will allow the wound to fester. It will just keep us in this cycle of not being able to heal the wound. So airflow is really important, but we’re not gonna get that airflow unless we’re keeping the wound really clean. So all the way around, whether it’s a fresh wound or whether it is an old wound, cleaning regularly means that we’re able to check on it, make sure that what we’re doing is working. Also, make sure that there’s no infection happening that we maybe missed or something like that. Every time that we check on that wound, that’s an opportunity to get help if we need it as well. I guess I would say one other thing on that point is that I have dealt with wounds in like back woods situations or places where things weren’t clean. And in that case, I don’t want to open the wound up so often, because I have to balance, right? I need to check on this wound and make sure that it is progressing. But on the flip side, every time I open it, I am like introducing some risk because we’re in a situation that can’t really be clean. Like we’re in the woods and there’s dirt everywhere, or we’re in a flooded area after a hurricane, or whatever. So, I still want to check on the wound at least once a day, but just so that you know, there are some considerations about how often. If I’m in a clean environment, and I have the supplies that I want, and I have time to care for the person, then I want to be more active in the cleaning process and more active in checking on that wound pretty regularly. But if I’m in a situation where I don’t have supplies or I don’t have a clean environment, then I probably am going to only do that once a day.
Alright. So step three, support healing. So once the wound is clean, then it’s time to get it dressed. Get a tie on, nice hat, you know.
Yes, definitely a nice dapper hat.
You’ve got to have that on your wounds. Yeah. It’s important. So you have some choices to make here, right? So first your choice is going to be about what you will put on the wound to support the healing process. And then the second is going to be how exactly are we going to cover it up and protect it? So, in terms of what we put on there, a first good guideline here is that if the wound itself is wet, if it’s oozing, if it’s pustulant, all that fun stuff, then you’re going to need to let it dry out some in order for it to heal effectively. So, in that case an ointment or a salve isn’t really something that we want to put on there, because those can seal in that moisture and prevent air flow from getting to the wounded tissue.
So, a better option for wet wounds is to work with an herbal compress. So, work with that compress for like 15 minutes, remove it ,and then bandage the wound as it is. Don’t put salve on it. Don’t put anything else on it, because we want the wound to dry out a little bit so that it can move into the next stages. So, we’re going to get the herbs to the wound to make sure that we’re supporting healing and continuing the anti-microbial process with that compress. And we might do that three or four or five times a day. But we don’t want to then put a bunch of salve on it, because that’s gonna prevent the airflow. So, at this stage when it’s still wet and maybe pus-y, we just want to leave it and bandage it in a way that will allow air flow to happen.
Yeah. So, you know, you were saying to do an herbal compress there first. And a compress, that’s where you’re going to make a strong tea out of your herb, and then you’re going to dip a cloth into it, and then put that over the injury sites. Sometimes we’ll put a hot water bottle on there to keep it warmer longer, but it depends on what we’re dealing with.
And what feels comfortable to the person too.
Yeah. So, in terms of herbs that we’re going to use to make that strong tea for the compress, again, thyme and oregano and sage are all really good choices here. Green and black tea are also really good choices. Something that has a bit of astringency. That’s that feeling where when you drink these things, it kind of like tightens up the taste buds on your tongue a little bit. So sage has that in abundance. Black and green tea have a lot of that quality to them. You know, goldenrod, if that’s an herb in your area that grows abundantly and that you can harvest, that is a really, really good choice as a wound healing plant. But anyway, plants of this nature can be really helpful.
Yeah. And here also we could include chamomile as well. And listen, it’s fine to work with teabags if that’s what you have. You don’t have to have fresh or freshly dried bulk herbs if you don’t have them. If what you can get from the grocery store is teabags, that’s okay. Just make it strong. Put extra teabags in so that it’s a really strong tea before you do the compress. And strain it really well.
Honey and Herbal Help
Yeah. Another good choice for wet wounds is honey. And especially if you’re still a little concerned about infection. You’ve done your work to try to clean it out, but you’re still not all the way certain. So honey is really fantastic, because it does have its own antimicrobial powers. Honey kills microbes by literally sucking the water right out of them and kind of bursting them open. And it will pull some of the wetness out of the wound as well. So when we’re going to put honey on, first you want to make sure to wash it off thoroughly when you open up the bandage. And any time that you apply honey, and then you’re going to take the bandage off, and you’re going to put a fresh one on, you are going to need to give it another wash. A lot of times you’ll be surprised that a lot of the honey seems to have been eaten by the body, to be kind of like absorbed directly into your tissue. So don’t let that shock or even worry you. This is a good thing actually. But you do still, like even though that happens, every time you open it up you’re going to give it a good clean. Rinse everything down really good, and then apply some fresh honey to that area, and a fresh bandage.
Now, in this case you need to make sure that your honey is really honey. Some products that are sold as honey are actually part honey and part corn syrup with honey flavoring. So, it’s better to get local honey with an actual address of where it came from locally. That’s more expensive. But just be sure that the honey that you’re working with is actually really honey, because in order to do this job it has to be really honey,
You don’t need manuka honey. You don’t need any X power 27 honey. It doesn’t have to be the super fancy stuff in the tiny, tiny bottles that cost $500. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but…
It costs a lot.
But yeah, it doesn’t have to be that kind of thing to be effective for wound healing., Lots of wildflower honeys have been tested out here. They all help. So don’t think it has to be like medical grade honey or anything like that. That’s not required for this function.
Yeah. It just has to be actually honey.
Yes. From the bees.
You know, putting honey onto a wound is also a really good choice when the wound is still wet and you are concerned that the wound is going to stick to the bandaging that you’re going to use. And that is super uncomfortable. If you haven’t ever experienced that, let me tell you, I sure have. And it is no fun to get the bandage stuck in the wound. And now when you take the bandage off, you have to rip it a little. It’s awful. So honey can prevent that. And so if you’re in that place where it’s not time for salve yet, because the wound is still too wet, but the wound is large and open enough that you’re afraid that the bandage will stick to it. That’s where honey can really be of help.
Alright. So. If we’re going to be working on a chronic wound or a number of wounds on somebody, or if we’re preparing a first aid kit, then we might in advance prepare some herb-infused honey. And so we can look there to, again, plants with strong scents to them, including in this case garlic and onions, those strong aromatic plants like thyme and oregano and lavender and all of our friends there. All of those are good choices to infuse into your honey. And in this case you’re getting the benefits of both, right? The honey is in there helping to heal the wound, combat infection. The plants are in there combating infection, helping to organize the inflammatory process in a better way. So, it’s a really fantastic thing to have around. And it just takes a little bit of planning in advance.
Make sure that you strain the plant material out of the honey before you apply the honey to the wound. But yes, that is really, really good.
Yeah. okay. And then a couple other herbs we wanted to mention. One of these I sort of highlighted previously a little bit. But anyway, so there are a lot of common herbs in the wild and in the feral as well, which is like less than wild but not quite domesticated.
So, plantain, yarrow, and goldenrod. And that’s plantain, not the banana thing, but a little common ground herb, Plantago species is what we’re talking about.
Yeah. It tends to grow in very hard earth, like along a path in the dirt or something like that.
Yeah. And then yarrow is a really distinctive looking flower and golden rod. So, these are all plants that are really abundant, really widespread. Oftentimes it’s relatively easy to find a patch that you can harvest from. They’re not at risk or anything like that, so that’s all good. And all of those plants, they have substantial wound healing capacities to them and have been taken that way for a long time. I mean, yarrow is like, it’s old names include things like herbal militaris, you know. And goldenrod, in its Latin name it has a word that means healing right in there. So, anyway, these plants have been worked with that way for a very long time and they are very successful in that regard. So, these ones you can apply them as a compress or as a poultice. They can be infused into honey. Or if we’re not talking about a wet phase wound, then we might go ahead and make a salve out of plantain or yarrow or golden rod. And of course you can combine them and have some garlic in there, have some thyme or some peppermint or whatever else. There are all kinds of different things that we could get together. But I just wanted to mention a few of those weeds that can be really helpful for wounds.
When it’s Time for a Salve
Yeah. Now you mentioned if the wound is dry, that’s actually what we want to happen eventually. We want to get to that place progressively. You can just think about any wound that you’ve ever had. It starts off really like wet and oozy, and then it makes a good thick scab. And then eventually the scab comes off and it’s dry underneath and you have new tissue forming underneath. This is really when it’s definitely time for a salve. This is the perfect time for a salve, because just because you have that fresh new tissue underneath. Remember the last time you got hurt, it’s super pink and like really delicate. And if you hit yourself there then it hurts twice as much because the skin isn’t fully formed yet. So a salve here can keep keep that healing process going, keep everything supple so that you are less likely to scar. And that is really ideal. So we kind of are looking for that just right place where it’s not oozy anymore. Maybe the scab is starting to detach a little bit from the sides of the wound. That’s really ideal salve time.
Yeah. But wounds can also be too dry, right? Where they’re flaky, where the tissue is easily torn or compromised because it doesn’t have adequate moisture content in it. And that’s also a place where a salve is going to be a good choice. We keep using this word. So, if it’s unfamiliar, salve is something that you make by taking an oil or an herb infused oil, warming it gently, and then melting some beeswax into it. Then you allow it to cool. And you end up with something usually somewhere between like Vaseline and chapstick, you know, varying degrees of firmness to it.
It’s like an ointment. Yeah. It’s something between an ointment and chapstick, but just depending on how much beeswax you put in. But it can really be a lovely moistening kind of application. And the beeswax really helps there too. Not only does it offer all of the bee magic, but also beeswax can help to seal your own moisture in. So you’re providing moisture with the salve itself, and then also preventing that moisture from evaporating again.
Yeah, of course, putting a damp preparation onto a dry wound makes sense. So poultices, compresses, and soaks if that’s attainable, if it’s like a hand or a foot or something. All of those are also good for dry wounds. In that case, we might do that, that soak or that watery application first, and then take that off and make sure everything’s clean. And then apply a little bit of salve on there, and then go ahead and bandage up again if necessary, just to make sure everything’s nice and hydrated. When we’re doing those soaks or poultices or compresses for these dry phase wounds, here chamomile would be an extra good choice. Plantain leaf is a really good choice there. And then one we haven’t mentioned so far, seaweeds.
Seaweeds are profoundly vulnerary. They’re also no slouch when it comes to antimicrobial action either.
Right. Actually, if you’re lucky enough to get wounded anywhere near the ocean, then seaweeds can be helpful through many phases, because they do have a lot of anti infection and pro healing properties.
Yeah. They’re really wonderful. So, yeah. Get those onto there. And then, Hey, guess what?Honey is still good for dry wounds.
Basically honey is good for everything.
Tending Chronic Wounds
Now, when we think about, we have our like wet wound and our dry wound, and that’s sort of the progression that that flows through. But sometimes with a chronic wound, like a diabetic lesion, a wound that has been around for a long time, it will be very wet towards the center and quite dry around the edges. And in that case, we might need a little bit of both approaches, right? We might put a thin layer of salve around the edges to prevent uncomfortable drying or peeling of the skin, and also to support the cells that are still healthy. We can kind of imagine this wound like a pit that the cells could fall into. And so by putting a thin layer of salve around the outside, it’s like we’re protecting the cells at the edge of the pit so that they don’t fall into the wound as well. It’s kind of a little caricature of what’s going on, but you can think of it that way. But then in the center of the wound we’re going to work with something more drying. And we might do that work first. Maybe we work with a compress that has some astringency to it and some antimicrobial action. anytime that there’s an open wound, even if you’re staying right on top of it, even if you are keeping it clean, when the skin is broken, there is always the opportunity for infection. So until the wound gets to the dry stage, I’m always thinking about antimicrobial herbs. Because every single time we open that up, it is another opportunity for bacteria or anything else that could make an infectious home in that wound to get started. So maybe we do that work with a compress so that we are really caring for the wet parts of the wound. And it’s fine for the compress to also touch the dry edges. That’s not a problem. But we do that compress first, and then maybe we apply some honey if that’s what we’re choosing to work with. Maybe we let the honey go onto the edges to help the skin at the edges. Or maybe we put some salve around the edge, not a big glop of it, just a thin layer. The honey it’s fine to get gloppy. You can put that on like peanut butter and jelly. It’s OK to be gloppy with the honey, especially because the honey is going to help provide some buffer between the wound itself and the bandage. So, that’s totally fine. But with salve we don’t need to be gloppy. Just a little bit is totally sufficient.
Yeah. So even though it does take a lot of work and a lot of attention, the preferred approach for this kind of a thing is going to be frequency. Tending to it three times a day, maybe even five times a day with your antimicrobial, with your astringent herbs, with all the different kind of preparations we’ve been describing here so far as appropriate. Shifting up your strategy where necessary. But if you can do that, that can really help the wound to start to dry, to drain, to begin to knit back together. And if it’s a wound that’s been on somebody’s leg for two months now, then we’re not talking about an overnight turnaround, right? This is going to take time. And it’s going to take time both in the sense of like every day, going back to it and caring for it and doing the whole process again. Cleaning up everything afterwards and all that. But also time in the sense of give it weeks, give it a month, give it some time to see how it’s changing. It can be really helpful to take some before and after photos or process photos as time goes along to help you to see if things are working. And if they are great, then that can give you more confidence and help the person whose wound it is to feel like, all right, it’s moving in the right direction. And also it’s useful if it’s not improving. Because then that shows you that you need a different strategy, maybe a different herb, maybe the preparation needs to change, something. But in either case having something to refer back to, to give you a grounding in where this is going and is it changing at all, is a very good idea. Very helpful.
Yeah. Now a big part of the reason that these wounds don’t heal is because there’s not sufficient circulation to clear out the waste and to bring in fresh nutrients and immune response cells. So, basically what we’re saying is that that work has to be done manually here. And that’s part of the reason for the focus on frequency and on compresses with herbs that will do that clearing and anti infection work. And by the way, I didn’t mention it specifically, but seaweed is another. Hold on, let me try that sentence again. This is another place where seaweed would be beautiful. All of the herbs that we have mentioned so far in their anti-inflammatory and also their healing support capacity, their vulnerary capacity. Those will all be good choices. But a nice seaweed compress here would also be wonderful. And if you don’t live by the ocean, you can get dried seaweed and just rehydrate it for 10 or 15 minutes and then lay it on. But that is really why I focus on the frequency. Because if you think about a healthy circulatory situation, the frequency of circulating clean, fresh blood into the area is 100% of the time. So, working on the wound three to five times a day is less than 100% of the time. But it’s also kind of a manageable amount of time, both for you and also for the person with the wound, because it’s not super fun to have to poke that all over again.
Right. And at the beginning I had said that lifestyle habits wouldn’t really come into our discussion too much today, but if it’s possible to walk, if it’s possible to move your body really in any parts in any way while you’re recovering, then that does help with wound healing.Getting sunlight onto a wound or onto your body generally is going to help with the healing process. So, you know, there is still a place for, if you can walk, take a walk. If you can get some sunlight, get some sunlight. Those things actually do make a pretty big difference when it comes to the wound healing process.
You know, for this kind of wound, honey can also be appropriate. And I probably don’t want to have honey on this wound all of the time, but I might do it one or two of the changes through the day. So, maybe in the morning we wake up. We check the wound, we wash it, we put on a compress, we bandage it back up again. And then the second time that I open. it in the day, maybe I’ll put honey on and leave it on there until the third time. And then I’ll wash it off and maybe do another compress. So, I might not want honey to just be on it 100% of the time. But alternating honey and then maybe some compresses and then maybe some seaweed or whatever, that can be really a helpful strategy.
Covering it Up
Yeah. It gives you more control. If you’re trying something and it’s working great, keep on with that. If it doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction, you can change, you can adjust your strategy as you need to. Well, all right. So now we’ve got some some herbs or some honey or some healing agents on there, but now we need to cover it up.
Yes. You know, bandaging can be a little tricky, because we want to prevent dirt and germs from getting in, but we also want good air flow because air flow is a part of the healing process. So ,for any kind of a real wound, not necessarily like a little kitchen cut that you’re just going to put a bandaid on, but for anything larger, I really like roller gauze the best. Now roller gauze comes in two inch and four inch widths. And it looks just like an ACE bandage, but it’s very thin white gauze. If you were to just put one layer over, it’s really just a mesh at that point. You go multiple layers around. But that’s actually why I like it, because it’s very, very breathable. So, it also is much easier than trying to find some sort of an adhesive bandage that’s going to fit the weird shape you’re dealing with, or the cut is in a joint or whatever. If it’s not something that a bandaid is just going to easily fit, then roller gauze is my very favorite. It can be expensive. But you can often find it for better prices if you buy it in bulk online.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. It is really breathable. It’s breathable, but it’s also sturdy and it’s versatile. You can use it wherever you need to. Also, even as they are in the role shape, that can also be good just to put on something as you’re applying pressure. When we were talking about that, we didn’t quite mention it, but you don’t always just like go and grab it with your hands. Like, you may grab a gauze pad or a roll or something like this, put that on, and then squeeze over that. So, anyway.
To sort of absorb some of the blood that you’re working with. Yeah, it’s just, you know, it’s a lot easier to just accommodate whatever weird shape you’re dealing with. Now it is important to wrap it neatly and without wrinkles. This is going to be more comfortable for the person that you’re wrapping up, but also it won’t catch on things. It won’t shift around. It’s going to last longer. And in order to do this, you’re going to need some practice. So the way that I like to practice is go ahead and get yourself an ACE bandage that’s two inches and an ACE bandage that’s four inches wide. And then just practice. Practice over and over again bandaging up your friends. If you have kids, turn them into mummies. They will think it’s hysterical. Let them bandage you also, because they will also think that’s funny. But the ACE bandages are sturdier and they last a lot longer. So you can practice bandaging them like hundreds of times over and over again before they wear out. Whereas with an actual roll of gauze, it will tear much sooner than that. Twenty times, I don’t know.
Yeah. It’s good to practice with them every now and then too, just because they have different amounts of stretch to it. And, you know, with gauze you have to see how far you can like pull it as you wrap to make sure blood is still flowing and issues like that. But the basics of like making it nice and neat and having good overlap and not being easily snagged on something or just coming loose after two minutes. That, yeah you can practice all that with your ACE bandages.
And it really is like nobody just naturally finds bandaging easy. So, if you’re like, well, I have no idea how I’m going to learn this. Really, this is the way to learn it. Just practice. And if you just have in your mind like the most fancy mummy ever, right? The neatest, fanciest mummy – that’s all I can kind of think of here – but your goal is always how neat and organized and orderly can I possibly make this bandage so that it is the Goldilocks amount of tension. It doesn’t feel too tight, but it also is just perfectly tight enough that it isn’t going to slip anywhere. Really, the only way, there’s no magic behind this, the only way to do it is to just practice a lot. Kind of like making a nice, neat bed. Practice a lot, get all the wrinkles out.
Yeah. You might also want to practice with improvised bandages, like a bandana, a strip of cloth you tore off of a t-shirt. I don’t know. Anything that you may have around just to get some practice in that kind of MacGyver emergency situation. What do we got? Uh, use this kind of moment, because that will definitely happen. And it’s good to at least do some exercises at home first to get you in that mindset of like, all right, I think I can use this. I think I can use that.
Right, right, right. Before you go out into a place where you might be helping in an emergency kind of a situation.
Yeah. Alright. Now remember with any wound you want to make sure you’re checking on it at least once a day. No matter what stage it’s in, no matter what else is going on, at least once a day you’ve got to open it up and look at what’s going on in there. This is when you’re going to assess the healing progress and make sure that things haven’t taken a turn for the worse. Like I said before, it can be a great idea to take a photo each day. Try to get the lighting conditions consistent as much as you can manage that, to make a visual record. Because sometimes changes can be hard to see from one day to the next.
And if what you’re doing isn’t working, there will be visual signs, right? You’ll start to see excessive pus or discharge. There may be redness and swelling that isn’t reducing or that might be getting worse. If you are not sure if the redness is growing or not, take a marker, draw a line at the boundary of the redness around the wound. And if the redness goes beyond that line, now you know that it’s growing. It can be hard to gauge that without any kind of a guide to show you where did this really start. So make one. Just draw in ballpoint pen, marker, Sharpie, whatever, so that you can clearly see this is where it was yesterday. Oh, today it’s still in that place. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Or oh, today it’s less, or oops, today it’s more. And especially if you see lines of redness radiating out from the wound, like going along the blood vessels, as soon as you see something like that, then that is a serious indication that what you’re doing isn’t enough. It might be that what you’re doing is everything that you could be doing, but that the situation is more serious and requires outside assistance. So, always be watching for those things. And whenever you start to see that happening, then increase your disinfectant herbal applications, but also seek help. Find somebody who is more experienced at first aid, or call emergency services, whatever’s available to you in this. I mean, if you’re on top of a mountain, you have less things available. But wherever you are, that is when you get whatever help is available to you.
Yeah. Alright. Well, we hope that none of you have cause to use all of this information anytime soon. But if you do, we hope that you find it very helpful in giving you a framework. Remember, stop the bleeding, clean and disinfect, move on to healing.
And don’t forget gloves if if that is appropriate to your situation.
Yeah. Step zero.
Yes. Well, we will be back next week with another segment in this series about gut trouble and what to do about it.
Gut troubles. Yeah. I think we’re going to do a kind of round robin of a number of different expressions of gastrointestinal distress. That’ll be fun.
Right. So, we will see you then, and until then drink some tea.
Yeah. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and we’ll see you again soon.
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