Herbs for Health: Home Remedies for Cuts and Scrapes

| June/July 1996

• DIY: Make Your Own Calendula Salve 

The great thing about using herbs to treat minor cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, or insect bites is that you don’t have to be a professional herbalist to stop the bleeding, soothe the irritation, reduce inflammation, speed healing, and protect against infection. You don’t have to search pharmacies or health-food stores for the right product or assemble a bewildering array of ingredients to concoct a remedy. And you don’t have to eat them.

The practice of poulticing herbs must be nearly as old as human existence. Fresh herb leaves are simply bruised between the palms or with a ­mortar and pestle and placed ­directly on the skin. (When an herb has irritating hairs, a thin layer of gauze or muslin may be placed between the herb and the skin.) Dried herbs are usually mixed to a paste with a little warm water before being ­applied.­

Using Yarrow

When I tended the herb gardens at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Shaker Community in the mid-1970s, I gained firsthand experience with the medicinal properties of common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which grew in abundance at the edge of the gardens. One day, as one of my helpers was harvesting our bed of thyme, her sickle slipped on the tough, woody stems, raking the blade across her knuckles. The cut was small, but it bled profusely enough to make me take action. I quickly picked some flowering tops of yarrow, crushed them to a green-gray mush in my hands, and applied them to the wound with pressure. In less than five minutes, the bleeding had stopped, and the wound had closed. Since then, yarrow has been my remedy of choice for stopping bleeding of minor wounds. (Because yarrow closes a wound so quickly, the cut must be thoroughly cleaned before applying crushed yarrow flowers or leaves.)

Yarrow’s generic name, Achillea, commemorates this very use. Legend has it that the Greek warrior Achilles stanched the bleeding of his wounded soldiers with yarrow poultices. Achilleine, an alkaloid found in yarrow, is considered the primary constituent of the plant responsible for stopping bleeding.

Yarrow’s pharmacology has been little studied, although its use is well established in European folk medicine. The British Herbal Compendium suggests its use for ­­­slow-healing­­ wounds and skin ­inflammations. Belgian and French government publications about yarrow’s medicinal uses note that it is traditionally used to soothe irritated skin. The German regulatory text does not address traditional uses, but it warns that application of the flowers to skin in rare cases has caused hypersensitivity resulting in reddening and pimples.

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