CATAPLASMA (POULTICE): An Ancient Remedy Now Forgotten

Poultice is a natural remedy used since Greek and Roman times and fallen into disuse in the West, but still widely used in Thai medicine and massage and Ayurveda.

Very effective for relieving common ailments, such as low back pain, joint pain, sprains, migraines, coughs and indigestion, they can also be used as an adjunct to a treatment.

Easy and quick to prepare, they have no contraindications.

Discover, then, what is a poultice and how and with which ingredients it can be prepared.


What is poultice?

It is a medicine for external use of ancient origin composed of a powdered mixture diluted in essential oils or water, to be wrapped while still warm in a gauze and applied on the part of the body to be treated.

Depending on the ingredients used, usually seed or legume flours, but also clay or other pulverized minerals, ground herbs and even shredded vegetables, you can use this compress to alleviate several common ailments or even solve some aesthetic problems.

It is used to:

  • relieve a localized pain
  • for an emollient action in case of inflammation or skin irritation
  • for treatment that causes mild irritation to relieve another disorder


How a poultice works?

The basis of this treatment is the simple intuition that a warm tissue or paste on the epidermis allows the active ingredients contained therein to penetrate more quickly and thus act more quickly and precisely where they are needed.

The skin, in fact, made up of cellular tissue, has various functions in the body.

It assimilates substances that come into contact with the superficial layers of the epidermis. It also plays a role in the elimination of toxins.

But it also has a vascular function, thanks to the small blood vessels that irrigate it, and a muscular function thanks to the small superficial muscles that by contracting speed up blood circulation.


Poultices and compresses will accentuate these different functions to alleviate the symptoms of the condition.

A poultice with an absorbent, soothing and anti-inflammatory action can help in situations of rheumatic pain, skin irritation and constipation.

Let’s think about the balsamic ointment which is spread on the chest to help expectoration or clay compresses when there are joint pains or to clean oily and acne skin…

Poultice: etymology

Actually the word has a double meaning, in fact it indicates both a medicinal preparation to be used warm on a painful part, and a person annoying, boring, but also not very agile.

The origin of the word comes from the Greek katáplasma meaning ‘to spread’, which in the late Middle Ages blended with the French to evolve into cataplasma, or spreading.


How to make a poultice

In order to have an effective remedy it is important to follow some simple instructions such as:

  • choose good quality ingredients
  • use a sufficient amount to create a paste that once spread on the painful part has a thickness of at least 1.5 cm
  • create a hot or cold paste according to the ailment you wish to alleviate. Most of it works, however, with heat.
  • place the mixture between two gauze pads or wrap it in a natural fabric such as cotton or linen
  • try to maintain the temperature as long as possible, in case of a hot poultice. For example, place a blanket or a woollen fabric over the gauze.


What kind of poultice

It is possible to make different types according to the disorder or blemish that you want to cure. Here are the most popular ones.

Clay poultice

White or green clay has always been a widely used ingredient in natural remedies for its many properties.

A poultice made with clay has a disinflammatory, emollient, soothing, detoxifying regenerative action and is used to soothe and reduce:

  • rheumatic pains
  • joint pain due to contusions or fractures
  • burns
  • dermatitis
  • They are also an excellent remedy against cellulite, thanks to their draining and firming properties and can also be used to purify the skin in depth in case of acne and pimples under the skin.


Poultice with linseed

In the popular tradition this poultice is also known as polentine and is mainly used to soothe bronchitis, colds, dry and oily coughs caused by an inflammation of the respiratory tract.

The preparation is quite simple:

  • 200 ml about water
  • 2-3 tablespoons of linseed flour


Boil water in a saucepan for a few minutes.

Once it reaches boiling point add the flour and stir until you get a substance of creamy consistency.

Turn off the heat and wrap it between two gauze pads or in a cotton handkerchief to place on the chest. Cover with a wool blanket to keep warm.


The extra tip is to prepare this compress in the evening so that it can be left to act all night, counteracting the sharpening of the cough due to lying down.

The high content of essential fatty acids such as omega 3 also allows cold flaxseed poultice to be used as a valuable remedy to soothe dermatitis, psoriasis and other skin infections.


Black Mustard Poultice

Treatments can also be made with black mustard known as senapisms.

It is based on the remarkable revulsive property of mustard seeds.

That is, because of the ability to stimulate blood circulation in the outer layers of the skin.

This poultice can be created with mustard seed flour alone or with the addition of flax seed flour. And it can be used to soothe:

  • muscle pain
  • rheumatic pains
  • joint pains

When doing this mustard treatment, it is possible to feel some burning and notice a reddening of the skin due to the heat released by mustard.

In order to avoid burns, the mustard should not be left on the painful part for more than about 15 minutes and the reaction of the skin should be carefully checked, as it can be different from person to person.


Ricotta cheese poultice

Ricotta cheese poultice is another remedy now forgotten, despite it was once extremely common.

Ricotta cheese has, in fact, excellent anti-inflammatory and soothing properties. It can be used to gain immediate benefit in cases of:

  • phlebitis
  • tonsillitis
  • sore throat

It is prepared with ricotta cheese kept at room temperature and diluted with water until it forms a spreadable cream.

Once a lukewarm creamy mixture has been made, it must be wrapped between two gauzes and placed on the part to be treated.

In case of sore throat or tonsillitis it is advisable to put a woolen scarf over the gauze with the poultice in order to make the warmth more effective.


Garlic Poultice
If you can stand the acrid and persistent smell of garlic, you can try them to soothe joint pain. They are made with:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Blend garlic and boiled potatoes with oil to mix everything together, making it easier to spread.

Apply for 20 minutes between two cotton cloths on the painful part.


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