Tea and Poultices for the End of Winter

by iele Paloumpis

In a recent post, I wrote about my experience with back pain and muscle spasms caused by disability. Since then I’ve been hibernating, retreating indoors and away from the New York City cold as much as possible. My hope is to save myself from the bone chilling winds that cause my muscles to tense up or cramp. I deeply love the changing seasons and always want to honor the turning of the Wheel, but I have never been more ready for this winter to be over. In case any of you, dear readers, are feeling the same, I want to share two recipes from my herbal medicine cabinet that have assisted my body as I heal from inflammation. Enjoy!

Turmeric Tea

turmericOh how I LOVE turmeric! The health benefits of this spice are practically endless! For our purposes today though, turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory that works just as well as many of its pharmaceutical counterparts but without the side effects. These anti-inflammatory properties can aid many physical ailments, extending from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis to psoriasis. It’s a natural pain killer, tastes wonderful, and is easy on the stomach.

You will need:

2 Cups Soymilk

(or whatever your favorite equivalent might be)

Turmeric

~ I tend not to measure, but this is the anti-inflammatory herbal medicine you want in your body, so be generous. Use however much turmeric the milk will absorb without getting grainy. Start with a teaspoon and work your way up from there.

Raw Honey

(to taste)

~ I like to use local raw honey whenever possible because it’s anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. It boosts the immune system and if you purchase local honey it can actually help to eliminate seasonal allergies.

1 pinch Black Pepper

(my secret ingredient!) 

The Brew: 

In a small pot, slowly heat up the milk on your stovetop, stirring frequently and making sure not to burn. (Burning will result in an icky film that accumulates at the surface of your tea). As the milk warms, add the turmeric and watch as the beautiful golden color emerges. Next, add a pinch of black pepper. The pepper is the wonderful secret to this recipe, because it helps the milk absorb the turmeric and offers a subtle spicy flavor. Finally add raw honey to taste and serve hot. Yum!

Tea 1

Calendula Poultice

calendulaA poultice is a moist paste made from herbs and various mucilaginous binding agents. The way this topical treatment works is much like a nicotine patch; the medicinal properties of the herbs are absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. Wise Crones have passed down this very old herbal medicine for generations. Not many people opt to use poultices these days, as they take a bit of time to prepare and can be messy. That being said, I am a big fan of this powerful medicine. Part of the magic of herbalism is that it asks us to slow down and take our time – a necessary component of healing. Plus, making a mess can be fun!

For this remedy, you will need:

 Dried Calendula Flowers

(can be purchased in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs)

Whole Flaxseeds

Warm Water

Mortar and Pestle

1 Large Bowl

Cheesecloth

Plastic Wrap

1 Heavy Bath Towel

To Prepare: 

The amount of calendula and flaxseeds you use for this recipe will depend on the size of the area you wish to cover with your poultice. The ratio should be approximately 1-part flaxseeds to 3-parts calendula.

Gently grind the flaxseeds using your mortar and pestle. The seeds should be coarsely ground. Try to leave in a few whole seeds, because you don’t want to release too many of their mucilaginous oils. (DO NOT purchase pre-ground flaxseeds, as these will be too dry.) Transfer ground flaxseeds to a large bowl.

Tea 2

Take the dried calendula flowers and rub them between your fingertips to break the petals down a bit more, allowing them to fall directly into the bowl.

Tea 3

Tea 4

Boil a small amount of water and add the hot water to the dry ingredients in very tiny increments (maybe try a tablespoon at a time, but this really depends on the quantity of dry ingredients you’re working with). Use the pestle to mix and mash everything together until it becomes a paste, adding more hot water as needed. The paste should feel moist and a little sticky, but not runny. Cover bowl to keep warm.

Tea 5

To Apply:

Now that you’ve made your poultice, it’s time to apply it to your skin. This is where you should act fast, because you want to make sure to keep the poultice warm against your skin in order to get the most benefit from this remedy. (Use caution; do not burn your skin!) Make sure the area of your body where you wish to apply the poultice is clean and dry. Lay the cheesecloth over the area. Liberally and consistently place the warm poultice atop your skin; a layer about the width of your finger is good. You should feel the warm juices from the paste seep through the cheesecloth and onto your skin. Quickly cover the entire area with plastic wrap, then press firmly to keep the moisture inside. Lay a big fluffy towel overtop (this will help keep everything nice and warm). Allow the poultice to soak into your skin for about 20 minutes. Remove and discard the paste after use. Repeat as needed.

Important Safety Precautions:

It’s a good idea to consult your local clinical herbalist and/or doctor with questions or concerns before use. While calendula is generally a very mild and safe anti-inflammatory herb, allergic reactions are possible just as with any food or pharmaceutical drug. If you experience irritation, stop the treatment immediately and wash your skin. Always listen to the way your body feels and respond accordingly.

Do not put poultices on top of or inside deep wounds. While some poultices can assist the healing of minor scraps and wounds, you want to avoid plant material from penetrating your skin. Some herbs (comfrey for example) are so powerful that if the wound is very deep, it can actually cause the skin to regenerate too quickly at the surface, leaving the deepest part of the wound to fester underneath. In instances of open wounds, it is best to consult a doctor first. 

Additional Poultice Tips:

~ Using warm water helps to relax your muscles

(think of how you feel when you take a nice hot shower or bath)

~ Cheesecloth is an important tool in applying poultices for the following reasons:

  • If you have a small/minor wound, the cheesecloth will help make sure that no plant material accidentally gets caught inside. Remember, it’s the juices from the paste alone that your body should absorb.
  • Using the cheesecloth makes for much easier clean up. After the treatment, remove the plastic wrap and simply lift the cheesecloth away from your body in one piece with the poultice cradled on top. If done in one swift motion, no plant material will be left behind. Dispose of the used poultice by shaking out the cheesecloth over a trash bin. Wash the cloth and use it again at a later time.

~ Remember that a poultice, while old-fashioned medicine, is potent medicine. Use caution and common sense. Never re-use the plant material from a poultice. As a precaution, consult a professional herbalist and/or doctor before self-treating.

In closing, it’s no surprise that both turmeric and calendula are strong plant allies for the winter months – just look at their golden color, shining bright like the Sun. Apart from their powerful medicinal properties, these herbs will energetically bring light and warmth to our bodies. Bright blessings to all as we make our way through these last days of winter! Happy healing!