PDA

View Full Version : Herbs that heal infections



TimGavin
03-07-2013, 05:14 AM
Hey Writers,

On of my characters receives a gash on her leg when she is captured as a slave and gets pretty infected. While it is stitched up and dressed before she's sold, the infection continues and it's up to one of her fellow slaves, who doesn't like her too much, to try to keep her alive until they can get medicine.

My question is thus. My MC, the one trying to heal her, does not have access to modern medicine, but he does have access to a palace larder that contains nearly every herb and spice in existence. So, if anyone here has knowledge of natural remedies or medical knowledge, what herbs or roots should my MC select? Thus far I have found references to yarrow, chickweed, bacon fat, and something called milkweed, but since I have no medical knowledge I don't know it's validity.

I know how to make a poultice and bandage a wound. It's the identities of the healing herbs that I need.

Thanks in advance!

-Gavin

Cyia
03-07-2013, 05:44 AM
You can use honey to forestall an infection, but I'm not sure how effective it is once infection has set in.

AFAIK, Garlic and vinegar are good, too.

TimGavin
03-07-2013, 05:52 AM
You can use honey to forestall an infection, but I'm not sure how effective it is once infection has set in.

AFAIK, Garlic and vinegar are good, too.


Thank you Cyia!

Incidentally, I've been following Premeditated's progression since the original query went up on the Shark.

Kylabelle
03-07-2013, 06:09 AM
Myrhh was used traditionally in ancient Greece for wound healing. Sage is another hearler herb. Either could be used to combat infection. (You can find a ton of info about this stuff online, on herbalism and aromatherapy sites.)

melindamusil
03-07-2013, 06:28 AM
Tea tree oil is supposed to have some mild antibiotic properties - that's why you'll find it in face washes and such. (good treatment/prevention for acne.)

Literateparakeet
03-07-2013, 07:55 AM
Garlic is my "go-to" for infections, but don't put it directly on the skin. Your character should eat it. :)

I would put plantain (it draws things out) and comfrey (the knit-bone plant) on the wound directly. One of them, should chew it up, put it directly on the wound, and then wrap a cloth around it to keep it in place.

You can learn more about these herbs (history, usage and more ways to prepare them) here:

Comfrey
http://www.herballegacy.com/ThesisHistory.html

Garlic
http://www.herballegacy.com/Motteshard_Medicinal.html

Plantain
http://www.herballegacy.com/Ahlborn_History.html

A great quote about plantain...."[He] knew that plantain, which had been used from the days of Galen and Pliny, was a powerful blood purifier with the ability to kill infection rapidly. He also knew that it immediately relieves the blood poisoning that can follow cuts, slivers, bites, and stings." http://www.herballegacy.com/After_the_War.html (http://www.herballegacy.com/After_the_War.html)

debirlfan
03-07-2013, 09:21 AM
Honey. Yes, it is used on wounds that are already infected.

And I don't know exactly what time period your story is set, but if bleach exists, the Dakin's (spelling?) solution that is still used today is essentially diluted bleach.

JulianneQJohnson
03-07-2013, 10:23 AM
I second the garlic and will add that it has antiseptic qualities when used topically. I read somewhere that it was used in WWI to help with gangrene. But I don't know how accurate that is.

Other plants used for antiseptic qualities were marigold, puple cone flower (used topically and internally), hops, and chamomille.

None of these is as effective as a nice dose of bread mold, so I'd be careful about how infected that wound is.

Canotila
03-07-2013, 11:36 AM
Calendula flowers are an effective topical antibiotic, help with inflammation, and speed up wound healing. They're an extremely common type of marigold. Usually they're steeped in hot water if you need to use them fast, or you can get a potent oil by mashing the flower petals, pouring just enough oil on to cover them, and then heating it up to around 100-150 degrees F for a few hours. They're also edible, but I don't know how much ingesting them would help with an infected wound.

If it's stitched up and remains infected, she might need to open the wound again to drain out the abscess underneath, then pack it with honey and stuff. If she can get her hands on some brandy from the larder it'd make a good topical antiseptic before she applies the other stuff.

BunnyMaz
03-07-2013, 11:55 AM
Black tea is antibacterial, if that helps at all.

Cath
03-07-2013, 02:34 PM
Available herbs are going to vary by location, and some will work better fresh than dried, frozen, or refrigerated. What location or climate is your story set in?

EMaree
03-07-2013, 02:49 PM
My first thought was penicillin in its mould form, and it looks like there's decent historical proof that mould (and a few interesting other things) was commonly used to treat infections (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_penicillin).

That's a Wikipedia link, so standard disclaimers apply: take it with a pinch of salt (especially those 'facts' with [citation needed]) and study the listed sources.

shaldna
03-07-2013, 04:37 PM
We use bran a lot for infections.

Mix it with boiling water and apply using a poultice. It will draw out the infection. Replace every day for as long as necessary.

King Neptune
03-07-2013, 06:02 PM
Garlic is a very effective antibiotic; it was used in clinical settings for a time before penicillin was introduced, but the medical personnel rejected it because of its fragrance. Recent tests show that it is more effective than most antibiotics. It can be used externally by crushing it or eaten.

Buffysquirrel
03-07-2013, 09:08 PM
Salt is an effective antiseptic.

Siri Kirpal
03-07-2013, 10:34 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I second comfrey to assist the healing process.

Turmeric is an anti-inflamatory, if you need that. And I've used it successfully (on myself) for viral infections.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Nekko
03-07-2013, 11:26 PM
I've done a little research for my WIP set in early medieval times. I wanted herbs that have some evidence of actually working. (Many that Pliny recommended don't actually work for the aliments he thought they did) Here are a few I found:

Yarrow applied to the skin can help stop bleeding (light to moderate).

Fenugreek can be used as a poultice to ease pain. It can be used to help with infections under the skin, but I think that is when it is taken orally.

Comfrey has been used on the skin to treat wounds and reduce the inflammation from sprains and broken bones.

As Buffy said, salt water helps to draw out infection. I wouldn't recommend just salting the skin.

According to PubMed, and aged garlic solution - not pure crushed cloves themselves - does seem to have a positive effect on wound healing.

Buffysquirrel
03-08-2013, 12:31 AM
As Buffy said, salt water helps to draw out infection. I wouldn't recommend just salting the skin.

Ouch, no. Tried that!

absitinvidia
03-08-2013, 03:42 AM
A vinegar and water soak can also help with infection.

LAgrunion
03-08-2013, 04:28 AM
Maybe aloe? It's a fairly common succulent.


There is promising preliminary support from laboratory, animal, and human studies that topical aloe gel has immunomodulatory properties that may improve wound healing and skin inflammation.

Cite: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aloe-vera/NS_patient-aloe

Paul
03-08-2013, 04:57 AM
Garlic is my "go-to" for infections, but don't put it directly on the skin. Your character should eat it. :)

I would put plantain (it draws things out) and comfrey (the knit-bone plant) on the wound directly. One of them, should chew it up, put it directly on the wound, and then wrap a cloth around it to keep it in place.

You can learn more about these herbs (history, usage and more ways to prepare them) here:

Comfrey
http://www.herballegacy.com/ThesisHistory.html

Garlic
http://www.herballegacy.com/Motteshard_Medicinal.html

Plantain
http://www.herballegacy.com/Ahlborn_History.html

A great quote about plantain...."[He] knew that plantain, which had been used from the days of Galen and Pliny, was a powerful blood purifier with the ability to kill infection rapidly. He also knew that it immediately relieves the blood poisoning that can follow cuts, slivers, bites, and stings." http://www.herballegacy.com/After_the_War.html (http://www.herballegacy.com/After_the_War.html)
Used plaintain myself a few times. miracle plant, especially for nettle and bee stings

Sonata
03-08-2013, 07:46 AM
Cath is right. We need to know your setting in order to really help. For instance, tea tree from Australia and often in an oil form and Purple Cone Flower (echinacea) wouldn't have made it to Europe until after Columbus. I'm not familiar with Milkweed as a wound healer, but I do know that the so-called "milk" sap is toxic.

Supposing your characters are in Europe, you might have barberry, plantain, yarrow, etc. Yarrow's main strength is as a styptic to stop bleeding, but is a great addition to a mixture. Be careful with Comfrey as it was said that it "knit" wounds together, infection or not. So it would seal the wound, but not heal the infection. Could be a problem.

Barberry would definitely have been in the medicine cabinet and it's purported to have extraordinary antibiotic properties. That, with a little yarrow, plantain, and why not some honey, as a poultice ought to do nicely, depending on how far the infection has spread.

You might even consider adding White Willow Bark (a very basic form of aspirin) to help with pain relief, inflammation, and fever reduction.

Add a little comfrey when the infection is gone to finish the healing. That's what I'd do anyway.

Orianna2000
03-08-2013, 06:25 PM
I asked a similar question last year, when I had a character suffering from infected gouges and rat bites after being imprisoned in the 1880s. I was told that wine was a good way of cleansing the wounds--simmer the wine with olive oil and toss in some herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano.

Aside from that, I've heard that garlic and honey have natural antibiotic properties, but their use is probably pretty cliched by now.

heza
03-08-2013, 08:59 PM
Whenever one of us kids got an infection-y looking cut, boil, abscess, etc., my mom would grate up raw potato, pile it up on the wound, and wrap it loosely in linen. She'd change it every few hours. That would help draw out the infection. And potato is pretty easy to get, I'm assuming.

When I was really young, my dad got a terrible, terrible leg wound (technically, it was a huge, infected surgery incision). It was so bad, the doctors were going to amputate, but he wouldn't consent to it. What they ended up doing was surgically removing the infected part of the tissue, which left this just long, gaping trench in his leg. My mom cleaned it with a saline solution several times a day. But the tissue was really struggling to regrow and fill in the trench. That was a horrible problem (constant risk of reinfection), but eventually, someone told him to start packing it with gauze soaked in a weak vinegar solution. Saved my dad's leg.

LAgrunion
03-08-2013, 09:25 PM
When I was really young, my dad got a terrible, terrible leg wound (technically, it was a huge, infected surgery incision). It was so bad, the doctors were going to amputate, but he wouldn't consent to it. What they ended up doing was surgically removing the infected part of the tissue, which left this just long, gaping trench in his leg. My mom cleaned it with a saline solution several times a day. But the tissue was really struggling to regrow and fill in the trench. That was a horrible problem (constant risk of reinfection), but eventually, someone told him to start packing it with gauze soaked in a weak vinegar solution. Saved my dad's leg.

Wow, I never knew vinegar could work so well in healing. Good story. That's awesome.

I use vinegar and alcohol a lot of in cleaning (around the house, e.g. counters, laminate floor, glass, etc.) and they work okay. Not as strong as commercial cleaners, but at least not as loaded with toxic chemicals (I save the commercial stuff for the last resort).

heza
03-08-2013, 09:55 PM
Wow, I never knew vinegar could work so well in healing. Good story. That's awesome.

It's weird because you wouldn't think something acidic would help with skin growing--I'd normally think it would just really freaking hurt. And his doctors all told him it was a really, really bad idea and to not try it because, logically, it doesn't seem to make much sense. But one of his nurses at the hospital happened to have worked at a plastic surgeon's office, and she said that's where she found out about it.

Orianna2000
03-08-2013, 10:04 PM
Whenever one of us kids got an infection-y looking cut, boil, abscess, etc., my mom would grate up raw potato, pile it up on the wound, and wrap it loosely in linen. She'd change it every few hours. That would help draw out the infection. And potato is pretty easy to get, I'm assuming.

Depending on when/where the story takes place, potato could be off the table. Granted, I'm not an expert on historical foods, but I was under the impression that potatoes (much like tomatoes) were only available in certain parts of the world, at least until the 1500s/1600s, somewhere in there. I could be wrong, though, so definitely do the research and find out for sure.

heza
03-08-2013, 10:11 PM
Depending on when/where the story takes place, potato could be off the table. Granted, I'm not an expert on historical foods, but I was under the impression that potatoes (much like tomatoes) were only available in certain parts of the world, at least until the 1500s/1600s, somewhere in there. I could be wrong, though, so definitely do the research and find out for sure.


You're right. Something about the OP made me think of a European medieval setting, but the actual universe could be anything.

Siri Kirpal
03-08-2013, 10:55 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Contrary to popular opinion, the potato is a New World vegetable. It wasn't available in Europe pre-Columbus, and wasn't accepted for eating until sometime after that, since it's a member of the nightshade family.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

heza
03-08-2013, 11:14 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Contrary to popular opinion, the potato is a New World vegetable. It wasn't available in Europe pre-Columbus, and wasn't accepted for eating until sometime after that, since it's a member of the nightshade family.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Good to know.

Liralen
03-09-2013, 12:03 AM
Dandelion -- depending on the setting -- could be an easily obtainable herb as well, and don't forget the staple of letting a dog lick the wound.

Maggots were also used to cleanse "proud flesh" and are being used again by modern medicine.