Many times you’ll watch a scene in period movies with an ill or wounded person in bed and a nurse or caretaker sitting at their side. Oftentimes the nurse is laying on a folded cloth that she’s first dunked into a basin full of liquid, then the excess is wrung out before applying to the forehead or injured area. It could be assumed this is plain water but actually, many times it is first steeped with healing herbs.
Just a few short generations ago, the average person didn’t have a doctor 20 minutes away or a neighborhood health clinic to visit, they relied on old fashioned treatments and wisdom that was passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.
Over time we’ve become dependent on modern medicine, usually because it works better or brings quicker results…but not always, sometimes old ways are just as good as modern ways and they’re especially good to know when you’re in a pinch.
Here’s a guide for how to prepare compresses along with a few herbal recipes and what each are good for.
- Soak a soft towel in infusion/mixture then wring out and fold neatly into a size that covers affected area.
- Material should be of natural fibers so the skin can still breathe (cotton, linen, wool).
- Apply to body part that requires treatment then cover with a dry towel to keep things warmer (or cooler) longer, the dry covering should overlap the wet one completely with an overlap of at least an inch on all sides to help seal in the temperature.
- You can also rest a hot water bottle (or sew a bag) on top then another dry towel on top of that to retain heat longer (or an ice pack on top of cold one to lengthen time of coolness).
- Remove when it returns to room temperature and immediately replace with a fresh one (several continuous applications are typical, ie. 5 or 6 times).
*Note: If applying to forehead or facial area, be careful to avoid the eyes and ensure that it has been wrung very well so no herbal mixture drips into eyes.
Cold: Generally for sprains, strains, fevers, rashes, headaches and migraines, bruises, insect bites, chicken pox, measles, swellings and inflammations.
Hot: Typically for general achiness, arthritis, sore muscles or stiffness, ear aches, toothaches, sore throats, menstrual cramps, chest congestions, sinus pain, boils or abscesses, back pain or stomach discomfort, colds and flu.
Remove cloth from basin (tongs are ideal for this) then place the wet piece in a large, dry towel to wring out. It needs to be steaming hot without burning or blistering skin or unbearable for patient. Just before replacing with a new one, bring mixture to a boil again to heat new one.
Ginger (Good for Pain Relief, Sinuses, Backache, Arthritis & More)
*Ginger is an excellent ingredient since it’s very effective at generating heat.
- Chop about 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger root and simmer in 4 cups of water for about 10 minutes then remove from stove. Drop cloth into into it leave until liquid is *just* cool enough to handle. Wring out and place on sore area. Cover with a dry towel and replace with a fresh compress once it’s at room temperature. Repeat as needed for relief.
Lavender for Earaches: Bring a handful of dried lavender and a pot of water to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from stove, strain and let cloth soak in infusion until cool enough to handle. Squeeze out excess, fold then cover ear completely.
Boils: Add 20 drops of tea tree oil to a quart of very hot water, saturate cloth, wring out well and apply to boil. Let sit for about 15 minutes, repeat process 4 times daily. A strong salt solution can also be used.
Finish with a cool compress for a few minutes.
Directions: Fill a bowl with ice water then dunk cloth in it. Wring well first. You can also use a wrapped ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables. After final application, finish off with a warm towel (disregard when treating swellings or sprains).
Poison Ivy or Poison Oak: Brew a strong pot of peppermint tea, refrigerate, then soak cloth and apply to affected skin for relief (from Poison Ivy (& Poison Oak) Remedies).
Fevers: Bring a handful of mint leaves in 4 cups of water to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and cool.
Chicken Pox: A cool compress is soothing or try first dunking it in a mixture of 1/2 cup Epsom Salts to 4 cups lukewarm water.
Burns: Dunk it in ice cold milk, squeeze out then cover burn.
Eczema: Add 1 tablespoon of dried chamomile flowers to 2 cups of boiling water. Steep for one hour then refrigerate. Strain then dunk cloth in infusion. Can also use rash treatment noted below.
Rashes: Brew a marigold (Calendula) tea using 3 fresh flowers (or 2 tablespoons dried) per 1 pint of boiling water. Steep until cool then refrigerate. Strain and use. Do twice daily for 1 hour each time.
Bruises: Lay a slice of cucumber over a black eye or bruise then cover with a chilled cloth. A slice of raw potato works too.
Note: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and is simply a collection of my notes and information that I’ve gathered.