Ulcers, leg-ulcers, varicose ulcers etc.

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here


The first rule of medicine is primum non nocere - which means 'firstly, do no harm'. In the case of ulcers on the skin the first thing to do is to try to protect the body against whatever kind of pressure, inflammation, infection or lack of circulation that caused the issue in the first place.

Each person will have different needs in this regard depending on where their ulcer is located and what is believed to have caused it so everyone involved needs to put their heads together to think about how to reduce whatever factors are behind the problem as much as humanly possible to give the wound time to heal. Careful thought and a problem-solving mindset are required!

Movement &/or Massage

Movement and/or massage is essential to both the treatment and prevention of ulcers on the skin because poor circulation of the blood is nearly always a key factor in what bought them about and vice versa, getting the blood moving again is nearly always a key factor in helping them to heal.

If the person with the ulcer has become quite immobile then do your best to come up with a strategy to get them moving again but the less a person is able to move themselves the more important massage becomes to get the circulation going.

Of course, you don't massage the ulcer itself but you can and should massage the tissues around it and be aware that any kind of massage anywhere in the body is highly stimulating to blood circulation. Any kind of technique that moves the muscles and the blood will help, it can also be especially useful to work the massage movements towards the heart.

Again, get into a creative, problem-solving mindset on this important subject because what kind of movement and/or massage will be best is going to depend on a host of factors and you just have to work with whatever you've got!


Internal treatments

I will talk about some effective external treatments in a moment but you must also treat any kind of chronic skin problem from the inside and the main internal medicines I would recommend for a person with a skin or leg ulcer are herbs to support the immune system and herbs to improve the circulation of blood.

When a person has a wound that is not healing well we can probably assume that their immune system is struggling and needs support. Two of the greatest immune tonic herbs are Echinacea root and Astragalus root. They are by no means the only possible allies in this area but a strong dose of these two herbs several times a day will reliably and significantly lift immune health in a matter of days. For a more detailed discussion of immune health read here.

There are also several herbs that are very effective at improving blood circulation. Hawthorn leaf & berry, Cayenne in capsules, and concentrated extracts of Ginkgo biloba are the top three I would recommend. Also note that, if you have an ulcer that has developed from a varicose vein, then you simply must obtain and use a good quality extract from the beautiful Horsechestnut tree because it is just so good at helping in this area - more on this subject here.

Aesculus hippocastanum (Horsechestnut)


Herbal Healing

With supporting circulation and immune health as well as ensuring the blood is circulating through movement and/or massage we should also be able to see a rapid improvement in the ulcer through the use of some safe and very effective treatments as outlined below.

I start with suggesting a simple honey poultice as this should be immediately accessible to anyone who needs help right away. The honey treatment by itself will be enough for an ulcer that has not gotten too deep or large but there are more complex herbal treatments discussed further that are viable options for more severe conditions.

Simple Care: Honey Poultice

Honey is an ancient technique for wound healing with excellent modern research to support its traditional use and you should Google any of the pioneering New Zealand Professor Peter Molan's work on honey and wounds if you would like to delve further into this.

Honey will speed healing in the wound whilst killing or preventing the infections that are often the hardest part of this problem to get on top of. Any kind of honey will work so you must not worry if your options are limited in this regard, that said, if you can get it, then the most effective form that has been identified by the research for wound healing is from Manuka honey and this is now widely available commercially (just be sure to get a well certified product)

You should first clean the wound using saline solution. You can easily make this at home by adding a half tsp of salt to a cup of freshly boiled water, if you have any concerns about how clean your water might be then boil it on a stove top for a few minutes first.

You can wet a cloth with the saline solution and gently clean in and around the wound or, especially if it is quite raw and sore, you might be best to simply spray the saline solution on to the ulcer and the surrounding skin and then just let it naturally dry over a few minutes while you are preparing the honey bandage.

Take a gauze bandage or other kind of clean, breathable material that is cut just a little larger than the sore and apply a liberal amount of honey to one side of it. Don't be shy to use plenty of honey, e.g. you can easily go to half a cm thick. Apply the honey directly to the wound and then fix it in place using a cotton bandage or other kind of material that will keep it attached.

Ideally you want to keep the skin around the wound fairly dry but the wound itself should be kept moist whilst it is healing. Leave the bandage on for 24 hours and then repeat the process of first cleaning with saline and then re-applying a fresh honey poultice.

You should see rapid and significant improvements with this treatment and you can be 100% sure that the honey will not feed any infection or otherwise interfere with healing. The reason this is an ancient technique is not because it made things worse but simply because it works!


Advanced Care: Salves &/or Poultices

No one should underestimate how much a honey poultice may be able to help and perhaps this is the best place to start for most skin ulcers but for a deeper or more chronic wound you may need a more comprehensive strategy to turn things around.

Stage 1: Clean the wound

Again, use a base of a saline solution to spray on to the wound and surrounding skin but this time, if you can obtain them, add a small amount of any one or any combination of the tinctures or extracts of Myrrh, Calendula, Golden Seal or Echinacea. These are all potent, antimicrobial, immune stimulating and healing herbs. I would be confident to use any one of them or any kind of combination of two or more, see what is available to you, preferably by contacting a herbalist in your area - again, more about how you might go about that here.

Approximately 10% of one or more of these extracts to 90% of the saline is a safe proportion to use, e.g. 10 mls of one or more of the herbs to 90 mls of saline solution. The saline and herbs can be simply sprayed on and allowed to dry or you can wet a cloth with the mixture and gently clean in and around the wound if preferred.

Stage 2: Medicate the wound.

Herbal Poultice

Herbal poultices are a ancient and effective way to get a lot of medicinal action from a herb directly to the area where it is needed. You make a poultice by using one or more herbs that have been powdered and then made into a paste with adding water.

Ideal herbs for a poultice for an ulcer include Calendula, Comfrey, Echinacea, Yarrow and Slippery Elm. If I had a choice of any of these I would personally use equal proportions of Calendula, Comfrey and Echinacea powders.

Add enough water until you get a thick paste then either gently put a thick layer of the poultice directly on to the ulcer or place enough of it onto a bandage that you then apply directly to the wound to well and truly cover it. The herbal poultice is meant to make direct contact with the damaged tissue. Again, as with the honey, you can trust that many thousands of years of these practices have shown us beyond any possible doubt that these methods are both safe and effective.

You will need to hold the poultice in place for at least one or two hours for the active ingredients in the herbs to fully penetrate into the wound. Simply wrapping some plastic cling wrap around the poultice for this amount of time will not make the area overly damp and is an easy way to hold things nicely in place.
However, if for any reason you prefer to use something like a cotton crepe bandage then that is perfectly ok too. Ideally a poultice would be done on a daily basis or even twice a day if things were quite bad. The speed with which herbs like Comfrey and Calendula affect healing is something you have to experience for yourself to believe, they are quite phenomenal.

When you take the poultice off you should again clean the wound with the saline solution and allow to dry before re-dressing. Remember you need to keep the wound moist but the surrounding areas relatively dry so ideally you now move to putting a salve directly on to the wound as described next but if one of these is not available then use a honey poultice instead.

herbal poultice ready to apply


Herbal Salves

Herbal Salves are also extremely effective for wound healing and are fairly easy to administer and leave in place for the long time periods needed to help cure an ulcer. You should be able to obtain a commercial herbal salve that has been well made and ready to use e.g. Herb Pharm's 'Original Salve' would be very appropriate for this purpose and you should not be put off by their saying not to use it on broken skin, this is said because of the Comfrey in the ingredients but a recalcitrant ulcer is a perfect example of a condition where the remarkable benefits of Comfrey far outweigh its possible long term risk, see my article on Comfrey here for more on this subject.

If for any reason you need to or would prefer to make your own herbal Salve then there are some very good online sources for detailed instructions on the 'how-to' side of this. They are really very simple to make for example you can see several recipes on this page from Mountain Rose Herbals http://mountainroseblog.com/diy-herbal-salves/

I personally would especially go for Salves that contained Calendula and/or Comfrey root. If there was much pain in the ulcer, then using an infused oil of St John's wort in the salve will also give great relief.

Apply the herbal salve liberally to the wound, don't worry about it staying moist by your doing this, that is exactly what you want to achieve, you only need to think about it 'drying out' when the surface of the skin has well and truly healed. Apply a light bandage to keep the salve in place and ideally you should clean and treat the wound every 24 hours.

herbal salv



Once you are getting the ulcer well and truly on its way to being healed then of course you are going to want to try to prevent this from happening again! If the person is aging or they are very immobile then their skin will be lacking tone and preventing further ulcers can be especially difficult.

Keep using a modest daily dose of immune and blood circulation tonics and keep up the movement and massage, as much you can, and these steps will all go a long way towards prevention.

I would also recommend to regularly spray the skin in any potential problem areas with a saline solution to which you have added no more than 10% of one or more of the tinctures or extracts of Agrimony, Calendula, Plantain, Yarrow, or Shepherd's purse. Each of these herbs has its own unique character and method of working but in this case they all share a quality of being toning and nourishing to the skin or tissues. You could use any one or more of such herbs to great preventative benefit. Good luck!

Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony)

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd