Topical Herbs: Here's the Scoop!

Topical Chinese Medicine refers to using Chinese herbs externally, as opposed to ingesting them internally as a tea, pills, or tincture.

Chinese herbs have been used topically for thousands of years.  There are numerous conditions for which a topical application of Chinese herbs would be appropriate.  For example, many cuts and lacerations can be packed with a Chinese herbal poultice or plaster.  These are made by mixing a single herb or an entire formula with a binding agent, such as white rice vinegar, water, oil, slippery elm, flaxseed, cornstarch, or flour.  This allows the herbs to interact directly with the damaged tissues and may help reduce bleeding or infection.  Depending on the circumstance, a poultice may be wrapped in gauze or plastic to keep the area clean and trap in moisture, allowing the skin to stay damp and the herbs to be more rapidly absorbed over time.  Plasters, poultices, and compresses should be cleaned off and changed regularly.

Chinese herbal formulas can also be ground into a powder that can then be decocted and placed into a basin for a foot soak.  These are commonly used to treat ankle sprains, gout, or infections of the foot.  Soaks have long been used to help detox the body through the feet and many associate the benefits with aiding sleep and helping to energetically ground the body.  Depending on the condition being treated, different herbs will be used in the formula- such as herbs going to the bones to help with fractures, herbs going to the tendons to help with sprains, or antifungal herbs to help with conditions like Athlete’s Foot.

A number of dermatological issues can also be treated by Chinese herbs topically.  A facial cream can be made by combining Chinese herbs with certain oils to treat acne, psoriasis, and the effects of aging.  Specific formulas will be used after assessing the patient’s constitution and current dermatological concerns. 

When would a topical application of Chinese herbs be appropriate?

Directly applying Chinese herbs can be useful for cuts and lacerations, hives, rashes, aches, stings, burns, and bites.  They can also be appropriate for more internal conditions such as congestion, headaches, infections, and insomnia. The most important thing to remember is to get the appropriate herbs as determined by your practitioner.  It is important for a practitioner to prescribe herbs that are right for your constitution.  Some herbs may be very hot or very cold and would thus be appropriate for different situations.  If you have a lot of redness, inflammation, and swelling, cooling herbs may be more appropriate and may be mixed with aloe, apple cider vinegar, or cabbage.  For hot poultices, we may mix the herbs with ginger, onion, or cayenne to help bring out infections. 

If you think a topical application of Chinese herbs is appropriate for you or you just have any questions regarding a customized Chinese herbal formula, please contact us at Urban Herbs!  We are happy to discuss different treatment options with you and determine the best course of action to get you feeling your healthiest!