Herbs that treat infected lacerations

wolfrikaJune 9, 2009

I'm currently writing a fantasy story and was wondering if you nice people could help. I've been researching old fashioned (16-1700's) ways to treat large cuts but every time I try to find natural solutions to infections I usually fine medical sites that say go to the emergency room or are far too confusing. Any suggestions?

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It's an interesting exercise looking at the alternative names of herbs. They tell a lot about how they were used, and by whom.

For instance, Yarrow was once called CarpenterÂs Weed, Milfoil, Nosebleed, Old ManÂs Pepper, Sanguinary, Staunchweed, SoldierÂs Woundwort, Thousandleaf, Woundwort, Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Bloodwort, Death Flower, Knight's Milfoil, Arrow Root, Thousand Seal.

Think of the wounds a carpenter, or a Soldier would receive in the course of his duties. Think of staunching blood flow, treating infectious wounds. Yarrow is an excellent styptic and a vulnerary (amongst other things).

Then there's Self Heal, also called Prunella, Brunella, Xia ku cao, Healwort, Heal All, Woundwort, Sicklewort, Allheal, Sough Heal, Hook Heal, Heart of the Earth, Blue Curls, Wood Sanicle, Slough-Heal, Brunella, Carpenter-weed, Lance Selfheal.

Valerian is also called All Heal - it can be used to treat cut and wounds, amongst other things.

Seen the movie, Braveheart? That blue stuff on his face was supposed to have been Woad. Not only did it make them look fierce, but Woad is an excellent healing herb for wounds - just the right thing for a soldier to wear.

Then there's Wood Betony, Agrimony, Agrimony, Comfrey, Chamomile, Chickweed, Herb Robert, Houseleek, Lawn Daisy, Calendula, Mullein, Plantain, Sanicle, Shepherd's Purse, St John's Wort, Vervain, and many others if you care to do some research for 'wound herbs' or 'vulnerary herbs'.

Garlic was used in World War 1 to treat soldier's wounds. Very useful herb, garlic.

Here is a link that might be useful: wound herbs

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 5:07AM
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That's a good list for historical purposes. Be aware though of what usually was the outcome of a large infected wound in the 1600s-1700s, whether or not herbs or other treatments (i.e. lancing of abscesses) were employed. Happy endings were few.

By the way, garlic is indeed a valuable (and tasty) herb, being looked at now primarily for cancer prevention and lipid-lowering effects. While it has historically been used for treating injuries (as recently as WWII), evidence of clinical antimicrobial activity is sketchy at best.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 10:02AM
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I am partial to Melange, the healing spice of Arrakis. And Bon Temps V-Juice. :0

If one only looks to garlic as a cholesterol lowering agent, it one might be disappointed as the effect is rather modest or small. But the heart healthy effects of garlic probably go deeper than that.

Here's a study that looks at such mechanism - garlic reduces the formation of fatty streaks on arteries, reduces and the growth of atherosclerotic plaques, and inhibits the proliferation of smooth muscle 'fur' in the arteries, even when cholesterol is elevated. The levels of cholesterol in the blood are one important factor, but they don't explain everything. The amount of cholesterol oxidation, how it is metabolized, and where it is deposited are also important. The effect of the aged garlic extract, 'Kyolic', on the development of experimental atherosclerosis.

Also, garlic and other foods rich in organic sulfur compounds seem to be quite important for the generation of hydrogen sulfide, which (like nitric oxide) is an important gasotransmitter used in metabolic signaling. Adequate H2S protects the heart in ways that are not apparent from cholesterol screening. Perspective on recent developments on sulfur-containing agents and hydrogen sulfide signaling.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 12:51PM
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Daisy- thanks, that's pretty good list for me to look into.
eric- yeah I know the outcome was hardly good, my character is a medic, which is why I needed to know what was used, not even really what would've worked.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 3:38PM
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Hi wolfrika,
Open wounds were/are often packed to staunch the bleeding.
Moss was often scavenged for this & a traveling field surgeon would
bring a collection.
Sticky plasters, like a band aide, were not common.
The membrane/skin layer of an onion is a covering that a quartermaster could often pull off.
(Cauterization is what those absolutely needing to keep going used most to staunch bleeding.)
Spider webs were used to lay on the bleeding part & coagulate against.
In regions where cayenne pepper grew, the powder put directly on the open wound, was used to stop bleeding.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 4:41PM
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I believe there was not a lot of knowledge about the true cause of infection in the time frame you mention. Most wounds were packed with herbs or vegetative material to stop the bleeding but there was little concern about infection. Infections were believed to be caused by evil spirits. Might be an interesting scenario there you could create!

It was only in the early-mid 1800's that the microbial cause of infections was given much credit.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 10:43PM
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If you need more info on the middle ages you might contact the following organization:

Here is a link that might be useful: SCA

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 10:56PM
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Wonder how they sutured without breaking those animal tail hairs when had no thread.
Nurse, pass me the #22 bone splinter & make sure those thorns hold the skin flaps closed or we'll be here all day.
(Must have been a tough era to perform a trepannation.)

    Bookmark   June 9, 2009 at 11:51PM
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Here's some info on suturing. However wounds would not necessarily be well cleaned before suturing so infection was a leading cause of death. Survival of the fittest.

Here is a link that might be useful: history of suturing

    Bookmark   June 10, 2009 at 1:15PM
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Hi! When wounds were washed, they were often washed with wine (sortof a benediction, too) or vinegar & then packed and bound to close them-- not sutured. While the cause of infections weren't understood, redness, swelling & fever were noted and treated-- plantain is a main packing herb used to draw infection & is still a good one for boils & bug bites today. Mud is an excellent & easily obtainable packing agent as long as you weren't skewered through. Willows were used to reduce fevers. Spiderwebs, cleavers & yarrow were all used to stop excessive bleeding (a side note: Yarrow was packed into women to stop bleeding when the birth had gone wrong.) Salt was expensive, the domain of the rich & rarely used (in solution) to clean wounds

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 10:58AM
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Fly larvae could eat away dead tissue, but I don't think that was usually intentionally done.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 1:18AM
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