Skin creams

Creams are made by mixing a water-based preparation with an oil-based one, to make an emulsion. Creams are absorbed into the skin more rapidly than ointments, but have the disadvantages of being more difficult to make and not keeping as well. Essential oils can be added to help preserve creams, and they keep best if refrigerated.

Nettle, from Woodville's Medical Botany (1790-3)


The simplest poultice is mashed fresh herb put on to the skin, as when you crush a ribwort leaf and apply it to a wasp sting. Poultices can be made from fresh herb juice mixed with slippery elm powder or simply flour, or from dried herb moistened with hot water or vinegar.

Change the poultice every few hours and keep it in place with a bandage or bandaid.

Fomentations or compress

A fomentation or compress is an infusion or a decoction applied externally. Simply soak a flannel or bandage in the warm or cold liquid, and apply. Hot fomentations are used to disperse and clear, and are good for conditions as varied as backache, joint pain, boils, and acne. Hot fomentations need to be refreshed frequently once they cool down.

Cold fomentations can be used for inflammation or for headaches. Alternating hot and cold fomentations works well for sprains and other injuries.

Embrocations or liniments Embrocations or liniments are used in massage, with the herbs in an oil or alcohol base or a mixture of the two. Absorbed quickly through the skin, they can readily relieve muscle tension, pain, and inflammation, and speed the healing of injuries.


Herbs can be added conveniently to bathwater by tying a sock or cloth full of dried or fresh herb to the hot tap as you run the bath, or by adding a few cups of an infusion or decoction. Herbal vinegars and oils can also be added to bath water, as can essential oils.

Besides full baths, hand and foot baths can be very effective, as can sitz or hip baths where only your bottom is in the water.


Herbal infusions or decoctions can be used once they have cooled as douches for vaginal infections or inflammation.

Elder/lower, from Woodville's Medical Botany (1790-3); (opposite), elder in Lincolnshire, England in June

Rosaceae Rose family

Description: Upright perennials with spikes of small yellow flowers reaching up to 2 feet.

Habitat: Meadows and roadsides/grassy places.

Distribution: A. eupatoria is native to Europe and introduced to North America. Tall hairy agrimony, A. gryposepala, is more widespread and is used interchangeably with the European species.

Related species: There are around 15 species of agrimony found in northern temperate regions and South America. In China, xian he cao (A. pilosa) is widely used medicinally, mainly for bleeding and diarrhea. Cinquefoil and tormentil are old medicinal herbs with very similar properties to agrimony.

Parts used: Above-ground parts, when in flower in summer.


Agrimonia e u p a t o A . gryposepala

Agrimony stops bleeding of all sorts, and is used in trauma treatment and surgery in Chinese hospitals. It helps relieve pain too, and has a long tradition as a wound herb as well as for treating liver, digestive, and urinary tract problems.

Agrimony tightens and tones the tissues, and, in a seeming contradiction, also relaxes tension, both physical and mental. This is the herb for when you're feeling frazzled, when stress and tension or pain are causing torment.

You can hardly miss this tall and bright summer garden herb, which readily earns its old name of church steeples. The sticky burrs that cling to passers-by lie behind another name, cocklebur.

Agrimony used to be a significant herb in the European tradition, being the Anglo-Saxon healing plant "garclive," but it is underused and underrated in modern western herbalism.

Agrimonia eupatoria is the "official" agrimony, but John Parkinson in

Theatrum Botanicum (1640) preferred fragrant agrimony, Agrimonia procera, if available. The two can be used interchangeably.

In Chinese medicine, A. pilosa is the species used, and its name, xian he cao, translates as "immortal crane herb," which gives an idea of the reverence in which it is held. It is used in surgery and trauma treatment to stop bleeding, and has been found to be effective against Trichomonas vaginal infections and tapeworms, as also for dysentery and chronic diarrhea.

Dr Edward Bach chose agrimony as one of his 38 flower essences. It is for people who soldier on, who say everything is fine when it is not, hiding inner turmoil behind a cheerful facade and ignoring the darker side of life. The out-ofbalance agrimony person often resorts to alcohol, drugs, or adrenaline-producing sports to avoid dealing with life issues.

Use agrimony for... Contemporary American herbalist Matthew Wood has written more deeply about agrimony than anybody else. He uses it as a flower essence, herbal tincture, and homeopathic preparation, and has researched it in great detail, expanding on the traditional picture of the plant. Wood calls agrimony "the bad hair day remedy" - imagine the cartoon picture of a cat that has had a fright or put its paw into an electric socket. He has found it works for people with mental and physical tension or work-related stress, with "pain that makes them hold their breath" and a range of other conditions.

Agrimony, from Woodville's Medical Botany (1790-3)

Agrimony tea

• eyewash, conjunctivitis

• gargle for mouth & gum or throat problems

• in footbath for athlete's foot

• in bath for sprains & strained muscles

Agrimony tincture

• appendicitis

urinary incontinence

• potty training

• weak digestion

• diarrhea/constipation

• irritable bladder

• childhood diarrhea

... there are few of our wild flowers which are in more esteem with the village herbalist than the agrimony. Every gatherer of simples knows it well.

Agrimony is a great herb for treating intermittent fever and chills, or in alternating constipation and diarrhea, as it helps the body to recover a working balance between extremes, by releasing the tension and constricted energy that cause such problems.

Pain is very often associated with constriction, with one condition reinforcing the other. Agrimony can help release us from this selfperpetuating spiral, allowing body and mind to relax and restorative healing to begin as blood and energy flow are brought back to normal.

Agrimony is a wonderful wound herb, as it rapidly stops bleeding and also relieves pain. It is thought that a high tannin and vitamin K content account for its remarkable coagulation properties. In the 1400s agrimony was picked to make "arquebusade water," to staunch bleeding inflicted by the arquebus or hand gun.

Agrimony works well for burns too - put tincture directly on the burn and take a few drops internally; repeat until pain subsides.

Agrimony has an affinity for the liver and digestive tract, working to coordinate their functions. John Parkinson - the herbalist to King James II and King Charles I - wrote in 1640 that "it openeth the obstructions of the Liver, and cleanseth it; it helpeth the jaundise, and strengthneth the inward parts, and is very beneficiall to the bowels, and healeth their inward woundings and bruises or hurts."All these are uses borne out today and explained by the herb's bitter and astringent qualities.

Agrimony's other main affinity is for the urinary tract, being used to good effect to ease the pain of kidney stones, irritable bladder, and chronic cystitis. It can be given safely to children for bedwetting and anxiety about potty training, and to the elderly for incontinence.

Harvesting agrimony

Harvest when the plant is in bloom in the summer, picking the flower spike and some leaves. For agrimony tea, dry them in the shade until crisp, and then strip the flowers and leaves off the stems, discarding the stems. Store in brown paper bags or glass jars, in a cool dry place.

Agrimony tea

Use 1 -2 teaspoonfuls of dried agrimony per cup of boiling water, infused for 10 to 15 minutes. The tea has a pleasant taste and odor, and was often used as a country beverage, especially when imported tea was expensive.

Dose: The tea can be drunk three times a day, or used when cool as an eyewash or gargle for gum irritations and sore throats.

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