Sunday, March 8, 2015

Herbal Case Study…The Sliced Foot

As a mother of three boys, I am constantly thankful we don't have more bodily injuries than we do around here. With all the wrestling, tree climbing, play fighting (real fighting), and general rowdiness, it is truly amazing emergency room visits aren't a weekly occurrence. To be perfectly honest, the herbal treatment my boys' rough and tumble interactions lead to are more often than not a round of nervines for mama.

On occasion though, there is an actual injury to address. One such injury happened recently, not while wresting or tree climbing, but while doing that oh so dangerous activity...walking to the dinner table. Well, the boy was actually running (How many times do I have to tell these kids not to run in the house?). Yes, in all his rushed exuberance to eat a wholesome meal, the boy smashed his foot into the corner of the bookshelf. A moment later I heard the exclamation, "mom, I'm bleeding".

Blood always induces panic, and soon the other boys were jumping to see the level of gore and shouting reactions that quickly threw the injured boy into a panic. By the time I had walked across the room, I not only had an injury to deal with, but crowd control and full blown panic. (Really? Right before dinner?) I saw there was a quantity of blood issuing from between the boy's toes. I quickly grabbed a washcloth and applied pressure to the injury, then I looked up at all three boys and smiled, saying in the calmest, most confident mama voice I could manifest, "Everything is fine. Please take a deep breath and calm down. We are going to take care of this." Of course, at times like these my outward demeanor and the reality inside are completely different. Anytime one of my kids is injured all my mama fears rear their head. But in order to keep everyone calm, I've learned to quiet those thoughts and stay calm and reassuring.

After a moment I lifted the cloth to get a view of the injury. Somehow, the boy  had managed to slice his foot open between his baby toe and the next one. Blood immediately started to gush again. I asked my husband to get the cayenne powder from the kitchen. I placed a nice pinch of the powder into the wound and reapplied pressure to stop the bleeding. Then I turned my attention to my boy. He was shaking and he voice betrayed his panic. The damage of his brothers' reactions was done. I assured him that the injury was not that bad, that the blood would stop in moment and we would take care of it. Then I checked his foot. Although the baby toe was smashed up, it was not broken. Also, there was no noticeable nerve damage. I felt confident that we could deal with this injury without a trip to the hospital. Once the bleeding stopped, we went into the bathroom and ran water over the wound to clean it out. I also pour some hydrogen peroxide over it. It soon began bleeding again and my boy's panic started to escalate. I packed the wound with more cayenne, used a butterfly bandage to close the fleshed and wrapped gauze around his foot, taping it in place. Then, I took my boy into the living room and sat him down. I gave him flower essences for trauma and stress, and put a washcloth soaked in diluted lavender essential oil on his forehead. By this time he was shaking uncontrollably. I spoke to him soothingly about how he had a fright, but he would be OK. He needed to try to relax and take some deep breathes. Soon the shaking stopped and he was able to talk normally. Half an hour later, we even managed to eat dinner. The crisis was handled, but that injury needed daily attention in order to heal properly.

Now, the biggest concern with an open wound like this is to keep out infection until the wound is closed. That becomes even more tricky with a foot injury. For the first week, my boy was still very squeamish about his injury and not wanting me to touch it too much. We washed it once a day, changed the bandage, and applied some topical herbs, usually in the form of a diluted yarrow tincture (anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and to promote healing). Then I generally left it alone. After about a week though, I wasn't happy with the progress. While one side of the wound seemed to be healing nicely, the other side (going down between the toes) was not knitting together as fast, and even appeared a bit inflamed. This side was also extremely tender. At this point I had a serious talk with the boy. I told him we had to be more vigilant with taking care of this injury. He started to hem and haw, so I laid it out for him…it's either you help me do what we need to do, or we go to the doctor. Now I had his compliance.

So we started doing soaks twice a day. For wounds like this, I have found that nothing beats an herbal soak. The warm water really helps to open the pores and allow the herbs to get deep into the wound and tissue to do their stuff. Here is the way I made his soaks…

Since I usually have quite a large supply of dried herbs in the pantry, I always try to use what I have on hand. I wanted herbs that were strongly anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and promoted healing (but not too much…no comfrey, which may promote cell regeneration too quickly and seal in any infection present). I settled on a combination of oregon grape root (disinfectant and anti-bacterial), yerba mansa (anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory), yarrow (anti-inflammatory and anti-septic), calendula (promotes healing, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic), and chaparral leaf (strongly anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory). I could have used any number of other herbs, but these were present in the pantry and seemed also to call out to me as I pondered what to use. (Never ignore the voices of the herbs themselves)

To make the strong tea for soaking, I filled a small glass pot with water, brought it to a simmer on the stove, and added a small handful of oregon grape root and a pinch of yerba mansa. I simmered this for 10 minutes, then strained the tea and added it to a mason jar into which I had placed a small handful of yarrow leaves and flowers, a small handful of calendula flowers, and a pinch of chaparral leaves. I added more hot water to bring the water level up to a quart. Then I put a lid on the jar and let is all steep until the temperature had come down to a comfortable level for soaking (still warm, but not hot enough to burn…comfortable) After a bit of experimenting, we discovered that the best vessel for foot soaking, at least for a small foot, is a bread pan. I left the butterfly on, but removed all other bandages and had my boys soak in this concoction for at least 30 minutes morning and evening, making the tea fresh each time.

Within only a couple days of this treatment, there was noticeable improvement. The wound was no longer tender, inflammation was gone, and we could see signs of healing. We kept this protocol up faithfully for a full two weeks, noticing improvement every day. After the first week there was a nice scab formed over the entire wound, protecting it from bacteria and debris. Once the scab was formed, I added comfrey root to the simmering herbs to speed up the healing. We continued with the soaks and one day the scab fell off, revealing a beautiful new layer of skin over the wound. Yay!

Now, I offer this story as an example and encouragement on the path of the healing plants. But I must also say that if I didn't feel qualified to treat this wound, I would not have attempted it. I have studied herbal treatments for first aid and I also have experience working with herbs to treat minor wounds. I knew the injury was not serious beyond my level of competence, or I would have turned to professional medical help. However, as the vast majority of healing issues we experience around here are minor, I am more often than not able to handle them myself. It is empowering for me, as a mother, but also for my children, to see that for most things, we can take care of ourselves (with the help of the healing plants, of course).

I also apologize for the lack of photos in this post. It pains me to have such a wordy post without the intermittent photos. While I do pride myself in my ability to remain calm and composed while examining a bit of gory flesh, I don't particularly like looking a photographs of open wounds. When I see them posted on other sites, I have the tendency to quickly scroll down so they are out of view. Therefore, I have no photos of the lovely open wound for you, only the beautiful healed area with newly grown skin. Forgive me.


  1. I love this post. I haven't had to treat any gaping wounds for my little one yet and I am a bit worried that I will forget all my herbal knowledge when the time comes! x

    1. Ha! There is always a period of about 10 seconds, whenever one of my kids injures themselves, where my mind goes totally blank. When those little eyes are looking to you for help though, it all comes rushing back.