Natural medicine has a host of remedies which will help wounds heal more quickly and cleanly and minimize risk of infection.
Moist herbal compresses are better at helping healing than herbal ointments (after a time, when ointments are applied, wound healing stops making real progress). Sterile gauze compresses should be soaked in pre-boiled filtered water with an appropriate tincture added and placed on the wound. Dressings should be changed regularly over several days.
Poorly healing wounds should be bathed in camomile 1 g of flowers to 1 litre of water between dressings (Zeit-schrift Hautkr, 1987, 1262, 1267-71).
Arnica should never be applied to broken skin (British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, vol II, British Herbal Medicine Association: 1979).
Painful wounds may be relieved by applying tincture of Populus candicans (balm of gilead) (Textbook of Modern Herbology, Progressive Publishing, 1988).
Topical application of tea tree oil or lotion will help heal canker sores, athlete's foot, burns, herpes, impetigo, infections of the nail bed, psoriasis and tinea (Australian J Pharmacy, 1988, 69: 276-8). The leaves of Artemisia frigida (pasture sagewort) were used by American Blackfoot Indians to lessen swellings, and in parts of sub-Sahara Africa its close relative Artemisia afra Jacq (wild wormwood) is used (Pharmazie, 1949, 4: 463).
Topical application of Echinacea angustifolia (purple cone flower) has been shown to promote wound healing (Med Klin, 1984, 79: 580-3). Calendula officinalis (common marigold) is also often used in the form of moist compresses (one tablespoonful of the dried flower boiled briefly in 500 ml of water). It is not quite as effective as Echinacea, but it is well tolerated (Herbal Medicine, Gothenburg, Sweden, 1988).
Hydrocotyle asiatica (also Centella asiatica, South African pennywort, or gotu kola) has a long history in Black African, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. This botanical medicine has shown excellent results in controlled trials in the healing of surgical wounds, skin ulcers, punctures, lacerations and cuts of the skin, also with skin grafts or tears produced during childbirth (Herbs, Spices, Medical Plants, 1988, 3: 146-173).
Aloe vera speeds wound healing as a liquid tincture, but has been shown to retard it as a gel. It should not be used on deep vertical wounds (laparotomy, caesarean section) but has been shown to be helpful in treating frostbite, burns, electrical injury and damage from intra-arterial drug abuse (Phytother Res, 1993, 7: S48-S52).
Sugar pastes and honey reduce the availability of water within the wound, which significantly retards bacterial growth (J Experimental Pathol, 1990, 71: 155-170). However, they should never be used in patients with pre-existing kidney problems, as just four days of treatment has been known to bring on acute renal failure (Lancet, 1987, 1: 1034-5).
Poor diet and/or poor absorption (which often affects the elderly) will hinder wound healing (Am J Med, 1986, 81: 670). In his book Nutritional Influences on Illness (Thorsons, 1989), WDDTY panellist Melwyn Werbach, brings together scientific evidence which shows how nutritional status can affect wound healing:
Vitamin A can make scar tissue strong and resistant to tearing
Vitamin B1 deficiency interferes with collagen synthesis
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) can accelerate the normal healing process
Vitamin C promotes elastin and collagen formation and wound healing can be impaired by vitamin C deficiency
Vitamin E helps healing of skin grafts
Zinc stimulates wound healing, in zinc deficient patients
Essential fatty acids deficiencies are associated with poor wound healing.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homeopath and osteopath.