Compress or Fomentation

Page Summary:
Compresses can be used hot or cold while fomentations are used hot. Apart from that there is little difference in the preparation or use.

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To start with - let us firstly discount one of the oldest myths of herbalism: Not all herbs can be used topically. Some contain irritants, some are caustic and many will have no effect hot or cold.

The effectiveness of a herb is dependant on its constituents (the ingredients of the herb that has the therapeutic effect) and the delivery of its benefit. A herb may be very effective as an anti-inflammatory medicine if ingested but that does not mean that a topical application of the herb will render any benefit at all.

The molecular structure of a constituent determines whether it will deliver benefits if used topically. If the molecules are too large they will not be absorbed by the skin. If they are lipophilic (oil soluble) they will be absorbed into a different part of the skin than if they are hydrophilic (water soluble). If the benefit is supposed to be deeper than just the skin lipophilic substances may take a different path from hydrophilic substances (one may remain local, the other may disperse through the vascular system).

Compresses and Fomentations are normally made from an infusion of the herb (although decoctions and tinctures are also used sometimes). Simply soak clean cotton, linen or gauze in the liquid, wring out until it is drip dry and apply to the skin in the desired location. If applied hot make sure that it is not so hot that it will burn the patient.

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