Many years ago, I was talking to a family member about herbs which help with bruising when my husband’s nephew interjected, “Why do you bother, the body deals with bruising all by itself.”
Our nephew is a doctor and not interested in herbs. I’d forgotten he was nearby when I began the conversation but his question made me stop and think. Why would we intervene in a situation which will resolve itself given enough time?
Bruises happen. When we knock against something, fall over, damage to our skin or underlying tissue results in two major actions within the body. The damaged cells are removed and new cells are created to take their place. We can see this as the damaged area changes colour, becomes inflamed, maybe hot to the touch and/or swollen and we feel pain if we try to touch the damaged area.
Sometimes the trauma causes damage to underlying structures, not just soft tissue. Cartilage may be torn, ligaments damaged, bones broken or fractured or blood vessels severed. In such cases, trips to A&E are always advised to diagnose through x-ray, CT scan or MRI exactly what has occurred. Similarly, if there is any hint of abuse, professional help must be sought so accurate records and evidence can be acquired and the victim offered safety.
Head, neck and back injuries, especially those where spinal damage is suspected are other areas where expert advice must be sought since the first hour post event is the most crucial in preventing life-changing effects. The patient must not be moved except by experts.
Having said all this, bruises remain and there are several plants which can provide help and support to the body to assist in the healing process.
There are two herbs which stay at the top of my first aid provisions. Yarrow (achillea millefolium), because of its anti-inflammatory properties and, as Jim Macdonald said, “yarrow knows what to do with blood.” My other go-to is plantain, both narrow leaf and greater (plantago lanceolata and p. major). It’s drawing properties help to ensure the damaged area doesn’t have any foreign objects, it helps with cell production and has the ability to retain moisture in dry tissues.
These two herbs are usually given as a poultice or salve and also internally as part of a tincture or tea, depending on whether the patient can tolerate alcohol.
The third herb I use externally is comfrey. It’s speedy cell-rejuvenation means this is not one to be applied within the first 24-36 hours, as it can regrow skin cells over dirt or fuse bone before it has been correctly set. After that time, it is really useful.
These three herbs form my “old wound” salve because they will also deal with bruises which refuse to heal or leave unwelcomed scars. Their power has also been proved on the energetic level as one of my apprentices uses them as a tea and a smudge to help resolve/come to terms with emotional scars left from childhood abuse, especially when the abuser is no longer alive. She has also used them as a tea with hawthorn and linden when setting up or strengthening boundaries.
If the bruise is involved with connective tissue, Solomon seal (polygonatum multiflorum) is another herb to add to the mix. American herbalists David Winston, Matthew Wood and Jim MacDonald have written at length how helpful Solomon Seal can be with rejuvenating joints, cartilage, connective tissue and tendons in conjunction with agrimony. Agrimony (agrimonia eupatorium) is there not only because it has styptic qualities like yarrow, but also helps with pain due to constriction.
Dylan Warren-Davies, writing as “A Welsh Herbal” on Facebook says “Solomons Seal is traditionally ruled by Saturn, which like comfrey, makes the herb valuable in treating musculoskeletal injuries. In combination with other Saturnine herbs like horsetail and mullein root as an infusion it can speed recovery of sprains, strains and broken bones. It also has been used to apply topically to remove bruising.”
I thought this use of Solomon seal was relatively recent, so it came as quite a shock to read J Arthur Gibbs describing a visit to an old gentleman in his “A Cotswold Village” who reeled off a list of herbs for different ailments including “Solomon seal for bruising”. The book was published in 1898, it’s thirty year old author dying the next year following an unsuccessful hernia operation complicated by an undiagnosed heart condition.
Given that Solomon seal is a North American native, it made me wonder whether its properties were introduced to the UK along with other Thomsonian doctrines, but the UK usage was well-known to both Culpepper and Parkinson so would have been embedded in village herbal lore. Bruton-Seal also notes Gerard’s misogynistic comment that it was useful for bruising “from fals or women’s wilfulness in stumbling on their hastie husband’s fists”!
The other herb well-known for bruises is elder leaves (Sambucus niger) but I have been using the infused bark oil for the same purpose with very good results. This came about because I needed something for bruising in the middle of winter when no leaves of any plant were visible. It worked for me, so I added it to the apprentice tasks and they all reported how quickly the bark oil reduced bruising.
One of the forgotten herbs which I have been adding to my bruise and joint tinctures is bugle (Ajuga reptens). In Culpepper’s day it was well known for falls and inward bruises for dissolving congealed blood. Parkinson recommended it for broken bones and dislocated joints but by the late 19th century it had fallen out of favour.
My knowledge and use came from Julie Bruton Seal and Mathew Seal in their book, “Wayside Herbs”. I happened to be walking into the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for a Herbal History Society seminar some years ago and met Julie in the car park. She was telling me enthusiastically about bugle when we met up with one of the speakers, Christina Stapley.
Christina was in such pain from her shoulder that she didn’t think she would be able to deliver her presentation. Julie had a bottle of bugle tincture in her handbag and persuaded Christina to let her rub it on the affected area. Twenty minutes later, the pain was gone and Christina’s session was by far the best one of the whole day!
I made my first tincture that year from bugle harvested from Buckland churchyard, next to the manor house where my great-grandmother was brought up. The plant then emerged at the Sanctuary and has grown there energetically ever since. Julie notes its use for realigning joints, especially the spine and releasing trapped nerves. I’ve been adding it to all my joint tinctures and have noticed it has very positive effects in reducing “bile dumps”, which is an added digestive bonus.
When bruising is extensive and long-lasting, it is time to consider other plants to throw into the mix. Chilli, cayenne (capsicum sp.) gets blood moving at all levels. It can be very effective where bruising is deep down and can act to transport the active ingredients of other bruise herbs to help resolve the issue.
A chilli tincture is easy to make, but care must be taken to have the room well ventilated and wear gloves if possible. I made my tincture from Scotch Bonnets, chopping them in the processor before adding the vodka. When the top of the processor was removed, the airborne particle affected my eyes so badly, I had to open the kitchen window and then lie down for half an hour before I could carry on!
When I was treating my husband for extensive bruising and a swollen knee after an altercation with a ball during Walking Football, I only had chili in tincture form, so that went into his thrice daily medicine and ginger oil was added to his bruise salve.
A very effective herb for use with children and vulnerable elders is daisy. The flowers and leaves combine to make a double infused oil which can be made into a salve on its own or mixed with self-heal (prunella vulgaris) or mugwort (artemisia vulgaris).
Many people rely on homeopathic arnica for bruising. It is very effective and easily available from all chemists. You can make your own tincture if you have access to the arnica plant but remember it is poisonous and should only be applied externally in drop doses rubbed into the skin.
In conclusion, the body will heal any bruises it sustains but there are a number of plants which can help support and speed up the process.
Bruton-Seal, J and Seal, M The Herbalist’s Bible Merlin Unwin Books 2014
Bruton-Seal, J and Seal, M Wayside Medicine Merlin Unwin Books 2017
Gibbs, J. A A Cotswold Village Nonsuch Publishing 2005
Warren-Davis, D ‘Reflections on Solomon Seal’ from A Welsh Herbal | Facebook