What with an herb for every ailment, and a cabinet full of tinctures, a cupboard full of teas, and a head full of ideas, well, it seems like we’d be prepared for just about anything. A burned wrist? Get out the Aloe. A cold coming your way? Now where did I put the Elderberry syrup? Stepped on a nail? Can’t get out the Epsom Salts and Calendula tincture fast enough. However, when it comes to upper respiratory congestion and ear aches in the very young, many of us hesitate. I was challenged with just such a case the other night, when a neighbor called me up requesting help for her 3 month old. The baby was congested, seemed to have an ear ache, and was crying hard and ceaselessly. Should she go to the emergency room? I looked through my window into the night. Cold rain streaked against the glass, and glistening twigs of leafless trees sawed against each other as the wind gusted and howled. It was no night to take a baby out, least of all a sick baby. “I’ll be right over,” I said.
I hesitated at the medicine cabinet. California Poppy tincture for pain. Elderberry to kill the virus. Sure. But would it act fast enough? I thought, “The upper respiratory tract is blocked and must be unblocked to allow the fluids to flow, to release the pressure on the inner ear.” Then it came to me. An onion poultice! I opened the potato drawer in the kitchen and found one last solid onion, and tossed it into my knapsack along with a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a bag of cornmeal. Within minutes I was knocking at their door, and they let me in. The house was warm but the baby’s screams brought my heart into my throat. Examining the baby, I saw that she was clawing at her ears, and her face was beet red. I had the mom give her 2 drops of California Poppy tincture, borrowed a clean cloth diaper, and excused myself into the kitchen.
Within a few minutes I had the onion chopped and sizzling in a frying pan with a little oil. Before the pieces were cooked through, I poured in a generous dollop of apple cider vinegar, which boiled, foamed and fumed. Then I stirred in just enough corn meal to make a medium paste, simmered it for a moment to make sure it was very hot, and then schlooped it out onto the diaper, which was spread over a dinner plate. Returning to the bedroom, I sat on the bed, and meditated for some time on the baby. Healing is not only on the physical plane, you know, but also requires faith, and faith can be cultivated from deep within. The baby was too little to know about faith. I had to rely on my own.
The California poppy seemed to be working somewhat, as the baby’s crying subsided. I tested the back of the cloth where it was sticking to the plate, and found it had cooled sufficiently. Nice an hot, mind you, but not hot enough to burn tender skin. We bared the baby’s chest, and slid the poultice onto her skin, tucking the diaper up under her chin and as close to her ears as we could get. This surprised her, and she cried louder for a few moments, but then after a ragged breath or two, as the warm and alliaceous poultice began to do its work, she became quiet, breathed evenly, and started sucking on her thumb. We insulated the sticky poultice with more clean cloth diapers, and then a towel. The baby was going to sleep. We hovered there for some time and prayed. The poultice had opened our upper respiratory tracts, too. We breathed easier.
I went back into the kitchen and cleaned up. There was little else for me to do, and soon I bid goodbye to my neighbors and made my way back through the storm to my little cabin. A phone call in the morning confirmed that the child was OK. It made me think. Emergencies such as this truly test our mettle as herbalists. It is all fine and good to love plants and traipse through sunny meadows with flowers in our hair, but what about when there is pain and suffering? Will our flowers be strong enough? One thing for sure. The onion is just a common vegetable and a lowly root at that, but the onion poultice has its place. Never forget the onion poultice.
December 11, 2012