Herbal Fomentation Procedure, Benefits, Variations, Precautions

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
‘Herbal Fomentation’ is a special type of fomentation, done using herbs. It is a type of hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is an important therapy which falls under the category of ‘Nature Cure Therapies’

Related reading – Fomentation in Hydrotherapy Methods, Types, Benefits

Principle

The skin is able to absorb herbal properties. Fomentation is an effective method of administering herbs. When herbal teas cannot be consumed especially by those having upset stomach, herbal fomentation can be preferred.

Method

Method, preparation of herbal decoctions and infusions –
First select the herbs for use.
Prepare their decoction or infusion.
Decoctions, how to prepare

  • Decoctions are made with tougher herbs such as barks, roots and stems.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of dried herb for each cup of water.
  • Add these to a pot and boil them.
  • When the ingredients start boiling and some water has been reduced due to evaporation, turn down the simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat.
  • Let cool or get warm enough to strain out the herbs.
  • After straining the herbs, the filtered liquid is used fresh.
  • Read related: Kashayam (Kwath) – Herbal Teas Preparation, Benefits, Usage

Infusions, how to prepare

  • Infusions are made with leaves, stems and flowers.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water into a pot or heat-proof bowl.
  • Pour boiling water over the herbs.
  • Cover with a lid.
  • Let the infusion steep for 10-15 minutes.
  • Strain out the herbs.
  • The infusion is ready to use.
woman putting an ice pack on her elbow pain

Procedure

How to do?
Dip a sterile cloth into the hot infusion.
Leave the cloth in the decoction for 5 minutes.
Squeeze out excess water from the cloth.
Apply the fomentation to the intended area.

Using hot water bottle or heating pad to maintain heat – The fomentation should be maintained hot. For this, the heat has to be preserved . To do this, lay another towel over the top of the fomentation. Later add a hot water bottle or heating pad over it so as to maintain the temperature.

Backup plan for hot water bottle – In case you do not have hot water bottle, keep another cloth dipped in hot decoction, ready to use. When the first fomentation cools down, slowly remove it. Take out the other towel dipped in the herbal infusion, squeeze it and apply hot on the affected area. While doing that, put the first cloth back into the hot herbal decoction. Switch between the fomentations every few minutes. The fomentations should be repeatedly changed until the desired time or result is obtained.

Doing fomentation to an arm or leg – Wrap the wet compress in plastic wrap after applying it. This will help in preservation of heat. It will also protect the clothing from getting stained. After applying the plastic wrap, follow up with a bandage. This will keep the fomentation in place.

Hot herbal fomentations altered by cold compresses, to increase the effectiveness of herbal fomentation
To enhance the effectiveness of a hot herbal fomentation, use cold compresses in between fomentations. Keep switching between heat and cold compresses.
This will help in increasing the blood flow and also promotes quick healing.

Generally it is good to keep the fomentation hot for a long period of time (10-20 minutes) and follow it up with a quick cold compress (3-5 minutes).
This cycle can be repeated for 20-30 minutes. This constant alternating of temperature causes blood capillaries to dilate and constrict in rhythm. The resulting increase of blood flow helps in clearing the obstructions and congestion occurring throughout the body. This idea may vary according to the condition of the patient. Cold applications can be performed with a cloth dipped in iced water or by placing an ice pack on top of the herb soaked cloth.

Word of Caution

Make sure that the fomentation is not too hot. Keep asking about the temperature and tolerance with the patient.
If fomentation is too hot, place a towel between the skin and wet (hot) cloth. Or let it cool slightly before applying.
Be cautious in patients with diabetes, neuropathy or deep vein thrombosis.

Popular herbal fomentations

For Mastitis and breast inflammation – Use herbal fomentation prepared with 1 tsp mullein and ¼ tsp lobelia made in 1 cup water. Fomentation prepared with Marshmallow root is another good option. Apply these fomentations to the breast area.

For sprains and strains – Fomentation made up of cramp bark or ginger and cayenne is useful.
For congestion – Ginger fomentation will be useful to clear congestion.

For broken bones – Fomentation with Comfrey will help.
For relaxation – Fomentation of chamomile and lavender will help.

For indigestion – Simple hot water fomentation or fomentation using hot water added with mint may be used to cure indigestion.

Herbs used

Other herbs used externally for fomentation

  • For Burns and Dermatitis – Aloe vera
  • For cystitis, urinary tract infections, diuresis – Buchu
  • For sleep, nausea, colic, diarrhea, nervousness – Catnip
  • For indigestion, gas, fever, to increase appetite, for colic – Chamomile
  • As sedative, to induce sleep – Hops
  • For nausea – Mint
  • For cough, chest problems – Mullein
  • As a tonic, for menopause – Red Clover
  • In pregnancy and menopause – Red Raspberry
  • For cough, colds, sore stomach – Slippery Elm
  • For skin ulcers, burns, bruises, moisturizing and cleansing to skin – Comfrey

Just Before Finishing –
In this article I have covered in depth, the meaning, procedure, and benefits of herbal fomentations which resemble the drava sweda procedure of the Swedana therapy (sweating therapy) of Ayurveda.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu) – Email / Skype

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