Whether you scuffed up your knee on a hike or accidently sliced your finger while cutting veggies for dinner, simply slapping on a Band-Aid isn’t the answer. Did you know that in just one teaspoon of soil there are 6 billion bacteria? It only takes one invader to develop a systemic infection, says Deb Ajango, director of Safety Education for Outdoor Work Environments in Seward, Alaska. So it’s important you treat your wound properly not only to reduce infection, but also to minimize scarring and speed up the healing process. For healing to occur, “Wounds need to be moist, free of debris, and kept clean,” says James McGuire, director of the Advanced Wound Healing Center at Temple University in Philadelphia. Natural dressings work better than artificial ones that often contain salicin, which can aggravate allergies, and magnesium aspartate, which can disrupt the nervous system. And if you’re a Neosporin junkie, listen up: Antibiotic ointments actually seal off the wound, says Ajango, so it can’t breathe or eliminate contaminants. Try these safe, effective treatments instead.
This essential oil’s antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties keep the wound and the area around it clean, stimulating the healing process. Apply one drop directly to the wound, or for a deeper gash, add up to five drops of oil to filtered water, wet a bandage (gauze or sterile, organic cotton) with the solution, and apply to the wound. To treat a larger area (like a burn or scrape), spray with a mix of 80 drops of oil per ounce of water.
Sprinkle cayenne pepper directly into a cut that won’t stop bleeding. “It may sting a little, but that goes away quickly,” says Gayle Eversole, DHom, ND. In fact, cayenne actually deadens the pain. But don’t use the grocery store spice—the irradiation process manufacturers use to kill harmful bacteria has also stripped away the healing nutrients. Instead, sprinkle the contents of one 35,000 HU (heat units) supplement capsule of organic cayenne pepper on the wound. You could use a teaspoon of organic, bulk cayenne, but be aware that light, heat, and air diminish the medicinal qualities of the herb; you’ll get a more powerful treatment from sealed, packaged supplements.
“A natural coagulant and surface analgesic when applied topically, yarrow stops bleeding, lessens pain, and prevents infection,” Ajango says. To make a poultice, crush and chew the leaves, then press into the wound; you should feel a numbing effect almost instantly.
Rich in vitamin C and bacteria-fighting power, research shows this dark, Australian honey helps most wounds (from severe burns to deep cuts and minor scrapes) heal faster and better than even some of the leading conventional treatments. “Manuka destroys bacteria in the wound and attracts white blood cells to the wound site, expediting healing,” McGuire says. Because this honey also contains substances that attract water, it draws excess fluid and debris from the wound without drying it out. You can use raw manuka honey on wounds, but that can get pretty messy. Some companies now manufacture ointments and bandages made with manuka—look for them in your natural pharmacy. Either way, redress the wound each day.
Homeopathic arnica can reduce healing time by 50 to 80 percent, Eversole says. “Arnica works quickly to repair damaged blood vessels, reduce swelling at the injury site, and eliminate pain,” adds Lyle Morgan, author of Homeopathic Treatment of Sports Injuries (Healing Arts Press, 1988). Be sure to spread arnica ointment around the wound—but not directly in it.