Thursday, January 20, 2011

Colonel Mustard On The Chest With A Poultice

My husband has been is heaven the past couple of days. I've been a coughing maniac and have lost 100% of my voice. I mean absolutely 100% - not one croak left in my throat. It just doesn't have the same effect to stand there mouthing up a storm with only an occasional squeal to get Big Un's attention. Takes the joy right out of a good nagging. Kidding, I try not to do that though I suppose some nagginess slips out by accident at times. I have noticed, funny enough, that everyone I talk to starts to whisper.

Three days of cough syrup is really just enough. I've had to use the non-drowsy formula, which everyone knows isn't nearly as effective, because, well, it's hard to get anything done when I'm passed out at my desk. And that taste-- it's OK for a day but beginning the second day it's just sickening.

Солволан // Solvolan
by kaladan via Flickr

So today, since I'm home alone, I whipped up a good old-fashioned mustard poultice. My hubby's grandmother swore by them and was so happy when I first tried one out.

You need two basic ingredients (plus a little water):
Mustard and flour

Mustard, of course, is the active ingredient and has been used for centuries as a spice but also as a medicine. References to mustard have been found as far back as 5,000 BC. It's healing uses include not just for cough, chest congestion, bronchitis, and other respiratory troubles but also in treating asthma, snake and scorpion bites, lowering blood pressure, relieving sleep distrubances in menopausal women, and in the treatment of arthitis, rheumatism, and muscle soreness. At one time, surgeons used a mustard paste to disinfect their hands. It also has anti-fungal properties and works to cure athlete's foot. It was even thought, at one time, to be an aphrodisiac and was used in love potions.

Mustard Flowers
by philipbouchard via Flickr

Not bad for a weedy little flower.

What we will make to day is technically a mustard plaster since it will be wrapped up in cloth. A poultice is a concoction that you mix up and spread directly on the skin.

But you have to be careful with mustard because part of it's appeal, besides that sinus-clearing rush you get when you add too much to your food, is that it heats up and can cause blisters. So I go with the wrap and call it a poultice because that's what Great-Grandma called it.

There are scads of recipes and formulas for mustard poultice. Here's mine, based upon a little experience and an unpleasant Poultice Fail.

For a single batch to use on my chest for chesty ailments, I use:

2 tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon of dry yellow mustard

I know, not much mustard but hang in there with me- it works.

Yellow mustard is the mildest type of mustard, then brown, then black, the preferred mustard for a poultice. I've never seen dry brown mustard (maybe never looked) and have never seen black mustard in any form. I know it's out there but since yellow mustard will do, let's go with it.

The flour is basically a carrier for the mustard- it doesn't actually do anything. Maybe tones down the mustard because straight mustard might just burn through to your sternum, now that I think about it.

You don't have to use flour. Oatmeal, bread, starch, even mud, will all work.

I add 3 to 4 teaspoons of warm water, just until it makes a nice paste. You'll start to smell it as you mix. Mild but present.

You'll need something to wrap the poultice plaster. An old bandana works well as would a piece of light-weight flannel. Wet a corner of the bandana with some fairly warm water...


... and spread your mustard paste out in a nice even layer on the wet fabric.

Fold the bottom of dry cloth up over the paste, then the right side over it again to make a square, then fold the bottom up one more time. This makes a nice manageable size and the extra layers of dry cloth will help keep the heat in.

Find a nice comfy chair to lean back in for the next 30 minutes. Place the wet side of your little bundle face down on your chest (you want the wet side touching your skin).

I usually put a wash cloth between the bandana and my clothes to keep my clothes from getting wet and to keep more heat in the bandana.

Within 10 minutes you'll begin to feel warmth as well as to smell the mustard, which clears your sinuses nicely. Take the poulice off if it begins to get uncomfortable and don't leave it on for more than 30 minutes. If you think you'll fall asleep or might get caught up in a good book, set a timer. Thirty minutes.

This is how my chest looked today after 30 minutes- warm and red. Sorry about the boobage. The redness will start to fade immediately.

Now, let me tell you about my Poultice Fail. The first time I made a poultice, after consulting with my husband who has fond memories of his grandmother slapping one on him when he was a kid, I left it on too long. Like for well over an hour. I was skeptical because what's one teaspoon of mustard going to hurt and it was just another thing Grandma talked me in to trying.  Unfortunately, I had a healthy blister on my chest for over a week.


Do not use a mustard poultice on children, the frail elderly or anyone in a seriously debillitated state.

So I'm glad Great-Grandma talked me into trying a mustard poulitce. She knew I was good for an experiment. Once she and I tried eating a weed known in these parts as "Red Root" (maybe you call it pig weed) because one of her Korean friends told her they ate it as a vegetable when she was growing up.

Great Grandma was a frugal gal, even when it wasn't hip to be frugal, and having brought up a family during the depression she knew what it meant to waste not want not. The thought that she had been pulling Red Root from her garden all of those years and throwing it away when it was something you could eat almost had her in tears. So we tried it.

The best part about steamed Red Root with soy sauce is the soy sauce. But we had a good giggle over it anyway. What a great gal, my hubby's grandma. She never did get me to eat ground hog, though.

So that's it for Mustard Poultice. You should try it out and remember to drink plenty of fluids and get some sleep. It's that time of year.

Stay well.

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