Venous leg ulcers are a chronic wound that can take months to heal. They cause pain, itching, swelling and feelings of being unwell. They can also have a dramatic impact on quality of life. Yet conventional medicine has few options for treatment of skin ulcers.
The standard care combines cleaning and dressing of the wound. Plus compression stockings or bandaging to improve blood flow to the area. Antibiotics may be prescribed in some cases.
Though many leg ulcers are colonised by bacteria. Only those with active infection should be treated with antibiotics due to the threat of antibiotic resistance.
One theory is that in chronic wounds bacteria protect themselves by forming bacterial biofilms. These biofilms help to make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. They may also be a cause of the slowed healing rate of ulcers. In any case, antibiotics do nothing to help heal the ulcer.
Can herbal medicine help to heal skin ulcers?
There are many herbs that have been traditionally used for wound healing. Herbalists describe this action as vulnerary.
Herbs with vulnerary action include:
- Aloe vera
- slippery elm
- gotu kola
Now, as antibiotic resistance is growing attention is turning back to herbal remedies. Researchers are studying herbal remedies to find new treatments. What’s more, their findings often confirm the traditional herbal use. Including the wound healing proprties of plants, known since ancient times. In fact, several studies show the effectiveness of herbal remedies for healing leg ulcers.
As well as promoting skin healing many herbs have additional properties that may provide some benefit. Such as reducing inflammation, soothing the skin and preventing infection.
Marigold or Calendula
The bright yellowish orange marigold flowers are a wonderful wound healing herb. They can be prepared as an infusion or healing balm or ointment.
Calendula speeds up healing by stimulating production of granulation tissue. The herb also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is often used by herbalists whenever there is infection, inflammation or damage to the skin or other tissues.
In a scientific study an extract of marigold prepared as an ointment was used to treat lower leg venous ulcers. The ointment was applied twice a day for three weeks, compared to a control group that had saline solution dressings applied. After three weeks, treatment was assessed. The marigold ointment was better for treating ulcers than the control treatment.
Another study compared treatment of venous leg ulcers with a calendula extract against a control. The participants wounds were assessed every two weeks. The study continued for a maximum of thirty weeks, or until the ulcers healed. The ulcers treated in the calendula group healed in an average of twelve weeks. Whilst the ulcers of the control group took an average of 25 weeks to heal.
Gotu kola or Centella asiatica
This is a herb from the ancient Ayurvedic tradition of herbal medicine. It is now widely used by herbalists in Western herbal medicine.
It has a history of use as a tonic herb but is also useful for skin problems, wounds and digestive health. This review suggests Gotu kola may increase collagen synthesis and the speed of skin healing. It can be used as an ointment, cream or gel, but the gel may be the best preparation for wounds and ulcers.
Pine bark extract or Pycnogenol
Pycnogenol is a herb that is effective in the treatment of venous disease that can lead to leg ulcers. The herb was studied for its effects on healing of ulcers associated with venous hypertension.
This was a six week study. One group took pycnogenol orally. Another group took the oral pycnogenol and also applied pycnogenol to the ulcer.
The results show ulcers healed better in those having combined oral and local treatment, rather than the oral treatment only.
I have written about Pine bark extract before. See my post 8 natural alternatives to NSAIDs.
The gel of the Aloe vera plant is a wonderful healing aid for any inflamed or damaged skin. It sinks into the skin leaving it softened, soothed and moisturised. For this reason it is often included in cosmetic products.
A study compared using Aloe vera gel for chronic leg ulcers against conventional treatment. Aloe vera gel was applied twice a day. Treatment progress was assessed after one week and then monthly for three months.
After three months the Aloe vera treated group had 93% healing. Whilst in the control group only 47% had healed. What’s more the ulcers in the Aloe vera group had healed in half the time.
I have written about Aloe vera before. See my post The most important herb in my kitchen.
These studies appear to indicate that herbal remedies have a lot to offer in the healing of skin ulcers.
Have you tried herbal remedies to promote wound healing? Sharing your experiences in the comments box may help others to benefit from the healing power of herbs.