Healing skin ulcers is not something to be taken lightly. A venous leg ulcer is actually a chronic wound and so needs careful and safe treatment. A skin ulcer is an open sore that can take months to improve. They can also be very painful and may itch. If you have a skin ulcer, it can also affect the surrounding skin. You may have areas of skin swelling, and you may feel unwell. Thus, if you have a chronic leg ulcer, it can have a dramatic impact on your quality of life.
Yet conventional medicine offers few options for the effective treatment of venous skin ulcers. Yes, conventional care for skin ulcers combines cleaning and dressing the ulcer. Plus, compression therapy stockings or a compression bandage will be suggested to help to improve blood flow to the area.
But these treatment options do little to address the underlying cause of the ulcer. Sometimes, a doctor may recommend topical or systemic antibiotics. Even when an infection is not present. This is because many leg ulcers harbour bacteria. However, only someone with an active infection should take antibiotics because of the risk of increasing antibiotic resistance. And, antibiotics do nothing to stimulate skin healing.
Furthermore, there's a theory that bacteria in chronic wounds, such as a chronic venous leg ulcers protect themselves by forming biofilms. These bacterial biofilms can make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Biofilms make wound care more difficult because they can also slow down the healing rate of ulcers.
So, if antibiotic treatment does not help an ulcer to heal, is there anything that does?
Herbs and healing skin ulcers?
There are many herbs with healing potential. Many have a long tradition for this purpose. Herbalists describe this medicinal action as vulnerary.
Herbs with vulnerary action include:
- Aloe vera
- slippery elm
- gotu kola
Now, with an increase in antibiotic resistance, attention is turning back to herbal remedies. Researchers are studying herbal remedies to find new antimicrobial treatments. What’s more, their findings often confirm the traditional herbal use. This includes the wound healing properties of plants, known since ancient times. In fact, several research studies show the effectiveness of herbal remedies for healing leg ulcers.
In addition to promoting skin healing, many herbs have other medicinal benefits. Such as reducing inflammation and other skin changes; improving poor circulation to the feet and legs; soothing the sore skin and reducing the risk of infection, so preventing infected ulcers.
Here are some examples:
Marigold or Calendula
The bright yellowish-orange marigold flowers are a wonderful wound-healing herb. Prepare the whole flowers as an infusion, healing balm or ointment.
Calendula speeds up healing by stimulating the production of granulation tissue. The herb also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Herbalists use marigolds whenever there is infection, inflammation or damage to the skin or other tissues.
In a scientific study, a marigold ointment was used to treat lower leg venous ulcers. In the study, leg ulcers are treated by applying ointment twice a day for three weeks. After three weeks the marigold ointment treatment healed the ulcers better than the comparison treatment.
But this was not the only evidence. In another study, researchers compare a marigold extract with a control treatment. During the treatment for skin ulcers, researchers checked the area of the skin around the ulcer every two weeks. The skin ulcers in the marigold treatment group healed in half the time of those in the control group.
Gotu kola or Centella asiatica
This is a herb from the ancient Ayurvedic tradition of herbal medicine. But, herbalists practising Western herbal medicine also use this herb. Gotu kola is a tonic herb that is useful for skin problems, wounds and digestive health. This review suggests Gotu kola increases collagen synthesis and improves skin health and healing. You can use gotu kola as an ointment, cream or gel. But, the gel may be the best preparation for healing wounds and ulcers.
Pine bark extract or Pycnogenol
Venous leg ulcers can develop as a result of venous disease. Veins carry blood from the legs back to the heart and have valves that prevent backflow. If the blood circulation in your legs is poor and the blood vessels are unhealthy, varicose veins can develop. As the leg veins widen, the valves may fail and allow blood to accumulate in the legs. This venous insufficiency creates a situation of high pressure in the veins and stagnation of blood. This increases the risk of a venous leg ulcer,
The herb extract Pycnogenol is effective for treating venous disease. So scientists are interested in its effects on healing ulcers associated with venous hypertension.
In this six-week study, one group took the remedy pycnogenol. While another patient group took oral pycnogenol and also applied pycnogenol to the ulcer.
The 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. You might like to read my post 8 natural alternatives to NSAIDs.
The gel of the Aloe vera plant is a wonderful herb for any sore, inflamed or damaged skin. It sinks into the skin leaving it softened, soothed and moisturised. For this reason, you will see Aloe vera as an ingredient in many 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 patient group were 93% healed. Whilst in the control group only 47% had healed. What’s more, the ulcers in the Aloe vera group healed in half the time.
I have written about Aloe vera before. You might like to read my post The most important herb in my kitchen.
Together, these studies indicate that herbal remedies have a lot to offer in the healing of skin ulcers.
Have you tried herbal remedies to promote wound healing? I would love to hear from you. Sharing your experiences in the comments box may help others to benefit from the power of herbs.