Herbal compress treatments and therapies have been used for millennia across civilizations and cultures, and within most traditional medicine systems. Applied hot or cold, their application was/is based on ancient (and often region-specific) knowledge of the healing properties of plants and herbs, an art and science more commonly known as Traditional Herbal Medicine, Herbology, or Herbalism.
Herbal compresses are also referred to as Herbal Balls, Herbal Pouches, Herbal Poultices, or Herbal Stems. The most typical application is that of combining the use of herbal compresses with massage therapy, that is, the herbal compress is used to massage, or in any case used to press on the body or body parts.
Herbal compress treatments are generally used to soothe and alleviate pains and inflammations. Important in the application of herbal compresses is the correct selection of specific herbs with therapeutic qualities, which all depend on the goal of the treatment or massage.
In hot compress treatments, a mix of dry or fresh herbs is wrapped within a (cotton) cloth and made into a manual compress, then steamed (in bamboo or electrical steamer) and when hot or warm, applied on the body by pressing, gliding or smearing in circular, linear and rolling movements.
In other cases, herbs — and sometimes also herbal and essential oils — are heated up separately, in a pot or pan, then poured into a cloth which is then bound into a wrap/compress to apply i.e. press on the body of the receiver.
It’s the heat that is thought to release the aromatic and medicinal properties of the herbs used. Herbal compresses can offer a range of health benefits such as stress relief, relaxation, alleviating fatigue, soothing muscles, tendons and ligaments pains and soreness, increasing emotional and physical well-being, improving blood and lymph circulation, and stimulating internal organs.
Cold herbal compresses are rather used to treat injuries and inflammations in the first forty-eight hours after an injury. Applying cold compresses on injured or inflamed body areas reduces inflammations by decreasing blood flow to the area (due to the low temperatures) and thereby also reduces the risk of swelling and tissue damage. Additionally, cold numbs the body or body parts, which may help to reduce pains.
Sometimes herbal compresses are used as an integral part of a massage treatment in order to first warm up and open up the body before a session, and to soothe the worked-on areas after a massage session. Another popular application is to soothe and re-energize the body, the abdomen and internal organs of women in the postnatal i.e. postpartum period. In other cases the complete massage may be done with applying herbal compresses.