What you put into your body affects every aspect of daily life, and how well and how quickly you recover from injuries. The same is true inside and outside of the body with healing food helping to speed up your recovery from cuts, scrapes, and other wounds. Provided that you’ve taken the appropriate measures and care to stop the bleeding first.

In this excerpt from the book The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods by James A Duke and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain how healing foods can help speed up your recovery time following cuts scrapes and other wounds.

Cuts and Scrapes

By nature of being human, we’ve all sustained more than a few cuts and scrapes in our lives, and I’ve certainly had more than my fair share. But whether it’s a paper cut, a slip with a pairing knife, or a gravel-filled brush burn after a fall from a bike, cuts and scrapes can literally be a pain.

For severe cuts or puncture wounds, you must see your doctor—no food remedy is going to help you. Immediately after getting a cut or scrape, the first thing to do is clean it with soap and water. If the cut is more than 1 ⁄2 inch long or deep enough to show the yellow layer of fat under the skin, it needs stitches within the next 24 hours. In the meantime, you can put a bandage on the wound and apply ice to keep the swelling down. You also want to pay a visit to a healthcare professional if…

  • The wound won’t stop bleeding
  • The cut area is inflamed and tender or discharging pus
  • You have multiple cuts or scrapes
  • You have a fever or swollen lymph nodes
  • You have a cut on your face or other prominent area of your body
  • Cinders, gravel, or another substance is embedded in the wound

In the case of minor cuts and scrapes, however, foods—when eaten or used topically— can help speed healing or support the immune system by killing germs.

Healing Foods for Cuts and Scrapes

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you or I can do to prevent cuts and scrapes except be a little more careful. You can, however, make sure your nutritional status is up to snuff to keep your body at its ultimate healing potential. Nutrients such as protein, vitamin C, and zinc help build new skin, and if you don’t get enough of them, wounds will take longer to heal.

Cloves. The oil made from the dried flowers of this tropical tree is an aromatic staple of dentists’ offices. Not only does it have a calming, pleasant, spicy scent, it is also rich in eugenol, a chemical that has both painkilling and antiseptic properties. I wouldn’t hesitate to apply clove oil on a cut to prevent infection. Its antibiotic spectrum is remarkably broad; it’s even active against some strains of drug-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.

Garlic. Garlic is one of nature’s best antibiotics. An Ethiopian study looked at garlic’s antibacterial effects on wound infections and found it to be an effective remedy. I suggest you try taping a crushed clove over a cut or scrape. If it starts to irritate your skin or make the wound more painful, take it off right away.

Thyme. As one of the richest sources in my garden of the potent aromatic antiseptic thymol, thyme is next in line after clove and garlic as my choice for an herbal broad-spectrum antiseptic. Jean Valnet, MD, a French physician who used topical, oral, and inhaled applications of essential oils, claimed that thyme essence destroyed some skin-threatening bacteria, including anthrax and bacillus. And thyme has been successfully used topically for burns and skin and muscular problems, as outlined in Valnet’s 1964 book, Aromatherapie.

Citrus fruits. Studies have shown that vitamin C, either consumed in food or used topically, helps repair wounded skin. This vitamin is necessary for the formation of collagen, the tissue that holds skin cells together. It also helps promote proper immune function and acts as an antioxidant, all of which helps heal wounds. Conversely, when you don’t get enough vitamin C, collagen weakens, and your cuts and scrapes heal more slowly. No matter what kind of wound you have—or even if you are wound free—you should aim to get at least 500 milligrams of vitamin C a day (which is six times the recommended daily intake) from fruits and vegetables. If you are older or smoke, try to get closer to 1,000 milligrams. In addition to loading up on C-rich citrus fruits, you can boost your levels by eating more strawberries, broccoli, cantaloupe, tomatoes, bell peppers, and potatoes.

Jim LaValle, RPh, ND, pharmacist, naturopathic physician, and founder of LaValle Metabolix in Orange County, California, suggests you mix a few tablespoons of powdered vitamin C with 1 ⁄2 cup of aloe gel (both are available at most health food stores) in a spray bottle. Shake it well to dilute the vitamin C and then spray it right onto the wound a few times a day; it works well. But never take aloe gel internally.

A specific vitamin C–rich food that may work topically to prevent infection in a cut or scrape is the orange. In Chinese medicine, oranges are placed on wounds to draw out toxicity or heavy metals. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, and Chinese medicine guru Jeffrey Yuen tout oranges for their power to draw toxins from the body. Personally, I would prefer camu camu, when in season. This Amazonian fruit is the world’s richest source of vitamin C, and it has antiseptic properties besides. It is hard to find, though.

Cranberries. Native Americans used astringent cranberry poultices to pull toxins from arrow wounds. Dr. Dean and Yuen say that cranberries work for wound healing because they contain hippuric acid, which may have antibacterial properties.

Honey. Need a Band-Aid for your wound? You can use honey instead—it dries to form a natural bandage! It also has antibacterial properties, and studies show it speeds wound healing. There are hundreds of studies showing honey works to heal wounds of all kinds, with major reviews of its efficacy in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, the Journal of Wound Care, and other medical journals. For example, an analysis of nearly two dozen studies done in New Zealand revealed that honey works to clean a cut or scrape and prevent infection. In one study, 50 women with infected C-section or hysterectomy incisions received applications of either honey or topical antiseptics every hour. The honey group’s infections cleared up in about six days—eight days sooner than those in the group receiving the topical antiseptic. And if that weren’t convincing enough, honey also reduced swelling and helped minimize scars. Although I’ve never used honey as a topical treatment for wounds, I have seen Indians in Panama and Peru use it quite successfully. To get the best results, I would follow the method used by the New Zealand researchers: Drizzle some honey on a sterile piece of gauze, apply it to the wound, and change the dressing once a day.

Pineapple. Studies from Germany suggest that the proteolytic enzyme bromelain in pineapple stimulates wound healing. On my tropical trips, I might wash with pineapple juice before applying freshly cut garlic to cleanse a wound in the unforgiving tropical humidity. I’d drink a cooling beverage from this fruit and eat some garlic as well to boost my immune system.

Spinach. Spinach helps speed wound healing because it’s an excellent source of zinc, a trace mineral that helps organ tissue—including the skin—grow and repair itself. In a study done at the University of Texas Shriners Hospital for Children, zinc injections accelerated wound healing in adult rabbits. A British review called topical zinc “underappreciated” for wound healing. And a Turkish study revealed that the severity of traumas was associated with decreases in blood levels of certain trace elements, zinc included. In a study in Wound Repair and Regeneration, 12 weeks of treatment with zinc reduced the length and width of hard-to-heal wounds. In another study in the same journal, a zinc spray was effective in improving the healing of wounds of all kinds. And a British review called zinc “underappreciated” for wound healing.

Most Americans don’t get enough of this important mineral from sources like spinach, and if you experience slow wound healing, it may be a clue that you’re one of them. Eating more zinc to meet—or exceed—the recommended daily intake (11 micrograms) just may help your cuts and scrapes heal faster. In addition to spinach, nutritionists list oysters, wheat germ, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, low-fat yogurt, parsley, collards, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, string beans, endive, prunes, and asparagus as rich in zinc.

Tea. When applied topically, the tannins in tea appear to help treat open wounds. A Russian study showed that an oil extraction from tea leaves accelerated the healing process in wounds. Researchers from Denmark found that treating a wound with green tea leaves improved wound healing by 44 percent. And John Boik, PhD, an acupuncturist and author of the power-packed book Cancer & Natural Medicine, tells us that flavonoids may stabilize collagen. Tea contains many flavonoids as well as catechins, which stimulate collagen synthesis. I would try applying a black or green tea bag to a wound to help speed healing.

Tofu. Although only about 10 percent of the body’s protein is found in the skin, when your body tries to heal itself after a cut or scrape, your protein needs can double. The amount of additional protein you need depends on the severity of the wound, but you should add at least a few extra servings of a rich plant source of protein such as tofu (a four-ounce serving has more than nine grams of protein).

Or try this idea from Dr. LaValle: Get a protein drink made from brown rice powder or whey powder. Dr. LaValle particularly likes whey powder for wound healing because it improves immunoglobulin antibodies that help fight bacteria. If you’re not a vegetarian, you can boost protein with fish, poultry, eggs, or lean meat. You can also add shredded cheese to vegetable dishes or stir some nonfat dry milk into milk, cereal, soup, or gravy.

From the Herbal Medicine Chest

Patients with scars and slow-healing cuts have often found calendula preparations helpful in healing wounds that have frustrated contemporary physicians. Nineteenth-century housewives boiled calendula flowers, soaked them in alcohol, or simmered them in melted lard to make washes or ointments for minor wounds. In front of my local supermarket, you can see potted calendula, alias pot marigold, on sale when spring gardening fever begins.

A calendula tea can be an effective topical treatment for wounds when used as a poultice. The late herbalist Varro Tyler, PhD, noted that calendula is approved by Germany’s Commission E, a government agency that evaluates the safety and efficacy of medicinal herbs, for promoting wound healing with local application. I suggest pouring a cup of hot water over 1 to 1.5 grams of dried calendula petals and steeping for 10 minutes. Then pour the mixture onto a cloth and apply it to the wound. Calendula may be even more effective when incorporated into creams and gels. I’ve used a calendula cream with good results while traveling in the Amazonian rainforests.

For additional advice on proven natural remedies for common health conditions, purchase The Green Pharmacy from Bottomlineinc.com.

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