When used correctly, herbal medicines to stop itching can be extremely powerful. In this article I will discuss herbs with an acrid and aromatic nature that are useful to help patients suffering with itchy skin.
Did your mom ever have you breath in, with a towel over your head, steaming water infused with Vicks vapour rub? You know, when your nose was stuffed tight from a bad cold. Well the flavours you smelled were from the essential oils of different acrid and aromatic herbal medicines, primarily camphor, eucalyptus and menthol. Herbal medicines, which are aromatic, acrid and pungent in flavour, are considered to open, move and disperse blockages (like congested sinuses). These same herbal medicines stop itching.
As an example, in western medicine, peppermint is well accepted as a safe method stop itch when used externally. Peppermint oil has also been shown to be a safe anti-itch remedy during pregnancy. I myself have given this to pregnant women, within a simple calamine lotion I make, for the relief of PUPPS (Pruritic Urticarial Papular Pregnancy Syndrome) and have seen several woman receive benefit.
To make a simple moisturizing lotion of herbal medicines to stop itching, try adding 1% peppermint oil to a mix of 60% water and 39% vegetable glycerin. Shake well before use and keep in the fridge (will keep for a week or so). Simple, but effective for some dry types of mild eczema (of course, stronger herbs to help calm down the inflammation of something like eczema may also be needed for the best effect).
When treating complex and stubborn itchy skin disorders, herbs drunk as a tea is the most effective. A common pairing of aromatic herbal medicines to stop itching are Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae) and Jing Jie (Herba Schizonepetae). Both are acrid and warm in nature and smell fantastic. They open and disperse, causing a very mild sweat. They can be very useful for hay-fever, and even asthma. My primary use of them is for itching, especially when the skin is more dry. If a patient is already overtly sweating, this can show another method to stop itching may be needed. Fang Feng and Jing Jie find their way into many prescriptions I write for such conditions as urticaria (hives), eczema, and psoriasis.
Among the aromatic herbal medicines to stop itching, Xu Chang Qing (Radix Cynanchi Paniculati) is considered very important and effective by my teacher, Mazin Al Khafaji. It is especially useful to stop itching in patients suffering with an aggressive whole body eczema flare up.
Bai Zhi (Radix Angelicae Dahuricae) is potently acrid and a very good herb to stop itching, especially for psoriasis. I use this herb a lot for seasonal allergies as well, especially when a drippy nose predominates. It is also good for headaches, finding its way into some migraine prescriptions that I create. Remember, the acrid, pungent and aromatic flavour can open, move and disperse blockages. Thus, herbs with this flavour can be very useful for painful disorders as well as for itching.
Probably the strongest smelling acrid herb I use is Qiang Huo (Radix et Rhizoma Notopterygii). When my pharmacy was in the basement of our home in White Rock, BC, my wife would always complain when I cooked this herb. It smelled very strong! In fact, I am pretty sure my neighbours down the block could smell it. This herb is very useful for stubborn itching disorders. Just today I incorporated it into a formula for a patient with Prurigo Nodularis, which is an incredibly itchy skin disease. I have also seen this herb prove quite effective in helping to stop the itch of Lichen Simplex, which is seen as a self-induced itching disorder that often drives people crazy!
In Chinese medicine there is roughly eleven different types/ causes of itching. The above mentioned aromatic herbal medicines to stop itching are most useful for what is referred to as wind itch. This is usually seen with patients with dry skin. Patients suffering with wind itch may have the upper part of their body more affected (or whole body), their itch may change quickly from mild to severe and they may have many bloody scratch marks visible on their skin.
When the skin is quite damp, or even oozing fluid, then herbs with a bitter flavour may prove more beneficial (I will discuss this category of herbs in a different article).
Of course, I am just giving a very basic introduction to some herbal medicines to stop itching. There are many things to consider when designing an effective formulation of herbs to treat a patient. A qualified doctor of Chinese medicine, who has sufficient training and experience in the treatment of skin disease, will know how to create and modify a formula so as to best match any given patient’s needs.
Wishing you good health,
Dr. Trevor Erikson