Having taught acupressure to massage therapists for years I have a lot of friends who do massage. From time to time one will call me when they’ve cut their finger (or foot) and it’s becoming infected. I tell them to take a cup of hot Epsom salt solution and soak their finger (or whatever) in it for ten minutes every few hours. By an hour or two after the second soaking redness and swelling are usually much better. Epsom Salt soaks help cuts heal quickly and cleanly.
Epsom salt, magnesium sulphate, is cheap, available everywhere and amazing. It’s one of the most versatile medicines I’ve ever found. Whenever I get emergency calls from someone with a cold, flu or superficial infection I send them to the drug store for a half gallon-sized cardboard carton of epsom salt.
But not for internal consumption. Epsom Salt is best used as a soak. People use it as a purgative when they’re constipated, but vitamin C works just as well and isn’t so dangerous. Don’t drink epsom salt.
The issue is magnesium poisoning, which can be unpredictable and occasionally fatal: one person’s safe dose is another’s trip to the hospital. Early signs can be swelling, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, low back pain … but the effects can damage several body organs so not all cases of magnesium poisoning look the same. That said … many folks use it as a purgative. If you insist … follow the directions on the box. I have …
In naturopathic terms, Epsom Salt “draws.” It acts to “pull” inflammation from the body. Infections tend to draw toward the surface and consolidate, redness, swelling and pain lessen markedly, typically within hours. If there’s no noticeably positive response to the first soaking, it may not be wise to continue (see Cautions, below.)
Many of Epsom Salt’s effects could be due to the higher specific gravity of a dense salt solution and the extra kinetic energy such a solution carries when it delivers heat to an area. Magnesium is an anti-inflammatory mineral; many moderns are deficient in magnesium (mineral deficiencies from depleted soils are epidemic in some parts of the industrialized world.)
There’s three ways I use Epsom Salt.
It’s a nice wind-down at the end of a difficult day.
Magnesium relaxes muscle and nerve tissue. A good warm tub with a couple of cups of Epsom Salt and perhaps a few well-chosen oils can do wonders as a gear-shifter after a long, hard day.
As a soak for infected tissue on a hand or foot:
Heat water in a tea kettle and pour it into a cup or basin big enough to immerse the infected body part. Soak the extremity in the water (taking care not to scald yourself) and, as you get accustomed to the heat, add small portions of hot water from the tea kettle to keep the soak as hot as you can comfortably take it.
You only need to do this for 6-10 minutes each time. Frequency of application is much more important than duration; soaking over 10 minutes doesn’t seem to accomplish anything extra. But soaking several times a day will almost always dramatically increase the treatment’s effectiveness – I’ve only encountered one infection in ten years that didn’t respond to it.1
As an aid to cure the common cold.
In a sense, the congestion of the flu can be seen as the body working overtime to take out the trash. The body clears itself of the debris of immune responses by flushing them out. Sweating is perhaps the most powerful yet dignified way of helping the body take out the garbage.
Just about anybody under 45 without a heart condition2 can get over any cold, flu or detox reaction in less than 24 hours if they repeat the following drill 3-4 times. Lay several large bath or beach towels in your bed where you sleep, and fold back the bedcover. Now fill a decent-sized bath with water just about as hot as you can take it, and pour in about 2-3 cups of Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate). Stir and dissolve the salt (do not drink!) Now immerse yourself in the bath. Get as much of your body underwater as possible, and if you have a head cold get as much of your head underwater as possible. Add more hot water as you become used to the temperature, and stir.
After five, six minutes or more (rarely more than eight) any part of your body still exposed to air will begin to sweat vigorously. Shortly afterwards your body will start giving you clear signals that it wants to get out of the water. Count to thirty (monitor your pulse and get out faster if it’s racing) and then get out of the water.
The next sixty seconds are critical to the success of this process. Do not allow yourself to become chilled. Towel off rapidly and get into bed, pulling first new towels and then the blankets over you. Sweat. Sweat for at least 20 minutes; 30 or 40 is better. Your body is flushing itself. Warmth speeds lymph flow toward the heart. Heat is generally not good for microbes fighting off an immune attack.
When you’re done, get up and rinse yourself off in the shower. You shouldn’t let yourself get chilled this time, either, but after you’re dry you can get dressed and go about your day. Drink some fluids. Drink some more. Repeat this cycle every 2-3 hours. It’s a rare flu that will survive three or four rounds of sweating, although it may take you a day or two afterwards to regain your normal strength.
There are staph and fungal infections that can worsen if soaked in hot water. These are fortunately rare. In most cases topical epsom salt soaks are very helpful for topical infections; so effective in fact that the first soaking should produce a noticeable decrease in pain and inflammation within an hour or two. If soaking worsens an infection, do not repeat and see a professional immediately.
Heating the body can damage a weakened heart and possibly provoke a medical crisis. If you are older than your late forties, if you have a heart condition or a history of heart problems in your family; and especially if you fall into any of these categories and haven’t had a physical lately, please get one and get clearance from your physician before attempting this method.