Chilblains – the medical name is perniosis – occur as a reaction to cold but not necessarily freezing temperatures. They occur more often when cold exposure is accompanied by dampness, icy water or snow – winter clearance of a pond will do it, or wrapping tender plants when it’s sleeting.
Symptoms generally develop within two to fourteen hours of initial cold exposure and manifest as localised redness with swelling, often as ‘skin bumps’ which on re-warming of the area become tender and blue or develop itching or burning sensations. In severe cases, blisters and ulcers can form. They normally heal within a week.
Chilblains are the result of constriction damage to the capillaries and blood vessels feeding your skin and can affect hands, ears, lower legs or feet. Women gardeners are more susceptible to chilblains than men – it’s nothing to do with the thickness of socks, just one of those things.
First response – Warm but do not apply strong heat to the affected area to decongest blood vessels and begin natural recovery. But do this slowly, as the re-warming – the renewed blood flow – causes pain. Traditional treatment is to use steroidal cream for the itching and inflammation, and an antibiotic to ward off secondary infection. Do not scratch or burst chilblains as they can easily ulcerate. Calamine lotion or a similar lotion will ease the discomfort of itching. Ulcerated wounds need medical supervision.
Garden aid – A pokeweed poultice or nettle juice and/or garlic paste are folk remedies to alleviate congestion in the blood vessels. Aloe vera or juniper berry juice applied to the site will relieve itching and address secondary infections. Crambe (sea-kale) leaves are useful as an anti-itch poultice, as are acanthus leaves.
Any herbal antiseptic lotion or rinse will be beneficial and the use of calamine lotion or lanolin cream can ease sensations and keep healing skin supple. Cramp bark tea or prickly ash decoctions have a history of use to remedy this condition.
The leaves of spotted laurel – used in traditional Chinese medicine and Japanese ethnobotany are pounded to become a poultice or paste and applied to burns and chilblains and to remedy swelling. The flowers of hollyhocks are calming, while their root is soothing – both parts can form the basis of pastes, tinctures and poultices applied to ulcers and an array of skin complaints.
Kitchen aid – Undiluted lemon juice, taken internally and applied to the skin, is an old folk remedy. Sipping a strong cup of ginger and cayenne tea, or munching a spicy snack that includes both, can help to improve circulation to the extremities.
Bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and oatmeal healer ( A ‘Ditch the Itch’ Paste Suitable for chilblains, peeling suntan and any irritated skin conditions.)
Method – Add 4 heaped tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda and 1 heaped tablespoon of ground cinnamon to 2 cups of finely ground oatmeal. Make a mug (2 cups) of strong camomile or linden tea and add to it 2 tablespoons of witch hazel extract. Mix all together to a porridge consistency. This will help itching, circulation and potential ulceration/infection. You can make a basinful of the mixture and soak toes for up to 30 minutes, or steep fingers in a small bowl of the healing gruel.
Find more recipes to treat chilblains and treatments for other weather related injuries in my book first aid from the garden available in all places that sell books. Also kindle downloads at usual sources.