The Use of Green Clay in Ulcer Treatment: An Historic Overview
by Aletha Tippett MD
This month's blog is in response to a comment on Recognizing and Treating Wounds Caused by Pyoderma Gangrenosum:
"What is green clay? Where do you get it? What does it do? Thanks for discussing pg in your blog. I'm working with a person whose ulcer is identical to the photo."
Our introduction to clay began with a study of buruli ulcers. Buruli ulcers are caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, endemic in Africa, affecting poor people who live near rivers or wetlands. It is the third most common mycobacterial disease after tuberculosis and leprosy. It is quite common, with surveys of one community in Ghana showing 22% of people with the disease. Buruli ulcers occur worldwide, but data on the total burden is scant. It has been reported in Australia, Asia, and in Central and Southern America. Children under age 15 are predominantly affected. I was looking at pictures of Buruli ulcers with a realization that they looked a lot like some of the ulcers we were seeing. Buruli ulcers of course can be treated surgically, but in remote areas treatment often is not available. We were especially intrigued by the work of Madame Line Brunet de Courssou who had two decades experience treating Buruli ulcers successfully with French clay. This led to exploration of clays available and how and what to use.
Clay is most commonly associated with the experience of the European spa. Visitors have been masked, soaked, and basted with this touted curative since the Romans ruled. But go back further still and you’ll find that clay has had a role in human health as ancient as man. The first proof of the therapeutic use of clays was incised on clay tablets in Mesopotamia around 2500 B.C. However, some scholars believe that prehistoric ancestors such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis used ochres made from a mixture of clay and iron hydroxides to cure wounds as well as paint caves.
In Egypt, Cleopatra used clays to preserve her complexion. But the Pharaohs' physicians used the material as anti-inflammatory agents and antiseptics. It was also an ingredient used for making mummies. Despite a long history of use, some very fundamental questions remain about the benefits of clay, leading to active research on the topic today.
Since Madame de Courssou used French clay, which was superior to native clays, we found that the original clay she used was mined in Montmorillon, France. With some searching we found 100% Montmorillonite clay available from Magick Botanicals, sold as Coso Green Clay for external use only. We stock 12 ounce canisters of this green clay to use directly on a wound, or to make a poultice to place around or over a wound, and have used it successfully on sarcoidosis ulcers (possibly also mycobacterial in origin) and with modest success on pyoderma gangrenosum. It is especially helpful in reducing pain.
Of course, there are edible clays, used for detoxification and mineral supplementation, but that is beyond the scope of this article. Clay is still not well understood as a healing agent and is probably underused in the treatment of wounds. I encourage you to explore this topic more fully, and if you are really brave, explore the edible clays and find out about Hunza life and clay.
About The Author
Aletha Tippett MD is a family medicine and wound care expert, founder and president of the Hope of Healing Foundation®, family physician, and international speaker on wound care.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.