Astringents are herbs that tighten and tone soft, swollen, loose or spongy tissues and help to arrest excessive mucus secretion, bleeding or drainage. Astringent herbs can be recognized by their slightly bitter flavor and the tightening, drying sensation they produce in the mouth. They are commonly found in barks, stems, and roots where they may play a role in preventing insect damage and diseases in plants.
The primary active compound in astringents is tannins. They get their name from their ability to tan hides and turn them into leather. They are able to squeeze the moisture out of the gelatins and proteins in animal skins and make them pliable, tough and resistant to decay.
The same qualities that have made tannin-bearing plants useful for preserving hides and pelts are the qualities that make them useful in the treatment of injuries and damaged tissues. When they come in contact with the skin or mucous membranes, they form a protective layer that is resistant to infection and holds moisture in the tissues.
Tannins also help to stop bleeding and neutralize many plant toxins and animal venoms, which is why astringent herbs are excellent remedies to apply topically to minor injuries, including cuts, burns, insect bites and stings, snake and animal bites and skin rashes caused by poison ivy or oak. Astringents are also used topically for cosmetic actions, to tone up oily skin pores, tighten wrinkles and aid the complexion. Tannin-bearing herbs have also been applied topically to varicose veins, hemorrhoids or bleeding gums to help them heal.
Internally, astringent herbs help to reduce excess sinus drainage, shrink nasal polyps, stop urinary incontinence, heal ulcerations and irritations in the GI tract and tone up the intestinal membranes to reduce leaky gut. They can also be used to help arrest diarrhea or inhibit bleeding in the digestive, respiratory or urinary passages.
In this month’s Sunshine Sharing Hour, we’ll talk about astringents and tannins and their many applications. We’ll introduce you to many wonderful astringent herbs and their uses, including white oak bark, bayberry root bark, uva ursi, red raspberry leaves and yarrow.