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Immune: A Simple Cure for Brown Recluse Bites

by Sasha Daucus

Medical Herbalism 9(4):20

Here in southern Ozarks, we are home to an abundance of the poisonous spiders called Violin or Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa).  Their natural habitat is under rocks and stones, but they enjoy the comforts of human homes, and are sometimes found in little-used drawers, closets, and other small hiding places.  Even Heloise herself would have trouble driving them out altogether.

When bitten by a brown recluse spider, most people hardly notice.  A few people experience swelling, redness, and tenderness at the bite area within eight hours, followed by chills, nausea or fever.  Many people skip this step entirely.  More commonly, after several days the skin surrounding the bite may begin to ulcerate, eventually forming a deep, open wound which is slow to heal and susceptible to infection.  Death from a violin spider is extremely unlikely.  The allopathic cure for the bite is to cut the whole bite area and some surrounding healthy flesh out.  I’ve met people with deep gouges out of a thigh muscle where a bite has been excised.

My first personal experience with a brown recluse bite was when one bit a friend.  The spider took a little nip between her fingers, and then left quickly.  The wound wasn’t particularly painful, just a small slightly itchy bump.  Ten days later, however, that same litte bump was there and beginning to open.  I applied a fresh plantain leaf (Plantago sp.) poultice overnight, and the next morning, my friend expressed a small black core from the bite, which then went on to heal promptly and normally.

The next time I met up with a brown recluse bite was on a patient who been bitten nearly a month previously. By the time she came to me, the bite was ulcerated to about the size of a quarter, not painful, but getting bigger. I advised poultices of fresh plantain leaf, changed once or twice a day, and left on overnight. I  also advised hot salt water soaks of the area 3-4 times daily. All this she did, with fair compliance, particularly at the beginning, and the bite was scabbed over in a week and healed with no furthur problems in about two weeks.  I added the salt water soaks, two or three times stronger then normal saline (normal saline = 1 tablespoon/quart water) because I have found them to be extremely effective in healing chronic wounds.

In this part of the country, we have fresh plantain of many species growing nearly all year long.  I prefer to use fresh Plantago major or cordata, but others will work  also.  I advise people to take a fresh leaf, rinse it and chew it up before applying.  Preparation by chewing seems to make the poultice more effective than cutting or mashing in a mortar. I have also found that plantain oil made of fresh dried plantain leaf soaked in olive oil (1 part plantain leaf : 2 parts olive oil) gives satisfactory results, and can be used when plantain has died back in winter or is otherwise unavailable.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    237


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies


Plantain is mentioned perhaps more than any other remedy as a treatment for skin inflammations and wounds in the folk medicine of North America and in the ethnobotany of North American Indians. It has been used for the same purposes in European medicine since antiquity. We find no clinical trials of plantain in the scientific literature, but a U.S. Department of Agriculture database lists fifteen different constituents with bactericidal activity (Beckstrom-Sternberg and Duke). More than twenty constituents on the database have antiinflammatory properties. The German Commission E has approved the related Plantago lanceolata for skin inflammations and infections.

Medical Herbalism associate editor Sharol Tilgner, has treated brown recluse spider bites with poultices of echinacea tincture and bentonite clay (tincture diluted with equal parts of water, then mixed with clay to make a paste.) Treated this way, the bites normally heal without requriing surgery, and without leaving a scar.


Beckstrom-Sternberg, Stephen M., and James A. Duke. “The Phytochemical Database.” (ACEDB version 4.3 - data version July 1994).

Beckstrom-Sternberg, Stephen M., James A. Duke, and K.K. Wain. “The Ethnobotany Database.” (ACEDB version 4.3 -data version July 1994).

Beckstrom-Sternberg, Stephen M., Daniel E. Moerman, and James A. Duke. “The Medicinal Plants of Native America Database.” (ACEDB version 4.3 - data version June 1995).
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    238