External Applications in Anthroposophic Nursing

Mustard Thorax Compress

Kind of substance

Mustard Powder

Guiding principle for the application

The etheric oils in mustard powder have a very irritating effect on the skin, they penetrate quickly, causing a strong burning sensation and intensive warmth.
Circulation and metabolism increase at the place of treatment and the skin reddens. This affects the nerve endings in the skin, which convey the effect to the inner organs. Mustard thorax compresses also deepen the breathing.
Mustard applications are among the most effective and reliable, but also the most demanding external applications. It is important for the patient to be well informed about the treatment and the fact that mustard burns the skin.
The correct length of treatment has to be found together with the patient for each mustard application. If the treatment is too short, the desired effect will be lost; if it is too long, there is a danger of causing burn-like damage to the skin. Mustard thorax applications should be given in the mornings or early afternoons if possible (approx. 3:00–5:00 pm), as this is the time in which the organism is best able to process the treatment.

Guiding Principle for the substance


  • Bronchial asthma
  • Recurring respiratory infections (also following frequent antibiotics) (see example case)
  • Bronchitis
  • Disposition for infection in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Pleurisy
  • Pneumonia
  • Pneumonia prophylaxis for elderly or bedridden patients



  • No mustard compresses on reddened, diseased or irradiated skin!
  • Light-skinned, blond and red-headed people have an especially strong and quick reaction to the irritation of mustard.
  • The person giving the treatment remains with the patient until the start of the post-treatment rest because of the skin reaction that can start within a few minutes (burning, reddening – danger of burns!)
  • Mustard powder should be stored protected from light in an airtight, cool container.

  • Mustard powder (ground black mustard seeds) 2–4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the area to be treated)
  • An inner cloth twice the size of the planned application area, paper towels (for "packing" the mustard mash), a terry cloth hand towel as an intermediate cloth (for protection from wetting), an outer cloth
  • A small amount of warm water (max. 70°C or 158°F)
  • A large cup with a handle for stirring the mixture
  • A wooden board

Applying the compress
  • Lay out the inner cloth on the board and spread the paper towel on top
  • Mix the mustard powder with the warm water to a spreadable consistency. Quickly apply it to half of the inner cloth/paper towel and fold it into a pack closed in on all sides. The lower surface of the pack with one layer each of cloth and paper is the side that is applied to the skin
  • Lay the pack on the area of skin to be treated

Firmly and closely apply the intermediate and outer cloths to fix and cover the pack in place
  • Keep a close watch on the skin reaction during the treatment (possibly briefly lifting the pack to look) – the aim is for the skin to begin to redden, so that it can be easily distinguished from the untreated skin. This effect can be expected within 2–12 minutes.
  • When removing the pack possibly dab with skin with a moist-warm cloth. Remove all of the cloths
  • With sensitive patients (children) apply some calendula baby oil to the skin a few hours later
  • Post-treatment rest (30 minutes)

  • Throw away the mustard mash and paper towels, rinse out the inner cloth
  • The next mustard application can be done the next day at the earliest, and only if the reddening of the skin has subsided (possibly use oil or cream to take care of the area)

Proven in many patients
Once daily
Onset of effect
Within minutes
Length of therapy
Depending on the effect on the patient it can be used from a single application up to a treatment series of up to 10 applications
Caution: Danger of burns when applying too long!

Instructions to download

Case example

A 74-year-old male patient with a neurasthenic constitution has been suffering from COPD for years, this develops into recurring pneumonia in the winter months of 2012 before treatment begins. His main problem is a constant, mainly dry cough and a lack of strength caused by recurring infections and the accompanying antibiotics. He is hospitalised for the pneumonia a number of times, always accompanied by fever.
The patient is short of breath, somewhat phlegmy, breathes superficially before the first treatment. He appears weak, slightly resigned and helpless. He tends to shiver, has cold extremities. I apply the compress together with his partner, it is his first. The compress can be left on for 12 minutes the 1st time. The patient falls asleep during his post-treatment rest. Warmth develops right into the periphery, his breathing calms and transitions into breathing from the abdomen.
The course of the following treatments is similar, but the compress can be left on longer. His general condition improves quickly. His mood improves along with it and he gains hope. He is very satisfied with his progress.


Red., ML


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