It is easy to get upset when something is wrong with our most tender, personal bits.
Imagine the panic when you wake up and discover that something is awry with your labia, that there is one side swollen up, bigger than the other! Exploration with a mirror yields a hard pea-sized swelling that hurts a bit.
Let me spare you the Google image search that you could do for questions about vaginal health (don’t do it!) and share what I learned about Bartholin cysts. They are quite common, but hardly any woman I know has heard of them, since talking about our bits with each other is often considered taboo, or at least tacky. So let’s drop the “eww, this is weird” thing and share some knowledge with each other.
Bartholin’s glands are located at the entrance to the vagina and there’s one on each side. Their job is to secrete fluid onto the inner labia to moisturize the sensitive skin. They are responsible for increasing lubrication during arousal. If they aren’t inflamed, odds are you’d never even know they were there!
One of the most common issues that can arise with these tiny glands is when they get clogged up and become cysts. Cysts develop as the fluid inside the blocked gland causes it to expand. The smaller cysts are not too painful, except for the obvious inflammation in a rather tender tissue. Keeping the vagina and labia clean will help to keep it from getting worse, but if the cyst becomes more inflamed and pain increases, or if sitting and walking becomes uncomfortable, it is wise to take more action. With exposure to E. coli or other common bacteria, a cyst can become infected, which will turn it into an abscess.
Most minor Bartholin cysts will go away without treatment, but there’s nothing wrong with an herbal sitz bath or poultice to help it go away before it becomes an abscess and requires drainage or antibiotics!
Bartholin Cyst Herbal Remedies
Fresh Chickweed Poultice:
A poultice is an external compress made of herbs. They can be made with fresh or dried herbs, and applied to the skin for many different effects, both for first-aid and immediate need or for helping to treat chronic illness and pain. Here’s a more in-depth article on poultices and techniques for creating them from The Herbal Academy: How To Make a Poultice with Dry or Fresh Herbs
If you have access to a fresh patch of chickweed, you can cut a few sprigs at a time and apply them directly to the cyst. Lightly crush the stems and leaves between your fingers and roll them together, making a bundle of bruised chickweed. Apply that ball of herbs directly to the cyst and put a cool, damp cloth on top of it. This can feel very cooling to the inflamed skin! When you can feel the warmth returning and the cooling effect dwindling (usually around 10-15 minutes) replace the chickweed with new and repeat the process.
You can also puree a few handfuls of chickweed with some cool water in a bullet blender and pour it into a jar to store in the fridge. Don’t make it too thin, you want it to be a bit chunky and thick! Use the cold puree in muslin or other cloth to apply to the cyst.
(See similar techniques in my post: “Freezing Chickweed for Later“)
Chickweed Sitz Bath:
A sitz bath is basically a bath just for the “bits that sits.” Whether you pour just a few inches of water into your bathtub or have a special sitz bath basin that perches on your toilet, these herbal washes are great for post-partum healing, hemorrhoids, and of course, Bartholin cysts.
If you don’t have fresh chickweed on hand, simply make an infusion from dried chickweed. Put two tablespoons of dried chickweed into a mason jar and cover it with boiling water. Close the jar and let it sit for a few hours to fully steep.
Strain the chickweed into your sitz bath and add warm (not hot!) water until you have enough to sit in. You can also add Epsom salts to your sitz bath.
Use cooler water if you think you might be getting an infection or abscess, as hot water will encourage further inflammation and might do more harm than good.
Another method is the tincture-based sitz bath – add a few dropperfuls of chickweed tincture to your water instead of an herbal infusion.
Sit in the bath, breathe deeply, and try to relax and let the herbal bath do its magic on your sore bits. This can be repeated a few times a day unless you have surgical stitches or an open wound. Limit use under those conditions to once a day.
Chickweed Oil & Salve:
Chickweed is most effective when fresh, in my experience. There’s something extra cooling about the fresh plant matter! It works well when allowed to dry for a few days and then infused into an oil or salve, but tinctures and dried herb will do the trick if that’s all you can get hold of.
If fresh plant matter on your labia doesn’t sound like your style, if you don’t have time for a sitz bath, or if you want something that works while you are on the go, try using a chickweed salve or oil applied every few hours. Remember, though, it was clogged pores that caused this issue in the first place. Use warm water to keep the cyst clean to ensure that your oily remedy doesn’t make the clogged gland worse.
A few notes about using herbal remedies for Bartholin Cysts:
- The Bartholin cyst that I treated was at the point where it was starting to become infected and could have turned into an abscess. Using the fresh chickweed poultice process in the morning and evening each night was the main remedy, along with adding more fresh garlic to the diet to boost the immune system and keeping the labia and cyst as gently clean and cool as possible. The cyst condensed, popped, shrank, and disappeared within a few days without surgical or antibiotic intervention.
- Warning: If the Bartholin cyst is growing larger despite your efforts, if it grows seriously painful, or if you begin to run a fever, it is advised to see a medical professional for their advice and assistance. Internal infections are not something to trifle with!
If you want to add other helpful herbs or ingredients to your poultice or bath, here are a few I’d suggest:
- Violet leaf
- Plantain leaf
- Aloe Vera Gel
- Witch Hazel
- Apple Cider Vinegar has been anecdotally reported to help when applied with a cotton ball and used as a poultice, but I have not tried this method directly.