Sure, initially it feels like searing pain, but eventually the endorphins kick in and you could fall asleep while getting inked. At least that’s how it went for me this afternoon as I was getting my new hawk feather tattoo done by the very talented Joel Baca at Art Work Rebels. Once the painful part is over comes the after care. And here’s where herbs — and urban foraging — come in handy.
A number of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory herbs that soothe burns and heal wounds could be useful in a topical salve, especially Saint John’s Wort and Calendula, and the many herbal tattoo goos populating the internet suggest that I’m not the first person to think of this. But using them is controversial. Many tattoo artists advise their clients to wash a new tattoo a few times a day to keep it clean, but otherwise to put nothing on it. It’s a personal decision; myself, I’m gonna listen to my artist because he knows a ton more about tattoo healing than I do. So this post is not going to be about that topical stuff. Nope. Instead, it’s about how to support your body in recovering from the trauma of the tattoo, a much less-covered subject.
It seems that we don’t entirely understand how tattoo inks behave once injected into the body, but what we do know is that a whole lot of it may end up in the lymph glands. The lymphatic system helps the body detoxify and fight infection. (You can tell when your lymph glands are struggling because you’ll notice they’re swollen, especially the ones on the side of the neck under the ears). The quality of tattoo inks varies depending on the quality of the shop you go to and the colors you use, but they often contain heavy metals and chemical carcinogens, so it’s a great idea to do a post-ink detox.
One of the best ways to help your lymphatic system detox is to internally take herbs classed as “alteratives,” or blood cleansers, such as burdock, Arctium spp., red clover, Trifolium pratense, and cleavers, Galium aparine. A wonderful thing about this group of plants is that they are all abundant urban weeds you can find for free just about anywhere! If you’re not a forager, you could easily find burdock root or red clover in tea form in a health store. (Cleavers is harder to find commercially).
As it happens, my favorite of the above for tattoo healing is cleavers. It’s not available outside right now, but I made a big jar of cleavers tincture on a full moon this summer using glycerin instead of alcohol, and fortunately I’ve got plenty left over that I’m taking. Since so many plants are seasonal, I usually try to make medicine in advance of when I think I may need it.
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