Grassroots Healing, Plant Medicine

Medicine from the Fringe: Petty Spurge & the Wart that was.

This time last year I had a small child, who had a wart. The wart was on his knee, and the small boy watched as the wart had grown over the months from a fairly innocuous looking pinhead red bump, to a knobbly, calloused looking witches wart the size of a garden pea. It was all I could do to stop him picking it for fear of his ever grubby hands spreading it to the rest of his body. Or his face.

Having been indoctrinated early in my training that Thuja was the ‘go to’ remedy for warts, I dutifully applied a store bought cream that contained both the herb and the homeopathic preps. We tried this for several weeks without any change at all. Hmmmm. What to do? I am often wary of off-the-shelf herbal preparations. How long had they been sitting there under that sterile fluorescent light? Who picked the herb, and where? What headspace were they in when the herb was picked? All of these worry me somewhat, and so by preference, I usually where possible, harvest and make my own medicines. I was living in a  house-sit at the time with no Thuja trees in the vicinity, and not really willing to invest in a 500ml bottle of the tincture (again harvested and prepared by another faceless person) to treat one wart.

And then somewhere in the recesses of a cobwebby neglected nook in one of the numerous sky-high shelves that line the walls of the Mind Palace, I remembered. I remembered a particular lecture during a course on Medicinal Weeds about a a little inconspicuous weed known as Petty Spurge. A weed which is now as conspicuous to me as the sun.

At the time I was unable to locate any stands of the weed big enough to sustain the length of treatment needed, just one straggly plant here and there. Fortunately, I found a local herbalist who grew it herself on her property, made up a tincture and then incorporated it into a cream. I bought a 30ml jar.  As soon as we received the little pot of magic, we began applying it to the wart. Just a dab of the cream on the end of a cotton bud and applied directly onto the wart. We spread a little bit of paw paw ointment (you could also use coconut or olive oil) around the wart to protect the healthy skin around it. After application, I then covered it loosely with a band-aid, because I was dealing with a small boy who has a penchant for climbing trees, and street signs, and telegraph poles, and riding bikes like he’s Evil Knievel. Warts being viral in nature, I also increased the dose of a home-made whole food vitamin C powder added to Joshua’s morning OJ.

We applied the cream 3x/day, and after the first couple of days, Joshua took over the job of doing it himself, which he did so very diligently and with surgeon precision and concentration. By the end of the first week, the wart had begun to shrink and the skin that peeled around or under it as the wart dissolved revealed a new pink healthy glow. It was truly remarkable to watch, as the wart shrunk and the skin healed at the same time. No burning, no gaping holes, no eroding tissue. Having known no other medicine than herbs his entire life, this small boy suddenly saw their healing power unfold right before his eyes. Each morning when he pulled off the band-aid from the application of the night before, he would exclaim in wonder as the wart had shrunk so many millimetres more.

By the end of the second week, the wart was nothing more than the red pinpoint bump that first caught our attention. By the end of the third week, there was no sign of the thing at all.

And a year later, no sign of any return.

Although we used a cream made from the tincture, if you find a stand or a proliferation of Petty Spurge, the milky white latex that exudes from a cut or broken stem, can be applied in the same fashion. One dab on the wart – 2- 3x/day. Apply a small amount of coconut oil to the surrounding tissue, and then apply a band-aid to protect it. I also feel that the addition of the vitamin C also helped a great deal, and addressed the viral load internally. The majority of skin issues, warts included, are simply a clue to some internal imbalance, and therefore it is wise to address both.


Euphorbia peplus


Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus) f: Euphorbiacea is a weed that seems to enjoy growing everywhere. I’m fortunate where I live now, as it grows so prolifically I have been able to harvest enough to make a good simpler’s tincture so I can then make my own ointment for ease of use and to share the wealth.

image credit: Margaret Dickinson Gallery
image credit: Margaret Dickinson Gallery

Description: Petty Spurge reminds me of a small tree. At maturity it has a central ruby tinged stem that branches into smaller stems which terminate in umbels of three-rayed green flowers. The stems are hairless. The leaf is oval. It can grow up to 30cm in height, but will tend to be smaller depending on location and soil quality. When a stem is broken it exudes a milky white sap.

Not to be confused with: Chickweed (Stellaria media). The two can often be found growing near each other. Chickweed is edible, and a valuable medicinal in it’s own right. Petty spurge is for careful external application only. Chickweed has white flowers of five double-fused petals, and a single line of hairs running along it’s stem.

Habitat: Gardens, lawns, footpaths (sidewalks), anywhere it wants to. Although speculated that it is native to the northern Mediterranean region, it is now a global citizen. Self-seeds readily. Can thrive in full sun and part-shade. It is an annual.

Parts used: the milky latex (sap) from a young succulent stem, although the whole plant can be put up to tincture. Fresh is best.

When to harvest: To use the crude latex, find a healthy looking plant (lush green foliage, succulent looking stems, stands erect.), select a small stem and carefully break it off. The milky sap will begin to ooze out. Harvest when needed.

If you want to make a tincture and then make your own medicated cream with it, find a good community of Petty Spurge and only take what you need. As this is not a herb that you’ll be using internally, you won’t really be wanting to make litres of tincture. Given that we only use upward to 10ml of tincture in 50g of cream (or 20%), putting up even a 250ml jar of tincture will generally be more than plenty. I like to harvest earlier in the morning before the sun has reached it’s zenith. I also tend toward fresh plant tinctures than those made from dried herb, and in this case in particular, the freshness is needed.

How to use (ethnobotany): Although my main experience has been using Euphorbia peplus on childhood warts (My son told me that I should open a wart clinic), it has seen much popularity, both historically and currently, for it’s use on basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), or common sun spots/skin cancer under it’s other common name Radium Weed. The milky sap is applied in the same manner as you would apply to a wart. Again being careful to only dab a small amount to the skin cancer itself (which picking the smaller stems will give you greater control over). And if using the crude sap (as opposed to a tincture medicated cream), an application of once or twice per day is enough. It should not be used on melanomas, as these are a different entity altogether.

Petty Spurge Sap

Also make sure you don’t get it anywhere near your eyes or mouth. Washing hands immediately after use is a good habit to get into.





How to Make a Simpler’s Tincture:

Also called the Folk Method (or the Busy Mum’s Method) of tincturing herbs in alcohol, this is a very easy way to preserve your own medicine. All it requires is a clean glass jar, fresh (or dried) or herb, and a high proof alcohol such as vodka or brandy. Although not as precise in terms of working out herb to menstruum (solvent – usually water/ethanol) ratios and higher extraction of ‘active constituents’, it still makes really good medicine for the majority of everyday complaints.

After ethically wildcrafting, or harvesting your home-grown medicine, pack the herb into the jar. If it’s the whole plant, or the part you’re using is tough like bark, twigs, or berries, or the leaves or flower heads are big, it’s a good idea to chop them up a bit before you put them in the jar, thus increasing the surface area to extract more of the medicine, and so you can pack in more herb. Once the herb is in the jar, pour on your alcohol of choice until it covers the herb.

Harvest and ready to commute and tincture.You might need to use a chopstick or twig to push the contents down in order to cover it all. (At this point, I’ve often only filled the jar ¾ with vodka, and then poured the whole jar  (herb & alcohol) into the blender to blitz it even finer for greater extraction. I then pour it all back into the jar. I tend to do the Simpler’s Method by feel). Screw the lid on the jar and place it somewhere safe and out of direct sunlight. Let sit for 2 weeks to a month or longer, (or even until you need it). Give the jar a shake every few days or so to get some energy in there. And I often tell the brew that I love it. Label it with the name, the date it was harvested and put up for tincture.

When you feel that it’s brewed long enough, strain the mixture through a nut milk bag, muslin, or if you have a wine press, use that. Whatever works. Then bottle into an amber glass bottle with a secure lid. Label with the name and the date. Labelling your home-made medicine is important. Especially for external-use only herbs. And store in a cool, dark place.

To make a medicated unguent: 

Depending on how creative you’re feeling, how much time you have, and your access to raw materials, making a medicated ointment can be as super easy as simply mixing 10ml of tincture into 50g of Sorbolene or Vitamin E base cream that you can buy at the Pharmacist, or you can further continue in the ancient ritual of making medicine from scratch and craft the following salve/ointment/unguent based on the British Pharmacopoeia 1867Unguent Simplex’ recipe:

Beeswax 12g (or roughly 25% of the total volume)*

Shea Butter 20g (the original recipe calls for lard, or vegetable fat if preferred, at precisely 37.5% of total volume – I round it up for convenience.)

Sweet almond oil 20ml (or 37.5% of total volume, and you can use an infused oil or blend of infused oils** here)

Total volume = 52g

plus Tincture 5-7ml (roughly 10% of the total volume. Depending on the tincture you can use up to  20%)

Essential oil/s 2-5 drops 

* for a vegan option, you could use candelia wax, or a harder butter such as cocoa or mango butter  instead of the beeswax, and increase the amount to 40% of the total volume.

**(For a Petty Spurge ointment, I would use infused oils such as Calendula, Chickweed, Saint John’s Wort, or Plantain – or a blend of all four – for their complementary skin healing properties.)

In a double boiler or bain-marie, or a glass pyrex jug/bowl set neatly over a saucepan full of water on a low heat, gently heat the oils and the beeswax until the beeswax has melted. Once the oil has warmed sufficiently I usually turn the heat source off at this point and the beeswax will continue to melt. At this point I like to use a wooden fork or chopstick to gently whisk the oil/wax while I pour the tincture in. I like to get a bit of a vortex happening to add some dynamo to the ointment and ensure that the tincture is going to emulsify and marry well with the oil/wax mix. Depending on the volume of salve/ointment being made, I’ve known some people to bung it in a blender and give it a good whiz just to make really really sure that it’s well incorporated. Whatever floats your boat. I couldn’t be bothered trying to clean the blender after that.

Anyway, assuming that you won’t be using a blender, continue whisking/stirring gently and you’ll notice that as the mixture starts to cool it begins to harden on the sides of the bowl. At this point, you can test the softness/firmness of your salve, and adjust according to your preference by gently reheating again and carefully, incrementally, adding more oil, or more wax. I like to add any essential oils as it starts to cool.

Keep stirring until it starts to get more of a thickened whipped cream viscosity (and it will now be opaque rather than clear in colour). At this point I pour into my pre-sterilised jars. I then leave to cool and set a little longer in the jars (usually about 10 minutes), and then I screw the lids on and label.

Again, labelling is important. Store the jar somewhere cool, and out of direct sunlight. If you feel like it, a drop or two of rosemary essential oil, or the contents of a vitamin E capsule can be added during the cooling phase before pouring into the jars to further the shelf life of the salve.


Keep a look out for Petty Spurge. You might know a wart or a skin cancer that it would like to meet 😉