For people with diabetes, a simple scratch can become a serious medical challenge.

Fortunately, you have a kitchen. And a windowsill. That means there’s a good chance that you already have natural remedies at your fingertips that can help your skin heal itself safely.

And if you don’t have them, we’ll tell you what to get!

WHY WOUND SELF-CARE IS SO IMPORTANT

When blood sugar is elevated, and especially when it’s poorly controlled, the normally energetic immune system isn’t as vigilant as it should be—and bacteria can quickly get the upper hand. Plus, the tiny vessels that carry oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, needed to heal a wound, don’t function as well in people with diabetes. Before you know it, an unchecked blister, scratch or scrape can become infected.

Of course, keeping your blood sugar under control is the key first step to minimizing the risk from wounds. But there are natural remedies that safely and effectively boost your body’s response to wounds.

Caveat: If you have a serious wound—especially one that could be contaminated, such as by dirt, saliva, food or waste, or where the skin can close over the injury and trap infection deep in tissue—get professional medical help right away. Examples: You get a puncture wound from a nail or staple gun…a penetrating wound such as from a piece of glass that gets embedded in your skin…or a deep wound from a kitchen knife or while gardening or working in soil…or you were bitten by an animal.

For everyday scrapes, scratches and minor cuts, however, most people can try the following natural remedies first. You can use just one…or layer two of them together…and repeat as often as needed. Experiment with the combinations that work best for you. These remedies are actually great for everyone, but they’re particularly useful for people with diabetes to help keep a minor cut from becoming a major headache.

HONEY KILLS THE GERMS, POTATO CLEANS THE WOUND

This two-part regimen starts with honey, which has multiple activities that help healing. First, wash the cut or scrape gently with warm, soapy water. Then create the right environment for healing, by applying a thin coat of honey directly to a cut or scrape. Honey, which has been used as a wound dressing for thousands of years, also helps draw fluid (and infection) out of the wound and forms a bacteria-resistant boundary. It is strongly antibacterial, in part because it interacts with blood and skin to create hydrogen peroxide, which also “debrides” the wound, helping to remove dead tissue. (Its effects are different than the 3% solution available in drugstores that tends to kill both bacteria and healthy tissue alike.) Plus, honey helps stimulate the body’s immune response and promotes growth of new tissue.

After 30 minutes, wash the honey away and then cover the wound with fresh potato—a thin slice or shredded or grated. Wrap a strip of gauze or cloth around the wound to keep the potato in place for another 30 minutes or so. Enzymes from the potato, especially catalase, will digest and remove some of the unhealthy by-products from the injured tissue. First the honey kills some of the infectious organisms, and then the potato cleans up.

ALOE VERA SPEEDS THE HEALING

Aloe vera is a hardy plant with many medicinal qualities. While aloe vera preparations are available from stores, you’ll get the best results from a live plant. The plant’s antimicrobial properties in particular are much more active in fresh-cut aloe, since crushing the leaves releases enzymes that degrade some of the components within hours. Keep a plant in your house—it likes sun—and when you need to, cut a frond, squeeze the gel and apply it directly to the wound.

Besides being antimicrobial, aloe vera contains allantoin, which breaks down uric acid, a by-product of injured tissue. Here’s why that helps: Too much uric acid delays wound healing. Since the helpful compounds in aloe degrade quickly, apply fresh-squeezed gel once each hour. You can expect some remarkable changes in the way the wound looks within 12 to 24 hours.

HOT PEPPER STAUNCHES THE BLEEDING

Like honey (and aloe), red pepper is antimicrobial. But it has a second benefit—it’s a tremendous clotting agent and can be used to stop bleeding. Sprinkle some ground red pepper or red pepper flakes over the injured tissue. Cayenne works best, but be sure to use recently purchased cayenne, as the therapeutic components are volatile. Test it on your tongue—the hotter, the better. Rinse the pepper off after about 30 minutes.

IN YOUR MEDICINE CABINET: AN OINTMENT, AN ESSENTIAL OIL AND AN OVER-THE-COUNTER STANDBY

While kitchen remedies are great to have on hand, you’ll also want to stock your medicine cabinet with the following and use them on simple wounds…

  • Goldenseal. It’s is a very potent antimicrobial that helps hold back Staphylococcus, the bacteria that often takes hold in poorly healing wounds and that can land you in the hospital with an infection that may not treatable with standard antibiotics. Goldenseal is sold as capsules, tinctures, powder or ointment. I recommend using tincture, which is a stronger solution.
  • Tea tree oil is strongly antibacterial. Warning: It does sting when applied to the skin, especially on a wound. But that momentary zing is a reasonable trade-off, especially for people with challenging wounds. Apply tea tree oil full strength…or, if you’re going to cover the wound with a dressing, dilute the tea tree oil 1:1 with another oil, such as coconut oil.
  • Over-the-counter triple antibiotic cream is always good to have on hand. While it doesn’t replace the properties of these natural remedies, applying it helps keep your skin’s naturally occurring bacteria from spreading back into the vulnerable wounded tissue and reinfecting it. Here’s a good example of layering these remedies: Apply a thin slick of goldenseal tincture over the wound, and then over that, a triple antibiotic cream.

KNOW WHEN TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP

Some wounds are serious from the get-go and need immediate help. (Serious, persistently poorly healing wounds can also benefit from many high-tech medical techniques, including “hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”)

But even simple cuts and scrapes can sometimes fester—even if you take advantage of all the self-care tips this article. If you don’t notice an improvement in the wound after a day or so, you may need to get professional help. And if the wound looks worse than before, you should quickly see your health-care provider. Signs that bacteria are beginning to colonize: The wound looks angry and inflamed, and the tissue on or near the wound, especially around the margins, is red, puffy or tender to the touch—it may also feel hot. If nearby joints are painful or tender, that’s a sign that an infection is rapidly spreading, so get immediate care.

If an injury continues to bleed for more than 30 minutes or so…or anytime that quantity and rate of bleeding seems unusual…or for anyone who is taking multiple medications, including blood thinners—better safe than sorry. Get straight to medical care.