Nature’s First Aid Kit

Posted: May 20th, 2011

Nature’s First Aid Kit

Ah, summertime! A wonderful time to enjoy outdoor activities such as picnics, hiking, barbeques and sports. The perfect season for spending time outdoors, summer also brings more scrapes, bruises, bug bites and injuries. Luckily, it is the season when nature grows its own herbal first aid kit.

It is useful to keep an herbal medicine kit close at hand. I have found it easiest to have several: one for the car, one for home and a small one for hiking and backpacking. Liquid extracts (also called tinctures) and essential oils are wonderful for first aid use, as they are concentrated, easily carried, and work fast. Following is a list of some of the herbal remedies I have found helpful for first aid care.

Echinacea is essential for any first aid kit. It is stimulating to the immune system, helping to fight off infection or cold. Because it reduces inflammation, it is also useful for allergies, and food poisoning. It can be taken internally and applied externally for infections, abscesses and bug or snakebites.

Aloe Vera is a wonderful herb for the skin. It is soothing and cooling, making a useful external remedy for bites, rashes, inflammations and burns, including sun and windburn. I enjoy having a plant growing in my kitchen, however, a gel preparation is convenient when traveling.

Lavender Essential Oil is antibacterial, antiseptic, and antispasmodic. It can help to reduce the chance of infection when applied to cuts or abrasions. Applied externally it reduces pain, making it useful for headaches, injuries and cramps. Apply lavender essential oil to the temples to help alleviate a headache. It works exceptionally well on burns. Rub it directly on the area or add a few drops to the bath. Lavender repels mosquitoes and fleas. Added to vegetable oil, it makes a fragrant natural bug repellent. Lavender Essential oil can be used externally at full strength. Those with sensitive skin may want to dilute it in a little vegetable oil. A 3% dilution is 15 – 18 drops of essential oil per ounce of vegetable oil. In general, essential oils should not be used internally unless under the supervision of a trained practitioner.

Arnica can be used externally for joint inflammations, arthritis, injury, contusions, bruises, tendonitis and sore muscles. Avoid putting it on open wounds. Arnica can be mixed with other helpful herbs such as St Johnswort, Figwort, Ginger, Poplar or Cayenne and is best applied to the area as a salve, liniment or oil. Homeopathic Arnica can be taken internally for shock, muscle strain, injury and even before and after surgery.

Cayenne can be used as a powder or a liquid extract. Internally, it encourages circulation and increases digestive secretions. It will increase sweating to help break a fever. Externally, it reduces pain, stops bleeding, and can be used as a counter-irritant to bring blood to an area, thereby helping the body to reduce inflammation and speed recuperation from an injury. Cayenne can be sprinkled in the gloves or socks to help warm cold extremities. Be careful as it can stain clothing and can be irritating to mucus membranes such as the mouth and eyes.

Comfrey is on of the best known of all medicinal herbs. It is high in allantoin, a plant component that encourages growth and repair of connective tissue, skin and bones. Comfrey is soothing and healing for cuts, bruises, scrapes, bug bites, tears, rashes, hives and eczema. Use it to heal quickly and help prevent scarring. Comfrey can contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that make it potentially harmful to the liver if taken internally in large amounts. For this reason, comfrey is best used externally as a salve, poultice, oil, or wash. The leaf is lower in pyrrolizidine alkaloids than the root. Do not apply comfrey to deep wounds as the wound can close before healed, causing potential for an abscess to occur.

Yarrow has long been nicknamed “nature’s bandage” for very good reason. Yarrow will help stop both internal and external bleeding. A fresh leaf can be crushed and applied to a cut, after the wound is cleaned, to help stop bleeding and seal the wound. Internally, it will bring on delayed menstruation and reduce excessive menstrual flow. To help encourage sweating and bring down a fever, yarrow can be drunk as a hot tea.

Using wild plants is especially useful when hiking or backpacking. Some common wild foods include Nettles, Red Clover, Plantain, Dandelion, Burdock and Chickweed. These are often eaten lightly steamed or cooked although some can be eaten raw. A few useful medicinal plants that grow in the Rocky Mountains include Yarrow, Mullein, Aspen, Arnica, Thuja and Uva Ursi.

When using wild plants for food and medicine, it is essential to make a proper identification of the plant being used and be aware of the poisonous plants that grow in the area. It is helpful to go on an herb walk, take a wild foods class, and use reference herb books including Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Terry Willard, Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield, and Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Greg Tilford. It is extremely important to remember to harvest with care and respect, impacting the environment of the area as little as possible. My rule of thumb is to take only what is needed and only when the plants themselves can spare it.

Summer is the perfect time to make your own herbal medicine chest and see how well Mother Nature really can help to heal the body and soul!

© 2013 Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist
Green Path Herb School

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