t's highly likely that at least once in your life you'll need to use basic first aid techniques. If you go hiking or backpacking or enjoy any of a number of outdoor activities, the odds that you'll encounter an emergency health problem go way up. Despite those sobering odds, too few people keep first aid kits handy or know how to use them. While this article is no substitute for a good first aid course, it will provide some basic information about what herbs to use for emergencies. Being knowledgeable and prepared dispels anxiety and allows you to think clearly when an emergency situation arises and you are the caregiver.
You can use the following herbal extracts, oils, salves, and powders to augment a first aid kit you buy or already own. Just remember to write explicit instructions for the herbal medicines you include -- in case someone else needs to use a remedy on you or in your absence. A thorough instruction booklet -- one that starts with abrasions and ends with vomiting -- can help you in emergencies when you'll need a quick reference for remedies.
A number of companies sell herbal first aid kits, and you may want to tailor one of them
to make it more specific to your needs. Or you may want the satisfaction of preparing one of
your own. The following herbal items are welcome additions to any first aid kit.
Herbal tinctures and extracts are the preferred form of medicine as they are assimilated quickly and administered easily. Tincturing also extracts valuable constituents not found in teas since certain active plant properties are only soluble in alcohol. If you dislike the alcohol, you can reduce its presence somewhat by placing the drops in a half cup of hot, boiled water and allowing it to sit for 15 minutes. You can also mix the extract with juice to disguise the taste. To keep things in perspective, it has been said there's more alcohol in a ripe banana than in the suggested dosage of herbal extracts.
Slippery elm capsules. Used for food poisoning, this powder combines and buffers poisons in the stomach and bowels to decrease toxic absorption. It can soothe mucous membranes and settle an upset stomach.
Ginger root capsules. Use two caps for motion and morning sickness. It's also effective for nausea caused by flu or bad food.
Marshmallow-peppermint oil capsules. This is an easy-to-make combination of four parts marshmallow powder to one part peppermint oil. The powder in this formula is basically a vehicle for the peppermint oil to reach the small intestines without dissolving in the stomach. The capsules reduce intestinal cramping that can accompany any gastrointestinal tract infection.
For children not able to swallow capsules, you can dissolve the contents in four cups of juice or sweetened water.
Poultice combination powder. This should consist of at least one antibacterial herb, one antifungal, an emollient, and an astringent. A possible combination can contain equal parts gentian, myrrh gum, goldenseal, and marshmallow. This powder can be stored in a zip-lock plastic bag and makes a nice dust for sore feet, lacerations (it will stop excess bleeding), diaper rash, infections, insect bites, or inflamed eyes (it is cooling and soothing). A tea of these herbs can be used externally as a wash. For foreign objects in the eye, make a paste by adding water to the mix and bandage it over the closed eyelid to draw the object out and soothe the eye simultaneously.
Peppermint. A little on the temples can help you stay awake and a few drops in water will settle an upset stomach.
Tea tree oil. Called a "first aid kit in a bottle," tea tree (Melaleuca leucadendron) oil has strong antifungal and antibiotic properties with antiseptic abilities. It can be used for fungal infections, pus-filled wounds or burns, cold sores, and herpes lesions. For use with earaches and on sensitive skin, dilute with equal parts olive oil. Use sparingly -- tea tree oil goes a long way.
A good all purpose salve is essential. You want one that will draw and shrink swollen tissues, fight bacteria, and soothe compromised tissues. Here is a list of common herbs that fall in each category:
A combination of one herb from each category is a good disinfectant for anaerobic bacteria and is soothing to epithelial cells. The mixture will also cut down on bleeding and slow the scarring process. It will speed up the healing time and can be used anywhere a salve is needed to coat and protect.
All of the herbal products mentioned are available at most health food stores or by mail order herb businesses (see margin). All of the hardware can be found at your local pharmacy. If you are making your own extracts, start with either fresh or whole plants and cut to near powder yourself. The herb will be more potent. If you are buying your extracts and bulk herbs, look to see that they are either organically grown or ethically wild harvested, which means they were gathered in a conservative, sustainable manner that does no harm to the full survival of the plant species. If this is not written on the label ask your retailer to provide you with documentation as this information should always be available to the customer. Be sure to include dosage information on the bottles as well as in the instruction booklet, which can be nothing more than 3x5 cards that you can cover with see-through packing tape to waterproof and keep clean. The actual kit can be made out of many different things: a cigar box, a gutted cassette case, or something you make out of durable canvas material with a Velcro closure. Keep your first aid kit compact and organized with dividers or see-through nylon mesh so everything can be found quickly.
Using herbal remedies -- either those you prepare yourself or ones that are made by environmentally responsible companies -- is self-empowering. And it's rewarding to know you had a hand in the healing process.
Reprinted with permission from
The Herb Quarterly.
The Herb Quarterly.
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The Herb Quarterly.