Feather Jones


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 EXTRACTS

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.

    Arnica. This external remedy makes a great massage liniment for sore and cramped muscles. It will decrease pain and prevent swelling and bruising associated with torn ligaments, sprains, crushed fingers and toes, and broken bones -- provided the skin is not broken. Arnica works best if applied immediately after an injury and continued every couple hours for the first day.
    Cayenne. Five to ten drops diluted in two ounces of water can be used internally for frostbite and hypothermia. It moves the blood from the center of the body to the peripheral areas, warming hands and feet. A couple drops under the tongue will help to revive someone in shock or trauma. Used externally for heavily bleeding lacerations, it will coagulate the blood to stanch the flow (though it stings a mite).
    Valerian. As an antispasmodic and painkiller, this herb relieves intestinal and menstrual cramps, headaches and general aches or pains. As a nervine, it will bring sleep to an exhausted person. The dosage range is 30 to 60 drops.
    Echinacea. Besides possessing the ability to increase the supply of white blood cells to an infected area, thus boosting the immune system, echinacea is also antibiotic and antibacterial to gram positive bacteria such as strep or staph. It's helpful with fevers, poisoning, or any type of internal infection and has reportedly been used for poisonous insect and snake bites by many native Plains tribes. Echinacea is a good preventative and supportive herb for the onset of the flu or common cold. The dosage ranges from 30 to 60 drops, the higher ranges used for fevers and acute situations. For toothaches, it can be massaged into the surrounding gums and teeth. For poisonous bites, 60 drops every 15 minutes is appropriate.
    Grindelia. As an external remedy, grindelia cools and soothes hot, irritated skin rashes, sunburns, itchy insect bites and poison ivy. When taken internally, it helps expel mucus obstruction in the bronchioles and may be useful for some types of asthma and respiratory congestion.
    Milk thistle combination.This can include milk thistle, burdock and kelp in equal parts. An alternative to chaparral that acts to leach heavy metals and radiation toxicity from the thyroid, blood, and liver as well as protects the liver against further damage. Good to take before and after dental x-rays and after taking Tylenol or Advil.
    Quassia. As an antimicrobial, this herb is traditionally used for bacterial diarrhea, dysentery, and giardia -- a lower gastrointestinal complaint contracted by drinking contaminated water. The standard dose is three to five droppersful every six hours. To treat suspected bad water, add 30 drops to each quart of water.
    Syrup of Ipecac. This standard remedy promotes vomiting and should only be used in certain types of poisoning.
    Flower rescue remedy. Used for emotional trauma for all ages, flower essences work quickly and effectively on symptoms ranging from hyperventilation to neurosis. Rubbing the drops on the temples and wrists of hysterical children unable to take anything orally will have an immediate calming influence. Extracts will keep their potency for several years if stored in a dark and cool place.

POWDERED HERBS

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.

OILS

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.

SALVES

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:

    Emollients -- marshmallow, slippery elm, plantain, comfrey, and mullein;
    Antimicrobials -- echinacea, goldenseal, yerba mansa, Oregon grape, osha, propolis, myrrh gum, garlic, calendula, chamomile, chaparral, gentian, and usnea;
    Astringents -- horsetail, bistort, geranium, rose, alum, yarrow, witch hazel, yellow dock, and St. John's wort.

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.

Sources for First Aid Kit Herbs

Herbal First Aid Kit Makers


Reprinted with permission from The Herb Quarterly.
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