When I was in seventh grade, I made a first-aid kit for a science project. It wasn’t very big, and it was rather basic, consisting mainly of adhesive bandages, first-aid cream, gauze, sticky white tape, scissors and iodine. Over the years, my idea of first aid has changed considerably. Some of the basic items still have a place in my kit today, but many of my remedies have changed with experience and with my continuing herbal education. I have learned to make poultices, salves, teas, tinctures and synergistic blends of herbs and essential oils. I also took an herbal apprentice class with Rosemary Gladstar, which was an amazing learning experience on the uses of medicinal herbs.
I used to keep my homemade herbal products in different parts of the house, depending on their uses, but I soon realized it would be much easier to find things when I needed them if they were stored together in one place. Once I had gathered the ingredients and supplies, I began searching for the perfect storage container. I considered art-supply boxes, tackle boxes, cosmetic boxes and sewing boxes, but finally settled on a heavy-duty, three-tiered plastic toolbox. I also have a smaller version of the kit containing my most essential items that I carry when I travel.
It is important that everything in your remedy kit be clearly labeled, and I find it helpful to include an instruction sheet on the proper use of each item.
My kit is extensive and contains many items, as I’ve found this is what works best for my family. Perhaps my kit will inspire you to create your own herbal remedy kit suitable for your family’s needs.
These are important items to have in any first-aid kit:
• Sterile, nonstick bandages, assorted sizes
• Adhesive bandages, such as Band-Aids, assorted sizes
• Magnifying glass
• Needles/safety pins, assorted sizes
• Hot water bottle
• Ice pack
• Alcohol swabs
• Toothpicks or natural floss
Additional Supplies and Ingredients
The following are items in my herbal home remedy kit:
• Clean, washed muslin or cotton cheesecloth to use as a compress or for wrapping wounds and poultices.
• Wool socks with the toes cut open or sweater sleeves are perfect for holding poultices or bandages in place without using tape — just slide them over the arm, elbow, ankle, or leg. They also help retain heat on the affected area.
• Vetrap — this stretchy and flexible wrap sticks to itself, and it is perfect for wrapping wounds or holding poultices. It’s available at pet stores, feed stores and veterinary supply stores. I’ve found similar products at the drugstore sold as sports wrap.
• Moleskin — a soft fabric with an adhesive backing, ideal for covering tender spots, such as blisters and other rubbed areas.
• Eyecup — an indispensable tool for washing or rinsing the eye.
• Tea strainer or tea ball for making teas or decoctions.
• Rescue Remedy — a Bach flower remedy and one of the world’s best-known natural stress-relief remedies.
• Spritzers made with distilled water and essential oils can be used for their aromatherapeutic properties as well as their antibacterial qualities.
• Aloe vera gel — good for soothing sunburns, rashes and minor kitchen burns. Note: Aloe should never be used on a staph infection as it will seal in the bacteria, allowing it to multiply.
• Powdered clay works well for drawing out splinters and thorns. Mix a little clay with water and put it on the affected area, and as the clay dries, it draws out the splinter.
• Witch hazel — this astringent can be used as a disinfectant to clean skin, relieve itching and as a liniment for sore muscles.
• Lip balm for chapped lips.
• Green salve — There are many variations of green salves for insect bites, skin irritations, scrapes, minor cuts and chafing. I make my own using different herbs for specific conditions, but you also can find it in health-food stores.
• External liniment — I use a diluted version of Jethro Kloss’ recipe using alcohol, myrrh, goldenseal and cayenne. The recipe can be found in Back to Eden (Benedict Lust Publications, 1971). Use the liniment as a sore muscle rub and to dry poison ivy. Before use, perform a skin test on the inside of the elbow. Use caution, particularly if using it on a child, elder or someone with sensitive skin.
• Slippery elm lozenges — Slippery elm’s demulcent properties coat the throat, so these lozenges soothe a sore mouth or throat and come in a variety of flavors. They have a laxative effect if taken in excess, so use caution.
• Wild cherry syrup for coughs and sore throat.
• Candied ginger — Soothes upset stomachs and motion sickness.
• Emer’gen-C — These little packets are in my pantry, remedy kit, glove compartment, and my carry-on because they are a super energy booster and a quick source of vitamin C and 32 mineral complexes.
• Arnica gel for bruises and muscle aches and pains.
• Jewelweed vinegar — I learned this remedy from my friend Tina Marie Wilcox who uses it to repel biting insects in the Ozarks. Infuse jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in organic apple cider vinegar and add insect-repellent essential oils, if desired. I spray it on poison ivy and bug bites and apply it before going into the woods.
• Rub raw garlic cloves on small scrapes and cuts for its antiseptic properties.
• Chocolate — Whether your injury is physical or emotional, the natural serotonin in dark chocolate will help make you feel better and take your mind off the injury for a moment.
Dried Herbs to Have on Hand
I keep these to make herbal infusions. Use them regularly, and replace with fresh herbs every year.
• Chamomile soothes, relieves stress and aids digestion.
• Comfrey — use ground root and/or leaves externally as a poultice for bruises, sprains or strains and bone injuries.
• Lemon balm soothes the digestive tract and helps aid relaxation and sleep.
• Milky oats — the seeds of this plant increase vitality and make a good-tasting tea to relieve stress and anxiety.
• Peppermint and spearmint soothe the stomach and freshen breath.
• Sage makes a good mouth and throat gargle.
Comfort and Soothe with Tea Blends
Prepackaged teas are available for a variety of specific conditions (names in italic are formulas available in stores), or you can blend your own teas at home. Unused teas should be replaced yearly.
• Colds and lung ailments — Gypsy Cold Care, elder, mullein, yarrow
• Digestion — mint, fennel
• Nerve sedatives — chamomile, hops, lemon balm, passionflower, valerian
• Sore throats — Throat Coat, slippery elm, ginger, cherry bark, licorice
• Constipation — Smooth Move, slippery elm, senna, ground flaxseed
Pack Powdered Herbs
Powdered herbs can be packed in capsules, used in poultices or dissolved in tea. Use mixtures within a year.
• Echinacea boosts the immune system and helps speed recovery from colds and flu.
• Slippery elm soothes sore throats, scalded tongues or mouth, digestive complaints or constipation.
• Powdered Goldenseal root is prepared in poultices for infections and abscesses; do not use for more than 2 to 3 weeks at a time as it can irritates mucous membranes.
• Cayenne is a warming, stimulating powder that is good for the circulation and the heart, as well as digestion and congestion. Use sparingly because of its potent heat.
• Use powdered, dried Yarrow leaves on cuts to stop bleeding and to disinfect wounds. Rosemary Gladstar recommends placing a pinch in the nose to stop a nosebleed.
Take these Tinctures
In my experience, tinctures act much more quickly than powdered herbs in capsules. Most are made with alcohol and should not be given to children, but you can purchase alcohol-free tinctures or prepare them at home.
• Echinacea and goldenseal bolster the immune system and fight infection.
• Ashwaganda promotes well being; good for low energy.
• Kava-kava in coconut milk is good for calming stress and anxiety. It allows the body to relax while the mind stays alert. The coconut milk makes it taste delicious and the fat in the coconut
milk helps the body to more readily absorb the kava.
• Crampbark alleviates menstrual cramps.
• Valerian promotes relaxation; reduces insomnia, stress and tension; and relieves aches and pains. Note: Valerian may have the opposite reaction in some individuals — do not use if you feel agitated or uneasy after trying it.
Really Essential Oils
Don’t use essential oils directly on the skin. Dilute them in a carrier oil, such as jojoba or olive oil. Be sure your essential oils are pure oils and not synthetically made.
• Lavender relieves pain, burns and bee stings and is superb in the bath and in aromatherapy treatments for relaxation.
• Tea tree has antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal properties. It is well-suited for wounds, insect bites, rashes and for cleansing purposes. A skin test is recommended before using.
• Add eucalyptus to baths to relieve achy muscles or cold and flulike symptoms; use it for a steam inhalation to alleviate coughs and congestion; mix into insect repellents.
• Thyme has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties and is good for cleaning bites and stings. Add it to bathwater to soothe muscle aches and those associated with colds and flu. It also treats bad breath and infections of the mouth.
Other Healing Oils
The following are carrier oils, or oils blended with herbs or essential oils that are used for specific ailments.
• Arnica oil is for bruises and muscle aches.
• Castor oil is used for swelling and contusions, to pull out toxins; it will stain clothing and skin.
• Mullein flower oil is for earaches.
• Calendula oil soothes most minor skin irritations. It also regenerates cell growth.
The information here is not intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. Contact your health-care practitioner if you have questions, if you are on prescription drugs, or if you are pregnant or nursing.
Susan Belsinger is a frequent Herb Companion contributor and a long-time user of natural medicine. Contact her at www.herbcompanion.com/contributors.