The Natural First Aid Handbook (Storey, 2017) by Brigitte Mars walks readers through treating their common injuries with common but effective herbal remedies that can be found at a local pharmacy or even at home. The following excerpt is her list of herbs to be included in your Herbal First Aid Kit.
Your mother falls down the stairs. Your toddler scrapes his knee. Your sister comes down with food poisoning. Your husband gets frostbite. To treat any and all of the injuries and conditions resulting from these common events, you need a first-aid kit that can handle just about anything. Most of these items are readily available in pharmacies and health food stores. Here’s what the kit should include:
Ace bandage. To wrap sprains and apply pressure to bleeding wounds.
Adhesive dressings, butterfly bandages, gauze pads, roll of adhesive tape. In an emergency situation, you can use a clean plantain leaf taped over a wound as a bandage.
Alcohol. To sterilize tweezers, needles.
Analgesic balm. To alleviate pain. Apply topically.
Arnica oil. For bruises, including a black eye. Apply only to unbroken skin.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Mix with water to form a paste and apply to insect bites and stings. It can also be applied to poison ivy. Used to make a rehydration drink.
Bandanna. Can be used to tie a splint or prevent chafing and blisters. Moisten and tie around the head during the day to keep cool. Tuck into the back of your hat to shade the neck and protect it from sunburn. Can be moistened and used to protect the nose and mouth when traversing a fire area or dust storm.
Bee sting kit. An absolute necessity if you or anyone in your household is allergic to bee stings. The kit contains a spring-loaded syringe full of epinephrine or Benadryl that prevents shock and reduces swelling.
Bromelain. An enzyme that occurs naturally in pineapple. Used to relieve swelling due to sports injuries, dental work, and surgery. You can take a 500-mg capsule 3 times a day. Must be taken 1 hour before meals or at least 3 hours after meals or it acts as a digestive enzyme and loses its anti-inflammatory properties.
Castor oil. Apply to bruises.
Charcoal (activated). Pure carbon capsules or powder. Can be taken internally for food poisoning, diarrhea, or gas or for mushroom, drug, or chemical poisoning. (Do not give internally for poisoning unless suggested by a poison control center.) Charcoal can adsorb 40 times its weight, thus preventing poisons from entering the bloodstream. Mix with enough water to make a paste, and use as a poultice on spider bites and infected wounds. Do not use charcoal briquettes, which contain petrochemicals.
Clay (green). Mix with water to make a paste, and use as a poultice on bruises. Be sure to buy cosmetic-quality kaolin green clay from a health food store, not the variety found in art stores.
Electrolyte beverage packets from a health food store.
Essential oils. These are for topical use only and should be diluted in a carrier oil before being applied to the skin. Exceptions are lavender and tea tree oil, which can be applied without dilution. Pregnant women should avoid using essential oils even topically, as their effect on pregnancy has not been tested yet.
• Birch (Betula lenta). Relieves pain.
• Calamus (Acorus calamus). For coma, memory, and head injury.
• Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus). Lemony smell repels insects.
• Clove (Syzygium aromaticum). Kills toothache. Contains eugenol, a natural anesthetic and antiseptic.
• Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus). Used in inhalations to loosen mucus and improve respiratory congestion. Antibacterial, antiviral, and decongestant.
• Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). Reduces inflammation and prevents wound infection.
• Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Warming and anti-inflammatory.
• Lavender (Lavandula officinalis). For burns, headaches. Calms the nervous system when inhaled. Apply topically to wounds, burns, bruises, insect bites, and blisters. Reduces risk of infection and stimulates skin regeneration. Comforting to smell during the life transitions of birth and death. Antiseptic and anti-inflammatory.
• Peppermint (Mentha piperita). Cooling, antiseptic, aids digestive disorders; the aroma calms nausea. Can be used topically on burns and insect bites.
• Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). For brain and memory impairment. Improves circulation and eases muscular pain. Antiseptic, aromatic.
• Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). Apply topically to cuts, rashes, burns, bites, stings, fungal infection, sprains, and acne. Also works as an insect repellent. Two drops in a glass of water can be used as a gargle for sore throat. One of the best nonirritating antiseptic essential oils. Antifungal, antiviral.
Eye wash cup. For rinsing the eyes.
Herbal salve. For cuts and wounds.
Herbs. When “herb” is listed as the plant part used, it means the entire aboveground portion — leaf, flower, and stem. An asterisk (*) before the herb name indicates it is one of the most important herbs to have in your first-aid kit because of multiple uses or profound emergency-care use.
• Agrimony leaf, flower, root (Agrimonia eupatoria). Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiviral, and lowers fever.
• *Aloe vera juice (Aloe vera). Soothes inflammation, prevents fungus, heals wounds. Excellent for all burns, especially sunburn. Avoid internal use during pregnancy.
• Angelica root (Angelica archangelica, A. atropurpurea, A. officinalis). Stimulates uterine contractions and facilitates placenta delivery following the birth of a baby. Avoid internal use during pregnancy.
• Blackberry leaf or root (Rubus spp.). Astringent tea to stop diarrhea.
• Black cohosh root, rhizome (Actaea racemosa, Cimicifuga racemosa). For seizures. Antispasmodic and muscle relaxant. Avoid during pregnancy.
• Black haw bark (Viburnum prunifolium). Astringent, antispasmodic.
• Burdock root (Arctium lappa). Antifungal and anti-inflammatory.
• *Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis). Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and wound healing. Increases peripheral circulation.
• Catnip leaf (Nepeta cataria). Calms hysteria, pain, and seizures. Sedative.
• *Cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens). To stop bleeding internally and topically. It does sting when applied to bleeding wounds but is very effective. Take internally for frostbite and hypothermia. Blocks pain transmission and stimulates endorphin production. Antiseptic, hemostatic, and styptic. Both powder and tincture are effective.
• *Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita). Helps to calm, and relieves stomach pains. Analgesic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and sedative.
• Cleavers herb (Galium aparine). Blood and lymph cleansings. Bath herb for insect bites.
• *Comfrey leaves (Symphytum officinale). Poultice for bruises. Nowadays comfrey is generally used only topically rather than internally, as there has been some concern about the pyrrolizidine alkaloids it contains. Avoid during pregnancy.
• *Echinacea root, leaves, flowers, seed (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia). Used internally and topically for infection. Stimulates the immune system by increasing white blood cell production. For threatened colds, puncture wounds, and venomous bites. Antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, and wound healing.
• *Gingerroot (Zingiber officinale). For motion sickness, morning sickness, stomachaches. Warming, and inhibits prostaglandins. Improves circulation to all parts of the body. Antiemetic and anti-inflammatory.
• *Goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis). Apply to wounds and bites to deter or treat infection. Also used internally. Effective against staph, strep, E. coli, salmonella, giardia, and candida. Constricts blood vessels. Antiseptic and hemostatic. Please buy only goldenseal that has been cultivated, as it is becoming endangered in the wild. Avoid during pregnancy.
• Grindelia flower, bud (Grindelia spp.). Topically for poison ivy, oak, and sumac; also insect bites. Demulcent. Also known as gumweed.
• Jewelweed herb (Impatiens capensis, I. pallida). Calms poison ivy itch. For topical use only.
• Kelp (Laminaria spp.). Helps prevent radiation from being absorbed by the body. Antioxidant and nutritive. Avoid long-term use in cases of hyperthyroidism.
• Lemon balm herb (Melissa officinalis). Antidepressant, antiviral, and sedative.
• Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis). Demulcent, nutritive, and wound healing.
• Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum). Helps protect the liver from damage from chemical exposure.
• Nettles herb (Urtica dioica, U. urens). Rich in trace minerals that help in bone and skin repair. Nutritive.
• Oatstraw herb (Avena sativa). Nerve tonic. Helps build healthy bones and skin. Nutritive.
• *Peppermint leaf (Mentha piperita). Cooling herb, benefits digestion, can be used in the bath to calm itching. Compress for fevers, heatstroke.
• *Plantain leaves (Plantago major, P. lanceolata). Promotes blood coagulation and wound healing. For wounds, bleeding, poison ivy, and snakebites. Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and hemostatic.
• Raspberry leaf (Rubus spp.). Hemostatic, nutritive, uterine tonic. Facilitates birth and placental delivery.
• Red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense). Promotes wound healing and aids the body’s natural systems of detoxification.
• Red root or New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus). Lymph and blood cleansing.
• Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum). Aid in the prevention of and recovery from illness. Calms the mind and spirit. Antiseptic, immune stimulant.
• Rosemary herb (Rosmarinus officinalis). Antiseptic. Calms anxiety, improves headaches and digestion. Avoid therapeutic doses during pregnancy.
• Sage herb (Salvia officinalis). Antifungal and antiseptic. Avoid during pregnancy.
• *Shepherd’s purse leaf (Capsella bursa-pastoris). Constricts blood vessels. Avoid during pregnancy.
• Skullcap herb (Scutellaria lateriflora). Encourages endorphin production and sedates the brain and spinal column. Antispasmodic, nervine, and sedative.
• St.-John’s-wort herb (Hypericum perforatum). Helps heal damaged nerves. May cause photosensitivity in some individuals.
• Turmeric root (Curcuma longa). Anti-inflammatory and circulatory stimulant. Avoid during pregnancy.
• Usnea (Usnea barbata) (aka old man’s beard). Strong antimicrobial.
• *Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis). For pain, anxiety, and insomnia. Antispasmodic, muscle relaxant, and sedative.
• White oak bark (Quercus alba). Bath herb for insect bites. Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent.
• *Yarrow herb (Achillea millefolium). Stops bleeding and lowers fever. Avoid during pregnancy.
• Yellow dock root (Rumex crispus). Improves the function of the kidneys, liver, lymph, and intestines.
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Excerpted from The Natural First Aid Handbook, © by Brigitte Mars, used with permission from Storey Publishing.