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Assembling an Herbal First Aid Kit
Herbal Pain Management
First Steps to Using Herbs to Staying Healthy
by Susan W. Kramer, Ph.D., Esq., AHG
I've always been fascinated by first aid kits. As a child I loved going to sporting goods stores where I would run to the camping department and would (clandestinely) open the first aid kits. I was always amazed at what was inside, and what wasn't inside. Always, the kits had Band-Aids, surgical tape, bandages, and an ointment. Some kits had a razor blade and suction cup for snake bite (I never met anyone who had used this). Some kits had aspirin. First aid seemed to mean cuts and scrapes and possibly snake bite.
I'm still fascinated by first aid kits, but have changed my question from "what's inside?" to "what do I need to be prepared?" Things I needed to be prepared for have included:
- Cuts and scrapes
- Bug bites
- Contact rashes
- Upset stomach
- Muscle aches
- Bleeding and Bruises
- Poison Ivy and Poison Oak rash
- Sore throat, colds, upper respiratory problems
(So far, no snake bites)
A great first aid kit, would handle more than just cuts and scrapes. Ideally, I would not include any chemical preparations. The medicines would be all-natural, potent and effective. I would include the following:
1. Anti-microbial healing salve. A comfrey based salve, including herbs such as plantain, St. John's wort, calendula and echinacea, will soothe, accelerate healing, and disinfect. Essential oils such as lavender and rosemary strengthen the effects. Use for any breaks in the skin and for burns. (Do not use initially on puncture wounds, use an antiseptic such as echinacea tincture instead)
2. Insect repellant. Essential oils (lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, cedarwood, lemon grass) suspended in a base of water and alcohol, are pleasant smelling to humans and noxious to bugs. The combinations work better than the single oils. Make your own or use an all-natural commercial preparation. Note that eating sugar and sweets increases your attractiveness to many insects! (Caution: Although pennyroyal essential oil is widely used for insect repellants, I recommend against this use. It can be toxic even in moderate doses and is specifically contraindicated for so many people - especially pregnant women. It is powerful and can effect people and pets in the vicinity of the user.)
3. Muscle aches and pains liniment for external use: Arnica, witch hazel and St. John's Wort tinctures in combination and essential oils of camphor, eucalyptus, rosemary and clove bud are all excellent. Note that some people are sensitive to arnica: STOP if adverse symptoms result. Do not use arnica on broken skin.
4. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak liniment for external use. Jewelweed (impatiens) specifically neutralizes the Rhus toxin and works well. Use fresh or tinctured, but jewelweed can be hard to find. Other remedies include grindelia, combined with echinacea, calendula and white oak bark. See the Poison Ivy Page for more ideas.
5. Echinacea tincture. Don't leave home without it. Internal and external antibiotic, provides temporary boost to the immune system. Good in case a cold threatens. Antidotes poison.
6. Ginger capsules. Great remedy for tummy upsets, including motion sickness, morning sickness and gas. Helpful for menstrual cramps. Alternatives: fennel and peppermint.
7. Bentonite clay or charcoal tablets, for diarrhea. These are to assist with detoxification, in case of poisoning. (Of charcoal, take 4 every hour, of bentonite clay, take 1 teaspoon in water, 3-4 times per day). Drink a lot of water. Helpful herbs include blackberry root or leaf (root is preferred for its greater astringency: simmer root for 20-40 minutes or steep leaf for tea for 10-30 minutes). Similarly, use wild strawberry root or leaf. Raspberry leaf provides a very mild remedy for diarrhea. Slippery elm tea also provides a fine remedy (but is still an endangered plant!). Blackberry and strawberry root and leaf also will reduce internal hemorrhaging. Cooked white rice works wonders at reducing diarrhea.
8. Meadowsweet tincture or aspirin. Fast acting, anti-inflammatory, pain-killers. Willow bark tea works well.
9. Thyme essential oil. A "must bring" for camping. Two drops in 4 ounces of water for mouthwash for toothache or sore throat. Same recipe used externally for crabs, lice, and all external parasites. Two drops placed in recently boiled water, inhale the steam for cold, flu, or bronchitis.
10. Rescue Remedy or Five Flower Formula. Outstanding emotional support for all trauma. Very safe. Don't leave home without it.
11. Cayenne capsules. Proven styptic. Open and apply externally to stop bleeding. (Yes, it does burn, but it works). It will also warm cold feet, sprinkled inside your boots. Alternative styptics: comfrey and yarrow. Comfrey is perhaps the finest internal anti-hemorrhage we have and is great externally as well, but it recently has come under FDA criticism (read some good herbal texts and decide for yourself. Me, I think it's a great herb).
12. Bug bite and itch relief. Witch hazel, plantain, grindelia, comfrey and St. John's Wort all provide relief from insect bites and general itching. Tinctured combinations of these seem to work best and are applied directly to the skin. Juice from the plantain is mildly effective and it grows throughout this region (just crumple the leaves and rub onto the skin). Lavender essential oil may be applied directly to the skin and works well. It enhances any tincture combination.
13. Relief from bruises. I think of these as wounds where the skin is unbroken, often accompanied by discoloration. Useful herbs, typically applied topically in tincture form, include Tienchi ginseng, hyssop, myrrh gum, prickly ash bark, cayenne, calendula, comfrey and arnica. Make your own, use an all-natural commercial preparation like BruiseAway, or obtain a "dit dat jao" from a Chinese herbalist. Helichrysum italicum essential oil, applied neat, works very well and is non-irritating. Application of the tincture combination, jao, or essential oil immediately following the bruise may prevent the bruise from forming. Do not use these remedies on the eyes or mucous membranes and wash thoroughly after use.
14. The hardware: Band Aids, Bandages, inch surgical tape, small scissors, single edged razor blade, tweezers, cold pack (cools on impact), ace bandage, bandana. Eye cup (or shot glass). Carry case (soft sided, waterproof) for the kit.
So go ahead, assemble a kit for yourself, your friends, or your family. They make great gifts. Remember, these are suggestions only and are based upon the assumption that any first aid kit will have space and weight limitations. There are other choices for all of the categories given. If you are sensitive to any of the suggested remedies, don't use them. Read, listen to your body, and educate yourself. Use common sense and seek additional assistance when necessary.
(Oh yes, the echinacea is helpful when it comes to snakebite.)
by Susan W. Kramer, Ph.D., Esq.
I'm an athlete. I've been pushing my body and stretching it past its limits since I was seven years old. I've trained and competed in fencing, I've been running all my life, I love my daily martial arts training, I, hike, bike, run and swim. I love it all...the only thing I don't like is the PAIN. I don't like when it stops me.
Oh, I know that pain is important! And that it serves a vital purpose of protecting me. Pain helps me to know my limits. Pain guards me against major injury. Although it is not pleasant I would not want to eliminate it altogether. For me, minimizing pain, particularly post-workout and chronic pains, keeps me in the games I love. Managing my pain increases my enjoyment of my activities and enables me to function at a higher overall level. Effective pain management reduces and sometimes completely eliminates any downtime.
For my pain, I want the remedies to be as natural as possible. I have found that natural remedies have fewer side effects without sacrificing effectiveness. I also have found natural solutions to be comparatively inexpensive and easier on my system. What I have managed to avoid by using herbs is the variety of side effects associated with synthetic pain-killers such as stomach distress, drowsiness, or liver toxicity.
There are some basics you need to know when you consider using herbal products.
Herbs come in a variety of forms that include liniments, salves, and oils to be rubbed into the skin, as well as, pills, capsules, tinctures and teas that may be taken internally. Many athletes find that they can effectively manage most pain issues through the use of external applications. For some, internal use of herbs for pain management is reserved for severe or chronic pain.
St John's Wort over the last year has received tremendous media attention for its ability to combat depression when taken internally. Interestingly, St John's Wort applied EXTERNALLY is an excellent anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. It reduces nerve, joint and muscle pain. It has the unusual quality of normalizing and "resetting" nerve function following trauma. Specific applications include muscle cramps (both from trauma and overexertion), tennis elbow, runners knee, shin splints, and shoulder and neck pain. Wait, there's more....it's also effective for reducing pain from arthritis, sciatica, and fibromyalgia. St John's Wort may be applied as a liniment or oil, but seems to work best in combination with other herbs.
Arnica combines well with St. John's Wort as a topical treatment for injuries and bruises. It is anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It should only be used on UNBROKEN skin. A strong caution on internal use: NEVER take the oil or tincture internally. Internal usage of Arnica is limited to homeopathic preparations which are available at health stores or from health practitioners. A topical combination of Arnica and St. John's Wort, like AchesAway, provides surprisingly effective relief from aches and pains.
Meadowsweet and Willow Bark are two herbs that both contain salicin. Salicin is the analog (or natural blueprint) for salicylic acid (aspirin). These herbs are anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Like aspirin they may be taken internally or applied externally. Some people take crampbark internally, as a potent anti-spasmodic for deep-seated chronic pain, or yucca internally, as an effective anti-inflammatory for arthritis.
Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts that can greatly enhance any pain management system. They are only used externally and must be diluted in a carrier for application to the skin. Many are highly aromatic. Camphor essential oil reduces pain, inflammation, and swelling. It is specific for skin, joint and muscular inflammations. Eucalyptus essential oil is specific for aching muscles and arthritis and also is anti-inflammatory. Clove Bud kills pain, is good for muscular aches and pains and also treats arthritis and rheumatism. These essential oils are best diluted in a natural carrier, such as grain alcohol (not isopropyl or rubbing alcohol) or a natural, plant-based oil (such as grape seed oil). They are used in combination with the herbal remedies above, for quicker and more effective pain relief.
A word about safety. If an herb does not work for you or causes any discomfort, don't use it. Not every herb is for every person. Don't use essential oils internally (except possibly under the guidance of a qualified practitioner). Alcohol-based liniments applied to broken skin will burn, so heal the skin first before applying. (Herbal healing salves, like HealAll, can greatly accelerate the process.) Finally, be smart. Read and follow directions.
Herbal pain management can safely, naturally and effectively enhance your athletic performance and can greatly increase your comfort. Topical applications can provide immediate and surprisingly effective pain relief. Internal remedies can address severe and chronic pain. Often though, rest and just taking it easy, can be the best remedy of all.
FIRST STEPS TO USING HERBS TO STAY HEALTHY by Susan W. Kramer, Ph.D., Esq.
In today's complicated world we rush through our days attempting to juggle personal and professional concerns. We tend to lose touch with ourselves as we strive to meet the needs of others. Pulled in different directions, we easily can lose our inner balance.
Herbs are one means for regaining and maintaining our inner balance. We can use herbs to rebuild compromised immune systems, to detoxify from unhealthy diet or environment, and to enhance our ability to deal with the stresses of everyday living. We additionally can use herbs to increase our energy levels, to reduce hormonal distress and to aid in recovery. This is something that we can do for ourselves, with limited outside guidance. As a practicing Herbalist, it is my privilege to assist people in making choices, from the simple to the complex.
Using herbs, we can increase resistance to disease and infection. Herbs such as astragalus and echinacea stimulate the immune system and thus contribute to our general well-being. Think of taking immune builders several days before traveling, in anticipation of a stressful event, or when those around you are getting sick.
We can use herbs to gently deal with stomach distress. For simple overindulgence, peppermint and ginger are ideal digestive aids. Both reduce indigestion and nausea and ginger reduces motion sickness. Fennel seed, which is thoughtfully offered in local Indian restaurants, reduces gas and indigestion. One can take these herbs when in distress, or to avoid anticipated discomfort. (Pregnant women in their last trimester should avoid using ginger.)
Using herbs, we can more easily cope with stress. Chamomile tea helps us to take that necessary breath and to relax. This is a wonderful herb that is emotionally soothing and calming to the stomach. Available at the grocery store in tea bags, it is a great travel and office herb. It is unexcelled for regaining your balance at the end of the day. Feeling depleted or run-down? Try to reduce your intake of caffeine and sugar, improve your diet, and consider taking nettles. Nettles rebuilds the adrenals while adding numerous vitamins and minerals, and makes an excellent tea.
A 1998 United States study, prompted by e-coli outbreaks, focussed on the anti-bacterial effects of common spices. Spices such as ground cloves, cinnamon, rosemary and basil (to name just a few!) were found to sharply reduce the growth rate of e-coli bacteria. Including spices like these in our cooking (as people have done for centuries!) may add protection as well as flavor.
These are just a few of the many herbs available that assist us in regaining and maintaining balance. You can buy them in bulk, in alcohol based tinctures, in capsules or in tea bags. All of the herbs listed above are considered tonic herbs, are widely available, and can be taken safely over long periods of time. If you are considering other herbs or addressing long term health issues such as chronic fatigue, do not hesitate to read, ask questions, go to a class or workshop, explore other resources on the web , or contact an herbalist or another qualified health practitioner.
DISCLAIMER. The information contained in these web pages is meant to be for educational purposes and not as a recommendation or as a cure for any disease. It is not intended as a replacement for the services of a qualified acupuncturist, medical doctor, or other duly licensed health provider who understands your needs and individual condition.