**This is not medical advice and should not be used as such! This post is intended for educational purposes only, and if you are experiencing severe symptoms of any kind, you should immediately leave the backcountry and seek medical help. Some of this information may be useful for interim care, but should not replace professional care.**
For the last several years, I have been diving into the wisdom of plants and learning from them how to heal things naturally. I find so much richness in making my own herbal remedies and it is such an empowering feeling to be able to use something I've made to heal myself and my friends. There are a few things I swear by, and I'm beginning to build an herbal first aid kit to carry in the backcountry with my favorite remedies. Here are some of the things I like to use:
Cuts, Scrapes, and Bruises
- Herbal salve - with ingredients like comfrey, St. John's Wort, plantain, calendula, and yarrow. There are a lot of great options for buying a salve, or if you'd like to make your own, find directions here.
- Yarrow poultice - My favorite remedy to stop bleeding! I've used this multiple times on pretty deep cuts, and it's almost magical how quickly it stops bleeding. If there is fresh yarrow (Achillea millefolium) where you are, you can chew up some fresh yarrow leaf and stick it on the open wound. You can also carry yarrow tea bags (buy them or make your own), and to make a poultice, soak one in water and apply it to the wound.
Bug Bites and Stings
Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata) is a great drawing agent, which is good for removing venom from bites and stings. It is such a powerful medicine that some people have even used it to successfully treat black widow and brown recluse spider bites, as well as snake bites.
|This is Plantago major (Broadleaf Plantain). You can recognize both plantains (P. major and P. lanceolata, which are long, thin leaves) by the parallel veins of the leaves.|
- Plantain poultice - Find some plantain, chew it up until it's pulpy, and stick it on the bite or sting. Swallow whatever juices you extracted while chewing it (it's medicine on the inside and the outside!) Most effective if used immediately after bite or sting occurs.
- Plantain salve - If you're traveling in an area without plantain, you can carry a small tin of plantain salve for bites and stings
- Plantain tincture - Taking plantain internally as well as externally can help with bites and stings, too.
- Plantain poultice - Plantain is also a great drawing agent for infections.
- Pure Aloe Vera gel - this is by far my favorite option for sunburns - plain old aloe vera gel. I buy mine from Mountain Rose Herbs. Just make sure it's as pure as you can get it. Mountain Roses's has preservatives in it, but I don't think you can get around that because truly pure aloe gel would probably spoil quickly. A lot of other products have other fillers in them, including parabens (even if they're labeled "99.9%" aloe gel).
- Bug-Off Lotion Bars by Wellness Mama
Sore or Injured Muscle and Joints
- Arnica salve
- Activated charcoal capsules - I swear by this for food poisoning-like symptoms (super gurgly stomach, diarrhea, etc.) and have also used it for acid reflux before with success. I have even seen references to it being used for giardia, although I've never had giardia so I haven't been able to experiment personally.
- Smooth Move Tea - for constipation.
Cold and Flu
- Gypsy Cold Care Tea - This one truly makes me feel better when I'm sick.
- Throat Coat - Indispensable for sore throats.
- Usnea tincture - Usnea (Usnea barbata) or "Old Man's Beard" is another one of my favorite remedies. It is specific for respiratory and urinary issues, and is very good for sinus infections, bronchitis, strep throat, staph infections, colds, flu, pneumonia, and urinary tract or bladder infections. I make a double-extracted tincture and at the first signs of symptoms, start taking a small dose (5-10 drops) in warm water every half hour or so. Instructions to make your own here.
- Herbal cough drops - My favorite right now are Ricola's Natural Herb cough drops. They have some interesting ingredients like "color (caramel)"...what does that mean?!...and starch syrup and sugar. But even still, I love them, and they really seem to work for me. I love their herb mix they use (elder, horehound, hyssop, lemon balm, linden flowers, mallow, peppermint, sage, thyme, and wild thyme) and I'm thinking about trying to make my own, but with honey, and without the "color."
All-PurposeSo I can't verify these claims, but I recently found a website about 101 Uses for Coconut Oil, and a lot of them were first-aid related. I haven't tested any of them out, but I thought I would pass along the information, because if you're looking to go super lightweight, it would probably be handy to have just one bottle that is a cure-all. If you want to see the whole article, I linked to it above, but here are the first-aid related uses:
- skin moisturizer
- SPF 4 sunscreen
- topically to speed healing of skin after injury or infection
- topically to kill yeast infections - soak a tampon in it and insert for a few hours
- topically to athlete's foot
- rub on inside of nose to alleviate allergies
- can help speed healing of sunburn, after initial heat is gone
- antibacterial skin cream
- reduce itchiness of mosquito bites