Ever wonder what was in your foremother’s first aid kit? We imagine her with a full array of roots and berries, herbs and oils tucked into her trusty animal-skin pouch. What did she keep around for cave boo-boos: the odd singe from the cooking fire, skinned knees from outrunning woolly beasts, or a massive splinter while on the family’s daily 12 mile walk?
Herbs have been used for thousands of years as plant medicine, and the traditional knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. The herbs below are essentials for any herbal first aid kit, and if you don’t have them in your own backyard, they are easily found at your local healthy foods market or online.
An important thing to remember about herbal medicine is that herbs are processed in your body like food. You need meals and snacks all day long to keep you nourished, and plant medicine works the same way. You can’t take an herb in the morning and expect it to be around when you go to bed. Nature’s medicine is not dispensed in little 12-hour time-release capsules; you need to replenish it just like you need to eat meals to keep you going.
Nausea and vomiting – There are very few up sides to feeling like you’re going to up-chuck. Fortunately, there are many herbs that can help your settle an urpy tummy. Ginger, Peppermint and Chamomile tea are all anti-nausea herbs that work wonders on the digestive system. Ginger is known for soothing nausea, and has even been clinically proven to be as effective as conventional over-the-counter drugs for motion sickness, and to safely reduce pregnancy nausea. During flu season, nibble some Ginger chews and sip a soothing cup of fresh Peppermint or Chamomile tea. And during a long car trip with the kids, try a safe aromatherapy mist with Ginger essential oil for a quick hit of tummy soothing goodness to ease the urps over a winding mountain pass.
Stress, sleeplessness, anxiety – However you slice it, the daily pressures of life are no piece of cake. When the deadlines come before you’re ready or when the kids are hyped up after an inopportune pre-bedtime wrestling match, Lemon Balm, Chamomile and Lavender will be your best herbal allies. All three of these herbs are shown to significantly reduce agitation for peaceful rest. A few drops of Lavender essential oil in the bathtub and on your pillows, and a calming cup of Lemon Balm and Chamomile tea will safely help settle overexcited kids and their exhausted mama too.
Seasonal allergies and hay fever – In the spring, before the trees and grasses are a-bloom, make sure you start taking dried Stinging Nettles capsules in preparation for the pollen filled air. This iron-rich leafy herb is a tender spring vegetable that delivers fortifying nutrition along with mild antihistamine relief. Remember, herbs are processed in your body like food, so take them frequently through the day.
Teething – Keep some Chamomile tea at the ready for teething pain. Soak clean, soft baby washcloths in Chamomile tea and keep them in the freezer for infants working on new chompers. The cold cloths comfort sore gums and the Chamomile helps settle the teething crankies. Or make ice cubes and use them in a safe mesh teether. An added bonus is Chamomile’s ability to help the diarrhea that often accompanies teething. Make sure the cloths are well rinsed and free from dryer sheet or detergent residue.
Diarrhea – Even though it often has a starring role in songs that illicit giggles on the playground, diarrhea is no laughing matter. From intestinal cramping to frequent trips to the bathroom and burny bottoms, all you want is quick relief. Red Raspberry Leaf tea is rich in tannins that can help slow diarrhea. The leaves from this berry plant don’t have a fruity flavor, but they are safely soothing to your digestive system. A bowl of Oatmeal and a cup of Chamomile tea can also help.
Minor Burns and Sunburn – Lavender essential oil is one of the few herbal oils that can be safely applied even without dilution. If you get a little too close to the campfire when making smores, dab a few drops on straight to help speed the healing and reduce the ouch. Spent too long at the beach? Make your own cooling, soothing spray for minor sunburns with a few drops of healing Lavender and refreshing Peppermint essential oils mixed with water.
Itchy Rashes – Oatmeal doubles as a staple for the kitchen and for your first aid kit. Oatmeal makes a soothing bath for itching, irritated skin. Just powder it in the blender or mix it straight into the bath. Mix Oatmeal and water into a poultice (a soft, moist heap), and let it dry on the skin to settle uncomfortable itching rashes. From chicken pox to allergies and eczema, oatmeal has no negative side effects and may be a safer solution than prescription creams or medicated powders. Oats are also rich in calcium and magnesium, making them calming and nutritive, and one of the best herbal aids to eat during recovery from illnesses.
Bleeding – Yarrow is must-have for every family’s herbal first aid kit. Sprinkle a little powdered or crushed fresh Yarrow flowers on cuts and watch the bleeding stop fast! Yarrow’s styptic ability is impressive, and an added bonus is its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Make sure to keep a little jar of powdered Yarrow in your kitchen for when you grate your knuckle instead of the carrot! Follow up with a soothing Calendula balm to help protect the wound and encourage healing.
Scrapes and abrasions – Keeping infection away is the biggest challenge for abraded skin since they typically don’t bleed much. Bleeding is our body’s way of cleansing wounds. If the score is Pavement -10, Your Child’s Knee – 0, it’s time to make sure the area is cleaned and well-protected to keep away infection so it can heal. A cleansing first aid spray is helpful to have in your bag of tricks. To make your own, mix about 10 drops each of Lavender and Tea Tree essential oils with about ½ cup water, ¼ c organic oil, and 2 tbsp of Calendula extract and keep it in the refrigerator. This cooled spray will help take away the sting, make sure the wound is clean, and give it a healing jump-start. Lavender helps mend the skin and at the same time fight infections. Tea Tree Oil is an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal essential oil that is also great for fungal rashes. And of course Calendula is one of the most impressive healing herbs, used to help stimulate collagen production and minimize scarring. Its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties make it an invaluable addition to any first aid kit. Use Calendula extract, oil or balm for minor wounds, cuts, abrasions, chapped skin, minor burns, diaper rash and cradle cap. Covering the wound with a soothing Calendula balm will help protect it and encourage healing.
Fungal rashes - For athlete’s foot and fungal rashes in underarms or under breasts apply some diluted Tea Tree essential oil. Or use your homemade first aid spray (see recipe above) on all those areas as well as in shoes and even on diapers before they are washed. To reduce reoccurrence, add a few tablespoons of vinegar to the final rinse cycle of your laundry. Soak stubbornly rashy feet in a small amount of warm water with 10-12 drops of Tea Tree oil, dry well and tuck those piggies into fresh, clean socks.
Heartburn and indigestion – Gas? Bloating? Heartburn? Whether you have a sensitive stomach, or you indulged when you might have declined, or something just didn’t agree with you, it’s time to turn to herbs traditionally used to help ease the burn and put out the fire of indigestion. Fennel seeds do double duty as both spice and herb, and also as a carminative to help relieve gas, and a galactagogue to help support breast milk production. Non-pregnant people can munch a few Fennel seeds after meals to help relieve gas and reduce bloating. Pregnant women (and over indulgers too) can safely try sipping a blend of Marshmallow Root, Chamomile, and Peppermint tea.
While you won’t need to outrun woolly beasts (hopefully), these time-tested remedies are herbal must-haves for your modern family. You may, however, want to invest in a good pair of running shoes, just in case!