An Herbalist’s First Aid Kit: What I Use and Why

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What does an herbalist keep in her first aid kit? Simple & practical items! | via www.TheSurvivalMom.comI grew up in an herbal household- my grandmother and mother both grew a wide variety of herbs in their gardens, so I suppose I come by my love for all things herbal as a matter of course. They used most of their herbs for cooking or enjoyed their beauty and ability to attract birds and butterflies, but I went on to explore the health benefits of herbs by working at natural food stores and taking correspondence courses. Nothing beats hands on experience with herbs, though, and I have had plenty of time to explore the practical side of making and using herbal preparations as well.

Really learning herbalism means acquiring an entirely new mindset when it comes to viewing health and the human body, but in this article I would like to share a few herbs and preparations that I consider to be must-haves for my personal herbal first aid kit.  There are many herbs that are good for first aid uses, but in my experience, these are the best: angelica, elder, catnip, hawthorn, mullein, peppermint, rose, yarrow, and valerian.

If you aren’t sure where to start in learning about herbs for preparedness, this list is it. These herbs are all easy to grow, readily available, and extremely versatile. Take time to thoroughly research each herb from several sources, and you will see what I mean.

Angelica alone can be used for digestive issues, coughs, immunity, sore throats, certain types of joint pain, bladder and kidney problems, and topically to help clear bruises. Actually, angelica, peppermint, and hawthorn can all be used for digestive discomfort, but of different types. That’s why it’s important to learn about each herb in depth- a good herbal resource will help you learn the finer points of using angelica as opposed to peppermint, or hawthorn as opposed to angelica for digestive complaints.

Simple Solutions Using an Herbalist First Aid Kit

Each one of the herbs on the list can be used on it’s own, a practice called “simpling.” Don’t let the word “simple” fool you though- learning about just these nine herbs will keep you busy for quite some time! Here’s the short and sweet info on each herb to get you started:

Angelica: This herb is often used for digestive discomfort, coughs, to boost immunity, and for emotional support.

Elder: Both elderflower and elderberries can be used, and both are expectorant. Elderberry is also immune supporting, while elderflower can help with fevers, allergies, or be used as a calming tea.

Catnip: This herb is great for colicky children (or adults!), and can be used as a calming tea to help promote a good night’s sleep.

Hawthorn: Traditionally used for indigestion, healthy circulation, and as a tonic for heart health, hawthorn is also top notch for emotional support- especially when blended with rose and angelica. Perfect for the emotional fallout that may occur after an emergency situation, or even just a particularly stressful day.

Mullein: Most well known for it’s use as an oil for ear and skin first aid, mullein also has a host of other traditional uses that include support for proper healing from broken bones and as an ingredient in herbal cough formulas.

Peppermint: This tasty, well known herb is helpful for indigestion, cooling for fevers, and useful as a topical for sore muscles, bug bites and stings.

Rose: Excellent topically for skin problems, rose is also beneficial as a tea or in extract form for emotional support. Rose petals can offer herbal support for stress related headaches,  allergies, dry coughs, and sore throats; rose hips are a great source of vitamin c, and are also sometimes used instead of cranberry for urinary tract health.

Valerian: Valerian is a lesser known herb, but is great for nervous system support. It was used in Britain during WWII to help people feel calmer and less panicky and stressed during the air raids. It is also a valuable antispasmodic used for muscle cramps and can be added to cough support formulas for the same reason.

Yarrow: Yarrow is an excellent fever herb, and can also be used as a natural styptic, helping to normalize blood flow as an adjunct to wound care. Women can use yarrow to assist in normalizing a heavy menstrual flow and combine it with valerian to help with uterine cramping. Yarrow, Elder, and Peppermint blend together nicely for a traditional cold and flu season tea that can be used when you first start feeling under the weather or running a low fever, to support the body’s ability to fight off an invading cold or flu.

Formulas for Success

In addition to these simples, I also keep a few compound formulas on hand. My must have herbal combinations are:

SurvivalMomMay2014Graphic2Herbal Salve: Most commonly based on plantain and/or chickweed, these ointments can contain many other herbs as well. Traditionally, such blends are used for cuts and scrapes; boils; to help pull out splinters or soothe chapped skin- basically any needed skin support. I like a plantain and goldenseal blend the best, but there are many great recipes out there.

Syrups:  There are plenty of good herbal cough syrups on the market, especially ones based on cherry bark, grindelia, or elecampane. The one I like is based mainly on wild cherry. I also keep elderberry syrup on hand at all times for immune system support, and usually like to keep violet leaf and flower syrup for coughs. I find that simple syrups like elderberry are most cost effective if you make them at home yourself. Both elder and violets grow in my backyard, which also explains why they have become such a staple in my herbal pantry.

Vinegar Liniment: For muscle comfort and skin support, I like using an easy to make Three Flower Vinegar:  a blend of elderflower, rose and lavender in a base of apple cider vinegar. Another workhorse of multipurpose herbal formulas, this liniment can be great for sore muscles, as topical help for sunburn or contact burns, for acne break outs, or can be used diluted with cool water on a washrag to help get comfortable during a fever.

Herbal Throat Tea and Throat Spray: Usually a blend for throat comfort has marshmallow, licorice and other soothing herbs. I keep both a tea and a spray on hand. The spray is great for convenience (like when you first wake up in the morning, or are on the go and don’t have access to hot water), but I usually use them together throughout the day for best results.

Mullein Oil: Use either plain mullein or mullein mixed with garlic and other herbs, this is great for any kind of ear discomfort- allergies, pain, tinnitus, or even just helping to clear wax build up gently and naturally. I have also used this inside the nostrils when everything feels dry and stuffy from allergies but there isn’t much mucus production going on.

Herbal eyewash: I am a wimp when it comes to eye pain- most other things I will gamely suffer through, but the least little problem with my eyes drives me nuts. The eyewash I use is an alcohol extract that has rue and fennel, and is meant to be diluted before use. I find that it is great for basic, multi-purpose eye relief- allergies, eye strain, and even soothing pink eye pain until you can make it to the doctor to get checked out. An eye cup is helpful to have for this, especially if you don’t enjoy using eyedrops.

Notes on Quantity and Expiration

For each herb, I like to keep at least 4 ounces of alcohol extract- sometimes referred to as “tinctures on hand.  A single ounce of extract lasts anywhere from 15 days to a month of daily use, depending on the serving size. Since none of these are meant as daily use- just as first aid supplies- 4 ounces is probably overkill. But if you make your own extracts at home, they are inexpensive and it’s perfectly feasible to indulge in a slight bit of overkill here. I also like to keep at least 4 ounces of each herb in dried form, so I have plenty available to make tea, salves, or other projects.

The thing to remember with dried herbs, though, is that they don’t store as long as extracts. Usually just a year, as opposed to an extract’s five years or more (if kept out of light and away from extreme temps), although I have kept some dried herbs for longer than a year in airtight containers kept in dark pantries. They will lose their color and fragrance when they’re no longer good. At that point, they make a great addition to the compost pile if you have one, but I can usually find ways to use them up and rotate in fresh stock before that happens.

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Agatha Noveille is the author of The Independent Herbalist: A Beginner’s Guide to Herbal Preparedness and the blog IndieHerbalist.com.

18 thoughts on “An Herbalist’s First Aid Kit: What I Use and Why”

  1. I’m surprised comfrey/knitbone did not make your list. It has many properties which prevent infection. It’s an anti inflammatory. It speeds cell production to heal wounds faster. It works best when used with bees wax or honey and golden seal as a salve but in it a weak tea it had been used to treat bleeding ulcers as well. I use the salve on my husband’s arthritis, every cut or scrape on the whole family and it fights dry skin and exema

    1. You’re right! Comfrey is a wonderful herb for salves and has many uses. Comfrey has a few cautions, though- it tends to cause healing from the top down i.e. from the outer part of a cut (the skin layer) before the inner. So anything you put it on should be one) not very deep, and two) very, very clean. I love using plantain because of it’s affinity for drawing things out- splinters, dirt, infection, and the like. There really are lots of good salve herbs, though- calendula is another of my favorites!

  2. I love this information. I’ve been stocking up on herbal remedy books and have taken some courses to learn about wild edibles, and finding joy in what I can eat from my own front/back yard. Living in the suburbs, with chickens, I’ve also discovered a few “weeds” that my chickens go nuts over and their egg production proves it!

    With that said, I was wondering if you purchase essential oils for part of your medicine cabinet?

    1. Oh, my hens go crazy when they see me out weeding the veggie garden- chickweed is their favorite, but they like dandelions and violets, too! I’m nice, so I usually share hahaha! I did experiment with essential oils at one time, I guess it’s been almost ten years ago now. Personally, I love herbs best- cheaper, and I’ve found that there’s not anything an essential oil can do that an herb can’t. I do keep frankincense, myrrh, and lavender essential oils on hand but mainly use them when I want to smell nice. Normal perfumes give me a headache. 🙂 They can be a very valuable addition to a home medicine cabinet if you enjoy working with them, though, and I know several practitioners that are quite successful with them.

  3. Does anyone know anything to help with croup? My son had it recently, and the steam shower didn’t work great. We had to do one every 40 minutes around the clock at night. He ended up going in and needing steroids to open his pathways. But that won’t be an option if the SHTF. And the shower may not be available either. I tried to get the doc to give me an extra prescription of it, but no go.

  4. Unfortunately, things like croup are more complicated than the basic first aid that I discussed in the article, so there aren’t any cut and dry answers. With herbs, you have to learn how to think in terms of how that particular person is experiencing croup, rather than “this is croup, I should use this herb.” An onion poultice or a mustard plaster are two traditional applications that might be beneficial in such a situation ( you can google them for more info, if you are interested), but there are many, many herbs that are traditionally used for respiratory support- mullein, elder, and violet are three that I can think of off the top of my head that are safe for children.

  5. Redneck woman

    Mullien is also one of the best herbs out there for coughs, ashma, COPD, broncotic pnuemnua, whooping cough and once use for TB.

  6. Yes, mullein tends to be an excellent choice whenever there is a dry cough that seems to be triggered by environmental changes (going from warm to cold air, exposure to smoke or allergens etc). It has an affinity for the nervous system so it’s possible that it helps calm an overactive cough reflex, although this info is based on observation from traditional herbalists rather than clinical studies as far as I know.

  7. Cayenne Pepper should be on this list. I have seen it stop serious bleeding. A girl cut her hand on a glass, we applied pressure to the wrist to stop bleeding and then held her hand in cold water than had cayenne dumped in it. After a few minutes we released the pressure and took her hand out and it was not bleeding. We took her to the hospital, and there was a long wait as she was not bleeding. When she saw the doctor, he pulled on the cut , blood started spurting out and there wasa lot of bleeding. The doctor applied pressure and then had to put in stitches to stop the bleeding. A vessel had been severed but the cayenne had stopped the bleeding. It can be taken internally in water for some cases. See Dr. Christopher’s website http://www.herballegacy.com/Bleeding.html which talks about the use of cayenne.

  8. Sounds like that was quick thinking to use cayenne. I’ve heard and seen some great examples of cayenne being used successfully as well! Yarrow can be used the same way as cayenne, and has the additional benefits of being an excellent fever herb and good for normalizing heavy menstrual flow. It’s also a perennial herb that will grow like a weed once it is established – no need to save seed or fuss about protecting young plants from frost etc the way you need to do with cayenne. So that’s why yarrow, rather than cayenne, made my kit in this case. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the excellent information. Big question though: how do you use them? Just yesterday a health store wanted me to buy a “bible” about herbs but it only listed what they were good for, not how to prepare and use them. . Where can I find the source of help to prepare and maximize the value of these wonderful herbs?

  10. Very good question! I prefer using extracts and teas, and the rules for those are pretty easy to remember. For extracts, 15-30 drops are used per serving. 30 drops is about the same as as 1/4 teaspoon. That range is based mostly on the length of time the extract is going to be used. For acute things where the herb will be used for only a few days, use 30 drops; for addressing chronic issues go with 15 drops at a time taken for longer periods of time. Those serving sizes are assuming the person using them is an “average” adult weighing around 150lbs.

    Teas are best made with 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried herbs per 8oz of water, and 8oz of tea is considered one serving; again that’s for an average adult.

    Those measurements are considered standard among herbalists for most herbs, but it’s always best to check a reference when you are using an herb for the first time. There are a few herbs that are used in much smaller amounts.

    I actually wrote a blog post about this over on my blog, which you are welcome to check out for more info: http://www.indieherbalist.com/1/post/2013/11/herbal-teas-and-extracts-how-much-should-i-use.html

    If you are looking for more info on how to make the extracts themselves and other preparations, I highly recommend James Green’s book “The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook” and also “Making Plant Medicine” by Richo Cech. Oh, and then there’s my ebook, too! 😉

    Best of luck with all your herbal endeavors!

  11. Hello, do you may know how to naturally heal a inner ear stone? I have been bothering with it for a week now, and the doctor can’t do much beside a epirdermy. Thank you in advance for your help. God bless.

  12. One of my favorites is chamomile. It is awesome for so many things, but mostly for its calming properties. Also makes a great hair wash for bringing out red and gold highlights in your hair and is awesome for a potpourri or sachet. This is a great list and I have used nearly all of these at one time or another. Thanks for a great starter tutorial for using herbs for healing.

  13. Thank you for this unique take on a traditional First Aid Kit. While I do not necessarily agree that herbs can serve as a complete substitute when it comes to caring for someone with an injury, I can appreciate that many people take the natural route when it comes to illnesses. I would love to recommend to anyone interested in using herbal remedies take a basic First Aid and CPR course as well. This may make you one of the most prepared people around in the event of an emergency. Again, thank you for sharing, I am sure your fellow herbalists will appreciate the information.

  14. Pingback: SurvivalMomMay2014Gr - Kill Dust Mite

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