The past two weeks have both reminded & taught me a lot about herbal first aid. After sustaining a pretty gruesome wound to my right elbow, it was the plants I immediately sought out for help. All alone in a relatively unfamiliar part of North Carolina, all I could think was that I needed to get to my new friend Janet Kent, an extraordinary herbalist who, alongside Dave Meesters & Jen Stovall, runs Terra Sylva School in Marshall, NC. So it is here, tucked into the Southern Appalachian mountains, where this recent exploration of herbal first aid begins ~
The list of herbals for first aid is mighty & long, so I am choosing to bring attention to five whom I have personally been calling upon during my own process, & to whom I owe a good portion of my swift healing to.
I also love this list because each plant featured here is easy to locate in most herb shoppes or to grow & maintain in a garden, where they will add their unique beauty, & bring nourishment to the pollinators.
First aid kits are most useful in acute scenarios, right when the action happens. So I will mainly be focusing on preparations that I would consider beneficial to have on hand in an emergency or minor accident. Once the initial triage passes, & the fight or flight mode cools down, you can begin to reach for other allies. These are simply some examples of what I have found to be most helpful in the moment.
Calendula, Stachys, Alchemilla, Achillea, Capsicum... recite these names enough & it sounds like a spell. Surely they are a spell, a spell of herbs, a spell for healing swiftly but with great care; for tending to the wounded places with soft precision. An incantation for trusting & supporting the wisdom of the body to do its work of repair.
Lest we forget: the body knows, it knows, it knows & herbs meet us where & when we need them to. Plants can offer their medicine at any point in the process we need support in. If we are low down, there they swim. If we are halfway, they meet us there. If we are soaring too quickly, they know how to slow us back down to the ground...
It is a dance, & there are herbs for every kind of music.
Yarrow : Achillea millefolium : the Healer's healer. Also known as Woundwort, this astringent Aster family member is a must-have in your first aid kit. Look to call on Yarrow when there is inflammation, irritation, itchiness, rashes, redness/heat, excessive bleeding, & any kind of wound ranging from deep gashes to more surface level cuts & scrapes. Thus, it makes for a superb vulnerary (wound-healer) & styptic (slows & stops bleeding). Not only does Yarrow help to manage excessive bleeding, but it also helps to prevent infection, so this is one of the first plants I think of when confronted with an acute injury.
Yarrow also lends a calibrating, solidfying energy to the body. When we are in fight or flight mode, it can be difficult to think clearly & our thoughts can rush to the worst possible outcomes & scenarios. Yarrow holds our boundaries in place, so it holds us in place when everything feels out of control. I also find that it calls our attention to the issue at hand, directing our energy & body's focus towards the act of healing.
Yarrow can be made into most any kind of herbal preparation, but can also be used fresh as a poultice. My recommendation for your first aid kit is this: have a strong tincture or liniment of the fresh aerial parts of Yarrow, powdered Yarrow mixed with some clay (for bites, stings, or rashes), dried Yarrow for an infusion, or Yarrow hydrosol. While I love Yarrow oil & salve, I think these two preparations are best called upon later in the healing process.
Dosage can range, from a few drops of the tincture to a dropperful internally. Externally, the same would apply but used as a wash you can do a few dropperfuls directly onto the wound. Follow the same dosage for an infusion.
Cayenne : Capsicum annuum : the healing bite. This Solanaceae is probably best known for its spicey addition on your kitchen's spice rack, but I would argue that it makes an even better addition into a first aid kit. Analgesic (pain-relieving), anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, antioxidant, immunostimulant, drying, & styptic... just to name some of the big qualities this mighty fruit contain & which stand to illustrate their stellar presence in a first aid capacity.
Cayenne chilis contain a contsituent called capsaicin. This unique constituent is not only responsible for the heat you taste in Cayenne, but also for its fantastic medicinal qualities. As counter-intuitive as it may sound capsaicin is incredible for pain-relief. Yes, it will burn at first, but once the sensation passes, so does the pain. Essentially, the capsaicin is filling up the pain receptors that are open & active when we get injured. Once the pain receptors are overwhelmed, they stop firing, & thus pain is relieved.
Cayenne like Yarrow is an amazing styptic or hemostatic ~ again, this means that it helps to slow & stop excessive bleeding. Adding a wash of Cayenne onto a wound may sound like a totally nutty idea, but in doing so you are helping to relieve discomfort, slow bloodflow, prevent infection, stimulate immunity, & build cell & skin integrity so that the wound can heal more effectively. Cayenne has so much creative energy to its medicine, so this is a great plant to call upon when we need the body to kick into gear on repairing not only tissue, but the emotional belief in healing.
I recommend having a tincture of fresh or dried Cayenne tincture, Cayenne powder capsules, & Cayenne salve in your first aid kid. The tincture makes an incredible wash, while the salve will come in handy most especially for bruises & sprains. The capsules can be taken internally to slow bleeding.
Our Lady's Mantle : Alchemilla spp. : the little Alchemist. Healing is certainly an act of alchemy... all the many bits & pieces needing to come together in a harmony to create a great transformation. Alchemilla is a member of the Rose family, & like all roses it has a is soothing, cooling, & astringent way about it.
Our Lady's Mantle is also a wonderful wound healer & wash, containting amongst other constituents, astringent tannins, glycosides, & salicylic acid to tone tissue, relieve inflamation & swelling, & add a little pain relief into the mix. From my background in midwifery, I have also learned that Our Lady's Mantle makes an incredible styptic, helping to slow & stop hemorrhage in its tracks as well as a gentle yet incredible wound-healer that brings these abilities to the gentle tissue of the vulva. Consider adding this into a wound wash alongside of Cayenne & Yarrow & you will have a potent mix.
I think of Our Lady's Mantle when the wound is rugged, deep, & looks hard to heal. As well as on areas of the body that are especially tender, gentle, or sensitive. It also makes a wonderful relief for any kinds of rashes, inflammation, bites, stings, or eruptions on the skin. It has the ability to go deep into the muscles, so consider this for sprains & bruises, as well. Our Lady's Mantle is one of my very favorite protective herbs, like a cloak it covers us & immediately makes us feel safe even at our most vulnerable. Call on Alchemilla when you need an extra dose of protective strength & care when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
Consider keeping a tincture of fresh Alchemilla leaves & flowers in your first aid kit, alongside of a salve & a hydrosol. I been applying a salve containing Our Lady's Mantle to my wound nightly after washing & before placing bandages atop.
Calendula : Calendula officinalis : the golden armour. This Aster family member lends solar power to anywhere it touches, driving away that which festers in the damp & dark. Calendula has many virtues that make it a wonderful member in any first aid kit, to name a few Calendula is: astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, & antifungal.
Rich in flavanoids, it bolsters immunity & keeps infections at bay. Mucilagenous, it helps to soothe & coat irritated tissue, keep foreign invaders out, & encourages the skin to more readily repair. Applying Calendula to any skin issue or wound is immediately relieving. Possibly my favorite compress or poultice, I love working with Calendula petals directly on a wound after the first stages of healing. It feels so good & does wonders for the healing process. You can also apply Calendula as a wash (in tincture or tea form) to a fresh wound & again, this would be a great addition to a wound-wash formula.
Calendula helps us to release emotional tension we are holding onto around being hurt. Think of how you drop your shoulders & breathe more deeply as you step out into the sun, or how flowers unfurl to meet the sun's light. Calendula can offer this to the Spirit & keep the healing momentum flowing, going, strong.
Keep some fresh Calendula flower tincture in your first aid kit, alongside some dried petals for poultice, a salve, & the homeopathic ointment.
Wood Betony : Stachys officinalis : the ground beneath your feet. Landing. Wood Betony is a member of the Mint family, not to be confused with Pedicularis, which also goes by the same common name. Out of all things that Wood Betony is wonderful for, I find that this plant excels at landing ~ with helping the Spirit find a place to settle in the body in the wake of trauma, accident, upset, or injury. This is especially so in the immediate aftermath & the days following.
When the world is buzzing, when you are feeling disembodied, when the hormonal flood of the sympathic nervous system wears off & you feel exhausted but can't let yourself rest... call on Wood Betony. Often in traumatic states, & when the body is in pain, it is extremely common disconnect, disembody, go somewhere else. In some ways, this is a protective mechanism, but it is also important to return so the emotional healing can begin, which in turn assists in the physical form's healing process. Everything is connected.
Immediately relaxing, Wood Betony safely lulls us back into ourselves. We are brought back down to Earth with this plant ~ it is especially helpful for those who keep replaying the story of what happened over & over in their heads, trying to make sense of it or see what went wrong. It brings us into presence so we can release tension, cry, breathe more deeply. Even if calming down seems scary, it is necessary, rest is so crucial to the body. Emotional release gives the system one less thing to do & worry about; it helps us move emotionally so we don't get stuck, assisting in the process of letting go. Think of Wood Betony for the moments after panic has struck, once the wound has been dressed, & the reality starts to set in.
I recommend carrying a tincture of the fresh aerial parts of Wood Betony or the flower essence in your first aid kit. You can certainly have some dried as well, the scent is really lovely & grounding, & it also makes a great tisane.
Start with small, drop doses of the tincture & flower essence (1-3 drops at a time). With the tincture, you can work your way up to a full dropper, but I find that even though this is not a sedative, Wood Betony is deeply relaxing & you don't need a lot.
A few final notes:
All of these remedies mentioned here can be worked with in drop dosages for the energetic & emotional effects, even if they are tinctures or tisanes & not essences.
In addition to the herbals, I also recommend keeping a set of sterile bandages of varying sizes, first aid tape, medical gauze, a clean wash cloth, honey, a small bottle of Ibuprofen, & small scissors in your kit. Steri-strips were the most important part of aiding my healing alongside the herbs.
It doesn't hurt to have a saline solution in your kit as well, for cleansing & clearing out wounds, especially if they have any dirt, gravel, or other debris in them. You can easily find a can of sterile saline soultion at a pharmacy.
Get a little tin or bag to carry your first aid kit in. I have set aside an old cookie tin in which to keep all of my medicinals, supplies, & emergency contact numbers. Plant medicines & adhesives are very sensitive to hot temperatures, so when not traveling, be sure to keep your kit out of the car.
As I mentioned, there are so many many herbs, flower essences, & other tools I could discuss for a first aid kit, & perhaps you have a few ideas of your own. If I learned anything from my recent injury, it is that I not only need to have a first aid kit prepared for traveling with, but one for the our home too.
May this inspires you to create an herbal emergency kit of your own. You never know when you may need it & will be so glad you have a collection set aside when you do ~