I created an herbal first aid kit in the mid-90’s to sell at our herb store in Kentucky, based on my own desire to have one for hiking and travel. I wrote pamphlets that described how to use it, talked it up, marked it down, but the general public just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea.
Now, with the influx of statistics on what topical chemical application is doing to our health, and the rise of supper bugs that are anti-bacterial resistant, people are becoming more conscious of how they treat skin infections, keep mosquitoes at bay, and protect themselves from the sun. I believe the time has come for the natural first aid kit.
The question is, how to assemble a natural first aid kit that is small enough to be portable, yet versatile enough to treat many things?
What the Kit Should Treat
An ideal first aid kit should prepare you for a variety of uses – a short hiking trip, a long backpacking trip, camping, a day at the park, or a drive across the country. Here is a list of needs to address:
- Burns or sunburns
- Topical injuries, such as splinters, bruises, puncture wounds with excessive bleeding, scrapes, lacerations, and topical infections-both fungal and bacterial
- Bug bites and stings
- Muscle strain and sprains
- Headaches, fever, acute internal infections, stomach and digestive issues
Remedies to Pack
To choose a handful of remedies and plants can be difficult. There are many excellent choices. But the ideal is to choose things that treat multiple ailments, lessening the load you carry. The following are items I like to have in my kit, and ones I highly recommend considering for your own. The list consists of 2 essential oils, 2 salves, a poultice, 3 tinctures, 2 homeopathic remedies, witch hazel, charcoal capsules, and a few other props.
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) serves many purposes. It properties are: analgesic (soothes nerve pain); anti-spasmodic for muscles topically; headaches, including migraines; insomnia and general relaxation; burns and sunburn; relieves itching and pain from bug bites and stings; anti-bacterial
For headaches, mix a drop of pure essential oil of lavender with a small amount of the Soothing Salve and apply to temples. Apply the same combination to the feet, wrists and back of neck for relaxation or insomnia. To use lavender in the treatment of burns or sunburns, apply a few drops of pure essential oil undiluted (also known as neat) to the area to lessen inflammation, pain, and to speed healing. It may be applied neat to a sting or bug bite to aid pain and swelling as well. For eye irritation, put a drop of lavender in the palm of the hand and rub in. Cup your hand over your eye for a few minutes. Repeat throughout the day until the desired effect is achieved.
Tea tree (Melaluca alternifolia) is known for its use in first aid kits. Its properties are: antiseptic; effective remedy for cold sores; infected wounds with puss and some fungal infections; effective gargle for respiratory and sinus infections, mouth infections, and to ease the pain of sore throats.
Tea tree can be applied neat to infections, and cold sores. It can be used as a mouth rinse in a bit of water for mouth sores, sore throats and respiratory and sinus infections. Gargle with a drop of tea tree in a bit of water 3 times daily. Inhalation is key for respiratory infections. Apply a drop to a hankie or something you are able to hold close to your face and breathe in. If you have access to a nettie pot, add 1 drop of tea tree to your water. Do this one time daily until symptoms lessen.
Please note: It is important to follow directions when using essential oils, especially if treating children. A drop of oil goes a long way.
I carry two salves when I travel. One is a Soothing Salve for healing general scraps, cuts, to soothe sunburn and dry skin. It can also be used to dilute essential oils, thus eliminating the need to carry an extra bottle of carrier oil. The other is a salve that is strong and may be used for many things, from muscle strain to coughs to bug bites. It is the Anti-Inflammatory Salve.
How to Make a Salve
To prepare a salve, you will need: a kitchen scale, a double boiler, the appropriate size container/containers-glass or double walled plastic, something to stir- I use wooden chopsticks, beeswax, the appropriate carrier oils (olive, almond, jojoba, comfrey, calendula etc.), pure essential oils. My double boiler is a quart size stainless steel measuring cup in a saucepan with water.
To make the salve base, bring the water in the pan to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Add your carrier oil. Per cup of oil, add 1 ounce of beeswax, weighed on the scale, into the oil. Let this simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beeswax is melted.
While you wait for the melting to occur, put the drops of essential oil into the jars that will hold the salve. When the base is finished, turn off the fire and allow to cool while stirring for just a moment, and then pour the salve mix over the oils. Stir briefly, close the lids and let sit until they have hardened.
The Soothing and Anti-Inflammatory Salves
Ingredients for the Soothing Salve are simple. The carrier oils I use are 1 part St. Johns wort infused oil, 2 parts calendula infused oil, 1 part plaintain infused oil and 1 part jojoba oil. The essential oils for this salve are geranium, tea tree, and lavender. In 8 oz. of salve base, use 45 drops total of essential oil (about a 1% dilution). Use the Soothing Salve for healing of scrapes, irritated skin, and sunburns. It is mild, with a nice calming effect to it, but very potent.
The Anti-Inflammatory Salve serves a variety of purposes and has more oils. It is strong and stimulating. It is not recommended for use on children, outside of a small amount for bug bites. For a larger area of application on kids, dilute with an equal part of the Soothing Salve. This salve is also not intended for use on cuts, scrapes, or gaping wounds.
The carrier oils I use are 1 part St. Johns wort infused oil, 1 part Arnica infused oil, to ½ part jojoba. The essential oils I add are as follows, with the number of drops for each: ginger (30), eucalyptus (30), peppermint (15), rosemary (30), clove (25), myrrh (25), oregano (20), geranium (15), balsam peru (20), lavender (15). This salve is of a high therapeutic dilution at 5% essential oils to carrier oils. That means adding 225 drops of pure essential oils total per 8 oz. of salve base.
The Anti-Inflammatory salve will treat many ailments. arthritis and joint inflammation, muscle strain and sprains, bug bites and stings to aid itching, swelling and irritation; it may be rubbed on the feet and chest in the event of a respiratory infection and to help control a cough, it’s useful for some headaches (may be too stimulating for heat-related headaches), it’s excellent for bruises and for topical fungal infections.
Salves are easy enough to make, but some may not want to mess with it–if you prefer to purchase salves, I recommend a container of Tiger balm to replace the
Anti-inflammatory salve, and a nice soothing calendula comfrey salve to replace the soothing salve.
A poultice is a heated, wet compress assembled in gauze that is applied to an affected area. It consists of clay, ground herbs, essential oils and herbal tinctures. It should be left on until cool, and then it must be reheated and reapplied until there is suitable change in the injury.
A poultice is used for drawing out pus, splinters and stingers that are sunken in too deep, and to reduce swelling. This one can also be used dry as a powder for damp feet with fungus, on irritated skin, or in a wound that is bleeding badly. It is anti-bacterial as well.
The poultice I carry with me in a little zip lock baggie contains the following: 2 parts cosmetic clay, to 1 part each ground herbs of plaintain leaf, marshmallow root, yarrow flowers and myrrh resin. When I prepare the poultice for use, I add enough hot water to make a warm paste, add a dropper of Echinacea tincture, and a drop each of lavender and tea tree essential oil. Sandwich the warm, wet poultice between two pieces of gauze and apply. One can also lay over the poultice a piece of cloth soaked in hot water over the poultice.
You can’t have an herbal or natural first aid kit without tinctures, at least not in my book. I carry 3 different bottles with me. Sometimes the herbs change, but not often. I like to carry 1 or 2 oz. bottles of tinctures, depending on the circumstances. To pack these glass tincture bottles, one can roll them up in a small cloth, or something else small and soft that may come in handy. I often put them in zip lock baggies just in case they do break.
Bottle #1: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) tincture as a simple is valuable in a first aid kit for topical and internal use. It is useful for: diarrhea, heavy menstrual bleeding, and excessive bleeding internally and externally, to reduce fever, as an anti-inflammatory, for sore throat. Take 15-60 drops internally for acute symptoms. Apply topically by the dropper-full.
Bottle #2: Ginger and Elderberry tincture (equal parts). A combination of ginger and elderberry serve as tincture number 2. Ginger (Zingerber offician): stimulates blood flow, warming and stimulating expectorant, anti-viral action, improves digestion, and great for nausea; anti-inflammatory, improves circulation. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis): to treat colds, flu, bronchial infections; due to anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine action of the flavoniods, reduces allergic symptoms and sinus irritation
Bottle #3: Echinacea tincture (Echinacea pupurea or angustifolia): a lymphatic herb that stimulates the body’s innate ability to fight off acute illness by increasing white blood cell count, and killer T-cells ; strengthens healthy cell integrity and increases macrophage count (immune cells located in the liver and lymphatic system) that help the body deal with waste produced by the body’s fight against illness, effective anti-bacterial internally and externally; used internally and externally for snake bites or other poisonous insect bites, fevers, toothaches. Take 30-60 drops for general acute illness, take 60 drops every 15 minutes for poisonous bites, and apply to wound as well.
There are two homeopathic remedies I use in my kit, especially if hiking. One is Arnica montana. It is a plant that is typically used externally to reduce swelling. Arnica stimulates circulation via the small capillaries, thus allowing the circulatory process to shuffle out the toxins causing the inflammation. When an injury occurs, use the Anti-Inflammatory salve externally, and pellets of arnica homeopathic internally. Follow the dosage directions on the container.
The other homeopathic is poison ivy. If you are allergic to poison ivy and are exposed, take the homeopathic. In some cases, it can very nearly stop the spreading and worsening of the condition. Follow the directions on the label for dosage.
Witch hazel extract (Hamamelis virginiana) has mild astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is useful for diluting essential oils, an excellent application for hemorrhoids, insect bites and skin irritations. For relief from itching and poison ivy, add a few drops of lavender to witch hazel and apply liberally. Just remember, witch hazel is for topical application only, and should not be taken internally. Store it in a small plastic container.
Random Things to Add
Other helpful items to include in the kit are charcoal tablets, just in case someone eats some bad food and Emergen-C (in the event there is major electrolyte loss from diarrhea, vomiting, or just hiking). I also like to carry peppermint Altoids. I find them helpful in a pinch for digestive woes. Other important props to include are band-aids in multiple sizes (including butterfly), tweezers, surgical tape, gauze, cotton, an eye rinse cup, and a small pair of scissors.
Add a carry case of the appropriate size, and this portable natural first aid kit packs down very well. If you want to make it smaller, do. Depending on your needs, you may want to add something for constipation, parasites or jet lag. The basic kit outlined above is a foundation that you can tailor to your own needs. Have a great hike or trip!