Posted by Denise Cusack on 9/20/2019 to Herbal First Aid
It is a wonderful feeling to grow, harvest, and preserve medicinal plants all summer long and fill our home apothecary. Having stocked shelves is step one in being prepared for anything, including for first aid at home, when out and about, during an emergency, or even when we need to evacuate.
As herbalists, we are lucky to have a head start. We may be able to identify and use many plants in the wild for cuts and scratches; we may know what is safe to eat if we are in a situation where we need food and water. But our well-stocked home apothecary can also be used to build ready-to-go kits that are easy to use and targeted to the specific needs and situations in our regions. Some people have one kit for everything, but I like to have a few types of kits on hand for different situations. When a well thought out first aid kit combines with skills, we are better prepared.
There are many types of first aid kits including one for camping/hiking, car kit, the home family kit, bug out bag kit, evacuation kit, or even a street medic kit for helping those in your area after natural disasters. I like having three main types of kits on hand. The first is a camping/hiking/car kit that is small and lightweight but has everything needed for day trips or short outings. The second is a fully stocked home family first aid kit with prepped items in one central location that I can utilize in a hurry. The third is a bugout/evacuation/disaster kit that has a little more of everything needed to take care of everyone for a little longer. It can be used with the family kit during a long period at home without power or water, like after a hurricane. Or it can go along with your other bugout evacuation supplies for when you have to leave in a hurry.
Since this is a big topic, I am breaking this up into three issues so that we can cover a small day kit, a family kit, and a bugout/disaster kit!
The first kit we will cover is a camping/day trip kit. This is a small kit organized by season and region that is great for taking with you in the car, when hiking, or when camping.
I live in the midwest, so my needs may vary from summer to winter. In summer, it focuses on injuries, sun, ticks, and fatigue. If we were hiking in a more remote location, I might add water filtration, food, batteries, and other items in case we got stranded for a few days. If I put it in my car during blizzard season, I might include the first aid kit in a large lidded container along with bottled water, blankets, warm socks, extra hats, a box of instant hand warmers, and gloves. When my kids were younger, I always carried suckers, granola bars, sunscreen, and backup shoes and outfits along with a first aid kit. I also have a child that gets overheated easily, so instant cold packs can help with overheating as well as injuries.
As you can see, there can be many variables based on season, climate, regional needs, and who is in your family. Organizing supplies by category and then making sure you have something in each category can help you be sure you didn't forget anything. This makes it easier to swap things out as the seasons change or when you are headed out to the beach instead of the backwoods.
There are a few main categories to consider when building a first aid kit. We will look at all of the supplies as a whole first, and then focus on the herbal first aid elements.
Allergies: If anyone in your family has allergies, having a few antihistamine tablets can be a big help. For skin allergies, having salves or balms that help with the itch and inflammation are great. For more serious allergies, keeping Benadryl in the kit is a great idea, and always having EpiPens in the kit for those that experience anaphylactic reactions. For seasonal allergies, making an iced tea blend for camp that includes peppermint, goldenrod, and nettles can help too!
ENTE: Ears, nose, throat, eyes. Q-tips are great for mixing things as well as clearing out bugs or gunk in the ears or nose. With small children during cold season, mullein ear oil might be on your list. Eye drops or single-use saline ampules are great for rinsing the eyes or inflammation. If you are on an extended hiking trip, it might be a good idea to carry a dental kit or have clove essential oil and a mixing medium to apply to any broken teeth or gum issues until you get back to civilization. Teething gel can help as well, especially if you have wee ones. Chamomile tea bags are a great addition to a kit as the tea can be used for calming and stomach upset, as well as an eye rinse. I keep salt in my small kit because it can be used as a gargle for sore throat, to make a saline rinse for a wound, or mixed with honey and lemon juice to create an oral rehydration mix.
General/Seasonal: This is where you think of your region. If you live in the desert southwest, something for snakebites may be a great addition. If you live near the ocean and are always at the beach, burn spray or eye rinse cups might be useful. Think of where you are going, and what the climate and top needs/issues might be. In extreme heat, you might want cool packs, in cold, hand warmers. On longer hikes in remote areas, a whistle or a water filtration straw might be essential to have. This also includes some staples/basics such as tweezers, safety pins, tape, multitool, flashlight, scissors, a notebook and pen, electrolytes, and extra baggies. I also put things in baggies where I can - they can be used over a bandage on a hand, finger or foot. They keep the contents dry in case of torrential rain or falling into a creek or river. They can be used to mix something together, to place over gauze and taped on an injury. There are many uses for a few extra plastic bags, and it is good to have a few in the kit.
Gut/Digestion: Chamomile tea is mentioned above and can be useful for an upset tummy. Ginger tea or ginger chews can also help with stomach upset and nausea. Bismuth tabs are great for diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, and indigestion, and are easy to carry. For poisoning or other more severe issues, having activated charcoal tablets on hand is important. I also like carrying capsules of ginger/chamomile or Oregon grape root, depending on the season and length of an outing.
Illness: Illness can be from food or water, viruses, bacteria, or other causes. During cold and flu season you might want to stock elderberry syrup and natural cough drops. In the summer, it might be nausea or diarrhea (see above). For a short hike or weekend camping trip, stocking just the basics can help get you home. For longer trips or hikes, having items that can help reduce a fever or soothe a cough might be what is needed. Yarrow is an excellent multi-use herb that can be used to stop bleeding or for a fever. I like to have powdered yarrow on hand, but also often include a squeeze bottle of yarrow tincture for cleaning hands or for fever as well. Echinacea tincture is always in my bag for illness (and wounds) as well.
Infections/Wounds: This category not only includes having bandages, compresses, suture tape, or wraps, but also antibacterial support for cuts, scratches, and punctures. Lavender essential oil is an excellent E.O. to carry as it can be applied to a burn, used in an inhaler for anxiety, has antiseptic properties, and is antimicrobial. Lavender is also safe for kids and the elderly - and if you carry a small vial of carrier oil, it can be easily blended for other topical applications. This category also includes salves - I like making salves in small sticks so that they are portable and solid enough to not melt in the summer heat. To keep from contaminating the stick, you can scrape some off with a clean Q-tip or finger and apply to any wound. I like having a stick of salve that can be used for blisters, cuts, sunburns, and is an excellent all-around ointment. I also always pack a soothing sun spray in the summer, that helps relieve sunburn, but can also be used for other scrapes and scratches. Echinacea tincture can be used internally for infection and illness as well as topically on wounds.
Kids/Pets: This is a significant variable category. With small children, you might want to include suckers, herbal gummies for stomach issues, and even things like extra socks and cute bandages that make it easier to keep them on. If you hike with your dog, having a folding bowl, extra water, and some sort of liquid bandage can help with pet paw injuries and overheating. The dog flexible wrap tape that discourages them from chewing on bandages can help, too, and it can be used for humans or pets.
Medications: If you have important medications, having some extra in case you get caught out is a good idea. Important medications become critical if you are stranded along a raging river for two days, or have an injured person and are waiting for assistance. This can also include glucose tablets, candies or honey sticks for blood sugar, an inhaler for asthma, or other critical needs.
Pain: Pain can be from a wound, sprains, overexertion, or fall. Keeping some aspirin and other NSAIDs on hand can help, as can having topical pain relief for tooth problems, wounds, burns, or other injuries. One spray I always have in my kit is Kloss's Liniment. This recipe has been around for over 100 years and is well known in the herbal community. Kloss's Liniment can be used for pain, swelling, bruises or boils, toothaches, sores, and more. It is also an excellent skin cleanser on wounds to reduce chances of infection.
Safety: This may not be a big need for a short hike or camping at a busy campground. But if you are hiking backwoods or are kayaking Lake Superior, you may have to add safety additions to your kit. Things such as a whistle, bear spray, flares, extra emergency blankets, a flint or matches, and food rations might be important depending on the location. If you have younger children, you may want them to carry an emergency whistle and your contact information at all times.
Sanitation: No matter how many herbal aids you have on hand, if a wound cannot be cleaned out, it can get infected. Salt is a good option when mixed with water to rinse out a wound. Kloss's Liniment is a good option, and so is lavender essential oil. The first step to working with any wound is having clean hands. I like carrying soap, but if you don't have a clean water source that isn't helpful. If you are in an area without access to any water that is a problem too, and I try to always have a small water source in the kit in case we are out otherwise. Water and salt can also help clean hands. I also pack some natural antibacterial wipes for hands, surfaces, tools, tweezers, etc. Sanitary gloves are essential too, and I always have a few pairs on hand.
Skin: Skin crosses over with wounds and infection, but also includes bug spray, sunscreen, tape, gauze, burn pads, wound repair, and more. Bug bites can use an anti-itch balm or salve, which also crosses over with skin reactions to water, sap, or plants. I always carry a few moist burn pads or ointments as well, for any bigger burns when we have campfires. With skin goes ticks as well, and a tick remover for those in tick areas is good, or really pointy tweezers. Those little honey sticks can be used on skin or for blood sugar. Yarrow powder can be used to slow bleeding. Plantain is for scratches and scrapes, and I like to have a little jar of dried plantain that can be mixed with some water to make a poultice or compress. I also keep moleskin tape as it is an excellent cover for blisters.
Trauma: Trauma can involve injury or a scary event. I like to keep a skullcap glycerite on hand for calming after injury, pain, or frightening event. It can help calm when scared of the dark or when stressed due to an accident or storm. I also carry an empty inhaler container with a wick that can be used with lavender essential oil to calm, or the unscented wick can be used to help stop a nosebleed. Rescue Remedy is often in kits for this, as can be other glycerites or calming tools.
Other: There are a few things in my kit that I have found are a must when we are also packing herbs. A container that holds q-tips can also be used as a mixing jar. Yarrow and Plantain can be crushed and sprinkled in, mixed with water, and applied to an injury. I keep a few muslin bags that can be filled with plant material and placed on a wound. They can also be used to steep herbs for an infusion or compress. I keep a small empty squirt bottle for blending salt and water and used for cleaning a wound or gargling. Q-tips can be used as applicators or stir sticks. I like an emergency blanket in the kit as it can be used not only as a blanket, but also a dry groundcover, a sling, a blanket, a tarp/rain cover, ties/straps for a splint, and even as a reflector.
Herbal First Aid
So, now that you have all of this information, how do we put it all together? I created a sheet you can download to use as a checklist when you build your own portable camping/car/day trip herbal first aid kit. This can help you go over the categories, and cover your bases as you adjust for seasons, region, and family needs. You will see modified and expanded versions of this checklist in the future as we also talk about a home family first aid kit and a bug out bag kit.
Of course, the point of all of this is that we have an herbal first aid kit that utilizes herbs and plants we have grown ourselves and that we have in our home apothecary. If you don't have all of these items, you can purchase them all, or slowly add to your kit. To get you started, here are some recipes for a few critical elements in your portable Herbal First Aid Kit.
Take 1 ounce of dried yarrow (flower and leaf). Put into a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and grind until a fine powder. Put into an airtight container such as a small jar or tin. To use, infuse in water and use as a compress for fever. Soak a splinter in yarrow infusion to draw it out before you pull it out with tweezers. Sprinkle ground powder on a wound to stop bleeding and reduce inflammation. Drink the infusion for fever and colds (not for infants).
This liniment recipe has been around for a long time. It was first published in 1939 in Back to Eden, by Dr. Jethro Kloss. There are variations online and in herbal books. Google search to find options that fit your needs. The recipe is for sore muscles and can also be used as a disinfectant.
The base recipe is:
1 oz echinacea powder
1 oz myrrh powder
½ oz goldenseal powder
½ oz calendula powder
½ oz thyme powder
¼ oz dried cayenne pepper
1-pint rubbing alcohol
Add dried herbs (powdered works best) to a pint or quart canning jar. Add about 1 pint of rubbing alcohol to the jar, and screw on the lid. Shake well every day or two for 4-6 weeks. Store in a warm location during this time — strain well and bottle.
Add ¼ tsp menthol crystals if desired (they will dissolve into the liquid).
Label EXTERNAL USE ONLY very clearly. Pour into a small spray bottle for your first aid kit and label appropriately.
You can choose other herbs to add to the infusion, including St. John's Wort, yarrow, or plantain. You can also add essential oils to the final blend to enhance specific properties. Rubbing alcohol is used here as it evaporates well and is a great disinfectant, but you can also use witch hazel, vodka, or another menstruum of choice.
½ ounce calendula infused witch hazel
½ ounce aloe vera (liquid type is suitable for a spray bottle)
Mix and put into a small spray bottle. Label and use for sunburns, inflamed skin, bug bites, etc.
Joint & Muscle Rub Stick:
3 oz Arnica, Willow Bark, & Comfrey infused jojoba oil
½ oz shea butter
½ oz cocoa butter
20 drops black spruce essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
Gently melt the butters with the infused oil until liquid. Add the essential oils and pour into travel deodorant stick or small balm stick molds. Quantity made varies by what size container you use.
If it gets sweltering where you are, you might want to add a little extra butter or beeswax to get a nice solid stick. I find my summer sticks need a bit more butter/wax than the winter sticks, so they apply smoothly.
Lavender Salve Stick (boo boo bar):
1 oz Lavender & Calendula infused babassu oil (or other oil of your choosing)
? oz shea butter
6 drops lavender essential oil
3 drops tea tree essential oil
Melt together the shea and infused oil until liquid. Add the essential oils and a few drops of vitamin E if desired. Pour into lip balm tubes. Let harden.
If it is very hot where you are, you may need a little more shea butter or some beeswax to make this a solid enough stick. I like pouring this into large lip balm tubes. Quantity varies by the size of tube you use.
Activated Charcoal Tablets: Activated charcoal comes in a large container of powder, which is really messy to handle. I like using a capsule maker with '00' capsules. I fill a bunch with the activated charcoal and keep them in a baggie in my kit. They can be swallowed as a capsule, or broken open and used for other things such as emergency water filtration.
Other Tablets: Other capsules that come in handy include ginger, chamomile, slippery elm, or Oregon grape root. See what your seasonal needs would most likely be and make what works!
Building a first aid kit doesn't have to be complicated. Tick the boxes of your needs, put together something in a case or container that you will remember to carry and that is easy to carry - if it is bulky or cumbersome, you will leave it behind. I have a great bag that velcros or straps onto any backpack, making it super easy to take along, and to find when in a panic. Start small, build as you go. Check through it seasonally and see what needs a seasonal change or a refill. By starting with this day trip/weekender first aid kit, you are on your way to having a fully stocked set of first aid kits that keeps your family ready for anything!
Denise Cusack is a clinical herbalist, certified aromatherapist, seed saver, and writer. Denise and her family recently moved to Lunar Hollow Farm, a medicinal herb farmette and educational garden in Deerfield, Wisconsin. Denise is the owner of Wholly Rooted, a handcrafted botanicals and herbal consulting business. When she is not in her home apothecary making wondrous things, she can most often be found outside with her sons, walking her acres with a camera and a hoe, or volunteering. You can find her at WhollyRooted.com. Denise also serves as the Executive Director of Herbalists Without Borders, an international health justice nonprofit, and volunteers as Clinical Herbalist with the Veterans Resiliency Holistic Clinic. Denise also serves on the Governing Council and as Secretary of the American Herbalists Guild.
Check out the other articles by Denise in our Contributor's Corner.