Welcome to the new series of Natural First Aid ( For The Home).
I have made the distinction "For The Home" as I would like to write another natural first aid series at a later date "For The Field", which will be aimed at situations when you are out in the natural world with nothing at hand but what is around you.
One of the great things about herbs is, they are versitile.. Unlike pharmaceuticales, which tend to be designed to focus on one target area of the body for the purpose of performing a single task, a single herb can affect multiple systems at the same time. This is why they are so valuable in the balancing necessary to facilitate healing in chronic disease.
However, in this series we will be looking at acute conditions that require an immediate symptomatic solution. In such acute cases, the versatile value of each herb chosen to make up our first aid kit is evident in its suitability to be applied in several different conditions. For this reason I have included herbs that, for the most part, can be employed in several of the common first aid conditions that you might find yourself treating at home. In this way, by the end of the series, you will be able to design yourself a compact little first aid kit that will have a powerful natural punch in resolving the commonest ills.
People often mis-understand the description of herbs as being "gentle" to mean that they are slow to work. It is important to understand that the way that herbs are applied in chronic cases, and the way they are applied in acute cases differs.
In chronic conditions, the systems of the body are congested and weakened. They need a gentle approach initially to coax them back to full function. Therefore, the medicines applied will be less concentrated initially, increasing as the body's vitality increases.
In contrast, an acute condition is usually dramatic with quite "heroic" symptoms. Herbs can be applied in greater concentration when supporting the bodies own dynamic healing process.
The "gentle" aspect of herbs also has more to do with the great lack of side-effects experienced when the herbs are applied in a holistic form. This means, in a form as close to that in which nature gave them to us. When herbs start to be standardised, then problems of side effects begin to creep in. This is a problem potentially facing many of the manufactured and patented herbal products sold at the chemists or from manufacturers, whereby the material is manipulated to artificially increase and standardise the concentration of "active" ingredients...or to simply extract those "active" ingredients in isolation.
Also vital in the application of home first aid is the ability to use common sense. If you are self-treating, taking into consideration the condition you are confronted with, and you are not seeing some results within the first few days, then you are best advised to seek the advice of a medical practitioner. Make no mistake about the ability of herbs to work quickly as I, and many of my colleagues, have experienced personally in numerous cases over the years. But if you are not getting results, then you need some outside advice.
Furthermore, when we are confronted with any condition, we are governed by the rules of natural healing. Namely, it is our job to support the body in its own efforts to heal and never to suppress this function.
In this first post of the new series, I want to talk about treating wounds, illustrating the herbs being suggested with examples from my own personal experience.
Now, it goes without saying that there are wounds, and there are wounds!!! If you are squirting blood in an arch across the room then it is pretty safe to say that you have cut an artery...you need to stem the bleeding, lie down, elevate the affected area where possible....and call an ambulance....quickly!
The wounds we are concerned with here are quite superficial in that they have not impacted on any deeper structures.
When treating wounds we need to concern ourselves with three main lines of action: stem the bleeding, guard against the development and spread of infection, support the body in healing the damaged tissue.
I like to use easily found indigenous herbs where possible. In this way, it makes these herbal applications accessible to everyone. However, the first two herbs I will be applying are not indigenous to the UK. They are, none the less, quite common in gardens as well as health shops selling them in tincture form.
The first herb in question is Echinacea angustifolia, which is a native to North America.
The second herb in question is Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold), which some sources say originated in Egypt. Certainly, its sunny and warm disposition would suggest their is some merit in this view.
In the case of the Echinacea, it is the root that is used, while the healing qualities of Calendula are employed through the flower head, or simply, the flower petals (see picture of dried petals ready for infusion).
For convenience, it is quite easy to obtain both these herbs in tincture form from local health shops. Furthermore, because of its high resin content, Calendula offers up the greater share of its constituents in an aqueous/alcohol mix of 90%. This high percentage of alcohol is not easily obtained by Joe Public. Not to fear, the case example below bore results with a simple infusion of Calendula petals.
Quite a number of years ago, I was cleaning my garden shed out. I came upon the remains of a wooden box I built to grow mushrooms in (the legal kind, naturally). This consisted of a number of old planks with rusty nails sticking out of them. I threw one of these planks outside of the shed only to have it land with the nail's pointy side up (the nailed plank equivalent of how buttered toast always falls)!
I thought to myself "hmmm, better turn that over before someone comes along and steps on it. I'll do it, as soon as I've got my bike out of the shed."
Our shed had two small steps leading down from its entrance. I picked up the bike in both arms and proceeded to miss both of these steps only to land with my full weight, and the weight of my bike, foot first, on top of the nail.
Without a doubt the nail would have gone through my foot had it not come in contact with the bones in my foot. None the less, it was a deep puncture wound. Needless to say it was accompanied by a yell of pain to end all yells of pain.
My neighbours were sitting in the back garden and called out in concern. By the time the female portion of the couple came round to check what was happening (while he looked on, amused, through the chain-link fence) I was sitting down taking my boot off. The wound was deep and dirty ( love that expression).
When my neighbour looked at it she advised me to go to the hospital right away. Given the history of the nail that just punctured me, she was in fear of me developing tetanus. The nail was rusty and had been in contact with soil that contained copious amounts of manure.
Instead, I went inside and made myself an infusion of Marigold Petals (as seen in the picture above). A teaspoon of petals to a quarter cup of boiled water. Infuse with a lid on (just put a saucer over the top of the cup...it stops all the healing goodies going off with the steam).
I washed the wound thoroughly from inside-outwards (this is to avoid re-contaminating the wound with any bacteria or debris). Then applied some drops of tincture of Echinacea angustifolia (1:5 @ 45%) onto a cotton pad and applied it to the wound.
I then started a course of the same tincture of Echinacea internally, taking 2mls every couple of hours. I continued this on into the next day.
Echinacea has a reputation for its ability to localise infection and stop it from spreading, primarily in the blood. Echinacea, like Calendula, also stimulates the immune system. Calendula works as an anti-bacterial and styptic (although the blood loss was minimal on this instance). In a bigger wound, Calendula might have been employed to aid adhesion and healing.
Subsequently, the infection that followed was a hair-thin rim of inflammation around the wound followed by a drop of pus only slightly bigger than the head of a pin. The wound healed. Tetanus did not develop. I walked again, and am here to tell you about it.
Given that this was a puncture wound, Hypericum perforatum (St. John's Wort) could have been employed for pain. However, to keep our first aid kit compact, we will start out with adding Echinacea angustifolia and Calendula officinalis.
Just as a note of interest, the term "wort" apparently comes from an old Saxon word meaning "herb". We see in often in the names of herbs such as, St John's Wort or Lung wort. It also appears as the liquid stage, in the beer brewing process, where the herbs such as hops and other flavourings are added. Initially, in British Ale making, hops were not employed. Herbs such as Alehoof were used for their ability to add bitterness to the brew and to act as finings ( In fact Culpeper, the famous English herbalist 1615-1664, talks of it, for such purpose, in length).
In the next posting of this series I will carry on with a couple of other herbs that are useful in treating a different type of wound and are readily available for first aid emergencies. In this case a nasty laceration was treated in the field, but we will discuss preparations for home use.
Health and Happiness
The Green Man