Pain can originate from many causes (wounds, inflammation, tension, cramping, emotional situations etc). So when choosing a natural remedy, it is important that you choose one that has some affinity with the underlying cause.
Naturally, in a first aid situation, the purpose of the remedy is to gain some short-term relief. This may suffice if the condition is acute. However, if this is a recurring situation, it is vital to get to the bottom of the underlying problem. This may well take you out of the realm of simple pain remedies.
There are a large number of natural remedies that can influence the various sources of pain. I will be looking at six different ones here, but for the purpose of our Natural First Aid kit, we are mainly interested in Salix alba (White Willow bark) and Matricaria recutita (German chamomile flowers).
When I post a picture of a plant, I try to be certain that it is clear and close-up so as to give you plenty of the detail necessary to help you identify the plant for yourself. However, the top picture, to the left of the page, shows an example of the White Willow tree, which can easily be identified from a distance by its white mass created from the distinct white underside of its leaves.
There are many ways to identify and understand herbs. One of the methods is interpreting the clues found in a plant's name that help to suggest its appearance or usage. This can change from language to language as each culture expresses its own unique experience with the plant world. In German, White Willow is referred to as Silberweide (Silver Willow). There is much merit in this description, which echoes the comments I made in a previous blog about plants associated with the Water-(silver) Moon- Feminine aspect. Understanding a herb's elemental affinity will help you better understand where it can be found and how it can be applied. This can be a great advantage in an emergency.
Willow has an affinity with the water element, and can be found in wet meadows and along river banks. It is the element of affinity that determines a herb's character. In the case of Willow, the nature of the water element is expressed through the action of salicylates found, not only in Willow itself, but in other herbs bound to this element, as we shall see.
Acute pain is a hot condition, as in that caused by acute inflammation or headaches. The salicylic acid isolated in Willow, expresses the cooling and extinguishing nature of water to ease these conditions.
Willow leaves can be used for this purpose in the form of a tea, but the use of the bark is far more common. The bark is removed from thumb-sized twigs in late winter or autumn, when the sap is no longer running. The inner bark is cut into half inch (1 cm) pieces and dried at 35°C, then stored in an airtight jar out of direct sunlight. To the left of the page, the second picture from the top illustrates Willow bark , cut and dried for use. Traditionally, harder plant materials (seeds, bark, roots) are kept for up to two years. However, as I almost never get a headache I have, from time to time, found myself in possession of rather old Willow bark, that I had been keeping for my personal usage. I found, even after such a length of time in storage, it still works for me. Storage times are a general guideline that will be tempered by preparation, storage environment and time. If you are not overly familiar with herbs, it is best to stick to the rules.
To prepare an adult dose of Willow bark, I would traditionally make a decoction of two teaspoons per cup of water, placed into an enamel pot and simmered gently for 15 minutes. Personally, I have had results by using one teaspoon of the bark and preparing it as an infusion (tea). If you are in discomfort, you want to get something in you and working as quickly as possible. If the one cup is not sufficient then I make a second one (this is in keeping with my rule of starting small and building up, especially if you have never used the herb before). In acute situations, I half the dose and take it more frequently (every two hours....up to 6 times a day).
Anyone who is on orthodox medication should check with their medical professional before embarking on a course of herbs containing salicylates. The only side-effects I have experienced from Willow bark is that it leaves me feeling a bit fuzzy in the head (more so than normal..haha) and a little dried out. However, this soon passes, leaving no lasting effects on me.
The third picture from the top depicts Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet). Where Willow gave its name of Sali to the salicylates (as in, salicylic acid and salicin), it was the original name of Meadowsweet (Spireae ulmaria) that fostered the name of Aspirin, the pharmaceutical version of salicylic acid (albeit, not as good in terms of side-effects). I wrote about the wonders of Meadowsweet in my previous blog, but have included it here to illustrate how herbs of a similar environment and elemental affinity, can also have similar workings. This is an aspect of understanding the blending of herbs. In this case, Meadowsweet could be used in a mixture with Willow as among other reasons, it also contains the salicylates. From a holistic perspective, Meadowsweet has a cooling effect on an overheated Liver and digestion, areas that can be the source of various forms of pain.
In the place where I used to manage my small-holding, Meadowsweet grows in the wet meadows, often on the river bank amongst the Willow trees.
The under-side of Meadowsweet leaves, like those of Willow, are also white, once again suggesting that water-moon-feminine aspect.
The fourth picture down the page is that of Viburnum opulus. I am only writing on this briefly as it was discussed in some detail in the previous posting in this series. The key to Viburnum, with respect to pain, is its use as an anti-spasmodic in the treatment of cramps, another source of pain.
So we have been able to introduce Willow into our Natural First Aid kit, and illustrate how it blends nicely with other herbs already in that kit. In the second half of this post, I will continue on with another herb that further illustrates the affect of the water element on acute pain, before investigating the opposing natural force...those affected by the fire element...and how they can influence pain.
Health and Happiness
The Green Man