Herbal First Aid, by V. Jungwirth

In this area, lots of us play hard all winter, but the arrival of warmer weather brings people out of the house, ready to hike, bike, swim and camp, with lots more opportunities for minor injuries, and with no snow to cushion falls. Some basic herbal first aid knowledge and a few supplies can save the day, especially if you seek remote areas in your recreational pursuits. But even in your backyard, the following information should be helpful.

Cuts and Abrasions: Comfrey is by far the best herb for treating wounds. It promotes rapid cell growth so it speeds up the healing process and helps reduce scarring. Find a salve you like that has comfrey as a main ingredient. Other herbs that are sometimes used with comfrey are yarrow, which is an astringent, plantain, to sooth itching or calendula to help prevent infection.

Sprains and Bruises: Arnica is a specific treatment for bruising, but it should not be used on broken skin. Arnica salve or oil should be applied to sprains or strained muscles. Wintergreen oil can also be used topically to relieve pain, and it’s a good idea to keep a pain relief tincture such as willow bark on hand.

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Swimmer’s Itch: As many of us know from itchy experience, any of these misfortunes can ruin a trip, while providing vivid memories for years to come. The best treatment is clay. We always carry a small amount of French green clay as it has many first aid applications and is light to carry. For itchy rashes, mix it with water and paint it on the affected area. It’s very similar to commercial kaolin products. Jewelweed is the herbal antidote to poison ivy, and often grows nearby. It’s a semi-succulent and the juice from the stems can be smeared straight onto a rash. The whole plant can also be mashed and used as a poultice, (chewing works well!) and salves and sprays are available. Plantain is also effective at relieving itching.

Insect Bites and Stings: It’s impossible to avoid insect bites in the U.P. and hard to find aggressive natural repellents. Essential oils diluted with olive oil can be helpful, or diluted with water and applied in a spray bottle. Citronella, eucalyptus, camphor and tea tree all have repellent qualities, and allow you to custom-mix a smell that appeals to you. Once bitten, the treatments for poison ivy can help or calendula can be applied if the bites have been scratched. Plantain is particularly good for treating bee stings.

Victoria Jungwirth is the owner of Wilderness Herbs and specializes in local medicinal plants. She lives in a remote corner of Marquette County where she and her husband build birch bark canoes. She is also a manager at the Marquette Food Co-op.

Reprinted from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Summer 2011 issue.

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