Boo-boos, tummy aches, and skinned knees have been around forever. Ever wonder what was in a first-aid kit before modern medicine came around? Perhaps a selection of roots, berries, herbs, and oils. Today’s versions may be sold in a store rather than gathered in the woods or plucked from your garden, but they are just as effective. Here are the top botanicals to pack in your kit.
LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL is an effective remedy for minor burns. Aromatherapy had a modern rebirth in the 1920s, when the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefosse burned his hand and, by chance, found the damage to be relieved by a soak in pure lavender oil. You can use undiluted lavender essential oil to hasten the healing of just about any burn. Lavender also helps to treat bruises, strains, and even scrapes as it acts as a disinfectant. As a general trauma oil, try equal parts of the essential oils of lavender, blue chamomile, geranium, tea tree, and helichrysum, at a 2% dilution (2 drops of essential oil per 100 drops of a carrier oil).
HERBAL ESSENTIAL OILS can also help to relieve headaches when applied topically. German scientists found that when PEPPERMINT and EUCALYPTUS were swabbed on the temples, the oils had a muscle-relaxing effect. In another study, researchers tested a topical mixture of camphor, clove, menthol, and cajput for headache. This essential oil blend was found to be equally as effective as acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) after three hours.
ARNICA FLOWER has a long history of folk medicine use in Western Europe, where it is used for external treatment of rashes, eczema, black eye, sore muscles, sprains, strains, fractures, and bruises. It is widely used for traumatic injury of all kinds. In one study, arnica herbal gel showed significant relief of pain and stiffness for mild-to-moderate knee pain when applied twice daily for six weeks. The German advisory panel on herbal medicines, Commission E, approves it for external use as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antiseptic.
CURCUMIN is just the thing for a twisted ankle or swollen elbow. The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin, the active constituent in the spice turmeric, are well documented. Curcumin has been shown to be more effective than the drugs such as cortisone in acute inflammation. Curcumin also depletes substance P, the neurotransmitter of pain, in the nerve endings. The herb is widely used in joint trauma, and is said to have a general joint–rebuilding capability. And while anti-inflammatory drugs can have side effects, curcumin is safe. Take 2 gm in capsules daily.
Although a common garden plant, CALENDULA, or pot marigold, is a multipurpose standout. It’s anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antifungal, and antibacterial. Calendula tinctures or capsules have a long history of use for headaches and toothaches. Calendula cream treats rashes and inflammatory skin lesions, and reduces the swelling and pain of bee stings and burns. One study showed that the cream stimulates skin regeneration and healing of wounds. Internally, calendula tea will soothe inflammation of the throat and nasal passages, and reduce menstrual cramps.
If you’re planning a long car trip or boat ride, be sure to take along GINGER, PEPPERMINT, and CHAMOMILE. All of these herbs work wonders for nausea. Research shows that ginger eases queasiness as effectively as conventional motion sickness drugs. Try them as teas or capsules, or if taking ginger, in chews.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, DN-C, RH, is president of the American Herbalists Guild and author of The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs.