The need for natural first aid will come up as you spend more time outside in the summer—hiking, camping, and adventuring. Start with a few basic plants and ingredients for natural first aid.
Kitchen First Aid
Before you go out into the garden, start in your kitchen. If you know your food and what it does for your body, you can use common basic ingredients to aid in health and healing every day. These are just a few of my favorite essentials.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Internally, add to water and drink or use on food to avoid heartburn or indigestion. Gargle to soothe a sore throat. Kids might be reluctant to just take vinegar because it is a very strong taste.
If you just want to get your kids to take apple cider vinegar regularly, slice up cucumbers and onions, cover in apple cider vinegar and water, leave for a day, and you have quick pickles. My kids love these. We always have pickled cucumbers and beets in our fridge.
Externally, pour on a cloth and dab on the skin to take the sting and color out of sunburn. This is one of my family’s most common uses of apple cider vinegar. My childhood memories of summer include smelling like fish and chips, but it works, and I’ve continued to use it on my own children.
Also, use a cloth soaked in apple cider vinegar to neutralize the alkaline venom of wasps or hornets.
While we are healing stings, take a paste with water and apply on bee stings to neutralize their acidic venom.
Peppermint and Ginger
For nausea or upset stomach, peppermint and ginger are my first choice. This is another food that I have used as long as I can remember. My mother often picked mint from around our house to boil for a drink when I was feeling nauseated.
There is a reason we have after dinner mints or ginger sweets to follow a meal. They help digestion. These are easy foods to give a child.
We eat a lot of spicy foods, so I get a regular does of cayenne internally. This can increase blood flow. You can also use cayenne powder externally to stop bleeding.
We have family in New Zealand, where we learned about the healing properties of manuka honey—honey produced by bees that pollinate manuka (which is similiar to tea tree). When manuka honey contains high concentrations of methylglyoxal (MG), it can be used medically. In my family, we use it for wound care or for a food additive when we are ill.
The honey, especially medical-grade honey, is expensive, so we use this sparingly. If we were in New Zealand and could get it less expensively, it would be at the top of my list.
Plant a Healing Garden
If you want to heal your family naturally, start by planting a few essential healing plants in your own garden.
These beautiful pink-purple flowers are easy to grow. Echinacea is often used internally, usually in tea, as an immunity builder or as a cold remedy. It reduces inflammation and is antibacterial and antibiotic.
Arnica is commonly used externally (though not on open wounds) for bruises, muscle soreness, and other aches and pains. Most natural first aid kits will include arnica.
Comfrey is another common natural healing plant best used externally, though you can use it on open wounds that aren’t too deep. Comfrey encourages healing of skin and tissues. Very common ingredient in homemade salves.
Yarrow flowers act as a styptic, stopping bleeding when used on wounds. Yarrow flowers or ointment made with yarrow are an important addition to your kit.
My mother always had an aloe vera plant growing in our house. When I had bites or rashes, she would trim the plant and squeeze the gel onto my skin. Plus, the plant looks great indoors. Every house should have an aloe vera plant to be used to soothe skin.
Anointment Skin Soothing Ointment contains many of these basic natural first aid plants listed above: comfrey, burdock, plaintain, and other soothing and healing ingredients. You don’t necessarily need to make your own ointments, but it does help to understand what herbs do and which herbs work for which purposes, so you can choose wisely when you buy prepared healing potions.
Learn the plants of your area, and your hiking adventures can yield wild foods (like nettles, red clover, dandelion, burdock, and other common plants) and wild healing (like plaintain, arnica, yarrow, mullein, and other plants specific to your region).
The best way to learn about local plants is to join a local herbalist or visit a local botanical garden for a walk specifically designed to teach you about local plant resources.
As preparation, you could play Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game, a cooperative board game I play with my kids. This is a great way to learn and reinforce learning about herbs for healing.
I do worry about the ways I see some essential oils being used. Someone who has been warning against essential oil misuse for years is renowned herbalist Susun Weed.
An essential oil is a highly concentrated, drug-like substance which can cause severe side effects if used incorrectly. It concerns me that essential oils, which have killed several adults and children when taken internally, have been presented to the American public as a safe, warm-fuzzy, natural remedy. Out of respect for the plants and the many tons of them it takes to produce a little essential oil, I rarely use essential oils. Also, I prefer the safety and pleasure of using the plants themselves with their effective and amazing volatile oils.
From Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal Ezine v 7, no 12 (December 2007).
If you are going to use essential oils, please be sure that you start with the guidance of someone who has been trained, not just someone who wants to sell you a product they just learned about themselves.
I am not trained in natural first aid or herbal medicine. I have taken classes, read books, and helped my family when I can, but I do not have the background to share recipes with you.
I trust few natural healers. Among those I do trust are Demetria Clark and Susun Weed.
If you are looking for recipes, please choose wisely from those who have long-term experience and dedication to natural health. There are many great herbalists. Just look into the background of the person you want to work with or the person whose recipes you want to try before you experiment on your family.
Be the Herbalist
Yes, there is so much more. You could spend a lifetime learning about all of the natural ways to keep your family healthy and to heal them when they are injured or ill.
I think it is best to go slowly and deeply into that knowledge rather than dabbling with broad, shallow knowledge and taking risks.
You don’t need to become an herbalist in order to help your family naturally, though, why not? A friend and colleague of mine, Demetria Clark, runs Heart of Herbs School. In addition to intensive programs that lead toward master certification and diplomas in herbal medicine or aromatherapy, she offers short programs you can complete at your own pace.
Closer to home, find a local herbalist who is giving an all-day workshop or nature walk on herbal remedies. Just one day will help you identify basics that can become part of the naturally foundation for your family’s health.
Learn about herbal basics, safe herbs, and use them. Compare your experience with what you hear from your teachers. Then, add new herbs and natural remedies as you become more knowledgeable.
My constant companion through pregnancy was Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year (1985). If you are pregnant, you need to consult an herbal expert before using remedies. A few of them are unsafe, while most of them will be fine. Just learn the difference.
Natural First Aid Resources
- Demetria Clark, Herbal Healing for Children (2011).
- Susun S. Weed, Wise Woman Herbal Healing Wise (1989).
- Check the bynature.ca Health & Wellness Department for natural preparations for health and healing.
Be sure to read our article on natural bug sprays and the sad state of repelling bugs naturally in Canada.
Image Preparation of comfrey © Teamarbeit | Dreamstime.com