A couple months ago Matt (my husband) approached me with another one of his ‘wild hairs’ and said “I want to hike 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in July – wanna come?” Now, for Matt this was a very simple, easy hike because in 2005 he was able to hike more 1,700 miles of the PCT! I on the other hand have never hiked more than 10 miles in one day, let alone 100 miles in 8 days.
Needless to say, this got my first aid kit gears turning. Last month I completed a Wilderness First Aid course and was excited to start incorporating my basic first aid knowledge with my herbal knowledge.
The tricky part about putting together a backpacking first aid kit is that it has to be light. Since we were going to be hiking for at least 8 days without resupplying our food – we would have to carry 8 days worth of food. And man do I eat a lot. To my surprise I was able to get my base weight (the weight of my backpack with all of my gear excluding food and water) to 11 pounds.
There was quite a bit of hemming and hawing about what I could reasonably take with me without overburdening myself and what items I just couldn’t live without.
So here is what I brought:
4 Spongebob Square Pants Band aids (I work with kids)
1 Nonstick gauze-like pad
1 ACE Bandage
1 Lavender Sanitizing Towelette
6 Potable Aqua chlorine dioxide tablets
1 Sawed-off toothbrush
2 Diphenhydramine Capsules
1 Sheet of Mole Skin
.25 fl. oz. Bottle of Lavender Essential Oil
1 oz Glass tincture bottle 1/2 full of Osha Tincture
.5 oz Spray bottle of Herbal Hand Sanitizer
.5 oz Tincture bottle of Burdock, Thyme, and Black Walnut
.75 oz of St. John’s Wort Oil
.5 oz Tin of Plantain Salve
1 oz Tincture bottle of Uva Ursi and Yarrow
1 oz Tincture bottle of Chickweed and Comfrey
2 packages a day of Emergen-C (not in first aid kit)
All of these items fit into one quart size zip lock bag.
Lavender Essential Oil is pretty much essential (ha ha) in every first aid kit because of the variety of it’s uses. For myself Lavender is very calming and I consider it to be one of my protector plants and so she is always with me. I used the essential oil last week for the plethora of bug bites I received. Lavender is actually anti-pruretic which means it stops the itch response and so I dab a little of the oil directly on the bite or sting and within seconds the itch goes away. On the first day I started getting a pounding temple headache (probably from heat and exhaustion) but also from stress and pressure. So I applied a few drops of Lavender on my temples and within a minute the headache had dissipated. Unfortunately I did end up with one fairly nasty burn on my back. As long as you are using Lavendula officinalis it can be ideal to help treat burns by inhibiting blisters forming, stopping the pain, and reducing inflammation. For the blisters on my feet I would daily treat them with the essential oil hoping that the blisters might reduce and harden. A great way to dry up blisters and to get them to callus is to use a blend of Lavender Essential Oil, Baking Soda, and Castor Oil. I didn’t bring the other two ingredients but Matt’s experince in the past with hand-drill blisters has shown that it helps. Another reason I love to have Lavender Essential Oil with me is for it’s help in treating shock in case myself or someone else got injured. You can inhale the essential oil and it can help bring the person back on solid ground. Wow that is just one .25 oz bottle of essential oil! Also I brought the Lavender Sanitizing Towlette which I never used but can be used in very similar ways as the essential oil.
Osha Root Ligusticum porteri is a Parsley Family plant that grows in high altitudes. It wasn’t until just recently that I became aware of this amazingly powerful plant. Now I will not go anywhere without it. I keep Osha Root around specifically for it’s ability to be a histamine receptor blocker. In other words it can reduce and stop allergic reactions – even anaphylaxis – because it is a bronchodilator and vasodilator. For allergic reactions I take 3 drops under my tongue and no more. If in a few minutes I need more then I can take 3 more drops again. Luckily I rarely get allergic reactions and so only have had to use it a couple times but when I have it seemed to have worked almost immediately. Osha root is also anti-viral and anti-bacterial so I could also use it to clean wounds or use it internally in case of infection. Also its diaphoretic action means it could help me with a fever by raising my body temperature to kill off the infection then dropping it back down to normal.
Matt asked me to put together a hand sanitizer and since we didn’t have a full small bottle handy of the store bought stuff I decided to make my own. So, I took a teeny bottle of manufactured sanitizer with a little bit of the original ingredient (benzalkonium chloride) left and added water, Peppermint, and Rosemary Essential Oils. I chose Peppermint and Rosemary for their antimicrobial properties and for their ability to perk you up. Unfortunately on the first night I had forgotten that I had brought Peppermint along and really could have used it because I had made myself sick from over-exertion and heat. I was nauseous and vomiting and would have really enjoyed Peppermint for it’s anti-emetic (prevents/relieves nausea) ability. I also ended up using the spray on my dog’s paw as he ended up with one of his pads cracking. I wanted to clean it a bit and decided to use the hand sanitizer as a wound spray.
We decided to bring along water purification methods however 90% of the time we just drank from the springs. Though this water is most likely pure as can be, I still wanted to be safe because I have a much more delicate digestion than does Matt. So I decided to bring along a tincture I had gotten from Mrs. Thompson’s Herbs when I went to Mexico. It is Burdock, Thyme, and Black Walnut. These plants are very strong anti-microbials and so can kill viruses, bacteria, or fungi that may be in the water. The Burdock can also help restore healthy function of flora in the intestines. I was told that you could use it as a water purification on it’s own by putting drops in the water before you drink. And if you do end up with Montezuma’s Revenge the blend can help relieve the symptoms. Use the blend as prevention, to kill, and to heal! Also, I never think twice about using strong anti-microbials for other possible infections internally or externally. And for the record I have not had any symptoms!
Using sunblock or sunscreen has been an increasingly tough issue for myself. More and more I realize that I do not want chemical sunscreens absorbing into my body and many people including doctors believe that sunscreen can actually cause more cancer. So I try to be smart about my sun exposure and use clothing when appropriate. For this particular hike I brought a very nice sun hat called a Tilley (very prestigious sunwear) and several layers to protect my skin. I also brought along St. John’s Wort Flowers infused in Sunflower Oil. Both St. John’s Wort and Sunflower Oil contain natural SPF’s that can help protect your skin from the more harmful UVA rays. Here is where I should have splurged instead of skimped – this mistake caused me to use less of the oil in order save it for the whole trip. I applied the oil on the tops of my shoulders which were the most exposed when I removed my long-sleeved shirt but only applied it once on the first day. By the second day I was getting a bit pink but not bad after only applying it once. However the spot I did not apply it was on my back next to my shoulder blade and I got a very nasty burn there where it peeled under two layers of skin! Goes to show that indeed if the oil is used correctly it does work well. The cool thing is that the St. John’s Wort oil not only works as prevention to burning but also can help heal burns at the same time. The burn on my back healed fairly quickly after lathering good amounts on it daily. St. John’s Wort Oil also works wonderfully on nerve pain for muscle injuries. I ended up using the oil on the tendons in my ankles as they were starting to get strained from walking downhill.
In my previous blog I gave an entire rant on the uses of Plantain, so I will keep this section short. I of course could not leave behind my Plantain Salve especially up in the higher elevations where I did not find any Plantain plants growing. I used the salve on some of my insect bites, blisters, scrapes, and chapped lips. Neither of us got stung luckily but that usually one of the main reason I carry Plantain Salve. I will always opt to use the living plant if I have the option however.
One of my struggles in doing physical activities is my constantly sore and inflexible muscles. I feared this would be most apparent while hauling around a 30 pound pack climbing up and down mountains. So, it was suggested that I try a blend of Chickweed and Comfrey in a tincture form. Chickweed helps ease inflammatory conditions, it is demulcent, vulnerary, and diuretic so it will help increase the elimination of fluid. Another cool action is that it is a refrigerant so it will help keep my body cool in the hot weather. The Comfrey will help heal over-stretched and sore muscles and combined with the Chickweed makes a wonderful combo. Though I was still experiencing soreness I do believe it helped relieve excess pain and heal my muscles faster. Also I never once became over-heated even on the 90 degree days hiking in the hot sun. I ended up using this blend for my dog as well for his poor cracked pad. I put several dropperfuls in a bowl with water and made a fomentation by soaking a handkerchief in the water and tying it around my dog’s foot.
I ended up bringing along a bottle of Uva Ursi and Yarrow because I was worried my body was fighting off a urinary tract infection. I knew it would be bad news to have one of those on a mountain top and so decided to play it safe. I ended up fine and really did not use the tincture much. However it was nice to have some Yarrow around in case of a cut or excess bleeding internally and externally. Fresh Yarrow ended up following us along the entire trail – even up to 7,000 foot level. I was surprised because the majority of the plants that grow that high tend to be native and Yarrow was growing just everywhere! I ended up using the plant fresh as an insect repellent by rubbing the crushed leaves over my body, to help stop a nose bleed, and as a tea because my digestion felt a bit off one night. I love using plants as medicine fresh and ready to go.
Lastly I brought along Emergen-C packets as a daily supplement to help restore electrolyte levels and to give myself some extra vitamins and minerals. When one is packing for a hiking trip generally the rule of thumb is to pack calorie dense, dried food – not fruits and veggies. In the middle of the hot day it was a nice boost to have in my fresh mountain spring water.
In all I was happy with my First Aid Kit. I would only improve it a little bit by adding an herbal insect repellent, a couple more band aids, more St. John’s Wort Oil, and a second sheet of mole skin. What I was most surprised to learn was how easily you can adapt one particular tincture or oil to another health condition all together. I never considered that I would use my Chickweed and Comfrey blend to help heal a cracked paw on a dog. I love the versatility of herbs – it truly is the spice of life!
To view pictures of our trip click here.