Harvesting Cottonwood Buds for Medicine

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Have you ever noticed that rivers just have that particular ‘river’ smell? Full of heavy, wet odors the smell seems to bring a sense of nostalgia and happiness for people. Whenever I pull out any medicines containing cottonwood buds I get the same reaction from people – the eyes close, a smile appears, and say “Wow that is amazing! It reminds me of something – like the river.”

Cottonwood or Populus spp., is a deciduous tree that grows natively in North America, Europe, and Asia. One of the reasons the smell reminds people of rivers is because it likes to grow in riparian areas. I often use this tree as an indicator species in drier climates to tell me where water might be in the distance. In the Willamette Valley we are bursting with trees since we are so wet, however in drier climates like in the Southwest it can be very useful; as they grow where even small seeps of water occur in a landscape otherwise barren of taller trees or shrubs.

Cottonwoods are in the Salicaceae family which includes many species of aspen, willow, and poplars. This plant family is special due to the salicylates they contain which is the chemical we seek for the medicine it provides for pain relief, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducing qualities. To learn more about using willow as medicine feel free to check out my guest blog on the First Ways website.

In my region of the Pacific Northwest one of the most common cottonwoods is the black cottonwood or Populus trichocarpa which is what I normally harvest. Winter is the time to harvest the leaf buds of the tree as they are not yet unfurled and contain the highest amount of medicine during this time. Once the leaves start to unfurl it is too late. My favorite time is right about now, mid February, because the buds are starting to swell and get exceptionally sticky and gooey.

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In order to harvest the buds sustainably it is best to wait for a wind storm that knocks off branches to the ground. It is always best to keep in mind that when one is harvesting leaf buds you are actually taking away the tree’s ability to get food from the sun. Removing buds from downed branches eliminates any harm to the tree by the wild crafter. Yesterday I went out along one of the forks of one of our major river systems to see what branches I could find. We had a wind storm about a week before and so assumed I would find some branches. The cottonwoods were intermingled with Oregon white oak, oso berry shrubs, blackberry, roses, and new spring greens. After searching for 15 minutes and only finding small branches here and there I found the jackpot. A cottonwood had completely lost its entire upper half and left a huge pile of its branches on the ground. Within two minutes I was able to fill my quart jar to the rim.

Cottonwood buds are maddeningly sticky and resinous as you will find if you go and start picking them. The resin is soluble in alcohol and oil which is why I only make tinctures and oils out of the buds. I use olive oil when making an herbal oil. Using the fresh buds (picked on a dry day) fill the jar about half to 3/4 full of the buds and cover all the way to the top with the oil. This can sit for 6 weeks or longer. I find straining it to be a real pain because not only are the buds sticky but they also stain equipment and hands so I end up just leaving the buds in the jar and draining off when I want to use it. The oil is extremely anti-microbial and so I never add any additional preservatives like Vitamin E oil like I otherwise do with herbal oils.

The oil can be used on its own, mixed with other oils, or turned into a salve. Due to its analgesic (pain relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties cottonwood bud oil is wonderful to use externally for arthritis and other inflammatory and painful conditions. I often use it for my muscle oil rub in combination with St. John’s wort and arnica oils. These are just mixed in equal parts. A popular salve can be made using this oil called Balm of Gilead. This salve makes a great addition to any first aid kit as it can be used to help heal wounds and burns as well. The salve can actually help skin regeneration from burns.

This year I have plenty of oil and so decided to harvest to make more tincture. Once again I fill my jar of buds 1/2 to 3/4 full then cover with alcohol. Because the buds are resinous I like to use a higher percentage of alcohol than 40%. Using pure grain alcohol I decided to do a 60% dilution using the ratio of 1:0.6. So for every ounce of pure grain alcohol I will use .6 ounces of water.

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I use cottonwood tincture as a great substitute for willow bark. In this area the native willows are not very high in salycilates compared to white willow in Europe and so cottonwood buds are the alternative. I use the tincture more for its expectorant properties for the lungs. This is a lesser known use of the plant and I find works wonders. I like to make a mixture of equal parts of cottonwood bud, elecampane, and mullein for folks who are dealing with dry persistent coughs at the end of a cold. Time and again I give the mixture to my clients and within a day or two the cough is gone – and this after sometimes months of coughing! The tincture can be used for bronchitis and other lung issues.

I add the tincture to my throat spray as it is very helpful with laryngitis and loss of voice due to the inflammation. Once again the tincture is wonderful to add to first aid kits as it is a great anti-septic and can help with skin infections or the prevention there of.

This is the perfect time of year for harvesting the buds so wait for that windstorm and have fun!

Useful tips:

– Reuse the same mason jar for oil and tincture. The resins ruin any container and are almost impossible to clean.
– Search for a large or several large downed branches instead of picking smaller ones.
– To remove the resin from hands I like to first rub olive oil until it starts to come off, then using soap and a scrub brush you can scrape the rest clean. Alcohol works great too. While harvesting be sure to carry some salve if you need to clean hands in the field. Or rub in dirt so that it takes away the stickiness until you get home.

Holiday Herbal Gifts by Feral Botanicals

Once again I have made my products to sell for the holidays. Generally I keep them around throughout the year as gifts or for people in need. This is the only time I will have extra product made to help people with their local, herbal, holiday shopping! Take a look at some of my new and old creations. To purchase you can leave a comment with your interest and I will get back to you or contact me directly if you have my personal contact information. I can take check, credit, or cash!

Ahem Herbal Throat Spray – for people who love their voice

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Feral Botanicals Ahem! Herbal Throat Spray is my tincture-based spray for minor ailments of the throat and voice.
Singing, acting, and teaching is what I do on a daily basis and as luck may have it I am afflicted with recurring laryngitis and other minor throat problems.  I wanted to find a recipe that used the healing power of herbs to soothe, heal, and keep my voice healthy and strong.
The botanicals include: Cottonwood buds, Lavender flowers, Marshmallow root, Osha root, Peppermint leaf, and Tall Sagebrush leaves.  All plants were either sustainably wild-harvested by me or purchased organically.  The botanicals were infused in either Potato Vodka, Scotch Whiskey, or Brandy.  To finish off the recipe I added Organic Peppermint flavor for a refreshing, tingly feeling.
Uses:  dry scratchy throat, for laryngitis, for performers, sore throats, soothe infections, and for general every day use.
Comes in 1 and 2oz glass bottles with plastic sprayer. 
Price:  2 oz $14.00  1oz $7.00

Herbal Pitch Incense – entirely Wild-Harvested in Oregon

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Feral Botanicals Herbal Pitch Incense is my only product that is made completely from harvested materials.

All of the ingredients in the incense was harvested from around Oregon – the pine and fir pitch, ceanothus spp. leaves, California mugwort leaves, and sagebrush leaves are from Eastern Oregon.  The lavender flowers and pennyroyal flowers were harvested from my garden in Eugene.
The incense is made into nickel-sized nuggets and is packaged in 4oz metal tins.  Each tin contains 12 grams of nuggets and 2 charcoal incense disk wrapped in recycled foil.
Price:  $10.00 each

Herbal Smoking Mixture

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Loose leaf herb blend of organic catnip, organic peppermint, organic sage, organic uva ursi as well as wild harvested pedicularis spp. and mullein cut and mixed by hand. Great for rolling cigarettes or in pipes. The blend is wonderful as an everyday calming smoke or can be used to help with minor lung issues. Comes in clear vegetable cellulose bags.

Price: $3.00 for a 1/4 ounce

Chocolate Lip Balm – All Natural and Nearly Edible Lip Balm

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Time for something truly decadent! In conjunction with my father-in-law’s chocolate business Chocolate Decadence I have created a balm that is not only chocolaty goodness but also completely natural without gross additives. Using organic ingredients the chocolate balm combines cocoa butter, cacao powder, and a chocolate flavor oil to make a smooth nourishing salve. Smells like chocolate but only has the faintest of taste and no sugar so that it stays on your lips rather than your tongue!
Price: $3.00 each

Liquid Sunshine Balm – Another Herbal Lip Balm

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My newest lip balm! Using St. John’s wort as the base oil this balm is perfect to help protect from minor sun exposure and to nourish burned/chapped lips. Liquid Sunshine is scented with sweet orange and lemon essential oils.

Price: $3.00 each

Mint Balm – An Herbal Lip Balm

Feral Botanicals Mint Balm applies smoothly with a refreshing spearmint flavor.  All of my balms are hand made right down to harvesting the plants to make the oils.  The peppermint and spearmint leaves were harvested from my garden and infused in almond and sunflower oils.  The balm is hardened with bees wax and its calming scent is made with spearmint essential oil.  The lip balm tube is 85% post-consumer waste recycled plastic and the label is 100% recycled paper.  .15 ounces (4.25g)
Price:  $3.00

Herbal First Aid Stick Balm – A balm for everyday cuts and scrapes

Feral Botanicals First Aid Stick Balm comes in a lip balm tube so it can be easily carried with you.  All of my balms are hand made right down to harvesting the plants to make the oils.  The St. John’s wort flowers were safely harvested by hand and the Calendula flowers were organically purchased and infused in olive and sunflower oils.  The balm is hardened with bees wax and scented with Lavender essential oil for added medicinal benefit.  The lip balm tube is 85% post-consumer waste recycled plastic and the label is 100% recycled paper.  .15 ounces (4.25g)  Carry in your first aid kit or simply in your pocket.  Can be used for basic scrapes and cuts, insect bites, sunburns, and other minor wounds. 
Price:  $3.00

Herbal First Aid Kit – A kit designed for basic first aid needs

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I have been wanting to put together a simple herbal first aid kit for years! The Herbal First Aid Kit combines conventional first aid with an herbal twist. Each kit comes in a hip pouch that can be threaded through a belt in black, green, or camo colors. Each contains:
3 Emergen-C Packets
5 Latex Free Bandages
1 Pair Latex Free Gloves
First Aid Stick Balm
1/2 Lavender Essential Oil
Kava Kava Root Tincture
Strains to Sprains Oil
Anti Bacterial Spray
4 Black Tea Bags
Plantain Leaf
1 Cotton Muslin Bag
1 Plastic Bag
1 Saftey Pin
Utility Bag
Information Card about how each item can be used
Price: $37.00

Strains to Sprains Oil – For muscle, nerve, and skin ailments

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Strains to Sprains oil is perfect for those first aid and healing needs. I love combining this trio (wild harvested St. John’s wort, cottonwood buds, and organic arnica flowers) to help with the pain and healing of muscular/skeletal issues. The oil is stored in a roll top 1oz glass bottle for easy application and no leaky mess.

Price:$7.00 each

Thyme to Clean – vinegar-based herbal cleaning spray

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Feral Botanicals Thyme to Clean! is a safe, non-toxic, down-home way to clean your home.  By harnessing the natural power of vinegar I infused my garden grown thyme (Thymus vulgaris) with both white and apple cider vinegar.  It is wonderfully scented with both rosemary and lavender essential oils for that old fashioned ‘clean’ smell (newer products now also include organic thyme essential oil).  Thyme to Clean! is safe on most surfaces from counters, windows, stoves, sinks, bathtubs, and tile/linoleum floors.  A great way to help kill mold, mildew, and harmful germs.  16 ounces. 
Price:  $12.00

Cold and Flu Season: Oregon Grape Root for the Eyes

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Oregon Grape Root (Berberis spp.) is my go-to herb for the cold and flu season. It’s anti-bactieral, anti-viral, and alterative properties makes for a perfect-storm combination to kill off infections and enable a healthy recovery.

To write a blog on Oregon Grape Root and profile all of it’s amazing abilities would take hours and many pages. So instead this blog will focus on a common type of eye infection – Conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis or Pink Eye is simply the inflammation of the conjunctiva (a transparent membrane covering the eyeball) caused by, most commonly this time of year, a bacteria or virus.

Symptoms of Pink Eye may include; redness in the whites of the eyes in both or either eyes, a gritty feeling, crusty discharge that builds during the night while sleeping, and itchiness. Pink Eye is extremely contagious and is passed from person to person through exposure to the infectious mucous secretions.

I have found Oregon Grape Root to be effective against Conjunctivitis when symptoms first appear and even when the infection has become full blown. It is best to start using Oregon Grape when symptoms first begin as the time line of the infection will be shortened significantly. What I like to do is use the tincture of the root internally and externally.

Internal: Oregon Grape Root can help fight the infection from the inside and at the same time help your body recover quicker and more efficiently.

External: Yes, I do use the tincture externally on my eyes, however it is very important to do it correctly since tinctures are made with alcohol.

A healing tool I strongly suggest having in your herbal toolbox is an eyecup. These glass cups are designed perfectly to fit snugly over the eye so that the liquid does not drain off your face and will give your eyes a complete and thorough washing.

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Directions:

Use a clean eyecup (clean it between every use)
Use previously boiled water for every wash (let cool to a safe and comfortable degree)

Ratio: 10 drops of Oregon Grape Root tincture (important this is drop dosagenot dropperfuls) to 1 ounce of water

Hold eyecup over eye for several seconds then you can dab dry. I have never had this sting or cause discomfort in the many times I have used this method for varying reasons. Please be sure to clean the eyecup if you are using the wash for both eyes. I use the wash many times a day while symptoms persist. Make sure you listen to your body because it will let you know if you need to back off on the wash or do more.

Conventionally a bacterial Conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotic eyedrops while viral ones have no treatment and may take 2-3 weeks to run it’s course! Oregon Grape Root can be used for both types and in many cases can take care of the problem without the use of antibiotics.

As always when in doubt with any infection or sickness please make an appointment with your doctor or practitioner. I am happy to say that I haven’t had to use any antibiotic or conventional medicine since I began using herbs and living healthily for the past 6 years. That being said antibiotics do save lives – don’t gamble with your life!

How to Make Willow Bark Medicine

Below is a guest post I wrote for the First Ways blog in 2011.

Ever since reading one of the “Clan of the Cave Bear” books by Jean Auel I had been entranced by the idea of using willow as medicine. I remember clearly one of the characters peeling willow bark and making a decoction for his injured brother to help ease the pain and swelling. Since then I have been itching to get out there to make a tincture or decoction, but I was nervous, thinking the skill was perhaps beyond my level. I just wasn’t sure how to go about peeling bark off a plant without hurting or killing it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I learned that an easy way to collect willow is to simply clip off willow twigs and then peel the bark off of the trimmings. Duh! It solves the problem of possibly killing the plant and it is a simple way to harvest in a caretaking manner. willow-flowers

Last week I took a trip to the coast and found quite literally a sea of willow bushes just inland of some of Oregon’s great sand dunes. Turns out these willows were most likely Hooker’s Willow, Salix hookeriana, a coastal willow. Willow loves to grow with her feet wet, so look for her on stream banks, near lakes and rivers, and marshy areas. There are many species of Salix and some may be small shrubs while others can be larger trees. The leaves are alternate, generally oval and elongated with smooth margins, however there is variation between species.

peeling-barkI decided to prune twigs that appeared overcrowded and unlikely to thrive. Some sources say to gather the twigs before the catkins even begin to come out as this has the most medicine, but many of the leaves were already unfurling and the catkins were starting to flower, so I picked twigs that were in an earlier stage of growth. However, you can harvest year round since the plants contain the medicine in it at all times. Early spring is when the plant medicines are most concentrated and so is the best time of year to harvest.

I peeled the inner and outer bark from the stick using my fingers, right down to the heart wood. It was slightly time consuming but also very meditative. The bark, buds, and new leaves all found their way into my pint jar. Then I added 80 proof brandy and screwed on the top. I will be letting this sit for up to 6 weeks before I strain out the material.

My goal for this tincture is to use it primarily for pain caused by headaches. I have not yet found my perfect headache plant and am excited to see how willow will do.

Willow has been used for thousands of years around the world for its amazing pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducing effects. The magic comes from salicylic acid, a natural plant growth hormone that can be used for rooting new cuttings. In 1900 Aspirin was patented and sold as a Bayer product. In order to make aspirin, scientists combined acetyl chloride and salicylic acid. The salicylic acid was actually not derived from any willow species but rather from a plant called Spiraea ulmaria or meadowsweet (another plant I would love to work with) which is where the “spir” in aspirin comes from.

“Nurse Ratched” AKA Camp Healer

Every year Whole Earth Nature School holds our seven day overnight, Big Bear Camp.  Kids from across the county sign up for an epic adventure of survival camping, archery, creek walks, gnarly hikes, friction fires, and crazy night games such as “Invisible Capture the Flag”.  Each year this camp grows in leaps and bounds and Whole Earth is proud to say that we had 27 wild kids sharing nature with us.

The more kids though equals more need for first aid and I had the distinct honor of acting as ‘Camp Healer’.  I have found it a challenge to practice my herbal healing and first aid skills since I am not going through medical school or any other training that requires constant practice and repetition.  Even with a couple of re-certifications  in First Aid/CPR and Wilderness First Aid it’s just not enough practice to become proficient or automatic.

Still I value every opportunity where I can help heal someone whether it be physical or emotional.  Most of ‘camp’ first aid is simple – a bandage here or an ice pack there.  However, I find the simplicity to be deceiving for what I am truly gaining skill in is tracking.

Diagnosis is probably one of the most scariest and exciting aspects of treating people especially working with children.  There is always SO much going on underneath that even the child may not know!  Practicing the ‘art of questioning’ while diagnosing a person is crucial to getting to the ‘meat’ of the problem.

We do some pretty dangerous activities at camp that involve sharp implements, hot, dry weather, flying objects, off-trail hazards, bees, allergies, sharp sticks, fire, and cooking.  Yet I only had two “serious” cuts, one wasp bite, one vomiting kid, two belly aches, and a various assortment of ailments.  Pretty good for seven days in the woods.

My job is fairly easy when I have a kid with a cut and visible blood.  Always my first response is “Let’s go get some plantain!”.  Having the child pick a plant, chew it up, and put it on the cut does wonders for their mental state and he can see the wound change for the better by his own actions.

When a kid comes to me with no wounds and no visible ailments then my tracker mind has to come out along with a barrage of questions.  I have learned to never take a situation by just face value – dig, dig, dig!  Here is a great example:

A 12 year old boy comes to me complaining of itching arms.  “Oh my god they itch!” he exclaims as he frantically scrapes his nails up and down both arms.  I took his hands to stop the scratching and to get a good look at his arms.  No redness, no swelling, no hives, no bites.  So I pump him for more details and from what I gathered the arms had just started itching a few minutes ago, he hasn’t had this before, he has no known allergies, and it is driving him insane.

I pull out my lavender essential oil and put a little on to make sure it didn’t make things worse.  It does not so I liberally apply his arms while he prances around the room doing the ‘itch dance’.  It seems to calm him more but not by much. Meanwhile as I am applying I grill him more about the circumstances, then a question struck me that I hadn’t asked before.  “What were you doing when the itching started?”  He replies “I just put my hands in the dish water to do the dishes.”  Ah ha!  Well that narrowed it down to two things 1) he has a sensitivity to the soap or the warm water was causing the blood to go to his arms and 2) perhaps you can guess this one?

I decided to use a different tactic.  The boy wasn’t in real distress he actually seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the attention.  One plant I always keep in my first aid kit is Osha Root because some herbalists believe it can stop allergic reactions.  (I have had personal success when one evening I started getting hives, of which I have never had before, and took three drops of Osha under the tongue and within two minutes my reaction went away. )    Because of the nature of the situation I wasn’t concerned with any sort of major allergic reaction or systemic reaction and so did not automatically reach for Benedryl.  Instead I asked him to smell the Osha first.  FYI it is a very strong aromatic if you have never tasted or smelled it before.  He said “Oh it smells like maple syrup!” Sure I’ll take that.  I put one single teeny drop on his tongue and away he whirled like a dust devil running to rinse out his mouth.  “Yuck! That’s like insane maple syrup!”

I always carry with me peppermint candies and pulled out my bag to give him one to take away the taste.  He looks at the bag and notices some ginger candy.  “What are those orange things?” he asks.  I tell him and he wants to try one.  Gingerly I hand a small chunk to him and once again he is whirling around the room screaming about it being spicy and what not.  He yells for the peppermint candy and runs out the door and I never hear another word about itching arms.

I am always looking to expand my knowledge and experiences in order to blend herbalism with conventional medicine.  To me I think it is a perfect blend of heroic medicine and holistic healing.

There are a couple of herbalists I would love to work with in order to be a better first aid herbalist.  Charles Garcia of the California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism and 7Song of Northeast School of Botanical Medicine are a couple of folks I would recommend and give my eye teeth to study with!

Happy healing!

Herbal First Aid Kit: Archived – Posted 2010

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
Medical Tape
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.

June First Aid Plant: Plantago spp. Archived – Posted 2010

I just spoke with a friend of mine who lives in Texas and is the mother of a young boy. She told me that she had just taken her son to the doctor for several very infected spider bites and was prescribed strong antibiotics. I gave her some unsolicited advice that I believe every parent should know. It is a particular remedy for those scary spider bites, itchy mosquito bites, terrible bee stings, infected wounds, painful splinters, and the key to prevent doctor visits for antibiotics for any of the aforementioned. It is simply a weed. A weed that grows underfoot. A weed that invades your lawn. A weed that has been used for thousands of years all over the world. And a weed that was called “mother of herbs” by the Anglo-Saxons.

My advice to my friend was to use Plantain. She then asked “Well how do I use it and how can I get it?” Wonderful question! This is how:

First and foremost before we use any plant for any reason is to safely and correctly identify it. Plantain is not the tropical fruit but rather a perennial weed that is found throughout the world with more than 200 species in the Plantago genus. One species you may know well is Psyllium Seed Husks for troubles with digestion. Same genus!

The species I am most interested in are Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata simply because those are the two species that grow in my lawn. Plantago major or Common Plantain have oval shaped leaves while Plantago lanceolata has spear shaped leaves. Both species grow in a basal rosette and have veins that run parallel or like train tracks from leaf stem to leaf edge. As mentioned before Plantain loves to take over lawns, and you will most likely find them in disturbed fields, along road sides, along the sidewalk as you walk to work, and where soil has been disturbed or packed. Here is a picture of a huge Common Plantain found at Armitage Park last month.

Plantain

Now, once correctly identified, how do you use it? Plantain is well known for it’s drawing capabilities. Once I had a splinter deep in my finger and I worked on that sucker for a good 10 minutes to no avail. I came across some Plantain and picked a nice, clean, healthy leaf, stuck it in my mouth and chewed it to a pulp. I spit it out onto my finger and held it there for 3 minutes. After I removed the pulp I squeezed my finger and out popped the splinter!

It’s no magic trick (though sometimes it is nice to give a little mystery to kids) it’s chemistry. Plantain is very astringent and this quality makes for good pulling (things out including infection), stopping (such as bleeding), and closing (tissue together from a wound).

No matter what kind of camp or program I am teaching Plantain always finds a way to teach a lesson to kids. This summer we are teaching an array of summer camps for kids and one topic that always comes up are bee stings. Plantain can pull out the venom from a bee sting, reduce the swelling, kill any bad bacteria that may have been present, and can reduce the risk of major allergic reaction. Yes please!

The best way to apply Plantain is the method I described above for my splinter. Chewing it like gum can get the medicine working internally as well as externally. Now if you are a bit squeamish about chewing up a plant you can always squish it between your fingers really well or between rocks. This method is called a poultice. Depending upon the severity of the wound you may need only one application or ten.

A story I will leave you with is one I enjoy telling when I am introducing Plantain. One day I was working with a bunch of adults making bow drill kits for friction fire. Before I sat down in the gravel I decided to walk by a patch of grass and took notice of a couple Plantain plants. Then I started my grueling task of making a bowdrill kit from scratch. After a couple of hours in the sun I was getting hot, tired, and cranky. My knife slipped and I saw a rather deep cut slice just above my knuckle on my left pointer finger. Without hesitation I got up walked to the patch of grass, found a Plantain leaf, chewed her up and slapped her on. I applied pressure and held up my hand for three to four minutes. When I felt that the blood had clotted I removed the pulp and found the cleanest cut I had ever seen. The Plantain had completely stopped the bleeding and cleaned up the blood and I could already tell that the tissue was trying to stitch itself back together. It barely scarred, just enough to be able to show it off.

When in need Plantain will magically appear. Please be sensible about harvesting plants for first aid. Know your plants well before applications and be aware of your limitations. Once you build a relationship with Plantain she will be one of your most important allies!

Recommended Resources:

Tom Brown’s Field Guide Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants Tom Brown Jr.
Botany in a Day Thomas J. Elpel
Just Weeds Pamela Jones
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast Pojar and Mackinnon
http://www.HerbMentor.com
http://www.celticherbs.com
http://www.pfaf.org
http://www.botanicalstudies.net/