Natural Trailside First Aid

In October, I completed a field training with Jen Dalke of Blue Heron Nature Skills reviewing the first-aid uses of plants readily growing in Western PA. We identified different natural medicines and discussed preparation methods to activate their medicinal properties. Many of the plants are multi-use, with effects ranging from stopping bleeding to clearing parasites from the body and providing food in a pinch. I have compiled a brief list of plant medicines accessible in Western PA and suggested methods for preparation


Black Walnut Hull (julans nigra): anti-parasitic; anti-fungal

Best when harvested while fully green; if brown/black, it could signify the beginnings of decomposition and the potential presence of parasites. 

The hull/shell, walnut, and leaves have been traditionally used for their anti-parasitic properties. 

One can prepare the medicine as a tea or tincture for internal use, and it is recommended to be used sparingly. 

For external use, walnut hulls can be covered with oil (ex. olive) to prepare a salve.

Source: https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/black-walnut 

Goldenrod (solidago spp.): anti-inflammatory; antimicrobial; diuretic

Assists with building up the respiratory and immune systems to stave off allergies. The flowers can be added to a syrup or prepared as a tea. It is recommended that users begin regularly ingesting the medicine about a month before allergy season to promote immunity/ease.

Source: https://mountauburn.org/horticulture-highlight-goldenrods-solidago-spp/

Sassafras (sassafras albidum): antiseptic; aromatic

Sassafras root can be used to make tea or a makeshift poultice for insect bites and repellent. Simply chew on the root to get it mushed into a pulp which can be applied to affected areas.

As an antiseptic, sassafras discourages the growth of infectious microorganisms. A twig can be chewed and used as a mouth cleanser and breath freshener.

Sassafras is also used as a flavoring agent in traditional rootbeer recipes.

Source: jah watson
Source: https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/sassaf20-l.jpg

 

Broadleaf Plantain (plantago major): antihistamine; anti-inflammatory; antimicrobial

Commonly referred to as “Nature’s Band-Aid”, plantain can be used to soothe insect bites, skin rashes, blisters, and more. Simply chew to the leaf up a bit to create a pulp and apply to the affected area. 

In the case of a blister, crush the leaf a bit to break the skin and wrap it against the blister as if it were a band-aid. The friction caused by movement will release the plant’s medicine onto the affected area and provide relief.

Source: jah watson

Queen Ann’s Lace/Wild Carrot (daucus carota): diuretic; abortifacient 

The story behind Queen Ann’s Lace is modeled after Queen Anne of England. According to legend, Queen Anne was an expert lace maker; while preparing a stitch of lace, she pricked her finger and a single drop of blood fell onto the fabric, which is why there is a single dark purple droplet in the center of the flower.

Queen Ann’s Lace has been used historically as a means to clear the urinary tract and prevent and remove kidney stones through a tea made from the root. 

However, people with a uterus who are seeking pregnancy should avoid consumption of the herb as it promotes uterine contractions. A handful of seeds taken daily tonifies the uterine wall and acts as natural birth control.

*Be wary of Queen Ann’s look-a-like, Poison Hemlock. Queen Ann smells like carrot when the leaves are crushed; poison hemlock smells musty. Queen Ann’s (left) stem is hairy with no splotches; Poison Hemlock’s (right) stem is smooth with purple splotches.

Source: https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Daucus+carota
Source: https://www.alamy.com/poison-hemlock-conium-maculatum-handcoloured-copperplate-engraving-after-a-drawing-by-james-sowerby-for-james-smiths-english-botany-1803-image210593169.html

Common Yarrow (achillea millefolium): antiseptic; styptic; hemostatic

Yarrow, also known as Soldier’s Woundwort, is renowned for its abilities as a styptic–meaning to stop bleeding. According to Greek mythology, the soldier Achilles learned of yarrow’s properties through his teacher Chiron and thus deployed it in the treatment of his soldiers.

Fresh yarrow can be placed in the nostrils to stop a nosebleed. Most uses of yarrow as a styptic employ it as a powder which is then applied to the wound. To prepare a powder of yarrow, dry out the herb til it is crispy/crackly, and then grind it using a coffee grinder or mechanical device. Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place, the powder can keep for years.

Source: jah watson

Clay: antihistamine; clarifying

Clay/mud can be used to remove the oils of poisonous plants like poison ivy and poison sumac. Jen Dalke recommends going to a creek or river where there is flowing water and washing the infected area in the bank 2-3 times with clay/mud from the riverbed. Creating a “mudpack” of clay on the infected area will allow dry up the irritating oils and prevent severe infection/inflammation.


Methods of preparation for syrup/oil/salve/tincture:

Fresh plant material

  1. Get a dry, clean container with an airtight lid. Glass is optimum, but a plastic jar (like an old peanut butter jar) will also work.
  2. Fill your container with fresh plant matter. Fill it to the brim.
  3. Cover the plant material with your medium of choice:
    1. syrup/honey/liquid sweetener for syrup
    2. oil for salve
    3. alcohol* or vinegar for tincture
  4. Secure the lid with a porous material–paper towel, coffee filter, etc. This will allow released water from the fresh material to escape and limit the chance of mold forming. (*Note: the exception to this is alcohol. alcohol will preserve the plant material.)
  5. Store in a cool, dark place to cure over six weeks-eight weeks, regularly shaking and examining the jar.

Dried plant material

  1. Follow steps 1-4 for fresh plant material (listed above).
  2. Secure the lid with the original top. Because the plant material is dried, there is no water present to encourage mold growth. (*Note: Really compact the dry material and get as much into the jar as you can. Because it is dried, the flavor is not as potent as it is in the fresh material.)
  3. Store in a cool, dark place to cure over six weeks-eight weeks, regularly shaking and examining the jar.

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