Top 7 Backpack Remedies: Plant Allies for the Trail & Road
My sweet friend, fellow herbalist, sister wild woman and student, Ananda Wilson, just did a lovely post over on her blog that’s inspired me to do something similar. I don’t have any cool little tincture wraps like she does, but I definitely have a set of my top 7 backpack remedies (that’s 6 tinctures plus a salve). I really did try to match Ananda’s wonderfully efficient number of five, but dammit, I just couldn’t do it.
Now, any first aid kit is going to adapt to a given situation, grow according to need and vary wildly depending on the bioregion of the person creating it. With that in mind, this post isn’t an attempt at prescribing a perfect med kit. Instead, it’s just a description of the 7 herbal preparations I’m most likely to throw in my backpack when hiking, taking a city trip or just heading into the village for a grocery trip (you’d be surprised how often I need them) or to visit a client. Luckily, in NM, even in the biggest city there’s wild land (and thus herbs) very nearby, but you just can’t beat the convenience of tinctures and salve in a pinch (like when someone’s swelling up from a bee sting or bleeding all over the carpet).
You’ll notice that most of my favorite first aid remedies are distinctly cooling in nature. That’s partially because I live in a warm climate with lots of heat type problems and partially because the majority of acute issues requiring first aid are hot by nature.
All of the herbs listed here are safe and gentle enough to be used by children (in the appropriate dosage) but strong enough to be very effective in any adult.
1 – Peach (Prunus persica) – cool, dry
Peach is the queen supreme for treating acute reactions to venomous bites and stings. I know you’re thinking that I’ve lost my mind and confused Peach with Plantain, but no, I really do find Peach to be a superior remedy in many cases. I make a brandy tincture of fresh twigs (and flowers, when I can get them) and after much trial and error, ALWAYS use it as my first recourse against wasp, bee and scorpion stings, spider, ant or cone nosed kissing beetle bites, and for many rashes that look irritated and red. If however, the bite/sting is old and festering, I’m much more likely to go for a combo of fresh Plantain and Alder.
It’s also phenomenal for many hot type acute issues (ever so common in the SW Summer heat) including heat sickness with nausea, sun poisoning (internally and externally, with Rose), agitation and hyperactivity in children (with signs of heat),
2 – Moonwort (Artemisia ludoviciana and allied spp.) – cool, dry
My favorite frangrant bitter, this aromatic little plant kicks the digestive system into high gear and helps eradicate anything from food poisoning to travel-induced constipation. It’s also super useful for any wound, bite, bruise, sting, contusion and anything other red external thing that hurts. It’s also my favorite treatment (with Rose) for poison ivy/oak, just dilute the tincture with water and apply as a compress.
It’s broadly antimicrobial (read: bacteria, fungi, virus) when used externally so very useful for any potential infection as well as a treatment for that cold sore that’s about to happen. Internally, it’s also ver
3 – Blisswort (Scutellaria resinosa) cool, dry
A strong multipurpose antispasmodic, relaxant nervine and digestive bitter. I don’t think most Skullcaps work as efficient bitters, but the sticky little plants native to the canyon are as bitter as can be. Cooling, relaxing and quick acting, I use Blisswort for everything from muscle cramps (externally and internally, including charlie horses, menstrual cramps and similar afflictions), acute injuries, nerve pain (externally and internally), anxiety, emotional trauma, tremors, insomnia, certain kinds of stomach upset (with heat, stagnation and a feelings of stuckness).
4 – Wild Rose (Rosa woodsii and allied spp.) cool, dry
Yeah, we all know just how much I love this plant, don’t we? The perfect, gentle nervine for all kinds of trauma, stress, grief, fear and other strong emotions that threaten to debilitate the person. I use it like most people use Rescue Remedy (with the added benefit that Wild Rose tincture is harvested from my land, by me and made by me, no extra companies and machines needed). Combine with Blisswort when a stronger nervine or anti-spasmodic effect is needed. It’s also perfect for heat sickness, sore throat, heat headache, mosquito and other itchy bites, sunburn (dilute with water and apply as compress), and can work some serious miracles on screwed up flora in the belly (making it really nice combined with Moonwort when dealing with foreign water, recovering from a course of antibiotics or similar issues), as well as all manners of hot inflammation manifesting as painful joints, rashes, wounds, venomous insect bites/stings (with Peach), menstrual cramps (internally and externally, and with Blisswort).
I said sunburn already, didn’t I? But seriously, this is the PREMIERE sunburn remedy (even better with Beebalm), it works nearly instantly to stop pain and heat, and usually completely prevents blistering, peeling and scarring. That also makes it great combined with Beebalm for any kind of burn (from campfires, hot metal, fire place etc), just apply the tincture directly to the burn as long as the skin isn’t broken. If the skin is broken, be sure to dilute the tincture in water first.
5 – Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia) cool/warm, dry
My favorite and first treatment for most acute (and many chronic) yeast infections and UTIs. When traveling, it’s especially important to have on hand because all you women know how much likely an infection or UTI is to come on when you’re eating unusual food, not drinking enough water and stressed from airports or long drives with irate children. It’s also fabulous for any burn from any source (use neat on unbroken skin, dilute for broken skin). A cold forehead compress made with tinctlure diluted in vinegar or water is wonderful for heat or stress headaches.
It’s also just what you want to have on hand if you contract any kind of systemic infection, as frequent doses of the tincture can knock out anything from your run of the mill sinus infection to a serious case of MRSA (with the help of an experienced health care provider, please). In serious cases, I usually combine it with Alder and possibly some Yerba Mansa.
6 – Elderberry (Sambucus neomexicana and allied spp.) – cool, dry
Usually in the form of Elderberry Elixir, combining berries and flowers with brandy and honey/glycerine for a preparation that seems to draw out the best of Elder’s many gifts. This is, of course, one of THE best remedies for eliminating cold/flu bugs that you are exposed to, that seem to want to settle in to your system and even those that are already comfortably at home and making your miserable. If it doesn’t prevent it (and it usually does), it’ll certainly speed the bug’s departure. With Elder’s strong affinity for the lungs, this elixir especially excels at preventing a virus from taking root in the respiratory system. The elixir, if made with glycerine instead of honey, makes a great treatment for minor ear infections and swimmer’s ear as well (as long as there’s no signs of eardrum perforation). It can also be used on many wounds and burns if necessary, but it’s kind of sticky for that.
& a Salve
Usually my beloved Canyon salve, made up of a combo of Cottonwood, Alder, Moonwort and Pine. It’s great for any wound, scrape, splinters, bruise or injury and doubles up admirably well as a pain salve when needed for sore muscles, broken bones, blunt trauma, that kind of thing.
A Note: If you want more information or specifics on any of the plants I’ve mentioned here just use the search bar to the left to look them up by name (botanical name works especially well) or head over to the Medicine Woman’s Allies page and look for them there.
What’s missing from this list is any very strong astringent in case of profuse bleeding or diarrhea, but astringents are common and easy to come by so I don’t usually carry them on me. In the wild, there’s tons of plants (like Oak or Currant or Sumach or Geranium or Blackberry or or or) and in the city there’s lots of lovely kitchen spices and common foods (cinnamon, black tea and so on) that can be used. Besides, they’re usually much better taken as a tea or chewed plant than as a tincture when it comes to belly troubles or even most cases of bleeding.
I just posted the first instalment of a new version of my Talking With Plants essay on the Animá blog. These undertandings form an important part of the foundation of the Medicine Woman Tradition and the way I teach herbalism. You’ll likely recognize a few paragraphs from my orginal posts by the same name on this blog, but the latter half of the first installment as well as most of the second installment is all new. The new version is much more concise, to the point and blunt (I do so hate being misunderstood), and just generally improved. A vastly expanded version will be in the upcoming book and this shorter version will appear in its entirety on the Medicine Woman site in the near future as well as in the upcoming issue of Gaian Voices. Here’s a short excerpt:
Plants are not humans, but they are no less sentient and complex beings for their differences from us. While not human or even animals, they are people in the sense that they are intelligent, adaptable, vibrantly living and deeply feeling. In our attempts to relate to them, we would be wise to acknowledge and respect their profound otherness. Our natural tendency in nature is to attempt to understand through the similarities between them and us, and indeed, we are all connected and related through an amazing variety of traits. And yet, each species has its own special gifts to contribute to the whole. We honor those gifts by noticing and appreciating the ways in which we are different as well as the similarities.