Herbs to the Rescue Herbal First AidThink of your medicine cabinet as an arsenal full of weapons that you can use to combat a variety of physical ailments. Most likely, the heavy artillery in this arsenal consists of brand-name drugs. I once had a medicine cabinet like that, but 25 years ago, I threw everything—every pill, drop and ointment—into the trash. I then re-created my medicine cabinet from scratch, replacing almost all the brand-name products with herbal remedies.
Why did I turn away from the latest advances of pharmaceutical science and go back to age-old herbal remedies? Although I was familiar with herbs—I’d been cooking with them for years—it had not occurred to me that they could replace all the drugs in my medicine cabinet. One day I picked up an old herb book, and as I read I became aware that my herb garden held more than culinary delights; it contained an entire pharmacopoeia.
Soon thereafter I came down with a flu. I recall thumbing through that old herb book, simply because it happened to be lying beside my bed, and realizing that some of the herbs listed for my condition were growing right outside my door! I stumbled out to the garden to pick my medicine. I can’t remember exactly what that first remedy was, perhaps a mullein and yarrow tea, but I do recall my amazement at how well it worked. My second experiment, a concoction for bruises, was equally successful. I decided that the time was right to overhaul my medicine cabinet.
Ironically, the pharmaceutical companies have also begun to catch on. A few years ago, they discovered aloe vera, and now it’s hard to find a lotion or baby wipe that doesn’t advertise the curative powers of this succulent from the lily family.
You too can adopt a more natural approach to first-aid. This chapter will help you decide what you need to keep on hand and how to use it. But you must be sure that you know when herbs are a reasonable alternative to conventional medicines and when they are not.
Using herbs, you can take care of the same small emergencies that you already treat at home—the minor burns, cuts, scrapes, bruises and sprains that are a part of daily life. Of course, any serious or unusual injuries should send you scurrying for immediate medical attention. If a trip to the doctor is required, stabilize the condition as best you can with herbal remedies, then keep your patient as calm and comfortable as possible. Whenever you have any doubts that you can deal adequately with an emergency, choose the safe route—seek professional advice.
A natural medicine chest should get you through nearly every small emergency that you can reasonably and safely deal with on your own. But its effectiveness depends on your mental preparedness—no matter how many good herbs and gauze pads you have, there’s no substitute for knowledge and practice, which will make you completely ready when you face an actual emergency. Once you are standing there with a burned or bleeding finger, it be comes impractical to start paging through an herbal guide, even this one. If you familiarize yourself with the uses of alternative remedies, you’ll be prepared for any minor emergency. I recommend taking a first-aid course through the Red Cross, reading the American Medical Association’s Handbook of First-Aid and Emergency Care and viewing the Emergency Action video produced by the American Lung Association. These will make you a better judge of which situations you can take care of by yourself and which ones need a doctor’s care.
Of course, it is important not only to know the herbs, but to be able to use them properly—using them incorrectly can do more harm than good. When I was first studying herbs, I decided I should try all the natural remedies that I was learning about before suggesting them to anyone else. I had never seen a recipe for a mustard plaster, so I didn’t know that the mustard was supposed to be cut with flour to prevent the plaster from overheating. I assumed that the intense heat I felt was part of the therapy (the “no pain, no gain” philosophy). Finally, with my back well-burned, I frantically peeled off the plaster. This experience taught me two things. The first was that I should never again approach first-aid without being fully informed about what I was doing; the second was that aloe vera sure does heal a burn.