Based in Ballydehob, Jacqueline Kilbryde is a practicingherbalist with over 25 years experience. She is a memberof the National Institute Of Medical Herbalists, the oldest body of professional herbalists in Europe (established1864) and a member of the Irish Register Of Chinese Herbal Medicine.
Most homes will have an array of medicine for use in the home cabinet, ready for unexpected accidents, such as burns, cuts, scrapes and infections. Herbal first-aid medicines are extremely effective and useful to have to hand for such emergencies. Here are a few examples.
Burns/Sunburn: Burns are commonplace in the home and there are many herbs that are excellent for use here; notably the Aloe Vera Plant, and every home should have one! These are easy to grow and do well on a partially sunny windowsill. They do not like to be over watered and will grow to a large plant if maintained well. The leaves are full of a soft sticky, slimy substances called mucilage, which has an immediate soothing action via its anti-inflammatory effect, relieving redness, swelling and pain caused by burns and sunburn. Pick a large leaf and open it. Press out the mucilage and apply directly onto the affected area. Other useful herbs include Plantain leaf /Ribwort, Calendula and Comfrey. All three plants can be made into a salve or ointment to be stored for future use.
A salve/ointment is made by steeping the plant in, for example, sunflower or olive oil, for two to three weeks and left on a sunny windowsill or by infusing the herb in oil, which is heated for extraction. The oil is then strained and heated and beeswax melted into it. As it cools the mixture hardens and can be kept in a container for use to be applied directly onto the skin.
Cuts and Bruises: There are so many wound healers in herbal medicine — it’s a long list. Primarily we have Comfrey, an excellent herb for any type of cut or bruise, as it heals broken skin and bruising. Calendula is another great choice along with Witch Hazel bark and St John’s Wort.
A secondary complication of cuts is infection. To disinfect cuts, as well as heal them, use Calendula, Golden Seal root, St John’s Wort, Fennel, Myrrh and Garlic (before the discovery of antibiotics, garlic was used widely to treat and to prevent infection). An infusion may be made with one or a combination of these herbs and used as a wash for the cut. To make an infusion, steep the herbs of choice in a cup of boiling water for around 20 minutes. The infusion is then strained and the liquid used. Alternatively the herbs here can be made up into an ointment or cream, to be applied topically to the affected area as needed.
A recommendation here is to grow these herbs in your garden. They are all very easy to germinate and grow and are perennial.
Staunching bleeding: Many of our native hedgerow herbs are excellent anti-haemorrhagics/styptics. The herb of choice here is Yarrow, another is Tormentil root; another is Nettle leaf. These can be picked fresh and dried and stored in airtight containers for that time when needed. An infusion or a decoction is then made and poured directly on to the wound, to arrest bleeding.
Witchhazel bark or leaf or Oak bark is also excellent. Interestingly, powder of Cayenne pepper was used to staunch bleeding wounds.
Insect Repellant: The best choice here is the essential oils, combined with a mixture of water and alcohol and kept in a spray- pump bottle. Essential oils of choice are Citronella, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lavender, Lemon Grass… all have pleasant aromas but are noxious to insects. One native herb, which is hugely overlooked, is Bog-Myrtle (Myrica gale). The flowers contain a strong essential/volatile oil, which repels troublesome insects, especially midges.
Insect bites: Poultices or ointments of Ribwort and Comfrey will soothe and heal the bite, as will Aloe Vera.
Headache and Muscle Aches: Meadowsweet has an anodyne action (pain reliever), as it contains naturally-occuring Salicylic Acid. It is also anti-inflammatory, thereby making it suitable for aches and pains in the joints and muscles.
Aspirin was manufactured from Meadowsweet and the White Willow bark, as both herbs contain appreciable amounts of Salicyclic acid. Feverfew leaf is also used in headache.
Sore Throats: A gargle of Sage leaf and Marigold flowers in combination both have an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action on the throat and alleviate soreness of inflamed tonsils, as well as infection. Both plants are easy to grow and can be used fresh or dried. Make an infusion of the leaf and flowers, strain and gargle with the liquid.
Upset stomach: Ginger can be taken in capsule form to allay nausea and vomiting. Chamomile flowers and Lemon Balm are two other excellent choices. Fennel is used also to stop cramps and griping in the gut. Slippery Elm in capsule or powder form protects and heals an irritated stomach lining.
All the above herbs can also be used to stop acute cases of diarrhoea along with the use of Tormentil and Agrimony. These last two herbs are extremely astringent and stop excessive secretions.