Sunday, January 22, 2012

Make Your Own Natural First Aid Kit

Make Your Own Natural First-Aid Kit

July/August 2004

By Laurel Vukovic
first aid kit
If warm weather gives you the urge to explore, be sure to pack an herbal first aid kit.

I love to travel, and experience has taught me the benefits of packing light. But no matter how lightly I travel, I always carry along an herbal first-aid kit. Being prepared with my favorite remedies gives me peace of mind on the road or trail, and keeps me from having to search out herbal products in an unfamiliar town — or from having to resort to padding my heels with mullein leaves to ease the agony of a broken blister while on a backpacking trip.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to put my first-aid kit to use, from treating blisters and bug bites to motion sickness and colds. I choose simple, multipurpose remedies and store them in a small padded nylon lunch box that’s always ready to toss into the car. For backpacking trips, I pare my kit down to arnica gel, echinacea, peppermint and chamomile tea bags, crystallized ginger, insect repellant, a tin of herbal salve, a tiny bottle of lavender essential oil, and an assortment of bandages and moleskin.

With the following herbs and essential oils, you should be able to treat just about any common condition you are likely to encounter in your travels.
The Herbal First Aid Kit: What to Buy

These are my favorite remedies — the ones I consider indispensable for a travel first-aid kit. All of the remedies are available at any well-stocked health-food store and by mail-order. Be sure to buy pure essential oils, not fragrance oils. To prevent breakage, wrap glass bottles in small pieces of thick flannel.

• Aloe vera gel: Cooling and healing, aloe vera (Aloe vera) soothes the inflammation of sunburn and common kitchen scalds and burns.

• Arnica gel or cream: Arnica (Arnica montana) flowers have anti-inflammatory and circulation-stimulating properties; the gel or cream is excellent for sore muscles, sprains, strains and bruises. Do not apply arnica to broken skin.

• Calendula-comfrey salve: The bright yellow-orange blossoms of calendula (Calendula officinalis) have astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) contains allantoin, a compound that stimulates the growth of new tissue and helps heal wounds.

• Chamomile tea bags: With its delicious distinctive flavor, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) makes a tasty tea. Gentle enough for children, chamomile has mild sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It promotes relaxation, relieves indigestion and, when applied topically, soothes skin irritations.

• Citronella-based insect repellant: Most herbal repellants contain citronella, a pungent citrus-scented essential oil distilled from an aromatic grass that grows in southern Asia. Herbal insect repellants work well, as long as they’re applied liberally and frequently (as often as every two hours).

• Echinacea liquid extract: Rich in immune-stimulating chemicals, echinacea (Echinacea spp.) can be used for any type of infection. Liquid extracts are the most versatile because they can be used both internally and externally.

• Elderberry capsules or liquid extract: Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is essential for stopping a cold or flu from ruining your vacation. The berries contain compounds that prevent cold and flu viruses from invading and infecting cells. If you’re flying or otherwise potentially exposed to viruses, taking elderberry is a good preventive. If you do come down with a cold or flu, taking elderberry can hasten your recovery time.

• Eleuthero standardized extract: An excellent adaptogen, eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) can help prevent jet lag; it was even used by Soviet cosmonauts to help them adjust to space travel. Standardized extracts guarantee that you’re getting sufficient amounts of eleutherosides, which herbalists consider to be the herb’s active compounds.

• Eucalyptus essential oil: A potent antibiotic and antiviral, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) is excellent for treating colds, flus and sinus infections when used as a steam inhalation. Dilute with oil or witch hazel extract before applying to the skin, and do not take internally.

• Ginger capsules, tea bags and crystallized ginger: The antispasmodic and gas-relieving properties of ginger (Zingiber officinale) soothe digestive upsets. Ginger also has been proven to relieve motion sickness better than Dramamine, the conventional drug treatment.

• Goldenseal capsules or powder: A powerful antimicrobial, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is effective against a variety of microorganisms that cause traveler’s diarrhea. The powder has antiseptic properties and can be sprinkled onto cuts or wounds to stop bleeding. Do not take goldenseal internally during pregnancy.

• Grindelia poison oak/ivy tincture or spray: Grindelia (Grindelia camporum), also known as gumweed, contains resins and tannins that help to relieve the pain and itching of plant rashes. It’s available as a tincture and also as a spray specifically for treating poison oak/poison ivy rashes.

• Lavender essential oil: Virtually an all-purpose remedy, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has sed- ative, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. It’s helpful for anxiety, insomnia, headaches, wounds and burns. For most people, lavender essential oil can be applied directly to the skin. Do not take more than 1 to 2 drops internally.

• Laxative herbal tea bags: Travel constipation is a common complaint. Most herbal laxative teas rely on senna (Cassia senna), which contains compounds called anthraquinones that stimulate intestinal activity. Because senna has a bitter, unpleasant flavor, it’s often combined with tasty herbs such as cinnamon, fennel, licorice and ginger.

• Peppermint essential oil and tea bags: With its high concentration of menthol, peppermint (Mentha xpiperita) soothes an upset stomach, clears sinuses and curbs itching from insect bites. If you have sensitive skin, dilute peppermint oil before applying. Taken internally, peppermint may aggravate heartburn.

• Valerian tincture: The sedative properties of valerian (Valeriana officinalis) make it useful for relieving anxiety, insomnia and tension; it’s also a mild pain reliever.

• Witch hazel extract: Distilled witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has mild astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for insect bites and skin irritations. It’s also an excellent base for diluting essential oils for a variety of simple, topical herbal first-aid remedies. Do not take it internally.
Additional First-Aid Essentials

• Adhesive bandage strips: Various sizes, including butterfly closure bandages.

• Alcohol: Small plastic bottle for removing poison oak/ivy oils from the skin.

• Bandage materials: Sterile gauze pads, a roll of gauze, adhesive bandage tape.

• Cosmetic clay: With drying and drawing properties, clay is useful for healing skin rashes and insect bites. Store in a small plastic container.

• Elastic bandage: For sprains or strains.

• Electrolyte replacement: Powdered drink packets such as Emergen-C.

• Moleskin: Blister treatment.

• Scissors: Small pair for cutting bandages, adhesive tape, moleskin.

• Thermometer: Instant-read type.

• Tweezers: For removing ticks and splinters.

• Waterless hand sanitizer: Travel-size bottle.
Quick Natural Remedies for Common Conditions

• Drink chamomile tea, 3 cups a day.
• Take valerian tincture, 1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon up to 3 times daily.
• Take a bath with 10 drops of lavender essential oil or place a drop of lavender oil on a tissue and inhale as desired.

• To dry a blister, soak a gauze pad in witch hazel, lay it over the blister and cover with an adhesive bandage. After blister has broken, wash with a mixture of echinacea extract diluted with an equal part of water. Finally, apply calendula-comfrey salve and cover with an adhesive bandage.

• Immediately apply ice to relieve pain and swelling.
• Apply arnica cream or gel twice daily.

• Immediately immerse the affected area in cold water until the burning sensation subsides. Then apply aloe vera gel mixed with lavender essential oil (5 drops of lavender oil mixed with 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel).
• For sunburn, soak in a cool bath with 10 drops of lavender essential oil.

Colds and Flus:
• Take 1 dropperful of echinacea extract four times a day until symptoms subside.
• Take 1 dropperful of elderberry extract four times a day until symptoms subside.
• To relieve congestion and soothe a sore throat, drink hot ginger tea with honey.
• To ease congestion, add 2 drops each of eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils to hot water; inhale the steam vapors.
• Add 1 dropperful of echinacea extract to 1⁄2 cup of water as an antiseptic wash.
• To stop bleeding, sprinkle goldenseal powder directly into the wound and apply pressure with a clean cloth.
• Apply a salve made from calendula-comfrey — only after a scab has formed, to prevent trapping bacteria.

• Replenish lost fluids and soothe the digestive tract with chamomile or ginger tea.
• For diarrhea caused by infectious microorganisms, take 1 capsule of goldenseal three times daily for up to two weeks.
• To boost immunity and fight infection, take 1 dropperful of echinacea four times daily.

• Drink chamomile tea as often as desired.
• For more severe headaches, take 1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon of valerian root extract; repeat every two hours until pain abates.
• Take a warm bath with 10 drops of lavender essential oil.
• Massage 2 drops of diluted peppermint essential oil onto temples, forehead and neck. Keep away from eyes.

• Sip warm chamomile, peppermint or ginger tea.
• Chew on a piece of crystallized (candied) ginger.

Insect bites and stings:
• Cleanse the bite with echinacea extract.
• Apply a drop of undiluted peppermint or lavender oil to relieve itching and as an antiseptic.
• Mix clay with enough water to make a paste, and apply to the bites to relieve itching and draw out toxins.

• Drink a cup of warm chamomile tea.
• For stronger sedative action, take up to 1 teaspoon of valerian tincture before bed.
• Take a warm bath with 10 drops of lavender essential oil.

Jet lag:
• Take eleuthero (100 mg of standardized extract) three times daily for one week or more before traveling and for one week or longer following the flight.

• Take 1 to 2 capsules of dried ginger every 15 minutes until symptoms abate.
• To prevent motion sickness, take 6 to 8 capsules of powdered ginger about 45 minutes before departing.
• To calm a queasy stomach, chew on a piece of crystallized ginger.

Poison oak/ivy:
• Immediately wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and cool water, or sponge with alcohol to remove the oily resin.
• If a rash occurs, spray with grindelia extract several times a day.

Strains and sprains:
• Immediately elevate and apply an ice pack to the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation. After 24 hours, apply hot compresses to increase circulation and speed healing.
• Soak in a hot bath with 5 drops of eucalyptus essential oil.
• Apply arnica cream or gel to the affected area three times daily.
Herbal First-Aid Kit Resources

Creation Herbal,, Comfrey-calendula salve

Lewey’s Eco-Blends,, Buzz-Off natural insect repellant

Red Moon Herbs,, Herbal first-aid kit

— Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs and natural healing from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1001 Natural Remedies and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ask the Herbalist: All About Anticancer Herbs

Ask the Herbalist: All About Anticancer Herbs

December/January 2012

By Linda B. White, M.D.

Q. Reading all of the reports on cancer prevention is really confusing me. Which anticancer herbs should I include in a daily regimen to stay healthy and reduce my risk of cancer?

A. First off, I’m glad to hear that you want to act now to reduce your cancer risk. Cancer takes years to develop. Prevention, if possible, is preferable to treatment. Avoid known carcinogens such as tobacco smoke, and have the routine screening tests that catch cancer in early, more-treatable stages.

As always, a healthy lifestyle is key. Eat a plant-based diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Those strategies will also help keep your weight under control. Obesity raises the risk of diabetes, and both conditions are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

A plant-based diet can help shield you from cancer because plants are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances that help them (and us) withstand exposure to ultraviolet radiation, air pollution and other noxious substances. (Oxidative damage and inflammation promote cancer as well as a number of other chronic diseases.) Furthermore, some plant chemicals enhance the body’s detoxification systems, stimulate the immune system and have direct anticancer effects.

Weeds are the true survivors. They burst through sidewalk cracks and weather pollution, drought, neglect and outright abuse. Researchers have only begun to investigate the anticancer effects of plants like dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). Nevertheless, I recommend including those two nutrition powerhouses in your diet. If you have access to fresh, pesticide-free leaves, you can steam or sauté them. (Use gloves when picking nettles, as they sting until cooked.) You can also drink infusions of the dried or fresh leaves.

Other foods to include are cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, and Alliums, such as garlic and onions, which all contain sulfurous anticancer compounds. Lycopene, a carotenoid chemical found in high concentrations in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon and guava, has anticancer action. Cooked tomato products are best, as the processing increases the body’s ability to absorb lycopene. The same is true of the isoflavone genistein, found in soybeans.

Another simple strategy is to increase your consumption of polyphenol-rich foods. Polyphenols, such as flavonoids, contribute to the plant’s color. For instance, fruits with deep red, purple and blue colors—red grapes, cranberries, blueberries, pomegranates—all have anticancer effects. But some powerful cancer-fighting, polyphenol-rich plants and anticancer herbs, such as green tea, turmeric and milk thistle, do fall outside the blue-purple color scheme.

Black, green and oolong tea all come from the same plant—Camellia sinensis. Population studies link higher tea consumption with a reduced risk of gastrointestinal, pancreatic, bladder, prostate, ovarian, uterine and breast cancer. Green tea is particularly rich in a polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate. In lab research, it inhibits cancer cell formation, proliferation, invasiveness, and metastasis and provokes cancer cell death. Aim for three to five cups of green tea a day.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and its botanical cousin ginger (Zingiber officinale) are anticancer herbs that contain the potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer polyphenols curcumin and gingerol, respectively. Most of the cancer research has focused on curcumin, which has multiple anticancer effects. It protects against DNA mutations; stimulates enzymes that repair damaged DNA and those that detoxify carcinogens; inhibits tumor formation, growth and migration; discourages angiogenesis (the creation of blood vessels that feed the cancer); and induces cancer cells to die.

However, curcumin is soluble in fat but not water, isn’t well-absorbed from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream, and breaks down quickly. Some supplement manufacturers improve bioavailability by combining it with bromelain (an enzyme in pineapple), piperine from pepper, or phosphatidylcholine. Cancer researchers have been working to create stable formulations that could be given intravenously to people undergoing cancer treatment.

The optimal dose for curcumin is not clear. In the meantime, eat curried vegetables. Turmeric is the main ingredient in curry spice. The pepper in the curry blend and the oil used in cooking will aid curcumin absorption.

While better known as an herb that protects the liver, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) also has cancer-protective effects. It contains an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory flavonoid complex called silymarin. Research shows that it promotes repair of DNA, blocks angiogenesis, and suppresses proliferation and metastasis of a variety of cancers.

You can take milk thistle as a tincture or standardized extract. You can also make the ground seeds into tea or sprinkle them atop foods. Milk thistle’s delicious relative, the artichoke (Cynara scolymus), also contains polyphenols.

Consumption of garlic (Allium sativum) and onion (Allium cepa) is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers. Lab studies further support this anticancer action of these anticancer herbs. Garlic increases enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, inhibits proliferation of cancer cells, induces cancer cell death and boosts immunity. Crush the bulb and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before consuming, which will increase an active ingredient called allicin. Because heat deactivates allicin, use raw, minced garlic in dressings, dips, soups and sauces, or add it to hot food just before serving.

Edible mushrooms contain highly branched polysaccharides called beta-glucans and other ingredients that both enhance immunity and have anticancer properties. Eating mushrooms correlates with a lower risk of breast cancer. Even the pedestrian button mushroom available at most supermarkets can enhance immune cell functions involved with cancer containment. Three of the better-researched medicinal mushrooms are shiitake, maitake and reishi.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) has immune-enhancing and anticancer effects. Asian research shows that an extract called lentinan enhances survival time in people with cancer. Due to poor oral absorption, lentinan is given by intravenous or intramuscular injections. Other components of shiitake, such as LEM (Lentinula edodes mycelia) extract, are active when taken by mouth. The fresh mushroom is delicious sautéed (with or without garlic). The dried mushroom can be taken in tea or soup. Concentrated extracts are also available.

Research on purified maitake (Grifola frondosa) extracts called “D-fraction” and “MD-fraction” demonstrate several anticancer actions: protection of healthy cells from becoming cancerous; inhibition of the growth and spread of tumors; induction of cancer cell death; enhancement of the effectiveness of anticancer drugs; and mitigation of some of their side effects. Maitake also increases natural killer cells, immune cells that attack tumor cells.

Maitake extracts produce benefits when taken by mouth. However, research in humans is scant and exact dosages aren’t yet defined. You can also consume this anticancer herb in tea or as a food (in soups, stir-fry, etc.). Higher-end grocery stores carry fresh maitake, also called “hen of the woods.”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has the reputation of promoting health and longevity in people with and without cancer. Lab research shows that reishi extracts inhibit the proliferation and spread of breast, prostate, lung and liver cancer cells; stimulate cancer cells to die; and block the formation of new blood vessels to tumors. Reishi and green tea have a synergistic effect in thwarting the ability of breast cancer cells to invade and migrate.

Human trials have recently begun. Two studies showed that reishi enhances immune function in some people with advanced cancer. You can take reishi in teas, tinctures, syrups, tablets or standardized extracts.

Linda B. White, M.D., is a visiting assistant professor in the Integrative Therapies Program at Metropolitan State College of Denver.