Something truly incredible about herbalism is the fact that there never really seems to be an end to the ways in which we can interact with the plants, or ways we can tap into their healing capabilities. This month, we are switching things up a bit and talking about emergency preparedness and the herbs that are our first aid allies. Before we jump into the ways in which we can call upon plants for preparedness, let’s first talk about the term “ emergency preparedness” itself, which for some, can spark feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. Honestly, it is easy to see why that is the case - oftentimes this term is coupled with images of disaster and destruction, or coupled with discussions around the absolute worst-case scenario, drumming up language that inspires dread or draws out feelings of impending doom. But what if we shifted that narrative? Sure, being prepared is essential when that “ultimate” bad day comes - and we cannot deny that we see a trend in disasters around the world. Here in Colorado our top 3 largest and most destructive wildfires ever happened in 2020 and 2021. We are a state prone to severe weather events and catastrophic flooding, and these types of events are expected to increase in frequency and severity, exacerbated by such stressors as climate change. There is no denying the reality of the importance of being prepared in this type of environment, however, what if we saw preparedness as an element of community care? Traditionally speaking, preparedness education tends to lean more on the individual, but what is incredible is that during times of disaster or immense hardship, we rarely see humans not help one another out. The “every person for themselves” mentality is often more of a myth, and if it does occur, it is usually for a very short period of time. More often than not we see neighbors supporting neighbors, and strangers coming to the aid of strangers. It is in our inherent human nature to help one another out, coming together in times of need versus isolating ourselves. Furthermore, it has been proven time and time again that one of the single best indicators of resilience in a community, or a community’s ability to overcome and recover from immense hardship or times of disaster, is that of social capital. A community that has high levels of trust, social bonding, celebrates culture, and works together, will always recover at a rapid rate compared to those that do not.
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What if we thought of our own personal preparedness as a way of returning to a sense of community? When we prepare ourselves and our family, we are contributing to the whole of the collective and should a time of great adversity strike, we set ourselves up to not only require fewer resources (which are often limited during these situations) to be directed toward us, but also set ourselves up to potentially be able to be a source of support for those in need around us. By being prepared, we become an asset to our community.
Breaking Down Preparedness
Another reason discussions on preparedness may spark feelings of anxiety or overwhelm is that sometimes it can be hard to know where to start - especially when the expectation is to “prepare for the worst case scenario.” Instead of making this your goal, because let’s face it, preparing for essentially the apocalypse is a bit unrealistic anyway, what if we broke this down a bit and made it more manageable? Aaron Titus, author of the book and associated training series How to Prepare for Everything, and also a local member of both Larimer and Boulder County Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster organizations helps us to do just this. At the end of the day, it is not the event itself that causes the disaster in our personal lives, such as the wildfire or the tornado, but the fact that they are disruptive. The disruptions that are the result of the event itself, which include things like loss of power, disruptions to supply chains, impacts to the accessibility to food and water, loss of our home or shelter, breakdown in communication, etc, are truly the things that have the impact on us, or are the things we end up recovering from after the event has stabilized. Therefore, when thinking about your own personal plan for you and your family, instead of thinking to yourself “prepare for a catastrophic event,” think to yourself instead “what do I need to have on hand to be able to move through a disruption such as if we lost our home, or we could no longer communicate for an extended period of time?” Your plan will be personal to you and your family (including your pets!) and your unique needs and situation, but also take into consideration how you and your neighbors can support one another, or even invite them to join in your planning! And, one final note on preparedness - some preparedness is better than none at all. While some resources are listed below to help get you started on items that may be good to have on hand, purchasing all of these items upfront may not be accessible to everyone. Start where you can, or build your collection of items over time, such as purchasing one item each time you go to the grocery store. You may also reach out to local organizations or attend events such as safety or preparedness fairs (such as the one coming up locally in Larimer County in October!) where many items tend to be given away for free!
While we often turn to herbs as sources of nourishment, or to help overcome dis-ease occurring in the body, or when we are feeling ill, herbs are also incredible allies for basic first aid! Additionally, many of the plants we may utilize in herbal first aid are often those that are easily accessible and growing abundantly around us. Something magical about plants is that allies tend to grow in environments where they are most needed - such as aloe vera growing in the desert where burns from the increased exposure to the sun are more likely, or plantain growing in moist environments where we are likely to experience itchy bug bites.
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While you can utilize the information below to construct your own basic herbal first aid kit as part of your personal preparedness activities, it is also helpful to know of the properties of some of the below plants should you need them in a pinch while you’re out and about!
Minor Wounds, Scrapes, Cuts, or Abrasions
There are several allies that can help support this type of ailment, and each of these can be crafted into an infused oil or salve to help treat the issue, or used in a pinch as a poultice, crushed and mixed with water to make a paste that can be applied to the affected area.
Comfrey - this herb has almost magical wound-healing properties, to the point that it is stressed that before using you make absolutely sure the wound or cut is fully cleaned and that no debris or dirt is left in it. This is because comfrey has the ability to expedite tissue repair, meaning if the wound is not cleaned properly, it may close over and result in infection.
Plantain - this herb can help ease discomfort associated with a minor wound, bringing relief to feelings of stinging or itching as well.
Lavender - while this herb has topical benefits when applied to minor skin ailments, it is also a nervine, meaning it helps to bring a calmness to the nervous system. This may be a particularly helpful ally if the person affected is feeling anxious as well.
Yarrow - This herb can be made into a poultice or packed into a wound that is bleeding that you are trying to staunch to help encourage the bleeding to stop. The ability of this plant is even reflected in its Latin name “Achillea,” aptly named after the hero in Greek mythology that used yarrow to stop the bleeding of wounded soldiers.
Shepherd’s Purse - Distinguished by its sweet, heart-shaped leaves, this herb can be used in an infusion and then a cloth soaked in the infusion can be placed in the nostril to help stop a nosebleed. This herb is also an incredible ally for hemorrhages, and can be crafted into a tincture that can be used for such emergency situations as internal bleeding while on your way to the emergency room.
Peppermint - This herb has a long tradition of use when dis-ease of the stomach occurs. Use as an herbal tea that can be sipped on or infuse in an herbal oil to be rubbed on the stomach topically to help ease feelings of nausea.
Ginger - Ginger can also be used as an infusion, or keep a few pieces of dehydrated ginger or ginger candies in your kit to be nibbled on should nausea arise.
Minor Burns, Sunburns, and Skin Irritations
Similar to minor wounds, many of these herbs can be used in a pinch as a poultice to be applied to the affected area, or can be infused as an herbal oil or crafted into a salve.
Calendula - Calendula is a quick-growing flower that is an effective herbal oil to help ease feelings of burning or irritation when used topically on the skin. This also includes inflamed skin as a result of conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
St. John’s Wort - A herb with a deep affinity for the sun, and usually conveniently arriving at the time of midsummer, when the days start to be exceptionally hot and dry, this herbal ally is incredible support for sunburned skin. It must be used fresh but creates a gorgeous red oil that can be applied to affected areas.
Bug Bites and Stings
Plantain - This herbal ally, often one that tends to be passed by has incredible properties for alleviating discomfort associated with pesky bugs. Apply topically to the skin in the form of a poultice (it can even be chewed and then applied if you’re really in a pinch!) to the affected area, or infuse and create a salve that can be kept in your kit for when its needed. Additionally, Plantain has drawing capabilities, meaning it can help bring things embedded in the skin to the surface, including wasp stingers or even slivers!
Our Outdoor Kit is an excellent place to start to have a ready-to-go kit in your bag while out and about.One of our favorite resources on this particular subject is Sam Coffman and his Herbal Medics Academy. Sam and his team run both online and in-person classes specifically on emergency preparedness and post-disaster austere medicine with both a conventional medical perspective as well as the herbal perspective seamlessly blended in. You can learn more about all that they offer here: https://herbalmedics.academyWe thank you for joining us in this month’s blog post, and we hope this information is helpful in taking charge of your own preparedness and that of your family! And we also encourage you to continue your personal education in this area, and to have a plan for serious emergencies where intervention from a hospital is necessary. We also encourage you to practice community - and share valuable information and resources with those around you. Together, we are stronger, and together we can empower and lift one another up! Sources:
Boyer, Corinne. Under the Bramble Arch. 2020. Lewellyn Publications: Woodbury, MN.