Medicinal plants have been used over the centuries to help with accidents and injuries. Present day herbalists combine scientific knowledge and traditional herbal techniques to provide herbal first aid for many health problems.
We asked medical herbalist, and herbal first aid expert, Dedj Leibbrandt, Fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists to choose some plants from her garden that she would pick when simple herbal first aid was needed.
The five herbs mentioned in this blog are easy to grow either in pots or in the ground of most gardens in the British Isles and Europe. These five herbs are also chosen for their superb application in the home both in a first aid setting and in the treatment of minor ailments.
A word of caution: be certain of your plant identification, and be sure to consult a qualified herbalist or healthcare professional with any complicated situations or more major or persistent ailments or injuries. Find a Herbalist here.
The first herb for a home first aid kit has got to be one of the most cheerful – Calendula officinalis, or the Pot Marigold. This is very easy to grow from seed and makes a bright yellow/orange display.
Calendula contains many active ingredients, including volatile oils, terpenes and flavonoids. Herbalists use it to stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, staunch bleeding, and to help fight fungal, protozoal and bacterial infections. It has been shown to be especially effective against staphylococcus and streptococcus.
Just the flower heads should be picked and can be used fresh. Simply make a strong infusion by steeping in hot water for a while. When cooled, strain and use to wash cuts, grazes, chafing, insect bites, and torn or slow healing wounds. To improve the anti-itch properties on insect bites or stings you can add a drop or two of peppermint essential oil to your wash.
To have this herb when the season is finished, pick the flower heads and place them in a jar. Cover with vodka or similar high alcohol liquor, tightly put the lid on the jar and steep for at least six weeks, shaking it daily if possible. This can then be strained and the liquid or tincture used to clean wounds either undiluted or diluted. Obviously this will sting if used undiluted, but you will protect against any infection developing if the wound is cleaned with this tincture and covered with a suitable sterile dry dressing.
Care should be taken if using this as a dried herb on open healing wounds, as dried herbs often have unwanted microbes which can be inadvertently introduced into a wound.
Read more about Pot Marigold in Jekkapedia.
The second herb is Aloe Vera. Keep this plant on the kitchen windowsill for use on minor burns from the oven or similar. Once you have one plant it will make many more babies which you will end up giving away to your friends. This herb is bactericidal against germs like staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus viridans, and others. It has a demulcent action – coating, soothing and calming on inflamed surfaces, and is also analgesic, antiseptic and can help to staunch bleeding.
If you burn yourself, you must always first run the injury under cold water for a minimum of ten minutes to cool it and prevent further damage. After doing this simply cut a leaf off the Aloe vera and slit it lengthwise down the side to expose the jelly it contains. Place the jelly or the whole leaf jelly side onto the skin and bandage it in place. You will be amazed how soothing this will be. It will help the body to form a protective eschar (a skin) over the area which will seal it from infection and help with the pain by covering the exposed damaged nerve endings.
Other topical uses include treating sunburn or red chafed or dry skin. Some people also use it for protecting the skin from radiotherapy burns.
Read more about Aloe vera in Jekkapedia.
For sore throats, coughs and colds, to restrain infection and stimulate good digestive function you should include Thymus vulgaris in your home herbal first aid kit.
Herbalists regard Thyme as antibacterial, antiviral, antispasmodic, antifungal, expectorant, antitussive, antiseptic, anti-oxidant, and a tonic! It is also seen as a carminative which can help to expel gas from the bowel.
It contains a substance called thymol – a powerful constituent of the essential oil, tannins, flavonoids, gums and caffeic acid.
You will notice that this herb is expectorant, which means that it causes coughing and antitussive which means that it stops coughing. This is a good example of how a herb can be claimed to have two completely opposite actions. This is true – it does. The body knows which of the constituents it needs to assist it in healing and it will use them just as it knows how to use an aspirin which can lower temperature, help with pain, be an anticoagulant etc. – aspirin will not lower your temperature if it doesn’t need lowering, but it will give pain relief if this is what you have taken it for.
This herb makes a delicious herbal infusion. Just put three or four sprigs of thyme into a mug and pour on just boiled water. Add honey and lemon to taste or sip it just as it is. Use a stronger, cooled infusion if you are wanting to gargle with it to relieve a sore throat or tonsillitis. When using this herb to help with coughs or chest infections you may have to increase the dose and have several cups a day. It is safe to drink several cups a day.
Read more about Thyme in Jekka's Guide to Thyme.
A herb for stress, anxiety and poor sleep is Lavandula angustifolia. It contains flavonoids, coumarins, triterpenes and volatile oils. The flowers of Lavender are uplifting, antispasmodic, antiseptic, carminative, antimicrobial and sedative. If you steep 1oz or 30g in half a litre of boiling water for ten minutes and then strain it into a bath it will aid sleep, relax and soothe away the stressfulness of the day.
It can also be useful to make an infused oil. This can be done by placing a handful of lavender flowers in 300ml of sunflower oil in a double boiler and gently simmer for an hour. Strain it off and do it again with another handful of flowers in the same oil. Strain your infused oil into a bottle. A few drops of this can be rubbed into the temples for a tension headache or to aid sleep or rubbed on the tummy for windy colic.
As a herbal infusion, you only need a teaspoon of the flowers to a cup of tea as it has quite a strong floral taste. This is another good way of unwinding or calming a gripey gut.
Rosmarinus officinalis is another gem for home first aid and minor ailments! It contains flavonoids, diterpenes, volatile oils and rosmarinic acid. Rosemary is recognised for its antibacterial, antidepressant, antispasmodic, antiseptic, sedative, diuretic and circulatory tonic properties.
A great way to start a busy day when you need to focus would be a herbal infusion made using just one sprig of Rosemary. If you are wanting it for focus, uplifting and memory – take the sprig out when the herbal infusion is at a drinkable temperature or it will become quite bitter. If you are using the herb for its digestive properties, then you will need the bitter constituents so it would be best to leave the sprig in the cup. Remember to cook with aromatic herbs like this one to aid digestion.
Read more about Rosemary in Jekka's Guide to Rosemary.
The medicinal content in this blog is provided by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. Visit them at nimh.org.uk to find a herbalist or to find out more about medical herbalism.
Want to know more?
Please read Jekka's Guide to Medicinal Herbs
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We no longer offer a mail order service for our plants.
Please note: The information provided here and throughout www.jekkas.com is for educational interest only and is not intended to be used to diagnose or treat significant health problems. Any serious or long-term health concerns should always be discussed with a healthcare professional.