Sunday, 12 June 2011

First Aid

31 May 2011

We began the week with a look at vulnerary remedies: antiseptic rinses, poultices, compresses, ointments and salves. The idea being to create the component parts of a First Aid kit or to be able to knowledgeably apply specific herbs when in the field. But first we had a tasting of Ally and Christa's Bogbean Brandy to get us going
Herbologists with Bogbean Brandy
Antiseptic Rinses
Really a wash with antiseptic and astringent properties to clean, disinfect and in some cases start the healing process.  Most commonly used are a mixture of a herbal tincture and water or ‘tea’ for:
Skin: Myrrh, Goldenseal, Marigold, Thyme, Sage, Spagnum moss, Witch hazel
Eyes: Marigold, German Chamomile
Nose: Yarrow, Eucalpytus oil
Throat & mouth: Goldenseal, Sage, Cinnamon
Mucuous membranes: Goldenseal, Echinacea, Myrrh

Poultices: A classic poultice is defined as a direct topical application of herbal matter to a wound. Traditionally this is done by preparing an infusion of dried or fresh herbs in hot water (or steaming them as you would spinach) and then wrapping them in muslin and applying this to the skin.  The choice of whether to apply the poultice hot or cold will depend on the type of wound.

Hot poultices are best for superficial wounds.  The heat helps to draw blood to the surface, open the pores and assist the assimilation of the herbs through the skin.

Cold poultices are best for deep wounds (contusions, bruises, fractures, etc). the affected area will usually feel ‘hot’ and so the coolness of a prepared poultice (made either by preparing herbs with cold water, or by cooling a previously prepared one)  will act as an analgesic, and help to draw the beneficial effects of the herbs down deep into the tissue.

Some herbs lend themselves to direct application, such as Comfrey, Bogbean and Primrose. Depending again on the desired affect, placing the veiny side of the leaves against the skin will draw poison away from the tissue (through osmosis), whereas the soft side of the leaf will send healing elements downward, and protect the skin. Poultices can also be used to comfort, such as those applied to sooth bronchitis, rheumatism or menstrual cramps.

Compresses: are best described as a cloth soaked in a herbal infusion. The infusion can be hot or cold, and before applying the cloth is squeezed fairly dry - they should be changed frequently to maximise effect. Compresses are best applied to ‘open’ wounds, specifically where there is a requirement for bandaging or swabbing prior to subsequent treatment. Chamomile, Calendula and Hypericum are all good compress herbs, helping to cleanse and to start the healing process.

Ally working on herbarium specimen
Vulnerary Herbs

Arnica Montana (Wolf’s Bane). The dried flower heads are used to prepare topical preparations, usually as a rinse or lotion (mixed with Witch Hazel water) where skin is unbroken.

Comfrey (Syphytum officinale)  use root and leaves. Comfrey has allantoin in with which really helps to repair tissue at cellular level; good for lacerations and bruises.

Chamomile – is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent and relaxant. German or wild (Matricaria recutita) is stronger and most commonly used, although Roman (Chamomile nobile) can be more appropriate for children.

Chickweed (Starflower) – best for its anti-itch properties (use the whole plant) it also imparts a coolness to tissue, working well as a cold compress, and combines beautifully with Chamomile.

Hebridean Moss (Carragheen) use fragments and fronds to make an extraction of the gel and freeze.

Goldenseal (Hydrastus canadensis) is the most potent antiseptic after Myrrh,yielding a beautiful yellow pigment from the resinous roots. Use as a replacement for iodine.

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) 'Pewterwort' is a natural source of silicic acid, which helps to preserve the elasticity of connective tissue and is essential for skin, nails, hair and teeth.  It also increases coagulation of blood, stimulates white blood cells, and is a remineraliser (silica, selenium, zinc).

Marigold (Calendula officinalis) helps to stop blood flow, especially in tinctured form and is superb for beestings.  Tinctured in 95% alcohol, flowers will release their resinous properties thus increasing antibacterial and antiseptic potential.

Others include:

Marshmallow – excellent demulcent and mucilage
St John’s Wort – oil is antiseptic and acts as an analgesic on nerves
Slippery Elm – super to mix with other herbs as emoilient, and demulcent
Oats – excellent skin softerner for irritated, tickly skin
Self-heal – high in vitamins A,B, C and K
Linseeds – traditionally used for coughs (as poultice on chest) and in linnament for burns and scalds
Woundwort – has allantoin (like Comfrey) and is quite easily found in the wild
Yarrow – a classic astringent for open wounds

Gardeners' Salvation
We then set off to make our own salve to combat the battery of cuts, grazes and contusions faced by gardeners.

1) Place a handful of dried Calendula flowers in 200 mls of Sunflower oil and heat slowly in a bain-marie for 40 mins. 
2) Infuse a good handful each of: Chamomile, Chickweed and Marshmallow root in 100 mls hot water.
3) Strain Calendula oil and return to clean bowl, add 40 gms beeswax and melt together slowly. 
4) Remove from heat and add 2-3 drops Goldenseal oil
5) Whisk oil together with strained herbal infusion and jar quickly before setting point is reached. 

Busy Bees
Our afternoon was spent with Alan, the RBGE’s Communications maestro, but for 36 years also its Head Beekeeper.  Bees hives have however been banned from the main gardens in recent years due to helath and safety, but Alan still keeps a hive going up at the nursery beds. So we spent the afternoon following their activities regaled by Alan’s stories of capturing wandering swarms and terrifying trips in cars with bees on the loose.

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