Adam's Corner

Natural First Aid

For bumps, bruises, burns, bites, sprains, broken bones, and getting trampled by an elephant.

Heat or Ice? At least once a summer I jam a finger playing basketball. Within minutes, the finger turns a sickly purple-red and swells up to twice its normal size, and then I can’t move it for a week.

Or at least that’s what used to happen before I took icing so seriously. Now I rush for ice the instant I get hurt, and it makes all the difference in the world. Within a day or two, I get my full range of motion back. It doesn’t swell up nearly as much, and it heals a lot faster.

Use ice whenever you feel heat and/or throbbing – whenever a ton of blood is rushing to an area, and you want it NOT to. Heat, on the other hand, should be applied when an area is stiff and creaky – when a little extra circulation might do some good. Simply put, ice is for first aid; heat, for chronic aches and pains.

The single most important natural first aid remedy to have on hand at all times is Arnica – and I can’t cite a shred of decent research to prove it. So instead here’s Maesimund Panos, M.D. on the subject, from Homeopathic Medicine at Home: “My most memorable experience with Arnica was during my medical school days at Ohio State University, where I had a room in a friendly boarding house with uncarpeted stairs. I was wearing slippers, and suddenly my feet went out from under me. I grabbed the banister, which, instead of saving me, came along with me! I fell back on my head and spine. I was conscious of a tightness in my chest and a blurring of vision from shock.

“Arnica has the ability to counteract the effect of shock that so often accompanies a fall or injury. So, after catching my breath, I crept back to my room and took two tablets of Arnica. The next morning, I apologized to the landlady for the damage to the banister, but she was more concerned about my condition. I had no bruises or black and blue marks, which surprised her.

“A few weeks later, my lab partner, a woman twenty years my junior, had a similar fall, and was bruised and sore for days. She couldn’t understand why I, at my advanced age, had escaped unscathed. I regret that I didn’t have the courage to tell her about Arnica, not wanting to be labeled an oddball in that stronghold of orthodox medicine.”

And in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, Michael Moore (my favorite herbalist) explains how arnica works: “Arnica works by stimulating and dilating blood vessels, particularly the specialized capillaries that control whether blood is piped into the small peripheral capillary beds or shunted over to the small veins, bypassing more widespread blood dispersal. Good, diffused blood transport and circulation into injured, bruised, or inflamed tissues helps speed up resolution and removal of waste products… Using a little Arnica internally after you have been thrashed, bumped, or banged up will aid in dispersing the disorganized fluids out of the injured muscle or joint and lessen the volume of trapped and eventually congested blood and fluids that will stare back at you in the mirror the next day. I am not talking about broken bones or bubbling chest wounds, but rather the type of injury that results when the shelf falls on you as you are moving or the baseball bat hits you in the knee at a softball game.”

So that’s arnica. The neat thing is, you can even take arnica before an expected trauma: right before the boxing match or the marathon, before a strenuous hike and even before surgery.

There are arnica products for both internal and topical use. Ideally, you’d use both. (Just don’t use topically over broken skin). I tend to lean towards arnica-based combinations over just plain arnica. My all-around favorite is Traumeel/Traumed, from the German company BHI Heel, available in both topical and internal forms. Also take a look at the Phytogesic Balm from Wise Woman Herbals, which combines Arnica with heating and cooling herbs, herbal sources of aspirin-like compounds, and St. John’s Wort (“The Arnica of The Nerves”), which focuses more on pain relief. Martha speaks highly of the Weleda Arnica Massage Oil, not so much for overt injuries, “but for when you’ve overworked or overplayed” – for when you’re just plain sore. Debra’s favorite is the Sports Gel from Boericke & Tafel. It uses Bellis perrenis, a close relative of the arnica plant, which is supposed to penetrate deeper.

For Bee Stings: Try homeopathic Apis mellifica. (If you’re allergic, also seek medical help).

For Poison Ivy: Wash the area with soap as soon as possible. Any soap will do, but Burt’s Bees’ Poison Ivy Soap is especially useful. Learn to recognize jewelweed (that fleshy-stalked, yellow-flowered plant that almost always grows right next to the ivy). Break the jewelweed stalk open, and spread the juicy pulp over the effected area. Internally, homeopathic Rhus toxicodendron or the Hyland’s Poison Ivy formula tend to work nicely as well.

For Cuts, Scrapes, Scratches, and other types of broken skin injuries: Generally speaking, thick waxy salves, balms and ointments are less effective at healing, but provide a sturdier protective barrier against the environment. Look for products that contain ingredients like beeswax and shea butter. Delicate creams and oils, on the other hand, usually don’t provide the same level of protection, but can penetrate better, and are often better at actually healing, and let a wound breathe.

There are literally hundreds of good herbs, vitamins, oils, etc… so it’s pretty arbitrary for me to pick just two. (I really should mention lavender, comfrey leaf and root, honey, and propolis…)

However, it’s hard to beat good ol’ vitamin E oil. Vitamin E oil soothes and protects everything from minor scrapes and scratches to the large incisions leftover from surgery. It doesn’t sting. It speeds the healing process. And it helps reduce scarring. When I go hiking, I take 2 or 3 tiny vitamin E capsules with me. If I need them, I bite them open and squeeze the oil out. If I don’t need them, I eat them with dinner after the hike!

Colloidal silver is another great product, even though its reputation has been tarnished in recent years by a handful of misguided folk who have chosen to drink this natural antibiotic by the gallon to protect themselves from germ warfare. The problem is, if you consume ridiculously large amounts of silver, you turn purplish-gray – permanently. It’s not dangerous; it’s just really, really embarrassing! Anyways, colloidal silver is great externally. It both fights infections and promotes healing. And like vitamin E, it doesn’t sting. I’ve used it twice, right in my eyes for eye infections.

For Burns, Including Sunburns: it’s hard to beat aloe vera for simple burns. Any good aloe gel will do. More serious burns that involve blistering should receive medical attention. Colloidal silver can be useful here as well, since it can help cut down the chance of infection.

-Adam Stark

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