Tag Archives: stings

Herbal First Aid

Here come the summertime burns, cuts, bites and stings.

I recently gave a lecture on Herbal First Aid covering these topics and more. Here are the notes for everyone who couldn’t make it.


Activated charcoal– draws out and absorbs toxins. Open up capsules and mix contents with a small amount of water. Leave on bites for 15-30 minutes. Can also be taken internally for bites and gastrointestinal issues such as food poisoning.

Aloe– general skin soother and healer, especially for burns. Apply topically to irritated skin or burns as often as needed. I mix a few drops of lavender oil into my aloe when using it for burns.

Arnica– great for bruises, sprains, and pain from excess activity. Take arnica pellets orally and apply arnica gel, cream, or oil topically up to every 15 minutes for 2 hours, then up to 4 times a day.

Black walnut– antifungal activity makes it a classic Ozarks cure for ringworm. Only use the green outer hulls of the black walnuts or the tincture made from them.

Calendula cream or ointment- speeds healing of skin issues like irritation and minor scrapes and wounds. Often combined with comfrey and other healing herbs. Apply several times per day. Calendula can be also made into a tea to enhance lymphatic circulation for detoxification or immune support.

Clay– draws out toxins and cooling to the skin. I mix up ¼ cup clay with ¼ cup water and apply thickly to bug bites, poison ivy, and minor burns (after the aloe and lavender). Leave on for 20 minutes to an hour, and then wash off. I store the extra mixed up clay in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for the next round of bug bites.

Comfrey– soothes the skin and speeds healing of skin, sprains and broken bones. Used topically as a salve for wounds or a comfrey poultice for sprains and bones. Not recommended for use on deep wounds, because it can cause the skin to heal before the underlying tissues do.

Drawing salve– homeopathic blend for boils and bites. Some people love it for acne too.

 Ozonated olive oil– speeds healing of minor wounds, rashes, burns, and bug bites. Apply topically several times a day. I find that ozonated olive oil neutralizes itchy chigger bites better than anything else for me. For minor sunburns, I apply it to after using aloe.

Plantain leaves– grind up the leaves for a quick poultice for bug bites, stings and cuts.

Potato Poultice– for skin infections. Finely grated potato and apply to thickly to infected area. Leave on for 30-60 minutes or overnight. Can add minced garlic and parsley to boost antimicrobial benefits.

Rescue Remedy– calming for stressful situations and shocks. It can help that shaken up feeling after an injury.

Tea tree oil– antimicrobial for bites and minor wounds. I mix a few drops into my herbal salve to boost the antimicrobial benefits.

How to Make a Compress:

Soak a cloth in a liquid herbal preparation such as a tea, diluted tincture or an oil, wringing it out well, then placing over the body. They are usually applied warm but can also be used cold in cases of swelling or inflammation. Leave in place for about 10 minutes and sometimes repeated with fresh liquid several times. For ease, they can be wrapped in cling film to keep in place and avoid staining clothe or furniture. In cases where a deeply warming action is needed, a towel and a hot water bottle can then be placed on top.

How to Make a Poultice:

Grind dried or fresh herbs with water and a little slippery elm powder or flour to create a paste. Spread the poultices on cotton rags and folded them into squares. Apply to skin and wrap it in bandages to hold it in place. Any remaining squares can be put in a ziploc bag with parchment paper in between and frozen to use in the days following.

Or mix powdered herbs with an equal part slippery elm powder, then add a little warm water and honey and mix into a thick paste. Spread it over the area in question and bandage in place.

Basic Herbal First Aid

During the summer, we tend to be more active, but as my legs can attest, we are also more prone to injuries like burns, cuts, bites, and poison ivy. So, here are some of the natural first aid remedies that I always keep around my house.

Arnica montana, both oral and topical, is the first thing I grab for any injury that involves bruising or swelling. When used right away it can reduce the severity of pain from sprain and bruises as well as seeming to shorten the healing time. I have also found arnica to be helpful for pain from overdoing it.

If I have a cut or scrape, I apply a salve that contains herbs like calendula and comfrey to help speed the healing of the skin. Calendula helps reduce inflammation and stimulates tissue healing while also being mildly antimicrobial. Comfrey shares most of these traits while also being soothing to the skin in a similar way to aloe. Comfrey has such a reputation for speeding up healing that it is not recommended for use on deep wounds, because it can cause the skin to heal before the underlying tissues do. Comfrey is also applied topically to relieve pain and speed healing of sprains and broken bones. If you want to learn how to make a comfrey poultice, check out these instructions from learningherbs.com.




In addition to the common favorite aloe for minor burns, I usually either add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the aloe I am applying. It is correct that you are not supposed to put oil on a burn, but essential oils are not actually oils. While it has an oily texture, lavender oil evaporates quickly and therefore helps to rapidly cool the burned skin, while regular oil would trap the heat.

For insect bites and poison ivy, early application of clay can be very useful. I have been using bentonite clay but any kind will do. For the summer, you can mix up a small batch of clay using just enough water to make a thick paste and store it in the refrigerator well covered for handy access. Clay works by absorbing toxins from the skin, and I have found it to relieve the itch of poison ivy fairly quickly if I apply it for one to two hours every day for a few days. Activated charcoal can be used in a similar fashion for bites and wounds. I always have activated charcoal capsules on hand to help with issues like food poisoning too. Activated charcoal can help by absorbing some of the toxins that harmful bacteria release into our digestive tract, thereby helping to reduce the severity of symptoms.

So stocks up on some of these basic items and have fun staying well this summer.