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Many people are intimidated by first aid treatment methods. Because it’s associated with doctors, who are some of the most intelligent people in the world, people assume first aid must be very complicated. As a result, many people tend to shy away from first aid skills. And now it’s gotten to where most people don’t know anything beyond “put a Band-Aid on it.”
The truth is, basic first aid is not very complicated. And to prove it, I’m going to explain how to treat 10 common (and minor) injuries in one article.
Note: I do not pretend to be a medical professional. These recommendations are ones that I either have personal experience with or learned about from a first aid course or guide. Remember, if you ever plan on using plants and herbs as part of your emergency response to an injury, make sure you practice identifying plants and know their growing habits and locations. This is so you don’t panic and have your mind go blank when you need it.
1. Insect Stings – This is possibly the most common summer injury. I don’t mean mosquito bites, but rather stings from bees, wasps, and hornets. Treating a sting requires only one thing: something that draws the poison out. For a yellow jacket or bee sting, chew some plantain, dandelion, or bee-balm leaves to a pulp and apply it to the spot for quick pain relief. Lavender blossoms will also give relief if applied to a sting as soon as it happens.
Hornets, particularly the tiny kind, have a more painful sting that may or may not respond to plantain or bee-balm. For hornet stings, or any other long-lasting sting, a paste of activated charcoal and water applied directly to the sting will give relief within 5 minutes and completely draw out the poison within 10 minutes.
2. Plant Stings – The plant I run afoul of most often is the stinging nettle. While the nettle is a very helpful plant, being a great source of fiber and many health benefits, the stings can be quite nasty. The sting from an adult nettle stalk can penetrate cotton gloves, and closely resembles the sting of a wasp. Similar to wasp stings, plantain or bergamot applied directly to the spot will quickly remove the swelling and draw out the irritating stinging hair. Be sure to clean the area and avoid scratching it.
To help children avoid the other most common irritating plants, teach them “leaves of three let it be.” This will help them avoid running into poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Also, teach them to avoid any plant that is tall, has giant white flower umbrellas, and/or has sticky latex-like sap. These three characteristics match giant hogweed and poison hemlock, two of the worst plants to run into.
3. Spider Bites – Depending on the spider, and if you can identify it, you may want to get medical attention. Brown recluse spiders are the worst as their poison kills cells and spreads, causing cell die-off very similar to gangrene. Black widow bites can be fatal in some circumstances, particularly with young spiders.
If you have a spider bite that is unidentified and fresh, the first thing you want to do is draw out the poison. Use activated charcoal or plantain for this purpose. Apply a paste of activated charcoal or ground plantain and leave it on the bite for at least half an hour. Then rinse it off and check the bite. The swelling should have decreased and the pain should mostly be gone. If it isn’t, reapply until the pain and swelling are gone or until you can get to a doctor.
4. Slivers – Whether because of working with dry firewood, wooden floors, or heavy grass, slivers are frequent for anyone who works with their hands. First, don’t squeeze the area because that could make it worse. Wash and dry the area, then put it under a bright light so you can inspect it. Most slivers can be removed with tweezers and a sterilized needle or pin. If it’s particularly shallow, try pulling it out with duct tape or electrical tape.
A deep wood or glass sliver, however, may require more drastic measures. Make a paste out of water and baking soda, spread it onto a bandage, and cover the area with the bandage. Wait a full day and remove the bandage. The sliver should be sticking out enough to pull it out with tweezers.
5. Minor Burns – Stoves, irons, campfires, hot oil, and even just stray sparks can all cause minor burns. A minor burn is less than a square inch and caused by very brief contact with a hot object. Soak the burn in cool water for 5 minutes, then apply lavender (diluted essential oil, or a bit of crushed lavender blossoms) and the gel part of an aloe vera leaf. If you don’t have any aloe vera, use coconut oil instead.
6. Sunburn Treatment – This type of burn seems to be the most common, particularly in the summer. Start by cooling the sunburn with a towel dampened in cold water or cold black tea. Then apply coconut oil with a drop or two of lavender essential oil (not fragrance oil). With this treatment, the burn should shift to a tan by the next morning, be pain free, and not peel.
7. Cuts and Scrapes – Whether falling on a gravel path, tripping on a tree root, or taking a tumble off a bike, cuts and scrapes are bound to happen. Most of them can be cleaned with soap and warm water. If you suspect deeply embedded gravel or sand, pour a small amount of hydrogen peroxide on the scrape to help lift the dirt, then rinse it with warm water again. Apply an antibacterial salve or cream to the injury, and cover it with a clean bandage until the scrape is scabbed over. If you use essential oils, never apply undiluted essential oils to an open injury as it can cause sensitivity to that oil later on.
8. Bruises – Apply a cold compress to a bruise immediately after the injury happens. This will slow blood flow in the area and help reduce swelling. Do not apply ice or a cold compress for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Cold is only effective immediately after the injury occurs. For quick reduction of a bruise, apply a compress of crushed yarrow leaves. Yarrow encourages the blood vessels to contract and congealed blood to be reabsorbed, and will reduce the pain, swelling, and appearance of the bruise.
9. Heat Exhaustion – If you plan on hiking, traveling, or working outdoors in the summer, you will want to memorize the signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is the step just before heat stroke. Heat exhaustion can be reversed at home, but heat stroke needs immediate hospital attention. Symptoms of heat exhaustion and its accompanying dehydration include dizziness, flushed face, slight swelling in extremities, and being hot but not sweating as much as one should be in that much heat.
Treat any suspicion of heat exhaustion with water and electrolytes. Get the person out of direct sun, into shade, or indoors in a cool location. Encourage them to eat something, like a piece of fruit, that has sugars and minerals in it, or take electrolyte concentrate in water. Make sure they drink cool water and stay out of direct sun until all trace of the dizziness, flushed face, and slight swelling has passed.
Note: Children and people with a history of low blood pressure are the most susceptible to heat exhaustion due to easy dehydration. Teach your kids to stay hydrated and how to recognize the early signs of dehydration.
10. Sprains – The best way to treat sprains is the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate. You want to rest the sprain by lying down and taking pressure off of it. Next you should apply ice to reduce the pain and swelling. Compress it by loosely wrapping it in an elastic bandage. And finally, elevate the sprain above your heart using some pillows and/or folded blankets.
As you can see, these injuries are easy enough for anyone to treat. Don’t just put Band-Aids on everything or rush to the ER over minor injuries, which only wastes hospital workers’ time. Learn how to take care of these things yourself.