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Four Surprising Plants to Use For Wilderness First Aid

Believe it or not, quick thinking and a little bit of botany can help you in a pinch when you’re on the trail. Avid naturalist and certified Métis guide Brenda Holder shared with us some of her favorite tricks and tips for “herbal first aid,” and, I’ve got to say, they’re pretty compelling. You can read all about them—and many more—in her new e-book, Wild First Aid. Of course, it goes without saying that, should you run into a mishap on the trail, you should seek out professional medical help as soon as possible. Here are her tips:

1. Use onion skins (both wild and domestic varieties) to help hold minor wounds closed. Holder says, “The onion contains a very thin skin and can be placed over a cut or bruise to help hold it closed. The skin also helps speed healing and prevents infection.”

2. Use rose petals to butterfly a cut. Holder tells us, “The rose petal, simply needs to be moistened (using a natural adhesive such as tree sap helps it stick better), and then it will dry slightly and shrink after being placed over a wound, thus holding the edges of a wound together like a butterfly bandage.”

3. Use the common weed known as “broadleaf plantain”—aka Plantago Major, or “rattlesnake plant”—to help neutralize the venom from snake bites and other infections. The obvious caveat here is that, should you receive a bite from any wild animal, you should absolutely seek medical attention as soon as possible. However, if you’re a long way from civilization, please bear in mind that this common plant (you’ve probably seen it sticking up between cracks in the sidewalk) contains the compound aucubin, which serves as strong anti-microbial agent. Holder says, “The leaves and root work together to neutralize the venom.” To apply, chew the leaves into a paste and spread it on the bite.

4. Use the inner bark from cottonwood trees to make a natural pain reliever. This bark contains populin and salicin, compounds related to aspirin which may help reduce fevers, pain, and inflammation. Notably, this bark can also be processed over a 24 hour period to create a material to make splints and casts.

Brenda Holder is a Country Walkers guide and granddaughter of a Cree medicine woman. Her e-book, called Wild First Aid, is available now. Brenda leads Country Walkers Canadian Rockies: Banff, Yoho, & Kananaskis.

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