Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient science that evolved in India. It translates as “Life wisdom” or “science of longevity. Ayur means “life” or “longevity” & veda means “wisdom” or “science.” If that sounds a little broad…well, that’s because it is. Ayurvedic medicine is all about creating health and vitality within the whole person- mind, body and spirit. Check out my “What is Ayurveda” blog for more about the philosophy & how it works.
There are SO many practical ways to use Ayurveda; medicinal herbs are one of them. Studying Ayurveda helped me create and fine tune my herbal approach to first aid. You need not be an herbalist to benefit from these commonly available herbs & spices. In addition to a more “traditional” first aid kit, I always bring these things along with me on wilderness trips.
A note: Ayurveda uses honey, ghee, and milk as a medium to carry the medicinal properties of the herbs deeper into bodily tissues; they call these Anupanas, meaning, “that which carries.” You can mix the herbs and spices with one of the three anupanas to allow the medicinal properties to stay in your system longer, but is not necessary.
Aloe Vera Gel: Use topically use for burns and overall skin hydration. Aloe is a very cooling blood purifier; as a juice taken internally it helps with heat & inflammation in the liver or gallbladder, stomach acidity, acid reflux & ulcers.
Arnica gel, cream or salve: I make my own arnica salve every year and man, does this plant work wonders. Massage it into sore, tired or painful body parts; it’s a strong anti-inflammatory & commonly used for muscle sprains, pains & joint discomfort. (I also mix turmeric, devils club, lavender & camphor oil into my homemade salve)
Chamomile Tea: I use this calming flower mainly to help me wind down in the evening or keep me more “even keeled” during long summer days. It can be taken anytime of day (it’s not a strong sedative, super mild) to promote clear relaxed thinking, reduce excess pitta dosha and also as a digestive aid.
Citronella Insect Repellant: in Alaska, I keep a lot of my skin covered when I’m around mosquitos; however applying citronella every 1-2 hours to whatever skin is exposed helps keep them at bay.
Castor oil: Topically, you can use castor oil for painful muscles or tender joints. I’ve applied it onto knees & wrists in the backcountry, then leave wrapped with a warm ACE bandage for 30 min-1 hr to reduce pain & swelling. Be sure you have ample water nearby, as you’ll want to rinse it off- it’s incredibly sticky! I’ve also used castor oil for severe constipation; drink 1-2 tsp and trust me….you won’t be constipated anymore.
Clove oil: Has antiviral, antiseptic, antifungal & antibacterial properties. I’ve used it to treat warts and skin infections. I use it regularly on my feet (TMI, but I’m prone to athletes foot living in hiking boots; clove oil works wonders and makes the itching & inflammation disappear quick.
Echinacea Capsules or Tincture: Echinacea supports your immune system when you’re particularly stressed or feeling a sickness coming on. It’s an anti-biotic that can help during colds, fevers & flus. (just like prescription anti-biotics, only take for short periods/during times of need, NOT regularly, as it can be depleting with long term use)
Eucalyptus oil: A natural diaphoretic, I use it for congestion, excess mucous and sinus infections. I dilute it with salve and rub it on my chest or near my nose to help clear sinuses. It can also be used as a tea for lung congestion or infections. Helps remove excess kapha in the lungs.
Garlic– A very potent antibiotic & disinfectant; helpful for candida, excess body yeast, parasites & viral or bacterial infections. I cut up 1-2 cloves & take when I’m exposed to people who are sick or feel myself coming down with something.
Ginger: Great for digestive problems, highly effective for motion sickness and nausea. I use ginger chews before backcountry flights to help with motion sickness. Drinking a cup of ginger tea before meals helps get the digestive juices flowing & helps with absorption.
Goldenseal: A strong antiseptic & antibiotic with a strong affect on the gastrointestinal tract, destroying yeast & bacteria while clearing the flora. Useful for parasites, food poisoning & traveler’s diarrhea. (just like prescription anti-biotics, only take for short periods/during times of need, NOT regularly, as it can be depleting with long term use)
Grapefruit Seed Extract: Is an amazing immune booster when traveling, sick or tired. A gastrointestinal miracle medicine, parasite killer and topical antiseptic. I wouldn’t consume it regularly however, as it can irritate your stomach lining over long periods of time.
Honey: I use this regularly to heal cuts, wounds, burns & abrasions. It’s like a fast acting Neosporin- it’s antibacterial & promotes healing. As it’s a blood purifier & nourishing to tissues, it’s also helpful for internal ulcers.
Lavender Essential Oil: I could write a whole article, research paper even, on the benefits & uses of lavender. Helpful for headaches, anxiety, insomnia, tension, infections, wounds, insect bites, pimples, the list goes on and on…. I use it often to help calm & relax me when I’m stressed or to help me go to sleep. Smell it during the day for grounding or rub in onto your feet (dilute it with a carrier oil like olive or sesame) 30 minutes before bed to help you sleep at night.
Nutmeg: A really mild nervine sedative, it not only relaxes you & induces sleep, but can help you digest & absorb your food during your Zzzzzz’s!
Salt: A shot of salty water is an amazingly effective laxative. In can help reduce early onset/signs of infection; often used as a soak for wounds. You can also gargle with saltwater for relief from sore throats.
Senna Tea: This can REALLY help with constipation. Only use if you are in need of a bowel movement, as it can become habit forming. It encourages peristaltic contractions (these are muscular motions that promote elimination), so yes, it will help you “get things moving…” however, you don’t want to use it regularly, it may affect those peristaltic muscles from creating their own natural contractions.
Tea Tree Oil : This has antiseptic, antibacterial & antiviral properties. I use it to help clean wounds and as a natural disinfectant.
Turmeric – I consume this daily, as it’s perhaps one of the best anti- inflammatory herbs. Helpful for for pain, swelling, inflammation & digestive complaints. Note, that the anti-inflammatory benefits are somewhat “heat activated.” It becomes more bioavailable when it’s heated up with some fat/oil….I use it generously in everything I cook. Also an excellent blood purifier; as it is cooling without aggravating vata dosha.
Valerian Tincture, capsules or tea – This root is a nervine sedative, helping with anxiety, insomnia, nervousness & overwhelm. Note it will make you drowsy. Great 1-2 hours before bed or to help with sleeping on a plane.