Mar 152009

My sweet friend, fellow herbalist, sister wild woman and student, Ananda Wilson, just did a lovely post over on her blog that’s inspired me to do something similar. I don’t have any cool little tincture wraps like she does, but I definitely have a set of my top 7 backpack remedies (that’s 6 tinctures plus a salve). I really did try to match Ananda’s wonderfully efficient number of five, but dammit, I just couldn’t do it.

Now, any first aid kit is going to adapt to a given situation, grow according to need and vary wildly depending on the bioregion of the person creating it. With that in mind, this post isn’t an attempt at prescribing a perfect med kit. Instead, it’s just a description of the 7 herbal preparations I’m most likely to throw in my backpack when hiking, taking a city trip or just heading into the village for a grocery trip (you’d be surprised how often I need them) or to visit a client. Luckily, in NM, even in the biggest city there’s wild land (and thus herbs) very nearby, but you just can’t beat the convenience of tinctures and salve in a pinch (like when someone’s swelling up from a bee sting or bleeding all over the carpet).

You’ll notice that most of my favorite first aid remedies are distinctly cooling in nature. That’s partially because I live in a warm climate with lots of heat type problems and partially because the majority of acute issues requiring first aid are hot by nature.

All of the herbs listed here are safe and gentle enough to be used by children (in the appropriate dosage) but strong enough to be very effective in any adult.

1 – Peach (Prunus persica)cool, dry

Peach is the queen supreme for treating acute reactions to venomous bites and stings. I know you’re thinking that I’ve lost my mind and confused Peach with Plantain, but no, I really do find Peach to be a superior remedy in many cases.  I make a brandy tincture of fresh twigs (and flowers, when I can get them) and after much trial and error, ALWAYS use it as my first recourse against wasp, bee and scorpion stings, spider, ant or cone nosed kissing beetle bites, and for many rashes that look irritated and red. If however, the bite/sting is old and festering, I’m much more likely to go for a combo of fresh Plantain and Alder.

It’s also phenomenal for many hot type acute issues (ever so common in the SW Summer heat) including heat sickness with nausea, sun poisoning (internally and externally, with Rose), agitation and hyperactivity in children (with signs of heat),

 2 – Moonwort (Artemisia ludoviciana and allied spp.)cool, dry

My favorite frangrant bitter, this aromatic little plant kicks the digestive system into high gear and helps eradicate anything from food poisoning to travel-induced constipation. It’s also super useful for any wound, bite, bruise, sting, contusion and anything other red external thing that hurts. It’s also my favorite treatment (with Rose) for poison ivy/oak, just dilute the tincture with water and apply as a compress.

It’s broadly antimicrobial (read: bacteria, fungi, virus) when used externally so very useful for any potential infection as well as a treatment for that cold sore that’s about to happen. Internally, it’s also ver

3 – Blisswort (Scutellaria resinosa) cool, dry

A strong multipurpose antispasmodic, relaxant nervine and digestive bitter. I don’t think most Skullcaps work as efficient bitters, but the sticky little plants native to the canyon are as bitter as can be. Cooling, relaxing and quick acting, I use Blisswort for everything from muscle cramps (externally and internally, including charlie horses, menstrual cramps and similar afflictions), acute injuries, nerve pain (externally and internally), anxiety, emotional trauma, tremors, insomnia, certain kinds of stomach upset (with heat, stagnation and a feelings of stuckness).

4 – Wild Rose (Rosa woodsii and allied spp.) cool, dry

Yeah, we all know just how much I love this plant, don’t we? The perfect, gentle nervine for all kinds of trauma, stress, grief, fear and other strong emotions that threaten to debilitate the person. I use it like most people use Rescue Remedy (with the added benefit that Wild Rose tincture is harvested from my land, by me and made by me, no extra companies and machines needed).  Combine with Blisswort when a stronger nervine or anti-spasmodic effect is needed. It’s also perfect for heat sickness, sore throat, heat headache, mosquito and other itchy bites, sunburn (dilute with water and apply as compress), and can work some serious miracles on screwed up flora in the belly (making it really nice combined with Moonwort when dealing with foreign water, recovering from a course of antibiotics or similar issues), as well as all manners of hot inflammation manifesting as painful joints, rashes, wounds, venomous insect bites/stings (with Peach), menstrual cramps (internally and externally, and with Blisswort).

I said sunburn already, didn’t I? But seriously, this is the PREMIERE sunburn remedy (even better with Beebalm), it works nearly instantly to stop pain and heat, and usually completely prevents blistering, peeling and scarring. That also makes it great combined with Beebalm for any kind of burn (from campfires, hot metal, fire place etc), just apply the tincture directly to the burn as long as the skin isn’t broken. If the skin is broken, be sure to dilute the tincture in water first.

5 – Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia) cool/warm, dry

My favorite and first treatment for most acute (and many chronic) yeast infections and UTIs. When traveling, it’s especially important to have on hand because all you women know how much likely an infection or UTI is to come on when you’re eating unusual food, not drinking enough water and stressed from airports or long drives with irate children. It’s also fabulous for any burn from any source (use neat on unbroken skin, dilute for broken skin). A cold forehead compress made with tinctlure diluted in vinegar or water is wonderful for heat or stress headaches.

It’s also just what you want to have on hand if you contract any kind of systemic infection, as frequent doses of the tincture can knock out anything from your run of the mill sinus infection to a serious case of MRSA (with the help of an experienced health care provider, please). In serious cases, I usually combine it with Alder and possibly some Yerba Mansa.

6 – Elderberry (Sambucus neomexicana and allied spp.) – cool, dry

Usually in the form of Elderberry Elixir, combining berries and flowers with brandy and honey/glycerine for a preparation that seems to draw out the best of Elder’s many gifts. This is, of course, one of THE best remedies for eliminating cold/flu bugs that you are exposed to, that seem to want to settle in to your system and even those that are already comfortably at home and making your miserable. If it doesn’t prevent it (and it usually does), it’ll certainly speed the bug’s departure. With Elder’s strong affinity for the lungs, this elixir especially excels at preventing a virus from taking root in the respiratory system.  The elixir, if made with glycerine instead of honey, makes a great treatment for minor ear infections and swimmer’s ear as well (as long as there’s no signs of eardrum perforation). It can also be used on many wounds and burns if necessary, but it’s kind of sticky for that.

& a Salve

Usually my beloved Canyon salve, made up of a combo of Cottonwood, Alder, Moonwort and Pine. It’s great for any wound, scrape, splinters, bruise or injury and doubles up admirably well as a pain salve when needed for sore muscles, broken bones, blunt trauma, that kind of thing.

A Note: If you want more information or specifics on any of the plants I’ve mentioned here just use the search bar to the left to look them up by name (botanical name works especially well) or head over to the Medicine Woman’s Allies page and look for them there.

What’s missing from this list is any very strong astringent in case of profuse bleeding or diarrhea, but astringents are common and easy to come by so I don’t usually carry them on me. In the wild, there’s tons of plants (like Oak or Currant or Sumach or Geranium or Blackberry or or or) and in the city there’s lots of lovely kitchen spices and common foods (cinnamon, black tea and so on) that can be used. Besides, they’re usually much better taken as a tea or chewed plant than as a tincture when it comes to belly troubles or even most cases of bleeding.


I just posted the first instalment of a new version of my Talking With Plants essay on the Animá blog. These undertandings form an important part of the foundation of the Medicine Woman Tradition and the way I teach herbalism. You’ll likely recognize a few paragraphs from my orginal posts by the same name on this blog, but the latter half of the first installment as well as most of the second installment is all new. The new version is much more concise, to the point and blunt (I do so hate being misunderstood), and just generally improved. A vastly expanded version will be in the upcoming book and this shorter version will appear in its entirety on the Medicine Woman site in the near future as well as in the upcoming issue of Gaian Voices. Here’s a short excerpt:

Plants are not humans, but they are no less sentient and complex beings for their differences from us. While not human or even animals, they are people in the sense that they are intelligent, adaptable, vibrantly living and deeply feeling. In our attempts to relate to them, we would be wise to acknowledge and respect their profound otherness. Our natural tendency in nature is to attempt to understand through the similarities between them and us, and indeed, we are all connected and related through an amazing variety of traits. And yet, each species has its own special gifts to contribute to the whole. We honor those gifts by noticing and appreciating the ways in which we are different as well as the similarities.
-Kiva Rose

  11 Responses to “Top 7 Backpack Remedies: Plant Allies for the Trail & Road”

  1. I’ve never used peach … and I’ve read of its use … and I do feel drawn to it. I must seek out some untreated peach trees this year and experience it myself! Thanks for sharing your beautiful green wisdom with us all.

  2. So well said Kiva! Thank you. The bit about it being specific to your place is so true, and I love that you emphasized that it is about what we actually USE. There are so many I could have put on the list that are potentially great …. but in reality it’s not what ends up in my bag. I’ll have to get to some peach this year! My black cherry tincture has been a new favorite of mine, and my moms this past year…. that was very hard to leave out of the bag!

    Wonderful post.

  3. mmm… peach and plantain are like two great singers harmonizing one melody. I flat out love adding some peach leaf/twig tincture to a poultice of fresh plantain leaves.

  4. Ananda, I totally agree about the cherry, I had a hard time leaving it out too. I’m trying it out more on stings/bites at the moment and if it turns out to work anywhere near as well as Peach, then I may have to add it in, or periodically trade out the Peach for it LOL.

    I agree jim, although there are times that Peach can perform miracles on its own that Plantain can’t replicate by itself. I do prefer both together though and since you first introduced me to Peach I”ve done the Peach tincture on Plantain poultice many a time.

    Thanks for reading, Rose!

    Peach is SUCH a lovely herb, I’m so glad the trees are fairly common yard plants in this area.

  5. Good Morning Kiva,
    I am envious, as we here in Upstate, NY are still in barren mode. Very few spirits have woken up from winter’s slumber. I’ve been waiting for the Peach Blossoms and Cottonwood buds, but still nothing yet. When would be a good time to harvest the Peach for it’s tincture? The branches are still barren-no leaves.

    I would like to add on the UTI’s for traveling. This past summer my husband and I traveled to Sweden. I had gotten a very bad urinary tract infection and had to endure it for one and a half weeks. I never anticipated anything like that before but because we were traveling with a huge group of family, I didn’t hydrate myself enough for fear of having to frequently use the restroom, which seem to be always occupied. When we got home, I took some tincture of corn silk. It helped to alleviate a lot of the symptoms, but unfortunately by the time I finally took care of the problem, I ended up having to take antiobiotics. I’m glad that you wrote about the first aid kit for traveling. It’s very important to remember.

  6. Hi Helena,

    You can gather Peach twigs any time of year, but I especially like them in later winter or in early spring when they’re in blossom (and I tincture the flowers too). The leaves are wonderful for tea too and can be gathered any time after they mature 🙂

    Corn silk is a lovely herb, and very soothing, but if you have a serious infection something like Beebalm is much more appropriate (and will often work better than a course of antibiotics in many cases), although the best herb depends on your symptoms and constitution. And stay hydrated! Even if you have to find a bush to pee behind 😉

  7. I am delighted again, wonderful post! I like knowing there are other herbalists out there carrying remedies in their packs. I will have to expand beyond my bandaids 1st aid stuff I carry.

  8. Hi Kiva. I have a question. You had mentioned in a post a while back that you think the peach tree you pick from is somehow better than other peach trees. Have you found that to be very consistent? Have you found other trees which have as good of medicine? So is it worthless to try commercial peach trees? I actually know of a wild peach tree — one of my favorite plant beings — that makes fruit nearly every year up here in the mountains. I am going to go make a tincture from it this spring when it buds out. It’s on public land, growing up a hillside above a road on a south-facing slope…. where someone years ago had an old dump! So it’s a seedling from someone who tossed out their peach pit years ago. I love this tree and am hopeful it, too, will be good medicine. Thank you for telling us about the medicine of peach.

    Second, I wanted to share a rose story. After reading here last year your feelings on rose, and its usefulness in sunburn, I made a vinegar/rose solution and a tincture. (We have tons of wild rose right nearby, luckily). My little boy (who was 3 at the time) got into my hanging/ drying hot Basque peppers one day late last summer and started peeling them, taking them apart, etc, then went out to pee, and ended up totally burned on his hands AND his poor little private parts. He screamed for quite a while… until I got out the rose and put a washrag soaked in rose vinegar on him. He instantly quieted down and fell asleep! Literally, within 5 minutes , the burn crisis was over. (So, once again, thank you).

  9. Hi Kristen,

    Yep, it’s true, some Peach trees definitely seem to be more powerful than others. The good thing is that it’s easy to tell who’s who. If the bark and leaves smell at least moderately, then they’ll probably be very good medicine. If they have almost no smell, then it’ll probably work but be really mild. Sounds like your tree is likely to be a good one, since most of the mild trees I’ve met are garden spoiled and overwatered while my favorite tree is rather abused and neglected by the landowners (who could care less about plants, even peach trees).

    I’m so glad to hear that the rose vinegar helped your little one, it’s so awful when they’re in the pain that way! Rose is amazing, I don’t know what I’d do without that plant! You’re very welcome, I love it when my experience can help others.

  10. Hi Kiva,

    I’ve been enjoying your herbal knowledge, and uplifting essays and photos! I think I’m starting to get the hang of your extensive website; have hopped around, sampling bits of this and that, hungry to learn. 1.) Where do I go to unravel the mystery of terms such as hot/cold/dry/wet constitutions and conditions? 2.) Also, I’ve been enjoying the Joyce Wardwell book you recommended. I’ve been experimenting with different simples, but am confused about figuring out what and how to combine (or not) different herbs when I want to address more than one condition in the course of a day. Is there a place on this website to help get me on the right track?

  11. Hi Polly, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog (be sure to check out my website, as well). So far, most of my writing on energetics is as of yet unpublished, though there are lots of tidbits included in the blogposts and especially the herb monographs. I’ll be writing more about that in the near future.

    As far as simples and formulas I suggest you look at my recent post on just this subject:

    And as to using herbs at different times of day for different things, you usually don’t need to worry about that too much if you’re choosing appropriate herbs for the person (as in, they’ll all go together to treat the whole you rather than contraindicating each other if you’re choosing carefully).

    Hope that’s helpful.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>