The Honest To Herbal Truth: On-Site Wound Care at D-Town Harvest Fest
Here's a little story, the honest-to-herbal truth.
I had the good fortune to have been asked to do an herbal tea demonstration and tasting at D-Town Farm's harvest festival this past Saturday. After the workshop, I had quite a bit of tea left over and the scent of brewing elderberry and spice drew a number of young people and adults to the tent for samples. I had some lemons and an orange sitting on a cutting board as well. One of the young men asked me if he could have the orange. I agreed and he took it. Instead of him peeling it, he decided to cut it with the large butcher knife that I had sitting on the cutting board. Although there were adults present the whole time, and as these things often go, in the blink of an eye he had cut his index finger.
The adult who was with the young man quickly signaled to me of the accident and asked if I had anything for it. I was momentarily at a loss of what to do other than apply pressure with a paper towel. However, because it was a finger and because the finger's owner was jumping around, it would not stop bleeding even though it wasn't a very large cut at all, probably an eighth of an inch, if that. It just wouldn't stop bleeding. I was looking around me and hoping a huge bunch of yarrow would appear because I did not have Band-Aids or gauze and tape or any first aid-ish kinds of things with me. Although I knew there had to be a first aid station somewhere at the festival, in the meantime I did want to address the situation. I contemplated a plantain spit poultice but decided he didn't probably know me well enough for that nor was the situation dire enough to override the ewww-factor of spit poultices.
After thinking about it for a few more seconds, I looked at the mason jars full of tea that I had brewed for our tea tasting. There was astragalus, elderberry, hibiscus, marshmallow root, ginger and a cinnamon, clove and star anise blend. I remembered that I had gone over the antibacterial, anti-viral, and an anesthetic qualities of cinnamon with the workshop participants and I knew clove to be a wonderful pain reliever as well so I quickly dipped some paper towels in cool spice tea and washed his wound carefully. Then we applied pressure with a tea dampened paper towel. The little cut continued to bleed so, again remembering my lessons, I plopped a dollop of raw honey right on top of it. About two minutes later, Mama Hanifa, ever vigilant, strolled over with a first-aid bag full of Band-Aids and first aid cream and gauze and tape and declared, "I heard there was a wound here!" (Emphasis added, lol) We unwrapped his finger from the paper towel and guess what? It had stopped bleeding and was looking rather fine for a fresh cut. We decided to smear a bit more raw honey on it, plus a little extra on the neighboring finger because the young man really wanted to have some honey for himself, and sent the tea-taster on his merry way.
Now that may not seem like much but, to me, its what community herbalism is all about! It was helpful to the situation right then and there and it felt good to be able to fill the need. It was natural, gentle and effective. It was wonderful to witness firsthand plant and natural medicine at work.
Let's go over what we did:
Applying pressure makes it more difficult for a wound to bleed. It helps the blood to start clotting and after a time it will make a small one stop bleeding. However, as someone who loves to cook and is therefore in the kitchen a lot, I have experienced how determined a knife cut or a blender blade cut (yes I did that, I was washing the blender and stuck my hand right into the middle of it, ouch!) is to bleed, and to continue bleeding. It has taken me more than a few minutes to get a kitchen wound to stop bleeding with just the application of pressure. So be patient, it does work. In the case of larger wounds, one would want to apply pressure all the way to the hospital or urgent care facility. Use paper towel, a dish towel, washcloth, or t-shirt (Most preferably clean fabric! But, if time is of the essence, use whatever is handy).
Washed with spice tea.
I have personally experienced the pain relieving constituents of clove with toothaches. I have bitten down and held a clove in the sore area of my mouth and the clove oil really numbs the pain. My son can also testify to this. He had a painful wisdom tooth and I told him to hold a clove between the teeth in the area of pain. He did so, giving me the "my mom is a hippeeeeeee but I have to do what she says" look and left the room. He circled back around not more than a minute later to poke his head in the door and say, "You know, that really worked!" Clove is an excellent addition to a homemade mouthwash as well. It's a breath freshening anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant and antiseptic.
as I noted above, cinnamon is also antiseptic and fights bacteria, viruses, fungus and yeast infections. It is an anesthetic as well. Cinnamon is also astringent which helps to tone and tighten the skin or wick away excess moisture which i assumed would help stop bleeding. Today, I consulted the
Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood wherein it is clearly states that cinnamon helpful for stopping bleeding in wounds.
Like clove and cinnamon, star anise is another warming spice. It's one of the flavors associated with Chinese spice powder blends. If you know
Phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup, then you have experienced the sweetened savoriness that star anise lends to a beef broth. (Pause here note that this is Phở season, decide to learn to make homemade Phở, smile inwardly, yummmmmmmm. OK.) Star anise also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Star anise is not
to be confused with the flowering herb anise NOR the ornamental Japanese Star Anise!
I'm going to go on about this for a little bit because in doing my research I could not believe the amount of misinformation that is out here about just this one herb. I mean spice. Or, rather these three spices. Or is it two spices and one herb? I don't know but this bears repeating because some of the effects of ingesting the wrong plant can be very harmful especially since a lot of the uses are recommended for babies with colic and gastrointestinal distress. This is such a cause for concern that the FDA recently issued a warning about using star anise for children, BUT in good old FDA fashion, they issued a warning without telling quite the whole story, I believe...or maybe MedicineNet.com didn't have all of their facts straight. Anyway, it is confusing and it's important that we know the difference. Therefore I'm going to do a quick and dirty breakdown. Warning, it will involve Latin. This is the only way you're going to know for sure what you're ingesting, so, here we go:
Star Anise is shaped like a star, originated in China and it's Latin name is Illicium verum. It is good for tea for adults and a delicious culinary spice.
It is not to be given to small children.
Japanese star anise looks exactly like Chinese star anise, although it appears to be a bit larger in some pictures. The Latin name is Illicium anisatum. Inedible and
highly toxic, it can cause seizures, induce vomiting, and can cause kidney inflammation if ingested. It's usually burned as an incense. Apparently there have been questions as to whether or not the two have been confused and/or cross contaminated in certain instances. So my suggestion is to buy from a reputable source that is certified
organic, one that indicates the Latin name of the herb or spice right on the product.
Anise seed (also called anise or aniseed) is a flowering plant in the same family as celery, carrots and parsley. It's Latin name is Pimpinella anisum. It is reminiscent of other culinary seeds such as dill, fennel, and caraway. Anise is in a completely different botanical family than star anise even though they do taste similar! Here I will defer to
Matthew Wood's Earthwise Herbal once again for insight into the uses of anise because I have not yet used it medicinally. I can see where the confusion comes from. It seems that most of the noted cases of harmful ingestion came from well-meaning folks who were trying to treat themselves or their children for the types of issues that one would use anise (Pimpinella anisum) for, not star anise (Illicium verum) or Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum). Of anise, Matthew Wood says:
… It calms and builds the nervous system, acting especially on the digestive and respiratory sphears through both the nerves and mucosa. ...The most important use of anise is as a carminative for spasm and bloating in the stomach and intestines. An ancient name for anise was solamen intestinorum (comforter of the bowels.)
He goes on to specifically recommend it for colic in infants and young children, saying it's safe for young babies, gripe, colic and pain.
This is followed by the note not to confuse it with star anise.
In all of the FDA warning material and in lot of the online information about star anise, most point to the danger of confusing the spice star anise (Illicium verum) with the spice Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) but none of them refer back to the herb anise (Pimpinella anisum) to shed a light of possibility as to why so many folks were trying to use star anise for digestive upset and infantile colic. The safety of anise seed and its appropriate use for the symptoms and circumstances indicated is never mentioned. Leaving out detail like this could work to instill fear and make folks shy away from using any of these herbs at all.
OK! That went on a lot longer than I planned because I did not anticipate the snafu around star anise, Japanese star anise and anise. Whew. On to raw honey.
Dressed with raw honey.
Yes I did say that I smeared raw honey on an open cut. Now that may sound strange or even detrimental for an open wound situation, but hear me out.
I had with me a jar of organic, wild crafted, raw honey (from Trader Joe's). It's important that it be raw honey for all of the healthy benefits, not the pasteurized or heat treated stuff that is usually on the grocery store shelf. Raw honey is antiseptic and antimicrobial. It is actually mildly acidic (with a ph ranging from 3 to 4.5) which helps it destroy certain microbes. Raw honey produces hydrogen peroxide when placed on an open wound. It is anti-inflammatory, will clean the site of any infection, protect the wound from bacteria, and promote healing without scarring. Yesterday was my first time using honey on a little cut, so I cannot claim more experience than that, but I feel like it is worth a try on a burn, abrasion or cut based on the number of resources, teachers, and medical professionals that cite honey for its wound healing properties. It definitely will be in my first aid kit.
What about those other teas?
As for the other teas that were available, I have been thinking about wether I could have used any one of them. Probably, with varying degrees of success. They all no doubt would have cleansed the young man's cut. If it had been scraped knee or other abrasion, I may have reached for the marshmallow root for its moistening, cooling, and anti-inflammatory properties. Astragalus would have been good if it were deep and dirty wound as it helps to increase white blood count for fighting infection. I think hibiscus, with its bright red color, would have scared the wits out of the child and any bystanders! And ginger, well that seems like it would have burned terribly. Elderberry? sure...but it would have stained everything in reach. So, I think I did ok as a "first responder" that day.
This experience has me thinking that a few herbs (or teabags) and some raw honey would be good first-aid items to include in a family kit. Moistened chamomile teabags are great for soothing the eyes, a wet mint teabag could cool off a sting or insect bite. Hmmmmm....this is giving me lots of ideas. Stay tuned for more ways to use herbs for first aid.
As I learn, so will you!
Peace & Blessings