I love growing my own herbs for everything. Tea, tincture, salve, first aid, food, you name it. Growing my own herbs all summer long and then filling my shelves makes me feel prepared for anything. When things became very hard to come by during the early year of COVID, I felt secure knowing I had everything I needed, even if no stores could ship for months.
As herbalists, we are lucky to have a head start. We can identify the herbs we want to use out on a walk. We know what to pick for scratches or cuts or stress or stomach aches. Having a well stocked home apothecary can also be used to build ready-to-go kits that are easy to use and targeted to the specific needs and situations in our regions. Some people have one kit for everything, but I like to have a few types of kits on hand for different situations. When a well thought out first aid kit combines with skills, we are better prepared. My kits have a lot of what I grow and make myself, along with some key items that I purchase. Some of that changes based on what I'm growing, the season, and the needs of my family.
Today I want to share more about how to build a day/camping/weekend outing kit. This is a small kit organized by season and region that is great for taking with you in the car, when hiking, or when camping.
I live in the midwest, so my needs definitely vary from summer to winter. In summer my kit tends to focus on injuries, sun, ticks and fatigue. If we were hiking in a more remote location I might add water filtration, food, batteries, and other items in case we get stranded/injured. If I put a kit in my car during blizzard season, I might include the first aid kit in a large lidded container along with bottled water, blankets, warm socks, extra hats, a box of instant hand warmers, and gloves. When my kids were younger I always carried extras - suckers, granola bars, sunscreen, backup shoes, and outfits along with a first aid kit. I also have a child that gets overheated easily, so I always carried instant cold packs and/or coolers with re-freezable ice packs, which were good for not only keeping food cool, but also cooling down and on injuries.
There are a few main categories to consider when building a first aid kit. To start, let’s look at all of the supplies as a whole first, and then focus on the herbal first aid elements.
Allergies: If anyone in your family has allergies, having a few antihistamine tablets can be a big help. For skin allergies, having salve or balm that help with the itch and inflammation is great. For more serious allergies, keeping benadryl in the kit is a great idea, and always having epipens in the kit for those that experience anaphylactic reactions. We also carry a cooler with an ice pack in summer to keep epipens cool if it is really hot. For seasonal allergies, making an iced tea blend for camp that includes peppermint, goldenrod, and nettles can be nice and support lowering histamine response as well.
ENTE: Ears, nose, throat, eyes. Q-tips are great for mixing things as well as clearing out bugs or gunk in the ears or nose. With small children during the cold and flu season, mullein ear oil might be on your list. Eye drops or single use saline ampules are great for rinsing the eyes or inflammation. If you are on a longer hiking trip it might be a good idea to carry a dental kit or have clove essential oil and a mixing medium to apply to any broken teeth or on gum injuries until you get back to civilization. Teething gel can help as well, especially if you have little ones (though I have used it on a few adults as well). Chamomile tea bags are a great addition to a kit as the tea can be used for calming and stomach upset, as well as an eye rinse. I keep salt in my small kit because it can be used as a gargle for sore throat, to make a saline rinse for a wound, or mixed with honey and lemon juice to create an oral rehydration mix. Salt is lightweight and doesn’t go bad, so it is great for emergency kits.
General/Seasonal: This is where you think of where you live and what is happening around you.. If you live in the desert southwest, something for snake bites may be important. . If you live near the ocean and are always at the beach, burn spray or eye rinse cups might be useful (or jellyfish stings). Just try to think of where you are going and what the climate and top needs/issues might be. In extreme heat you might want cool packs, in cold, hand warmers. On longer hikes in remote areas a whistle or a water filtration straw might be very important to have. This also includes some staples/basics such as tweezers, safety pins, tape, multitool, flashlight, scissors, a notebook and pen, electrolytes, and extra baggies. I also put things in baggies where I can - they can be used over a bandage on a hand, finger or foot. They keep the contents dry in case of torrential rain or falling into a creek or river. They can be used to mix something together, to place over gauze and taped on an injury. There are many uses for a few extra plastic bags, it is good to have a few in the kit.
Gut/Digestion: Chamomile tea is mentioned above and can be good for an upset stomach. Ginger tea or ginger chews can also help with stomach upset and nausea. I love ginger chews. Bismuth tabs are great for diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, and indigestion, and are lightweight and obviously identifiable. For poisoning or other more severe issues, having activated charcoal tablets on hand is important. I also like carrying capsules of ginger/chamomile or oregon grape root, depending on the season and length of outing.
Illness: Illness can be from food or water, viruses, bacteria, or other causes. During cold and flu season you might want to stock elderberry syrup and natural cough drops. In the summer, it might be nausea or diarrhea (see above). For a short hike or weekend camping trip, stocking just the basics can help get you home. For longer trips or hikes, having items that can help reduce a fever or soothe a cough might be what is needed. Yarrow is a good multi use herb that can be used to stop bleeding or for a fever. I like to have powdered yarrow on hand, but also often include a squeeze bottle of yarrow tincture for cleaning hands or for fever as well. Echinacea tincture is always in my bag for illness (and wounds) as well.
Infections/Wounds: This category not only includes having bandages, compresses, suture tape, or wraps, but also antibacterial support for cuts, scratches, and punctures. Lavender essential oil is a good one to carry as it can be applied to a burn, used in an inhaler for anxiety, has antiseptic properties and is antimicrobial. You can make rollerballs with first aid blends and have them ready to apply. Lavender is also safe for kids and the elderly - and if you carry a small vial of carrier oil or have a pre-mixed rollerball ready to go, it can be easily blended for other topical applications. This category also includes salve - I like making salves in small sticks so that they are portable and solid enough to not melt in the summer heat. To keep from contaminating the stick, you can scrape some off with a clean Q-tip, popsicle stick, or finger and apply to any wound. I like having a stick of salve that can be used for blisters, cuts, sunburns, and is a good all around ointment. I also always pack a soothing sun spray in the summer, that helps relieve sunburn, but can also be used for other scraps and scratches. If we are already carrying a cooler with ice packs, I put the burn spray in with the cold things, as a chilly burn spray feels amazing on a sunburn. Echinacea tincture can be used internally for infection and illness as well as topically on wounds.
Kids/Pets: This is a big variable category. With small children you might want to include suckers, herbal gummies for stomach issues, and even things like extra socks and cute bandages that make it easier to keep them on. If you hike with your dog, having a folding bowl, extra water, and some sort of liquid bandage can help with pet paw injuries and overheating. I like the paw wax for pads in winter, as if my dog gets a cut, it can be heavily applied and help us get back to the car. The dog flexible wrap tape that discourages them from chewing on bandages can help, too, and it can be used for humans or pets. I also like the dog bandanas that are of the cool cloth material, as you get it damp, squeeze it out, and it is cooling. Good for a hot dog as well as hot kids, in a pinch.
Medications: If you have important medications, having some extra in case you get caught out is a good idea. Important medications become critical if you are stranded along a raging river for 2 days, or have an injured person and are waiting for assistance. This can also include glucose tablets, candies or honey sticks for blood sugar, an inhaler for asthma, or other critical needs.
Pain: Pain can be from a wound, sprains, overexertion, or fall. Keeping some aspirin and other NSAIDs on hand can help, as can having topical pain relief for tooth problems, wounds, burns, or other injuries. One spray I always have in my kit is Kloss’s Liniment. This recipe has been around for over 100 years, and is well known in the herbal community. This can be used for pain, swelling, bruises or boils, toothaches, sores, and more. This is also a good skin cleanser on wounds to reduce chances of infection. I love the little sampler spray bottles for these things, as they take up little space, but have enough to use many times.
Safety: This may not be a big need for a short hike or camping at a busy campground. But if you are hiking backwoods or are kayaking Lake Superior, you may have to add safety additions to your kit. Things such as a whistle, bear spray, flares, extra emergency blankets, a flint or waterproof matches, and food rations might be important depending on the location. If you have younger children, you may want them to carry an emergency whistle and your contact information at all times. When my kids were small and we hiked a lot, I got the fishing vest lots of little pockets. The pockets could carry the whistle, compass, snacks, ice packs (to keep cool), little bottle of cold water, contact info in a baggie for waterproofing, etc. That way they carried their own things too, which is less for me to carry, and critical items would be WITH them if we got separated.
Sanitation: No matter how many herbal aids you have on hand, if a wound cannot be cleaned out it can get infected. Salt is a good option when mixed with water to rinse out a wound. Kloss’s Liniment is a good option, and so is lavender essential oil. The first step to working with any wound is having clean hands. I like carrying soap, but if you don’t have a clean water source that isn’t helpful. A mini hand sanitizer is good. If you are in an area without access to any water that is a problem too, and I try to always have a small water source in the kit in case we are out otherwise. Water and salt can also help clean hands. I also pack some natural antibacterial wipes for hands, surfaces, tools, tweezers, etc. Sanitary gloves are important too, and I always have a few pairs on hand.
Skin: Skin crosses over with wounds and infection, but also includes bug spray, sunscreen, tape, gauze, burn pads, wound repair and more. Bug bites can use an anti-itch balm or salve, which also crosses over with skin reactions to water, sap, or plants. I always carry a few moist burn pads or ointments as well, for any bigger burns when we have campfires. With skin goes ticks as well, and a tick remover for those in tick areas is good, or really pointy tweezers. Those little honey sticks can be used on skin or for blood sugar. Yarrow powder can be used to slow bleeding. Plantain is for scratches and scrapes, and I like to have a little jar of dried plantain that can be mixed with some water to make a poultice or compress. I also keep moleskin tape as it is a great cover for blisters.
Trauma: Trauma can involve injury or a scary event. I like to keep a skullcap glycerite on hand for calming after injury, pain, or frightening event. It can help calm when scared of the dark or when stressed due to an accident or storm. I also carry a blank inhaler container with a wick that can be used with lavender essential oil to calm, or, the wick can be used to help stop a nosebleed. Rescue Remedy is often in kits for this, as can be other glycerites or calming tools.
Other: There are a few things in my kit that I have found are a must when we are also packing herbs. A container that holds q-tips can also be used as a mixing jar. Yarrow and Plantain can be crushed and sprinkled in, mixed with water, and applied to an injury. I keep a few muslin bags that can be filled with plant material and placed on a wound. They can also be used to steep herbs for an infusion or compress. I keep a small empty squirt bottle for blending salt and water and used for cleaning a wound or gargling. Q-tips can be used as applicators or stir sticks. I like an emergency blanket in the kit as it can be used not only as a blanket, but also a dry groundcover, a sling, a blanket, a tarp/rain cover, ties/straps for a splint, and even as a reflector.
Herbal First Aid RECIPES
So, now that you have all of this information, how do we put it all together? I created a sheet you can download to use as a checklist when you build your own portable camping/car/day trip herbal first aid kit. This can help you go over the categories, and cover your bases as you adjust for seasons, region, and family needs. You will see modified and expanded versions of this checklist in the future as we also talk about a home family first aid kit and a bug out bag kit.
Of course the point of all of this is that we have an herbal first aid kit that utilizes herbs and plants we have grown ourselves and that we have in our home apothecary. If you don’t have all of these items you can purchase them all, or slowly add to your kit. To get you started, here are some recipes for a few key elements in your portable Herbal First Aid Kit.
1. Yarrow Powder
Take 1 ounce of dried yarrow (flower and leaf). Put into a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and grind until a fine powder. Put into an airtight container such as a small jar or tin. To use, infuse in water and use as compress for fever. Soak a splinter in yarrow infusion to draw it out before you pull it out with tweezers. Sprinkle ground powder on a wound to stop bleeding and reduce inflammation. Drink the infusion for fever and colds (not for infants).
2. Kloss’s Liniment
This liniment recipe has been around for a long time. It was first published in 1939 in Back to Eden, by Dr. Jethro Kloss. There are variations online and in herbal books. Google search to find options that fit with your needs. The recipe is for sore muscles and can also be used as a disinfectant. I change it up based on what I have on hand.
The base recipe is:
1 oz echinacea powder
1 oz myrrh powder
½ oz goldenseal powder
½ oz calendula powder
½ oz thyme powder
¼ oz dried cayenne pepper
1 pint rubbing alcohol
Add dried herbs (powdered works best) to a pint or quart canning jar. Add about 1 pint of rubbing alcohol to the jar, and screw on the lid. Shake well every day or two for 4-6 weeks. Store in a warm location during this time. Strain well and bottle.
Label EXTERNAL USE ONLY very clearly. Pour into a small spray bottle for your first aid kit and label properly.
You can choose other herbs to add to the infusion including St. John’s Wort, yarrow, or plantain. You can also add essential oils to the final blend to enhance certain properties. Rubbing alcohol is used here as it evaporates well and is a great disinfectant, but you can also use witch hazel, vodka, or another menstruum of choice.
3. Sun Spray
½ ounce calendula infused witch hazel
½ ounce aloe vera (liquid type is good for a spray bottle)
Mix together and put into a small spray bottle. Label and use for sunburns, inflamed skin, bug bites, etc.
8 drops lavender essential oil
32 drops of Solubol or dispersant
4. Joint & Muscle Rub Stick
3 oz Arnica, Willow Bark, & Comfrey infused jojoba oil
½ oz shea butter
½ oz cocoa butter
20 drops black spruce essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
Gently melt the butters with the infused oil until liquid. Add the essential oils and pour into travel deodorant stick or small balm stick molds. Quantity made varies by what size container you use.
If it gets really hot where you are, you might want to add a little extra butter or beeswax to get a nice solid stick. I find my summer sticks need a little more butter/wax than the winter sticks so they apply smoothly.
5. Muscle Ache Oil20 drops Helichrysum Essential Oil
10 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
2 oz Trauma Oil (blend of St. John’s Wort, Arnica, and Calendula, usually)
Blend together into a flip top bottle.
To use: Shake well, squirt a little onto hands, and massage into aching muscles.
Safe for kids 10& up
6. Lavender Salve Stick (boo boo bar)
1 oz Lavender & Calendula infused babassu oil (or other oil of your choosing)
⅓ oz shea butter
6 drops lavender essential oil
3 drops tea tree essential oil
Melt together the shea and infused oil until liquid. Add the essential oils. Add a few drops of vitamin E if desired. Pour into lip balm tubes. Let harden.
If it is very hot where you are, you may need a little more shea butter or some beeswax to make this a solid enough stick. I like pouring this into large lip balm tubes. Quantity varies by what size tube you use.
Activated Charcoal Tablets: Activated charcoal comes in a large container of powder, which is really messy to handle. I like using a capsule maker with ‘00’ capsules. I fill a bunch with the activated charcoal and keep them in a baggie in my kit. They can be swallowed as a capsule, or broken open and used for other things such as emergency water filtration. (Requires basic knowledge to properly and safely utilize in this way).
Bug Bite Sticks: You can make your own or get the little sticks that break and the cotton swab get saturated that you run on the itch.
Other Tablets: Other capsules that come in handy include ginger, chamomile, slippery elm, or oregon grape root. See what your seasonal needs would most likely be and make what works!
Building a first aid kit doesn’t have to be complicated. Tick the boxes of your needs, put together something in a case or container that you will remember to carry and that is easy to carry - if it is heavy or inconvenient, you will leave it behind. I have a great bag that velcros or straps onto any backpack, making it super easy to take along, and to find when in a panic. Start small, build as you go. Check through it seasonally and see what needs a seasonal change or a refill. By starting with this daytrip/weekender first aid kit, you are on your way to having a fully stocked set of first aid kits that keeps your family ready for anything!
I plan to share more about making full family first aid kits and bug out first aid kits soon, so subscribe to be sure you get it in your inbox.
I first wrote this article back in 2019, when it was published in Home Herbalist Magazine. This article has been edited and updated over the years, and I wanted to share it here! This has been edited for the times and my own first aid kit!
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, permaculture designer, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.
©2007-23 Denise Cusack, all photos and text. Feel free to share my posts on FB or Twitter or online media or pin on Pinterest (thank you!), but please keep the links back to my website intact (meaning please do not take or copy my images off of this website and share them unattributed or without linking back here or use them without permission). Thank you! :)
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