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Herbal First Aid Kit

Posted by Courtney Parker, PhD on

After the blog about herbs for craft brewing last week -- check the website if you missed it -- we thought we'd go in a different direction...

On that note, we're going to start our 'Herbal First Aid Kit' list with a hangover remedy.

1) The Hangover

Everyone already knows about Milk Thistle -- touted for its liver cleansing (and thus, strengthening) properties, right? So, how about a little detox before your next 'retox'? Milk Thistle can be taken as a tincture, a supplement, a tea (or, as otherwise preferred). It also acts to block some of the more immediate symptoms of overindulgence by prohibiting toxins from binding to your hepatocytes (liver cells).

Commonly known for its soothing effect on digestion, Mint can help relieve the associated nausea from over-indulging -- while also stimulating concentration and providing a natural boost of energy to help focus through the brain fog.

Chamomile is legendary for its ability to soothe the entire system (i.e. generalized relaxant properties) -- which includes the generalized anxiety many people experience when 'hungover'.

2) Nervous Vibes

Speaking of anxiety, the days of stigmatizing mental health issues or marginalizing them to the confines of a psychiatrist's or therapist's office are over.

So, let's talk about some herbs which can help with the anxiety we experience either episodically, routinely, or as a 'free-floating' feeling which can weave through our minds and lives at random -- like an uninvited guest.

Kava Kava -- an excellent anti-anxiety herb and natural muscle relaxer -- is strong enough for use in mitigating panic attacks and regulating anxiety. Valerian is nothing to sleep on either...Wait, yes it is. Valerian also has anti-anxiety properties and people use it to help fall asleep.

Sometimes we can treat root causes instead of just symptoms of anxiety. And, while not an herb per say, Magnesium -- look out for herbs high in Magnesium like Basil -- may be the most underestimated anti-anxiety warrior. It's been theorized that many, if not most, of us are Magnesium deficient -- regulating Magnesium levels is one way to treat a root rather than a symptom of anxiety. With similar deficiency symptoms, the same can hold true with Iron and B-Vitamins.

Of course, Chamomile gets a mention here, too. We feel like that's an old news but good news sort of thing. Keep sipping that chamomile, folks!

Lavender -- in almost any form (including our Lavender Hydrosol which bartenders like to spritz over cocktails and mocktails) is widely known to calm the nerves and usher in a more peaceful night's sleep.

Sometimes a little anxiety is good to keep us focused...until it's not.

3) Lethargy

Anxiety's cousin, lethargy lends another set of symptoms and related problems. Check out some gentle stimulants which don't create as much of a crash later, compared to more mainstream options. (We're not taking away your Starbucks card; we promise).

Yerba Mate is a natural stimulant (not that coffee isn't but YM is generally less processed and holds more nutrients) -- and people who don't ride the coffee wave well, have come to prefer it. Indigenous to South America, Yerba Mate has strong traditions and is a kinder, gentler, herbal stimulant for when you need prolonged periods of increased stamina -- this varies according to concentration and dosage. Loose Yerba Mate leaves may be brewed in your coffee maker just as you would do with ground coffee.

Another South American medicinal plant, which has (quite unfairly) been given a bad name over the years, is coca. Coca leaves are often ground into flour for food and it's been a subsistence crop in regions of South America since before traceable history. When made into a tea, it is both gently energizing and calming to the stomach. It doesn’t leave you feeling wired, nor bring on a crash later. One day the small subsistence farmers who have suffered the most under the drug wars -- while growing the same crops as their ancestors -- will be able to access a legal market to distribute the healthy alternative products made from coca. Until then...

While not as exotic, not only does Peppermint put some pep in your step, it also naturally decreases cortisol levels in your body (chemicals which are both produced by and a self-perpetuating producer of stress)

Or, maybe Spearmint is more your cup of tea -- another mint with such properties.

Mints tend to serve as some of the gentlest of the herbal stimulants, but sometimes gentle is what you need.

4) Actual Wound Cleansers

Melaleuca and Tea Tree Oil are celebrated for their antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Both are exceptionally well-known for relieving the symptoms of bug bites and acting as some of nature's most powerful bug repellents. Imagine being the first person to figure that out!

Lavender is also a good go-to wound cleanser. Infused in alcohol it may be used as a hand sanitizer. The scent soothes the systemic stress response most injuries bring as well. Another two for one!

Lavender is anti-fungal, antiseptic, and, anti-inflammatory.

5) Pain Relievers

Kratom -- native to the southeastern region of Asia and also parts of Africa -- products are having a 'moment' outside of their ancient stomping grounds. Kratom's pain relieving properties have become urban-legendary in the U.S. It’s even attributed as a front-runner in the crucial fight against opioid addiction. Kratom leaves have historically been chewed by small farmers in its native regions for their pain-relieving but mildly stimulant properties.

We'll go ahead and hold space for Kava here too; with its strong, generalized, relaxing properties, Kava can alleviate a lot of pain generated by muscle tension or soreness.

Beyond its own pain-relieving properties, Moringa (coming soon to Grant Wallace Farm -- stay tuned) is a bonafide 'superfood'. It's a great herb for soothing inflammation and joint pain. Hence, Moringa is oft recommended for arthritis even in allopathic medicinal circles.

6) Insect Repellent

Lavender is a well known bug-repellent even among the more famous Tea Trees, Melaleucas, and Citronellas. It has a much more pleasant aroma than some of the other heavy hitters.

Of course, herbal bug repellent properties come in handy not just for use on skin or in candles but in companion planting -- when planted around more vulnerable herb and flower varieties as a barrier.

Basil also repels mosquitoes and flies. Basil would be a great container garden plant around al fresco dining areas, especially -- plus diners would get a kick out of seeing the chef or bartender come out and pick fresh herbs for ambience alone.

Calendula is another gentle and aromatic bug repellent which can also be used in the bar and kitchen.

If you're moving about the deep woods, in the deep South, during those certain times of year we definitely aren't saying you shouldn't rely on something stronger for personal topical use. During warmer and wetter weather, vector-borne diseases are on the rise. Stay vigilant about this but sustainable in your use of insecticides, please (asking for the bees).

***If you plan on going hiking, camping, or otherwise adventuring, please take a more standard first aid kit with you. 

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