Posted: February 2020
Author: Suzy Walsh, Naturopath | Medical Herbalist | BNat, mNMHNZ
Often as herbalists we are focused on chronic health conditions. However, first aid management is regularly required by our clients, friends or family. Often accidents or injuries occur in outdoor or remote areas, where help is far away and it is always best to have an appropriate first aid kit at the ready. Never complete without herbal topical balms, ointments and creams!
Common first aid conditions include cuts & grazes, bleeding wounds, septic wounds & boils, skin rashes, sprains, strains, fractures, burns, sunburn, insect & spider bites and stings, or animal bites. Here in Aotearoa, we are fortunate to have access to a variety of New Zealand native plants, with a long history of topical use for acute first aid situations. This article focuses on Solanum aviculare (Poroporo), Phormium tenax (Harakeke), Dysoxylum spectabile (Kohekohe) and Macropiper excelsum (Kawakawa), although there are many other New Zealand natives that offer therapeutic solutions for first aid situations.
Key Topical Actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-pruritic, antimicrobial.
Poroporo is used almost exclusively to treat inflammatory and itchy skin conditions. It contains the steroidal saponin, solasonine, which is believed to contribute to the powerful anti-inflammatory action of this unique plant.
Steambaths or poultices made from leaves and twigs can be used in cases of broken limbs and bruises. Cold water extract prepared from inner bark can be applied to soothe aches and pains and, Poroporo has been found to combine well with Karamū, Koromiko and Pukatea in an ointment to treat scrofula, sores, bruises and boils; also with Burdock and Kawakawa, for eczema.
Key Topical Actions: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, emollient.
The gel, or inner leaf sap, of Harakeke can be used for burns and sunburn. Both root decoctions and leaf preparations can be used topically for bleeding wounds, sores and cuts. Traditionally, dried stalks were burnt and the ashes were sprinkled over wounds as a dressing, and to stop bleeding.
The roots or blanched base of the leaves can be used topically to treat inflammations, bruises or abscesses, as an ointment, poultice or decoction, used as a rinse.
Key Topical Actions: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial.
Kawakawa Is a popular topical treatment for numerous skin conditions. It can be used in the treatment of cuts, boils, minor wounds and abrasions. Its anti-inflammatory actions lend this herb to bruises, sprains and strains. Finally, it is a great herb to have on hand for insect and spider bites and stings, or hives.
Key Topical Actions: astringent.
Kohekohe is one of the best native plant astringents and the leaves can help in the treatment of bleeding cuts or wounds, or other first aid situations where bleeding needs addressing. It is also an effective anti-diarrhoeal treatment, and can help in the management of boils or other skin eruptions.
Key Topical Actions: astringent, antimicrobial.
Tanekaha leaves or bark is also strongly astringent, and like Kohekohe, can be usefully made into a poultice or ointment and applied to bleeding cuts or wounds. Its antimicrobial and astringency properties, contribute to these benefits, as well as in the treatment of upset stomachs or diarrhoea.