Summer Safety: Natural First Aid

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Event Date: 07/28/2000.

Did you know that cayenne pepper can stop bleeding? That honey can soothe a burn? Join herbalist Brigette Mars to discuss time tested remedies for emergencies of all sorts from injuries and ailments to natural disasters.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Hello and welcome to the Women's Health Place on WebMD Live!

Our guest speaker today is Brigitte Mars, an herbalist and nutritional consultant from Boulder, Colorado. Brigitte is the author of Natural First Aid. She has 30 years experience working in the field of natural medicine. Brigitte teaches herbology at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, the Boulder College of Massage Therapy, and at Naropa University. She is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild.

Brigitte, Welcome to WebMD LIVE, it is a pleasure having you here today.

Mars: Thank you.

Moderator: Brigitte, could you tell our members about your background and how you got interested in natural medicine and herbology?

Mars: My interest in herbs became strong when I was a teenager. I went to an all-girl boarding school and began reading about herbal remedies and started experimenting with my classmates. No one really liked the nurse that much, so they used to come to my room and ask me things like, "I just broke up with my boyfriend and I'm sad. What should I do?" And, "What should I do for my cramps?" By the time I was 17, I was managing a natural food store in the Virgin Islands, and studying the local flora of the Caribbean. Went to college and graduated from Boulder School of Massage Therapy, but lived in a teepee for two and a half years, eating nothing but wild edible plants. Being a mother also gave me lots of opportunities to use herbs to treat numerous childhood consequences.

Moderator: Brigitte, in your opinion, what first aid techniques should everyone know?

Mars: It seems that anyone who is a parent and works with children, really everyone should take a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) class. My book has instructions on how to do CPR. You need to learn it not only from a book, but to practice on a dummy and have your technique critiqued by someone well versed with CPR. But it seems that having a first aid kit in car, home, and even a mini one in your backpack or purse would be a good place to start. What to put in the first aid kit is certainly important. I think of basics like Band Aids, and tweezers to pull out splinters, and homeopathic arnica, which is used for bruising, sprains, shock, trauma. Homeopathic arnica you would take orally, and the arnica salve you would use on unbroken skin. Arnica moves fibrin, which is a protein that forms at the site of injury. Also it may be good to have lavender essential oil in your first aid kit. Simply smelling the oil can calm your nerves, help a person who feels faint, quiet an anxiety attack, and the oil can be applied directly to burns, infection, a pimple that might be developing. It can be used as an insect repellant, and has both antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. A bottle of  Echinacea tincture is good to use at the first sign of infection, and can also be applied topically to insect bites, infected wounds, although it may sting a bit because it has alcohol in it. One other thing to put in the first aid kit is Rescue Remedy, which is the name of a product available at health food stores. Two drops go under the tongue. It's for emotional trauma. It might even be the trauma of seeing an accident, or to give to someone who has been in an accident. It really calms you down. I've even used it in airplanes when the person is really afraid to fly. It's good for things like arguments. Take a break and take two drops of Rescue Remedy, and you will find that it resolves a lot better.

Moderator: What is in Rescue Remedy?

Mars: It's made from five different flowers. It's a flower essence, so it's a type of vibrational medicine, much like homeopathy. It has clematis, which is for the loss of consciousness, far away feeling; there's star of Bethlehem (flower) for shock; as well as cherry plum for fear. There's two other remedies in there as well. 

One last thing in the first aid kit is an herbal salve. An herbal salve can be applied to wounds, even broken skin. The purpose is to promote wound healing and to prevent infection. This is a tiny first aid kit that you could put in a second wallet size pack. It's a good idea for people to learn to identify plants that may be growing around them. Very often, for instance, if someone sprains their ankle, there may be plants right around you that you can use for a poultice. Herbs like plantain, comfrey leaves, are both good for topical applications of wounds, sprains, bruises. I'm certainly respectful of the wonderful first aid medical care available in our modern medical system, but it seems that we often overly rely on that. A wise person not only knows when to go to the hospital, but also what to do in an emergency when time is of the essence.

reallyrosie_webmd: What should be done when someone goes into shock?

Mars: It's good to recognize the signs of shock, such as cold, clammy skin, a rapid or faint pulse, irregular breathing weakness and nausea. Disorientation might also occur. A lot of times we don't realize someone is in shock. Rough handling of someone who is in shock can worsen the outcome of how they recover from their injury. Get the person to lie down, and loosen any clothing that might be constricting such as ties, belts, watches. It's not essential that people lie on their backs; sometimes people lie in recovery position so that if they do vomit or have fluid out of their mouth, they won't choke. It's like lying on the side so fluids can drain out. If they are on the back, elevate feet eight to 12 inches. This helps conserve energy in the torso. Slightly elevate the head. But if you suspect any type of neck or spinal injury, don't elevate anything. Keep the person warm, but just enough to prevent the loss of body heat. Having a blanket in your car is a good thing to be able to offer, especially if the blanket is something that you can part with. Reassure the victim. Speak calmly to them. If you panic, it will make them more frightened. It could elevate blood pressure. If the person is going to need surgery, you should not give them anything to drink or eat. If you don't think it's going to be that sort of illness, the two drops of Rescue Remedy under the tongue, or arnica, or getting the person to take deep breaths using the lavender oil. You can make a simple rehydration  drink with a half teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of salt to a quart of water. You may just want to moisten the lips with this, if drinking is going make them vomit. Quarter-cup doses every 15 minutes would be a wise recommendation. Again, if they're unconscious, certainly offer nothing to drink, although you could apply Rescue Remedy topically to their wrist, forehead or neck.

saralg_webmd: What is the difference between heat stroke, and heat exhaustion, and dehydration, and how are these treated?

Mars: Heat stroke is the most serious, and can be fatal. With heat stroke, you should seek medical attention. The signs of heat stroke are the person loses consciousness would be the extreme, but also headache, dizzy, disorientated, people wander around acting as if intoxicated. You wonder if they're drunk, but they could have heat stroke. Heat exhaustion and dehydration can go along with this, but dehydration is simply being without fluids to the point the mouth is dry, the body is not urinating, the eyes look sunken, and dehydration can also be very serious and might occur from lack of fluids, too much sweating, or a long bout of diarrhea. The key is to prevent any of these conditions from happening; Drink plenty of cool water. When it's really hot, I suggest drinking lemon in water rather than ice water. You can also bathe the victim in cool water. However, it's best not to get into a cold bath tub because that can shock the system. It's better to sponge the body areas at a time with a cool cloth. A good place to apply the cloth is the neck, forehead, and under each armpit. The rehydration drink that we discussed would also be a good thing to drink. Get into the shade or indoors, and during the hot summer months, we need to eat a cooler diet. That means things like salads and fruits. Watermelon and cucumber are particularly cooling, and also high in natural fluids. Avoid excessive alcoholic beverages which can be dehydrating, and avoid a diet overly rich in red meats and fried foods, both of which are heating. It also makes sense to wear lighter clothes and colors like white, yellow, and cotton clothing. It's not the time for long black turtlenecks. If you want to wear something long, that's fine if it's light and cooling. Dark colors even make you feel mentally hot. Color is a form of energy.

poppylv_webmd: Do you have any suggestions for treating poison ivy and oak?

Mars: Yes. It's good to learn to identify this plant. I feel that poison oak or ivy are nature's way of saying, look where you are going. Not all three leaved plants are bad. Poison oak and ivy are difficult to identify because they can be a shrub, vine, or single plant. They turn beautiful red colors in the fall. I once saw it at a Thanksgiving dinner as a centerpiece. Shower right away and wash your clothes if you touch either ivy. You can get poison ivy or oak a month later by putting on the same clothes without washing them. My favorite remedy for poison ivy is called Swedish Bitter Liquid, which you can find at natural food stores, and is designed to be a natural digest aid, but works beautifully to dry up poison ivy. Plantain, jewel weed, gum weed, are all good as well, but the Swedish Bitter Liquid is my favorite. Oatmeal poultice or baths are good for general itching ailments. Poison oak and ivy are closely related members of the same family, which includes cashews and mangos. Some people are really sensitive to mangos. They eat them and get a rash.

latergater_webmd: How much time do you recommend that someone spend learning about plants before attempting to use natural aids?

Mars: If it's a simple ailment, even just looking something up in a book and trying it is fine, but if it's a serious condition, you might want the counsel of someone more experienced. There's no reason why you couldn't try Echinacea to fight off a cold, but if it's a serious condition like a kidney infection, you would want to consult with a professional. My answer is simply: It depends on the severity of the illness. It's great to start learning and using. One of the best ways to learn is by your own experience. I would like to encourage people not to be fearful of getting started. But I've been studying for over 30 years, and I still study. I started using herbs 32 years ago.

reallyrosie_webmd: I just had what I think was a bout of food poisoning. What suggestions do you have for treating this and what should I be eating now that I am starting to feel better? I am still pretty weak.

Mars: Food poisoning remedies include a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a tablespoon of honey in warm water taken every couple of hours. Two charcoal capsules taken every two hours, and they are available at health food stores. And Umeboshi plum paste, one teaspoon in a cup of water every couple of hours. All of these remedies will help combat infection, calm nausea, and help curb the diarrhea, although vomiting and diarrhea may be your body's way of cleaning the offending substance out of your system. You want to let it happen initially, but enough is enough. Good foods to eat include good yogurt, miso soup, apple sauce, baked winter squash. It's also a good idea to take garlic capsules, or echinacea tincture for a few days afterwards to prevent the replication of any harmful pathogens,

Moderator: Brigitte, in your book you have a great section on Surviving Nature?s Challenges. Could we talk about this?

Mars: About a year and a half ago, I had a fire in my home. The information in my natural first aid book kind of rushed before me as I said, "I am not going to lose my home." And I remembered some basic things. It seems like a natural reaction would be to open a window if it's really smoky, but that can fan the flames. I still am really cautious about candles and incense, leaving lights plugged in. In my case, it was a halogen lamp that was left on for about four hours. My phone went dead. You may have to go to a neighbor's house to use the phone to call 911. Keep low in a burning building, don't use the elevators because the electrical system could fail. Put a wet cloth over your face, nose and mouth, to prevent smoke inhalation. And if you have to, if you are trapped, stick something out of the building, or signal that someone can tell someone is trapped on that floor. People have died from jumping out of a burning building, or have been totally impaired. If your clothing is on fire,  do not run! Stop, drop and roll is the thing to remember. If you can be covered, by blanket or carpet, roll in that. But don't run. It makes flames bigger. Beat flames downward away from the head. You can use liquids to douse a fire, including water, but also milk or soda, but never alcohol, because that will make flames bigger.

Moderator: Let's talk about lightening.

Mars: Never stand under an oak tree. They are the most likely to get hit. Avoid tall trees, or lone boulders, or being right outside something tall, because lightening will often hit the highest area. Don't linger in the mouth of a cave, but get deep inside. If you do have to seek shelter among trees, get into a large stand and crouch as low as possible. Stay away from metal objects such as fences and bridges. People describe feeling electricity in the air, such as the feeling of your hair standing on end. Take off any metal jewelry or belts that you are wearing. Get out of the water, if you are swimming or boating. Be careful about using electrical appliances. Lightening has entered telephone wires.

A couple of things on earthquakes. If you are indoors, get shelter under something, heavy furniture, tables, standing under a door frame is usually the strongest part of the building,. It seems to be a natural tendency to go outside, but you need to realize that street wires or buildings can fall, or get hit by falling debris. I can understand why people do go outside, our greatest fear is being trapped in a building. The official information is to not run outdoors, but you need to weigh all of that out. If you feel that you could run outdoors and get away quickly, I'm not going to tell you not to do that. If you are outside, stay there, but get away from anything that might collapse. If you were in a basement or tunnel or subway, then it seems to be worth trying to get outdoors After the earthquake, be aware that opening cupboards, things can fall on you. Don't smoke or light a match, it may be wise to turn off gas, water and electricity, especially if it's been a hard earthquake, or you are told by the authorities My daughter lives in LA, and I've told her to have a bag packed under her bed that has dried food, whistle, water. You can whistle for help a lot longer than to call for help. If you do have to run outside, or go outside after an earthquake, good shoes are very important. If there is debris and broken glass, if your feet are cut up, you are not going far. Think about having an extra pair of shoes by the door, in your car, in your survival bag, because if your feet get cut up, it will limit your chances for survival. Be prepared. The time to think about first aid is before you are in a crisis.

Moderator: Brigitte, thank you for joining us, it has really been a pleasure having you on WebMD Live. Members, thank you for your questions. Brigitte Mars' book, Natural First Aid is available now at your local or online bookstore. Please check out her web site at 

The opinions expressed herein are those of the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

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