Using wildcrafted plants in wilderness medicine.

Finding, identifying and using easily found wild medicinal plants can greatly enhance your wilderness first aid kit. A few easily identifiable options are quickly learned. Search and rescue teams, wilderness guides, outdoor enthusiasts, and hillwalkers can expand their medical kit with the introduction to a few plant families. There are a number of plants that can be found in most wilderness settings. This article will discuss just a few of the most easily identifiable options with no look-a-like plants that may be dangerous. These plants will be safe for the novice wilderness enthusiast to use it for their wilderness medicine applications. YARROW (Achillea Millefolium) This feather like plant is found in every state, country and in every climate found within North America and Europe. I have found huge plants reaching to one meter in height in Southeast Alaska. The same species can also be found in the high deserts of the mid west, but only grow a few inches high. Nonetheless, this plant is useful wherever it is found. Uses for this plant range from a topical anesthesia, a tea for colds, or a gargle for sore throats (Pojar, 1994). Yarrow’s botanical name, Achillea, honors the ancient hero Achilles. According to folklore, the mother of this young warrior dipped him in the river Styx in order to make him invincible (King, 1987). Other stories relate how Achilles used the medicinal qualities of Yarrow to staunch wounds obtained in battle (Schofield, 1989). Scientific studies have shown that the plant does in fact stop bleeding by causing vasoconstriction of blood vessels that are exposed to the plant (Evelyn, 1998). Other applications include drinking a tea made from the leaves of Yarrow for colds, flu symptoms, and internal bleeding (Schofield, 1989). Yarrow causes diaphoresis that in turn cools the body temperature from the mild sweating. Recent studies have shown the antimicrobial properties of Yarrow (Stojanovic G. et al., 2005). Topical applications of this plant not only address a bleeding wound, it can also prevent infection. This plant has shown that it minimizes microbial growth five bacteria; Staph aureus, E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Salmonella enteritidis. Yarrow is also effective against two fungi; Aspergillus niger and Candida albicans (Stojanovic et al., 2005). The Bella Coola tribe in British Columbia chewed the leaves of Yarrow and applied them to burns (Hutchens, 1973). Tarran et. al, showed the

Yarrow is easily identifiable and has no plant look a likes that could interfere with safe use. The second characteristic pattern is lance shaped. Both types of Plantain contain paralleled veins on the underside of the leaf. PLANTAIN (Plantago spp. This plant does not have the longitudinal background that Yarrow does. Hutchins also mentions the application of Yarrow for toothaches. 1973). and flowers of the plant as a gargle (Schofield. The medicinal uses of ninth-century ‘sacred herb’ include topical applications for a myriad of ailments. nettle stings. It has been used recently by Native Americans both internally and externally. Other uses of the very helpful plant are a mouthwash for sore throats. Even though there is no difference in the chemical structure of each of these plantain types. Plantain grows in two distinctly characteristic patterns.) Plantain is a common yard weed that the majority of the population vehemently attempts to eradicate when found in their lawns. stems. they are very discernable from each other (Moore. Fresh leaves are considered most effective. 1989). Yarrow can be harvested throughout the spring and summer. It is excellent for healing new or chronic wounds (Schofield. 1993). but harvested dry leaves are applicable throughout all four seasons (Moore. She mentions that placing a leaf of Yarrow on the gums next to the affected tooth will ease the pain (Hutchens.effectiveness of using Yarrow on napalm burns (Tarran et. . 1989). It was chewed into a poultice and placed on leg ulcers. Some climates allow yarrow use year round. cuts and cuts and scrapes (Schofield. Schofield mentions that the Gitksan tribes used the leaves. burns abscesses. One is paddle shaped and looks similar to a tennis racket. al. 1989). It is a soothing herb for the skin. This is very distinctive and a great tool in plant identification. The usual dimensions are a few inches long and a little narrower in width. insect and snakebites. growing up to a foot in length. 1989). The Native Americans called this plant ‘white man’s footsteps’ because it was brought to the new world from Europe (Hutchins. 1993). 1973).

chew it into a soft consistency. The pine needles from each of these evergreen plants are extremely high in vitamin C. would collect the gum from tree bark. shore pine. Sierra lodgepole pine. Psedotsuga Menziesii) The wilderness enthusiast is seldom found hiking where there are no evergreen trees. 1994). It can be kept in place with a medical dressing. Plantain is a great addition to any backpacker’s medical kit. 1994). All of these plant species have similar uses for wilderness medicine. the dried herb can be carried for minor cuts. (Korotkova et. Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine. spruce. and abrasions. The Tadoussac tribe boiled the pine needles for a remedy for sore throat. A pinch of the herb is chewed for a few seconds to reconstitute the mucilaginous texture and applied to the skin. and broken skin (Pojar. The pine. and on the feet for pain from arthritis (Schofield. Act I. or anything that can be used to keep the moist medicine in contact with the skin. scrapes. 2003). al. The leaves should not be used internally (Pojar. and apply it to cuts. These species are effortless sources for medical supplies. 1973). hemlock. the First Nations used the pitch. The First Nations communities would make a pine needle tea to supplement their diet (Hutchens. 1994. The Montagnais people used boiled pitch for the same ailment (Vogel. Shakespeare referenced the wonders of this healing herb when he had Romeo instructs Benvolio to apply plantain on his broken skin (Romeo and Juliet. The Bella Coola tribe from the coast of British Columbia. . CONIFER TREES (Pinus contorta. The only caution found within the evergreen family is the needles found on the Yew and Cedar species. 1989). Besides the nutritious pine needles. The Western Red Cedar was called ‘the tree of life’ by the Haida tribe because of how many of their common items originated from that one tree species (Turner. and Bolander pine.Alexander the Great used plantain for headaches. Scene II). and the Douglas fir trees can be found throughout Europe. Hutchens. It was added to Rose oil and rubbed on the temples of relief. Even if the wilderness destination is thousands of feet above the tree line. 1970). The term ‘Lodgepole pine’ refers to this species. 1999). Pinus contorta includes four distinctly different varieties. and the nuts from the cones (Pojar. burns. The volatile oils found within these two plants are very potent. duct tape. Tsuga spp. The dried plant does not add much weight and a lot of the herb can be carried for extended trips. the inner Cambium bark. 1973). The trees were also a large source for hunting and building supplies.

SUMMARY There are many easily identifiable plants found in nature that can address many of the first aid situations one would find themselves in during a bushcraft or outdoors experience. You can add to your herbal library by finding a bushcraft school who offers courses in wildcrafting herbal medicines and offers outdoor first aid courses. The needles from the pine. . and Douglas fir are all edible and very nutritious. The pitch and needles can be applied directly to wounds and burns. spruce. The leaves need to be crushed into a salve in order free the constituents found within the plant. easily identifiable. and quickly found.The beauty of learning the medicinal qualities of the evergreen trees is that they are prolific in the backcountry. fir.