Righteous Roots: 3 Botanicals to Bolster Your First-aid Kit

Written by Dr. Ian D.D. Brown.

When trekking into the wild, knowledge of first-aid and of the local terrain is always helpful.

I am reminded of a story from a doctor friend of mine who set out trekking in the remote Amazon. He had a team of scientists with him to help collect plants from the jungle. After a few hours of collecting it became very hot, and members of the party decided to find a place to sit down under a canopy of trees. After resting for a couple of minutes the botanist in the group jumped to his feet and exclaimed “something bit me!” Immediately everyone began looking around for offending creatures, but found nothing. The botanist described the pain as unbearable. The group asked their local Native guide for an explanation to the event. The only thing he said was “Mwe” – the word for spider.

Very quickly the botanist fell ill. He became dizzy and dropped to his knees. Delirium set in and he begged for water and crawled into a nearby stream. He then experienced nausea and later dry-heaves. The once-strong botanist was reduced to sobbing from the excruciating pain which seemed to affect every joint in his body (though the only visible evidence of the bite was two pinpoints on his ankle).

article continues below

The doctors’ first aid kit offered no remedy for the botanist. As his condition quickly deteriorated, they tried to determine the best course of action. Should they move him? How far was the closest town? Should they leave him and try to seek help?

Illustration by Dave Barnes.
Illustration by Dave Barnes.

Soon they felt a presence, and looked up to see a medicine man (also known as a shaman) on the stream bank. He was carefully surveying the scene with calm, knowing eyes. Earlier the trip organizers had hired him to teach them the indigenous names of the plants they were collecting, never thinking they would need him for his emergency medical expertise. They asked the shaman if their ailing colleague would die.

He grunted as he pointed to the botanist and said, “Not going to die. Just going to suffer, but not die.”

They all begged the shaman for help. “Could you please help our friend?” “Yes,” replied the shaman as he walked towards them. “Give me your machete.” They quickly produced a machete, which the shaman snatched. Then he walked off into the jungle.

He returned a few minutes later with two metres of a dull brown liana stem from the Philodendron family. He walked into the stream, turned the botanist onto his back, sliced the liana sap and proceeded to drip the sap onto the bite marks on the man’s ankle.

It was not long before the botanist felt well enough to sit up. His dizziness and nausea started to diminish and within a half-hour he was able to walk back to camp.



“Could you please help our friend?” “Yes,” replied the shaman as he walked towards them. “Give me your machete.”


This story illustrates the tremendous power of healing, given the correct botanicals and treatments for the ailment. And anyone can take advantage of the ancient knowledge of botanicals to supplement their basic first-aid kit for a camping trip, trek down the local path, or jungle jaunt.

1) Arnica cream or gel is appreciated by both athletes and trekkers. It is used for sore muscles and aching joints. Parents love it for their children’s bumps and bruises. It eases bruise reabsorption and inflammatory edema caused by any falls, blows, or blunt injuries on the trails. Most tubes have an easy application, and should have at least 7 percent Arnica montana mother tincture. Apply a thin layer on the affected area as soon as possible to treat muscle pain, bumps, and bruises.

2) Calendula gel is another remedy to complement your first aid kit. Used for many centuries, one of its original names was Sponsa solis (“spouse of the sun”) because the calendula flower heads follow the sun as it moves throughout the day. It is primarily indicated for minor cuts, scrapes and skin irritations (windburn, sunburn, and even cracked heels) because of its antiseptic qualities. It’s also used as an anti-inflammatory. Cleanse affected area before applying cream. Find a tube with at least 7 percent Calendula officianalis mother tincture in it.

3) Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is one of the most valued medicinal plants. A key component in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, the root is now widely consumed in the West. Ginseng provides energy on the trails and is above all a tonic to revitalize the functioning of the human organism as a whole. Numerous clinical trials show that it can improve athletic performance and wellbeing, along with many other helpful effects. A native North American variety, Panax quinquefolius, grows wild in Ontario and BC woodlands and is widely cultivated in these provinces as well.

Enjoy your trek into the wild, whether it is long or short – and if you can’t hire a shaman to accompany you, a ginseng tonic and a first-aid kit will have to do.