Herbal Essentials for Outdoor Living

by Michael Vertolli, RH
The following article is excerpted from one that appeared on

lavender oil, herbal soap and bath salt with fresh flowers on wooden background. vintage style toned picture

lavender oil, herbal soap and bath salt with fresh flowers on wooden background. vintage style toned picture

Now that the warm weather is here, most of us will be spending a lot more time outdoors playing, working or just hanging around. All of this outdoor activity is not without its perils. Cuts and scrapes, bites and stings, bruises and strains, sunburn; you name it, it’s bound to happen at some point. This month I will be focusing on some of the herbal essentials that everyone who enjoys the great outdoors should have on hand.

When it comes to first aid, it is important to be prepared. Healing will occur much more quickly if we begin treatment immediately. The longer we wait, the less effective the treatment. As a result, I recommend that everyone keep most of the following remedies on hand.

Bug Repellents

The warmer months of the year always come with their fair share of biting insects. This is becoming more than just a matter of personal comfort with the spread of Lyme disease. Commercial bug repellents are extremely toxic to us and the environment. Natural alternatives are readily available, but we must accept that they don’t work quite as well as products that contain DEET and must be applied more often.

You can make your own insect repellent by adding essential oils to a base of two to three parts water to one part vodka. If you add about 5% glycerine it will work even better because glycerine doesn’t evaporate and it helps to keep the essential oils on the skin longer. (However, if you use more than 5% glycerine it will leave a sticky coating.)

I have found this blend to be an effective combination of essential oils for repelling bugs. It consists of four parts:

(1) A lemony component consisting of two of the following: lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), citronella (Cymbopogon nardus), lemon or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).

(2) An evergreen component consisting of two of these: fir, spruce, pine, or juniper (Juniperus spp.).

(3) One or two of: yarrow, blue gum, hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), lavender, peppermint or spearmint (Mentha spicata).

(4) Both sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and catnip (Nepeta cataria).

Combine your essential oils in equal proportions using an overall proportion of one drop of essential oil for each millilitre of base (e.g. 50 drops of all essential oils combined in 50 ml of base). Put it in a pump spray bottle. The best way to apply it is to spray it on your hands and then rub your hands on your skin. Make sure you spread it everywhere – the bugs are great at finding the spots you missed. As I mentioned above, your repellent will need to be applied regularly, usually every 30-60 minutes.

Keep in mind that natural repellents work partly by disguising our smell. Since everybody’s skin smells different, it may be necessary to experiment a bit in order to find a blend that works best for you.

Natural Sunscreens

In general, it is best to use low-SPF sunscreens that contain inorganic substances like zinc or titanium compounds that work by reflecting sunlight away from the skin. These are preferred over sunscreens that absorb sunlight (such as avobenzone or oxybenzone which absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds and might be more harmful than the sunlight itself). The better products will have other ingredients that benefit skin such as lavender essential oil, aloe gel, vitamin C, vitamin E, etc.

Burn Remedies

These are a bit different than other wounds. As I mentioned above, they should not be treated with oil-based preparations. Two readily available remedies are excellent for burns, including sunburn. Probably the most effective is lavender essential oil. If applied immediately (i.e. within a minute of getting burned), it will usually prevent blistering altogether. Lavender is one of the few essential oils that can be applied neat (undiluted) and this is how it should be applied for treating burns.

The second most important remedy for burns is aloe vera gel. It is significantly more effective when fresh. This means we have to grow it ourselves. I recommend growing Barbados aloe (Aloe vera) because Cape aloe (Aloe ferox) is much more prickly and harder to work with. The aloe plants that are sold almost everywhere are Barbados aloe.

Aloe plants spread by rhizomes. Several months after being planted in a pot, new shoots will sprout up out of the soil and before long you will have a whole colony. It is best not to start harvesting leaves from your plant until the original is a good size and there are lots of babies. If you give them what they need you will have lots of plants in a couple of years and can harvest enough leaves to meet your needs.

When applying aloe gel to a burn, it must be applied fairly thick and allowed to dry on the skin. If fresh aloe is not available, the next best choice is food grade aloe gel. This is a bit more difficult to work with because it is a lot more watery. The only other option that I recommend is to use the organically grown, stabilized, 99% aloe gel. As with lavender essential oil, the sooner you apply it the better. Within seconds is best.

There are other important uses of lavender essential oil and aloe gel. Lavender essential oil can be used on its own or in a base oil for wounds and injuries as indicated above. We can massage it into our temples, neat or in a base oil, for headaches. It can be infused through the air to help reduce stress and anxiety. For those particularly stressful days, add some to bath water and relax in a nice hot bath. Aloe gel also makes a great aftershave. Simply spread a thin layer on your skin and let it dry.

There you have it: a summary of the basics of natural summer first-aid. It is best to be prepared! Stock up now so you don’t regret it later. And don’t forget that one of the most important prescriptions for healing is having fun!

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