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Herbal First Aid

Photo by Brent Dakis

Reclaiming Our Medicine

Many wild plants are considered weeds in Australia, but their medicinal uses are powerful. They flourish in abundance, enabling people of all kinds to use simple and effective medicine while ‘weeding’ our landscapes.

Although the first written records of herbal medicine date back 5000 years, humans have coevolved with, and relied on, plants for food and medicine from the beginning.

There are many kinds of plant-based medicine used worldwide, including Chinese, Ayurvedic, Native American and Indigenous Australian. This article will focus on the plants of Europe and western herbal medicine.

Using herbal remedies is a great way to reclaim medicine – allowing us to develop a direct relationship with the earth, providing an awareness of where our active medicinal constituents come from, reducing dependency on pharmaceutical companies, lowering embodied energy costs and decreasing carbon emissions. The ingredients used to make these remedies are simple and inexpensive, and the products can usually be found locally or at least within Australia.

Pharmaceuticals are great for some ills and aches, but they are usually derived from just one of the active constituents of a plant, and increase its potency. Plants have a whole array of different constituents and compounds, all of which assist in healing.

Photo by Brent Dakis

Using Medicinal Plants

Many medicinal plants can be grown easily in pots, including: calendula, red clover, thyme, sage, rosemary, peppermint, valerian and garlic. The wild ones grow in paddocks, along roadsides, in parks, stables and suburban yards. They are hardy and nutritious, and also help to rebuild soil as well as relieving us of our ailments, and include: nettle, dandelion, plantain, chickweed, yarrow, dock and violet.

When foraging for a particular plant, don’t pick them near polluted waterways or roadsides. Always harvest at least ten metres away, and avoid busy roads. Carry a foraging basket equipped with scissors, trowel, paper bags, labels, twine, secateurs and gloves.

There are a few general guidelines for different seasons, although sometimes they are related to the plant sought. In spring take the new shoots, small leaves and buds. In summer harvest flowers and fruits. In autumn there is a glut of berries and seeds. Winter is best for harvesting roots.

Dry your berries, roots and seeds on a drying rack, or use pieces of mesh with cloth laid over the top and spread your harvest evenly to avoid moisture build-up and mould. To dry leaves, stems, buds and flowers, hang the plant upside down from the stem in an airy, dark place. This will protect the active constituents.

‘Nana medicine’ is a favourite – things in the home that can be used as remedies. Most people will find onions, milk, garlic, potatoes, olive oil and vinegar in their household, all of which can be used for various aches and ills.

Above is a basic table for herbal first aid applications. This is just a sample as the world of plant-based medicine is vast. And a word of caution – see a health practitioner if symptoms persist, and cease any herbal use if you have a negative reaction to it.

Plant healing is much more than treating illness symptomatically. Having a direct relationship with what is nourishing to us is important for our physical and mental health. Learning to harness the nurturing and revitalising capabilities of the plants we have evolved with connects us to our landscape, and lets us experience the living world.


Calendula cream

A cream is created by binding water and oil components together to form a liquid with a firm consistency. This is used for inflammation, itchy skin, dryness, scrapes,wounds or eczema.

Illustration by Kathleen McCann



125 ml calendula infusion [calendula infused in hot water and left to stand for a minimum of four hours]

1 tsp glycerine


200 ml calendula infused oil [calendula infused in olive oil for one month]

50 g coconut oil

25 g beeswax


Mix all of the oils together in a bain-marie over the stove.

When combined, put the oils in a blender and blend until creamy.

Add the waters a little at a time, until completely combined with a thick and creamy consistency.

Place in a glass jar and label with the ingredients and date.

Keep in the refrigerator.

Sage and thyme syrup

Use one teaspoon every four hours for throat infections and dry coughs.

Illustration by Kathleen McCann


1 cup of dried sage

1 cup of dried thyme

2 cups of water

2 cups of honey


Pour water that has nearly boiled over the herbs and let them steep overnight.

In the morning, heat gently for one to two hours or until the water content has reduced by half.

Remove from heat, strain and add the honey.

Place in a dark glass jar and label with the ingredients and date.

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