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Aromatic First Aid

Posted on August 09, 2011 0

First Response Aromatherapy: Aromatic First Aid

By Valerie Cooksley, RN, Holistic Nurse, Aromatherapist

Summertime for many equates to enjoying the hot seasonal days gardening, hiking, camping, traveling, vacationing at the beach, and participating in extra sports activities. Still, spending more time outside in the summer heat makes one prone to dry skin, excessive sun exposure, dehydration, and more cuts, scrapes and rashes compared to any other time of year. It has been established that what is applied to the skin is as significant as what is placed in our bodies by way of food and nutrition making it all the more essential to create better choices for your first response treatment of minor skin conditions. In addition, avoiding skin sensitizing and potentially harmful chemicals, such as petroleum-based compounds and costly pharmaceuticals, makes it equally important to use natural alternatives for the health conscious.

Fortunately, there are safe and effective natural healing options, such as botanical first aid from your kitchen and herb garden, that will save you this summer. Sunburn, scrapes and scratches, insect bites, rashes, bug repellants and natural pest control are a few situations that can be remedied with aromatic first-aid. Botanical medicine has much to offer in treating first-aid situations including natural wound healing, burn treatment and infection prevention, as well as disinfection. Among my personal favorite carriers for first response aromatherapy are fresh aloe gel and raw bee honey. Simple healing agents in their own right, they qualify as preeminent natural first-aid wound care and have been used this way throughout human history.


Aloe (Aloe vera) was written about and documented as a folk healing agent for centuries. It is described in the Ebers Papyrus (16th century BC), Dioscorides' De Materia Medica and Pliny the Elder's Natural History (1st century), as well as the Juliana Anicia Codex (512 CE). While there are approximately 400 species in the genus Aloe, the primary plant species used in healthcare products are Aloe vera or True aloe, Aloe arborescens and A. barbadensis. Aloe has more than 170 research studies related to wounds and nearly 1800 studies in generalaccording to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website. In fact, it is commonly called "Burn Aloe" or "First Aid plant" and its thick gelatinous leaves contain a range of biologically active compounds such as mannans, glycosides, anthraquinones, and lectins.

Aloe vera is very effective in the treatment of wounds, aids in promoting healing, and is an excellent choice for the healing of first to second-degree burns. Its legendary gel has been shown to have antibacterial (inhibits Streptococcus and Shigella) and antifungal activities. The succulent plant is non-toxic with no known side effects when used topically. It blends well with essential oils. Remarkably, a research study in 2009 investigated the odor-adsorbing properties of aloe vera combined with the essential oil of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) against an activated charcoal cloth (ACC) dressing. The Aloe vera composite dressing was shown to be the most adsorbent and at a 40% dilution had comparable values to those of the ACC dressings. Further research is needed, however, the study concluded that the new aloe composite dressing made with M. alternifolia essential oil may be a potential alternative to ACC dressings and that it has the added advantages of having antimicrobial properties as well as the ability to promote a moist wound environment.

Aloe can easily be grown on a sunny window sill or potted with southern exposure in your yard. I can grow my own where I live in south Texas and northwest Florida in large ceramic pots mixed with plenty of sand and other succulent flowers. The large freshly cut leaves can also be found at Asian markets for around $1.00 per leaf (approximately 2 feet in length) and the bottled gel, purchased in a health food store or pharmacy. Be certain to acquire an all-natural aloe gel without colorants and preservatives. I like Lily of the Desert's "Aloe 80 Organics" aloe gel. It's paraben-free, without artificial colors or fragrance.


In medical history, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, having been collected since ancient Egyptian times. Used as an antiseptic and antibacterial ointment for exposed wounds, healing agents for rashes and burns, as well as an aid for sore throats, the properties of honey have only recently been scientifically explained. At present, there are more than 200 studies relating to the value of honey in wound healing and more than 5000 research findings on its general attributes. The unique physical properties, as well as color, aroma and taste, vary depending on the type of flora used by bees to produce the honey.

Manuka honey is produced from the flowering foliage of Leptospermum scoparium, also known as New Zealand Tea Tree. Rich in linalool and 1,8 cineole, this sought after honey has been widely researched in New Zealand due to its antibacterial properties against the drug-resistant strain of MRSA bacteria. As a child growing up on a farm in The Berkshires, MA, we had a half dozen bee hives from which we collected honey for personal use. Ours was a multi-floral type since it was from a variety of plants on our surrounding acreage -- clover, wildflowers and herbs, vegetables and fruit trees. Consequently, our honey would significantly differ from the antibacterial manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey from New Zealand, and also from the lavender (Lavendula officinalis, L. angustifolia, or L. vera) honey from the French countryside, or the orange blossom (Citrus aurantium var. amara) honey from Florida State. Fresh honey contains electrolytes, in the form of acids and minerals, and possesses the unique ability to absorb moisture. Raw honey is the most natural form, obtained by extraction, settling or straining, without adding heat and may contain minute particles of pollen and wax.

Today, some wound gels are made with antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval. The antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, high acidity, the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal and the hydrogen peroxide effect. Hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution of the honey with body fluids resulting in the slow release of this powerful antiseptic. Honey has been effectively used in treating diabetic ulcers, reducing odors, swelling, and wound scarring. Honey also prevents the first-aid bandage or dressing from sticking to the wound. It is easy to obtain -- local, raw honey can be purchased in a specialty or grocery store, from a farmer's market or beekeeper, or the adventurous can raise their own hive.

Essential Oils and First-Aid Blending

Essential oils combine well with the carriers aloe and honey for an impeccable first response treatment for a whole host of applications including skin rashes, insect bites, burns and more. The combination of essential oils, honey or aloe then becomes even more effective and potent, yet it is very gentle on the cut or wound. The medicinal properties essential oils possess - antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal, cicatrisant, hemostatic and anti-inflammatory - greatly increase the effects of the carriers. You can see why they are among my favorite first aid treatments for minor-moderate skin conditions. As they relate to first aid treatment, essential oils have the specific ability to: arrest bleeding, decrease pain and the inflammatory response, promote and hasten the healing process, prevent infection, and reduce scarring. There are more than 150 research studies pertaining to essential oils and wound healing on the NIH website alone that confirm these reported effects of essential oil therapy .

I hope this educational article on the benefits of aloe and honey as carriers and their valuable use with aromatherapy will inspire people to reach for botanically-based medicine as their first response to addressing first-aid situations. I trust doing so will benefit the individual and families as it is safer and less impacted by the consequences of harsh and expensive chemicals and will be healthier, making a gentler and smarter choice when it comes to first aid treatment. So get out in nature and enjoy the summer - use these tools to prevent the bugs from biting, heal those scrapes and poison ivy rashes, and secure the beneficial vitamin D that is essential to your health by having some fun in the sun!


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Briggs, Margaret, The Book of Honey, Nature's Magical Golden Treasure, Hermes House, London, 2010.
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Cooksley, Valerie, Healing Home Spa, Prentice Hall Press, NY, 2003.
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Valerie Cooksley, RN, OCN, FAAIM, is a Holistic Nurse Aromatherapist, Health Researcher, Educator and acclaimed Author of eight natural health books, including the bestselling Aromatherapy, and her latest, Seaweed. She is Co-founder and Director of the Institute of Integrative Aromatherapy/Houston, and Instructor for the Integrative Aromatherapy® Certificate Program, a comprehensive NAHA Level Two correspondence course. Valerie is a Professional Member of NAHA and NAHA Approved School/Educator. She is President of Flora Medica Natural Wellness Company, Regional Network Director for the American Holistic Nurses Association and is Founder of the Houston Holistic Network.

Ms. Cooksley has passionately researched natural medicine for more than twenty years, which included studies in Botanical Medicine at the renowned Bastyr University. She holds six aromatherapy certifications including The International Program in Essential Oils/Advanced Studies at Purdue University. In addition to Valerie's extensive holistic background, she has related knowledge in botanical medicine, raw food nutrition science, wild edible foraging and organic gardening, as well as energy medicine and bio-electron healing. Valerie's clinical experience in nursing specialized in Infectious Diseases, Oncology and Public Health. She is certified in emergency response and triage in catastrophic disasters as a FEMA Community Emergency Response team member for the greater Houston area.

To learn more about Valerie please visit her website: www.floramedica.com

Click here to purchase a CD recording of the NAHA Tele-conference: Aromatherapy First Response and Aromatic First Aid with Presenter: Valerie Cooksley

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