I’ve been watching Outlander religiously and so I have herbal remedies on my brain. I keep wondering– If I were sent back in time, and I had to practice primitive medicine as a healer (I am a registered nurse) — Would I succeed?
Claire in the herb garden at Leoch.
I’m not a physician, but with my experience I can stitch up cuts, clean and bandage wounds, even set fractures. I can probably diagnose the usual things like asthma, pneumonia, hepatitis, an enlarged prostate, a bladder infection, an ear infection, strep throat, tonsilitis, influenza, even appendicitis. But would I dare remove an inflamed appendix in an attempt to save a life only to lose said life to the resulting peritonitis?
I can help to deliver a baby. I know a little about a breach delivery as well, and I could probably do a C-Section in an emergency, but keeping the mother alive would be next to impossible.
What do I bring to the table? The knowledge of germs, isolation, disinfection, and sterilization. I’d be busy boiling water.
Most important of all? The washing of hands.
I have some limited knowledge of herbs and tonics and their uses. Of course herbs are not like antibiotics. The dosage is not standardized. Many are also toxins – nightshade and foxglove. Did you know foxglove is digitalis, used to treat heart failure? Deadly nightshade is atropine, which can increase a slow heart rate. But the dosages would elude me. I could just as easily kill a man as cure him.
But I would take the following (limited) knowledge with me into the past:
Honey and garlic are germicidal. Both can be used to treat an infected wound and both are helpful for a cough and congestion. Honey can help sooth a sore throat in addition to its germ-killing properties.
Garlic can also be used as a de-worming agent. (Good to know, right?)
Leeks and onions are decongestants.
Raw vinegar is an excellent disinfectant. It can also help with digestive issues, yeast infections, various skin conditions.
Beer increases lactation. Seriously.
Alcohol, is, well, alcohol – I guess I’d use alcohol as an anticoagulant (blood-thinner), an anesthetic, to distill herbs and plants, and to sterilize equipment and wounds.
Yarrow can help stop bleeding and it can reduce a fever.
Willow bark can reduce a fever and help with joint inflammation.
The bark of an oak tree makes a good astringent and can help relieve kidney stones if taken as a tonic.
Witch hazel is an astringent – can help heal abrasions and mouth ulcers.
Lavender helps to heal burns and abrasions and soothes insect bites and stings.
Mint and bee balm help with digestive disorders, as does wild ginger.
Bilberry is good for the eyes.
Salt water makes a good rinse for wounds and mouth sores.
Sugar can be packed into a would to accelerate healing – sugar is germicidal. (I have personally packed decubitus ulcers with sugar with excellent results.)
Elderberry and cherry help with cough and congestion.
Black pepper is terrific for chest congestion. (But I’d have to remember it’s also a deadly poison.)
Tea is an astringent. It’s very helpful for minor burns.
Mustard can definitely help a cough but it can also cause a chemical burn if left too long on the skin.
Echinacea, or cone flower, helps to improve the immune system.
Valerian root acts as a sedative. Not strong enough to remove a bullet from a man’s chest, but…
I know about more herbs, but probably not many of them would be found in Scotland.
So tell me, what herbs are you familiar with?