Although there are countless home remedies used in Mexico, not all of them have been studied for effectiveness. However, I believe that having a basic herbal first aid kit, in addition to an emergency first aid and medicine supply can help you in the event of some medical emergencies.
Árnica Mexicana (Heterotheca inuloides) can be used externally for joint inflammations, arthritis, injury, contusions, bruises, tendonitis, sore muscles and skin infections due to bacteria or fungus. You can buy dried Árnica Mexicana from the market and make a tincture or find pomada de Árnica at most pharmacies.
La sábila or aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis miller) can be used externally for burns, insect bites, and wound care. It’s best when used fresh. Growing aloe vera isn’t difficult and having it on hand in emergencies makes it worth the effort. To use, cut the pencas (leaves) in half lengthwise and heat briefly to get the juices flowing. Then apply to the affected area.
La manzanilla, chamomile, (Matricaria chamomilla) can be used as an eyewash, digestive aid or mild sedative. It can be found dried at the market or already in teabags at the store.
Los chiles, peppers, from the Capsicum annuum family have a variety of medicinal and health benefits. Rubbed on the body, they promote circulation to the area. Be careful not to get any in your eyes though. A bite of a particularly spicy chile will cure a headache after your eyes stop watering. Toasted on the comal, dried chiles will clear the nasal cavity and lungs. Powdered chile and olive oil and be mixed to make a liniment for joint, muscle and back pain.
El ajo, garlic, (Allium sativum) is not just for flavoring. When battling a cold, la gripa, or cough, la tos, regular doses of garlic tea will perk you right up. To make boil 3-6 peeled and halved cloves in three cups of water. Add ½ cup of lime juice. Add honey to taste and serve.
El limón, lime, (Citrus aurantifolia Swingle) is a regular addition to most meals in Mexico. The leaves can be used to make a refreshing tea, high in antioxidants. Lime juice squeezed on wounds will reduce the chances of infection and slow bleeding. Fresh is best, so consider planting a lime tree in your backyard.
El jengibre, ginger (zingiber officinale), also helps soothe the digestive system. A pinch of powdered root in your cup of yerba buena (spearmint) or manzanilla (chamomile) will help with nausea. Its anti-inflammatory action relaxes membranes in the airways, reducing the cough reflex. To brew yourself some ginger tea, add 20 to 40 grams of fresh ginger root slices to hot water and sweeten with honey (another natural cough suppressant). Finally, ginger works as a warming agent by improving blood circulation. Ginger root can be found at the market quite easily.
La lavanda, lavender, (Lavandula angustifolia) is a natural antiseptic and has antifungal properties, making it an excellent wound wash. Mixed with olive oil, it works well as a muscle rub, headache cure, or for cramps. Used as aromatherapy, it reduces tension and helps you sleep better. It can also be burnt for insect fumigation. The leaves can be added to other herbs for a digestive tea. You can easily find lavender plants at the viveria (plant nursery) so you’ll always have it on hand.
The following are not herbs per se but are great natural additions to your Mexican herbal first-aid kit.
La miel, honey, has all sorts of beneficial properties. If you happen to live in the Yucatan, the local Melipona honey has even higher antimicrobial, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties than regular organic honey. Apply honey to wounds and burns to aid in healing. Honey is a natural cough suppressant. It also aids in digestion, calming heartburn and ulcer flare-ups. If your blood sugar drops, one tablespoon of honey will bring it up. If your jar of honey crystallizes, place the container in a pan of hot water to liquify it again.
El bicarbonato de sodio, baking soda, is useful for stings and bites. Mix water and baking soda to make a paste. For severe heartburn or urinary tract infections, 1/4 tsp can be taken internally to help alleviate the symptoms quickly.
El carbón activado, activated charcoal, can be applied as a poultice on spider bites, stings, and infected wounds by mixing it with enough water to make a paste. It can also be taken internally as a remedy for food poisoning, diarrhea or gas. Taken early enough, it may also help absorb other types of accidentally ingested poisons.
You might also want to invest in an herbal apothecary book. Look for one that specializes in plants found in Mexico rather than one that is designed for all of North America. Do you have any suggestions?