Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hiker's Wound Wort

Mount Mitchell already under the belt and now I am celebrating in the little holler of Busick with a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Thank you to Viola and Don, and Mr.Effler himself of Effler's Grocery for letting me plug in my multitude of electronic items and using your lovely countertop back in the corner as my personal "wifi" cafe. This wonderful little store supplied me with all of the instant meals and snacks I'll need, as well as a pack of dental floss, for the next 6 days.

It was a challenging climb up to the top, but the views at Mitchell were fantastic and luckily I arrived after Memorial Day weekend. I hung out at the top and enjoyed the museum and concession stand- quite the set up for a mountain top - and then hiked back down through miles of evergreen forest with little more than Yellow Clintonia, bluets, and blackberries, finally coming back down into the lowlands of blooming fuschia rhododendron, white and pink mountain laurel, and all of my well-known plant friends, such as halberd violet, common cinquefoil, and flowering galax. Down in the gap, I passed through Black Mountain Campground, and thanks to Gloria and Al, enjoyed a shower (oh my, how a shower will make you feel like a brand new person, even if you put the same dirty clothes on) and a chocolate dipped ice cream cone, as well as some much needed good conversation while lounging about in folding chairs on the front porch.
a view from atop Mt Mitchell (6,684ft)

But if there was any adventure to the last couple of days, besides climbing the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, it was my puncture wound, thanks to a Hawthorne tree. When I went to get my bearhang down yesterday morning, I managed to get it snagged up on some branches and so thought, "oh, well I'll just grab this large stick down here, and knock it down!" Still in my sleepy state, I failed to really look at the stick I grabbed, and as I swung it up into the air, impaled the fat of my hand with a hawthorne spine. For those of you who aren't familiar with Hawthorne, it is a tree in the Rose family that bears sharp spines all along it's branches. These are so sharp that Native Americans used to use them as fishing hooks. This injury wouldn't have been so troublesome if the darn thing hadn't broken it's tip off in my hand.

Hawthorne (Crataegus sp.) Hawthorne berries are also an excellent heart medicine, so I will at some point have to do a post of its positive attributes.

So still without breakfast, I went to work on trying to work it out - no luck. I hiked on throughout the day as my hand grew more swollen and red and sore, wondering how the heck I was going to take care of this really rather minor, but at the same time, very real predictament. I collected some resin from a spruce tree remembering what I'd learned from 7Song. Applying hot resin to a stubborn splinter somehow changes the balance of pressure below the surface of the skin and actually will draw it out. Resin is also anti-bacterial to boot. However, I wasn't sure if this method actually applied to a "splinter" of this size. I used some hand sanitizer to keep it clean and then applied some yarrow oil, not only to disinfect, but to try and keep the inflammation at bay as well. It seemed to help some, at least taking the red out.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) flowers. Notice, this is a plant in the Asteraceae family (Daisy family). The inflorescence (flowerhead) is composed of many little flowers, each made up of disk and ray florets.

And this brings me to the plant of the hike (!) I did eventually work the splinter out, using that handy sharp knife again and cutting away a bit of skin to make for some wiggle room, and then honestly, using my mouth and just sucking with all my might, until I pulled it up just a bit above the surface of skin, until I could pull it out with a pair of tweezers. A good 1/3" that thing was! It was another shining moment. Afterwards I walked over to the meadow not far from my camp, grabbed some yarrow leaves, chewed them up and spit them on. Anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and astringent, along with some enzyme rich saliva, how can you go wrong?
spit poultice

I haven't talked much about my foot pain, as I haven't wan't to dwell on the matter, but now that it seems to be getting swiftly better, I feel it important to share with y'all what's been most helpful for me. I was experiencing pain around the achilles tendon area, a sort of dull ache when I wore shoes and stepped off, the heel of my shoe hitting my achilles. Besides getting new shoes, I iced for the first few days (probably a day longer than necessary), took 600mg ibuprofen 3x/day, and then for the next 3 days, cut back the ibuprofen to 600mg 2x/day and started on warming to bring increase blood flow, moving out the inflammatory chemicals and help to bring in the repairing ones. I made a yarrow oil, by warming about 4oz of safflower oil on low on the stove, and then gathering some fresh yarrow, threw a handful of chopped leaves and flowers in the mix, letting the mixture combine for about an hour. Then poured the whole mixture into a plastic container to take on the trail with me. For about 3 days leading up to my leaving, I massaged this into my achilles tendon 3-5x a day for about 5-10 minutes at a time. This honestly seemed to be the time I saw some real results. I also used Traumeel homeopathic gel 3x day, and then switched for a couple of days to Capzaicin cream. However, once hiking, this cream created a burning sensation (too much heat along with the compression socks) and so now I am back to the Traumeel and still using the yarrow oil 3x/day, along with some light stretching in the morning and evening (a few very mindful downward dogs, about 10 breaths each).

Ironically the scientific name for Yarrow, also known as Soldier's Wound Wort, is Achillea millefolium. Achillea refers to Achilles who is said to have used it with his soldiers in the Battle of Troy. It has a long history of being regarded as a herb for protection. Millefolium is latin for "many leaves", referring to it's fern like alternate leaves. The plant is stoloniferous, meaning that it sends out new plants along its roots that run horizontally underground. So, if you find a only a single flowering plant, take a look around and you will most likely see lots of single yarrow leaves poking up as well and prime for picking. Be careful not to confuse this plant with Queen Anne's Lace or a random fern. But really once you take a good look at Yarrow, there's nothing else that truely resembles it. Another hint- take a good whiff of the flowers or crush a leaf or even better chew one up (these are edible in moderate amounts) and you won't forget its pleasant but strong fragrance.
Yarrow - notice the fern like alternate leaves (will post an up close shot of leaves soon)
In summary, I have thus far used Yarrow on my achilles tendon, my puncture wound, as well as some sore gums I was suffereing a few days ago (I chewed up a fresh leaf and let it sit against the sore spot, while also swishing with the saliva it encouraged). I don't know if I believe in "plant allies", but if they do exist, I believe I have found mine. Thank you Achillea Millefolium, from here on out I dub you Hiker's Wound Wort.


  1. Very cool about the Yarrow. I came across one yesterday and since I only saw one, I let it be. Now I know I can look further. It was just nice to see it again. I never knew it could be used for achilles.



  2. Heather,
    Your blog is WONDERFUL! Sat nam!