Your Feet and Wild Medicine

Foot injuries and ailments in the field can be crippling. And once your mobility is compromised in the outdoors, you’ve opened the door to all manner of potential downfalls. Luckily, there are plant compounds you can use as field treatments to get back on your feet again. Follow along, and find out four ways to patch up your feet with natural wild remedies.

1. Corns
These painful little hard spots on your feet can make it feel like you’ve got a thorn stuck in there. Corns can hurt so bad that you’re unable to run, and walking becomes a painful challenge. Commercially available treatments use salicylic acid to melt away the corn. We can also get this compound from willow and aspen trees. The name salicylic comes from the Latin word “salix,” which is the genus name for willows, and the substance was traditionally obtained from willow bark. Scrape a large handful of twig bark from live willow branches (preferably black willow for its higher salicylic acid content). Steep the bark in a quart of hot water for 30 minutes, and use as a foot soak as often as possible until the corn diminishes.

2. Ingrown Toe Nails
Another painful foot affliction, ingrown toe nails can be quickly and effectively managed with tannic acid. This is the stuff that makes acorns bitter and makes the black water in cedar swamps. Crush and boil two handfuls of acorns (shells and all) in 1 quart of water to make a foot soak; or for a more localized treatment, make a smaller batch and drip the liquid onto a cotton ball and affix it to the offending toenail. Keep the cotton ball wet with tannic acid water, and the toenail should be all better in a day or two. I’ve had great results as quickly as overnight.

3. Blisters
Trouble with your footwear, or just too many miles in one day, can leave your feet blistered and raw. Since your skin has effectively been peeled away, these injuries should be treated like the open wounds that they are, and covered with an antibacterial material. Good candidates are plantain (Plantago major) and yarrow (Achillea millifolium). Crush either (or a blend of the two) into a paste and apply to the blister. Use some kind of bandage to keep the poultice in place, and take it easy until the skin heals, if possible.

4. Cuts, Scrapes and Scratches
These injuries to the feet can be a common occurrence, especially if you don’t have footwear appropriate for the terrain. Treat cuts and other small injuries with the same poultice you’d use on blisters. You could also use comfrey (Symphytum officinale) as a poultice to help heal the skin of your foot, but be aware that the alkaloids in comfrey can be unhealthy over a long period, or if ingested.

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