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Home remedies for first aid

The phrase "first aid" conjures up images of gauze, tape, bandages and antibiotic ointment. This is the time of year when outdoor adventures and family vacations often create a need for first aid.

Biking accidents, bug bites, blisters from hikes, scraped knees and knuckles, and rashes from close encounters with poison oak or ivy and campfire all may need attention.

There are plenty of good products in the drugstore, of course, and we like to keep some handy: waterproof bandages, 2nd Skin for burns or blisters, and elastic wrap for sprained ankles.

We are expanding our first-aid kit to include lots of home remedies that can be useful in a pinch.

*Packets of yellow mustard: They're free in many fast-food restaurants. They do double duty for leg cramps and burns. Some people even use mustard to ease symptoms of heartburn.

*Packets of soy sauce: Put a handful in your first-aid kit. Like mustard, soy sauce also can ease the discomfort from a mild burn right after the area is immersed in cold water.

*Finely ground black pepper: Packets or a small tin of pepper can help stop bleeding from a minor cut or scrape.

*Meat tenderizer: Mixing a paste of meat tenderizer and water or vinegar can ease the pain from a bee sting.

*Vinegar: A small container of vinegar can serve several functions. A small swig of vinegar can combat muscle cramps or help relieve heartburn.

*Castor oil: A little bottle of castor oil can be helpful for fire-ant bites, warts, bruises and sore joints.

*Adhesive tape: Take along a roll of tape to trap ticks you may find crawling on you.

*Sugarless gum: Bring several packets of sugarless gum on any trip. Because constipation is common when traveling, the laxative effect of sugarless gum can be helpful. Gum also can stimulate saliva and ease symptoms of heartburn.

*Ginger: Ginger candy or capsules can relieve motion sickness. Some people report that ginger also is good for headaches and coughs, as well as heartburn.

If you would like more details about these or hundreds of other simple and inexpensive treatments, you may be interested in our book "The People's Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies." It is available in libraries, bookstores and online (

One final remedy that you can't take with you is hot water. Mosquito bites or an itchy rash from poison ivy can be maddening. The itch may be calmed with an application of hot water. Here is one reader's story: "I got bitten up pretty badly about a week ago. The mosquito bites were so itchy that I did everything I could to make the itch stop. I tried hard not to scratch to avoid scars.

"Hydrocortisone cream or Benadryl spray didn't work at all. I happened to run hot water on my legs. It felt so good, as though I was scratching the bites without breaking or damaging the skin. When I stopped, the itching was completely gone!"

Most people find that applying water hot enough to be uncomfortable but not hot enough to burn stops an itch for several hours.

Necessity is often credited as the mother of invention. Home remedies have been used for hundreds of years to manage many common complaints and may have a place in your first-aid kit.