Friday, April 18, 2014

Arnica Drops and Lavender Spray: Creating Herbal/Emotional Support at Marches and Demonstrations

Yesterday I participated in the Not One More Deportation march and rally, where Migrant Justice/Justicia Migrante, DREAMers MOMS USA, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice!, and other grassroots organizations shut down ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and 19 protesters who participated in civil disobedience were arrested.  My photos, with captions, are posted here.  More here.  More information here and with links to the press here.  Here's a bit of what the day was like:

More videos here and here.

This event was really inspiring for me.  Children, babies, youth, adults, and elders joined together for hours outside the Suffolk County detention center in Boston in the forceful wind in solidarity with organizations and families all over the US and beyond.  President Obama has deported over 2 million people during his presidency, and he continues to deport 1,100 people every single day.  These unjust policies and practices are separating families and communities.  Millions of people - many of whom do the work that makes this nation function - are living in the shadows, forced to live in fear.  Children are afraid that their parent(s) won't be there when they come home from school because they may have been pulled over on their way home from work in a routine traffic stop that leads to them being detained. Partners are afraid that their families will be split apart if one is detained and deported. 
Victims, witnesses, and family members are afraid to call the police in domestic violence situations and other emergencies for fear of being arrested and deported.

I heard about this protest many weeks before, but didn't know that allies/accomplices were welcome alongside undocumented activists until just days before.  My first thought: food!  The second: herbal first aid kit!

With little time between work shifts, I pulled out my street medic kit to take stock.  I wish I had time to make a patch that said "Remedies/Remedios" (remedies in Spanish) with a green leaf.  But alas, I ended up bringing my pack with a red cross and 'Street Medic' sign on it.  I contacted an event organizer, to be sure that it was okay to bring some first aid supplies and herbal remedies, and to see if there was going to be a planned street medic/health care presence that I could connect with.  There wasn't, but she gave me the green light to offer remedies to folks, so I started gathering the bits and pieces for my kit.  I was a bit nervous that folks would see the street medic sign and red cross and think I was an EMT or had other such medical training beyond my scope (I'm a community herbalist with some street medic training - see Mountainsong Expedition's classes).  It felt important, though, to bring along some remedies for people's emotional health.

Rallies can be intense.  Just having a large group of people together for any reason can create a lot of energy that can be overwhelming, especially to those of us who are sensitive to the energies of people and places.  A large group coming together specifically to speak out and take action against injustices can bring up a lot of different emotions.  Gathering in front of a detention center, especially with heavy police presence, can be triggering for many, even for those who themselves have not been detained or who don't have loved ones who have been or who currently are locked up.  Bearing witness to the personal stories of the daily wearing stress of the ever-constant threat of deportation many families face can be painful.  Listening to how deportations tear families apart is heartbreaking.  Acknowledging this and supporting each other to feel and express these emotions (if they want or can) can help create a caring, supportive culture at events. 

People locked up inside the detention center hold up "Ni 1 +" 
~ Ni Una Mas, Not One More (Deportation) ~ 
signs, showing solidarity through the bars.

I wanted to bring remedies that would help create emotional support for those participating in the day's events - whether they were participating in the civil disobedience, joining in the march, or showing support from the sidelines.  I packed up some basic first aid supplies - bandaids, gauze bandage, a cool pack, gloves (to protect myself and others in case there were open wounds, blood, or other body substances present-very important to remember!), samples of organic pads and tampons (to stanch bleeding and apply pressure to wounds, or in case someone has their period), sunscreen, benadryl and ibuprofen.  (Sometimes people feel sheepish when telling herbalists that they want some Advil or need to take antibiotics.  Yes, herbs are incredibly powerful and healing, but this does not mean that mainstream/allopathic medicine doesn't have its place.  No judgement - there's space for all kinds of remedies and all kinds of healing modalities.  It's both/and, not either/or!)

I brought some Ginger chews to settle the stomach if someone is feeling nauseous or car-sick.  I also included pouches of Yarrow leaf and flower (to chew and apply to open wound to stop bleeding), Plantain leaf (Plantago, not the banana-like fruit - to chew up and apply to skin to draw out splinters, stingers, even poison!), Goldenseal root powder (cultivated - not wildcrafted, as this plant is at risk - I have rarely used this, but it's helpful if someone has intense diarrhea and becoming dehydrated) and Slippery Elm bark powder (to add to water to soothe irritation in the throat or digestive tract, please use cultivated as it's at-risk, or you can use Marshmallow root instead).  I brought a few capsules of Activated Charcoal for food poisoning or chemical exposure.   Chamomile is such a fabulous herb and familiar to many people - I brought it in tea bags for easy use.  As a tea it's anti-spasmodic for muscle or menstrual cramps, calming to the nervous system, and soothing to the digestive system.  When it's in a tea bag it can also be moistened to apply to irritated eyes or irritated/inflamed skin.  We didn't have hot water at the march for tea, but many fast food restaurants and gas stations have hot water you can use.

I brought remedies that I make such as:  Global Citizen herbal first aid salve and Tigress Balm warming muscle rub, Speak Truth! Throat Spray dedicated to whistleblowers and truth-tellers,  Crampease blend for menstrual cramps, Calm the Rage to cool hot emotions, Elderberry Ginger Elixir for immune support, and Heart Elixir for emotional support.  I often carry Yarrow flower essence with me and include it in many of my remedies for immune support, relaxation, and emotional support, as it creates clear, strong boundaries and energetic protection.  Many of these remedies are available at my Dandelioness Herbals online Etsy shop and the listings contain information about the ingredients.  I'd be happy to co-create an herbal remedy kit if you'd like.  If you would like to make your own remedies, there is a resource list at the bottom of this post with links to various pages on herbal medicine-making.  

The tinctures, elixirs, and throat spray I brought were all alcohol-based and for internal use.  They're convenient for travel and demonstration-situations as they are ready to take, not requiring hot water or other such supplies/preparation, but not everyone may feel comfortable taking them.  They may be on medications that may interact negatively with certain herbs, they may not want any alcohol, or they may not want to ingest something (especially if given to them from a stranger).  If folks would prefer a non-alcohol remedy, you can make or buy herbal extracts that are made with glycerine, vinegar, or a vinegar/honey blend (this is called an oxymel).  

In case folks didn't want to take a remedy internally, I wanted to create some external remedies to bring as well.  I made a relaxing, grounding spray with homemade Rose and Lavender flower water (hydrosol, instructions here), Lavender and Chamomile essential oils, and homemade Corn and Yarrow flower essences.  I wanted a mist that could be sprayed around or on people who wanted to shift the energy of the event a bit, center, to create a bit of calm if need be.  I love that Rose, Lavender, and Chamomile are all flowers that are familiar to many peoples and cultures.  I added the Corn flower essence to help stay grounded, especially in an urban environment, and the Yarrow flower essences to help create an energetic shield/clear boundaries.  I chose Chamomile (Manzanilla) and Corn (Maiz) flower essences as I knew a lot of the people attending the rally are from Latin American countries/cultures where these are common plants that are not only used as food and remedies, but also have spiritual significance.  If there are plants with ancestral ties ~ from your own ancestry and/or from those who are receiving the remedies ~ that you can incorporate into your first aid kit, the medicine will be all the stronger for it. 

 Chamomile and Lavender harvest     

Someone asked me to take a photo of her and her friend with a sign, in front of the detention center.  She gave me her camera to take the photo and told me the reason she wanted a photo here was because her husband had been detained in this very facility.  He was deported and now she is alone raising their four children.  I asked if she wanted some relaxing spray and she said yes.  A small gesture, but hopefully a comforting one.  I also showed the kids the spray and they wanted me to mist it on them and they liked it.  (Just make sure to check in with their grownups and tell folks to close their eyes and mouth before misting!)

With children in mind, I wanted to bring something fun for the long drive and the rally.  I figured Legos would be a nightmare and my board games were too big.  So I made some aromatherapy bubbles by adding a few drops of pure Sweet Orange essential oil and Yarrow flower essence to the bubble container, and put a rainbow sticker on it for fun.  They were a pretty big hit.  (Just try to guide young kids from inadvertently blowing bubble-soap into their siblings eyes when blowing really hard!)  I brought an extra bottle of bubbles in case I wanted to send it home with a kid (or grownup!) who was having a hard time and needed some cheering up.  The kids I went with also brought some little matchbox cars which they shared with other kids there.  

Which reminds me - snacks and water!!!  When I was caring for the kids on the sidelines at the beginning of the rally, I noticed a little girl in a stroller that looked upset.  She started to cry.  Her mom was near, but caring for her little brother and so my 3 and 5 year old friends and I helped cheer her up.  We stood near her in a line to shield her from the wind, in case she was crying because she was cold.  A passing protester gave us a bag of chips (it was unopened and I checked in with the parent) and the kids all opened their mouths to be fed!  I wasn't sure if they wanted to keep their fingers warm in their coat pockets on this wicked windy day, or if they were feeling like baby birds.  I was happy to feed the baby-bird-protesters.  My friend then shared her gorp (good old raisin and peanuts - with m&m's) with them.  Then the 5 year old started rolling his little car on top of the little girl's head.  By then she had stopped crying and they were playing together.

After that, I found someone to watch the kids so I could get closer to the civil disobedience and document it.  After I captured the scene with some photos, my friend who was participating in the action motioned to me for water.  Of course!  They're out in the elements, singing and chanting and shouting, surrounded by armed law enforcement officers.  And if they're taken into custody, who knows if they'll have any access to food or water.  They definitely needed some water.  Luckily I had in my pack a sports bottle so that folks could squeeze water into their mouth without spreading germs.  It got passed around.  Then my friend shared the rest of her gorp with the protesters.  Note to self:  always bring more water and snacks - for kids, protesters, folks who may get low blood sugar, anyone really!  (I did bring plenty of food and fluids for myself, knowing that I cannot be a calm, supporting presence for others if I'm hungry and ungrounded.  Next time I'll bring more easy-to-share snacks.)

After those participating in the civil disobedience were arrested, many officers in full riot gear appeared, facing us with batons drawn.  There was a fence behind us and though I felt the safety of numbers and a supportive collective of people, literally having your back up against a fence with police threatening violence (despite our entirely peaceful presence) can be very triggering for many reasons.  My first thought was for the children, elders, and folks with disabilities who may not be able to disperse quickly if need be.  Fortunately they were just trying to intimidate us and didn't charge.  But it's good to keep in mind at and before such events that this situation may come up and how it can affect people (ourselves included) so that we can take care of each other.

We marched to the back side of the detention center to let those detained out of view of the demonstration know that we were there, and that they are not forgotten.  We stood on a bridge beside traffic and held signs, sang, and chanted.  Community members locked up on the inside gathered at the windows and held up signs.  We held up signs facing them as well as towards the road behind us so that those passing by knew why we were there.  We received many waves, honks, and smiles from drivers and passengers.  I like taking this role at events - being on the fringes and interacting with people passing by, even if the people are in moving vehicles.  Sometimes people are interested in knowing what's going on, but may feel shy or intimidated by a large group.  In these situations, I feel aware of my privilege and a good way to use it strategically seems to be to reach out to people by making a sign visible, greeting them, and engaging them in conversation if they seem interested.  Being an English-speaking, white cisgender woman with US citizenship, I feel like I can use this privilege to be a bridge to other people with privilege who may not understand how their/our liberation is connected with the liberation of communities of color, queer, transgender and gender variant folks, youth, and other groups most impacted by systematic oppression. 

As we left the bridge, I realized my throat was sore from hours of singing and chanting.  We had raised our voices strong and loud.  For many hours.  I pulled out my Speak Truth! Throat Spray and the soothing herb and honey blend was just what my raspy throat needed.  I brought the remedy to those with bullhorns (as well as others), imagining that their throats may have been even more sore than mine.  Many accepted and appreciated the remedy.

Someone needed a bandaid.  Someone else needed some herbal first aid salve for skin irritation.  No major medical situations.  Still, bringing that herbal first aid kit and checking in with folks that looked stressed or cold or thirsty helped contribute to a culture of self-care and community-care.

As we march by the detention center, Dandelion stays rooted 
beside us, embodying persistence and resistance, sending forth
its seeds across borders and prison walls.

When I got home that night, like many others, I called the jails to call for the release of our friends who'd been arrested for participating in the civil disobedience.  I was glad to hear, just before I crawled into bed exhausted from the day, that they had all just been released and in were in good spirits.  

The next morning I heard from a friend who the arresting officers had put in too-tight zip tie police cuffs.  Aye!  Why hadn't I thought of that?!  Whether folks resist arrest or not, this is a common occurrence.  I wish I had left my Arnica drops with someone who was greeting the activists upon their release from jail. I made the drops by infusing the fresh flowers from my garden in brandy and then homeopathically diluting it, to be used both internally and externally.  Be sure not to take Arnica tea/tincture internally at full strength!  Just one drop of the diluted tincture in water is plenty.  Or you can buy homeopathic Arnica at a Coop or natural food store - usually in little blue tubes.  Get 5 Arnica tablets into the cap and, without touching them, place them under your tongue to dissolve.  Wait a few minutes before drinking water or eating.  Arnica drops can also be massaged into bruises, strained muscles or ligaments, and injured/inflamed hands or feet (just not on open wounds).  Arnica is also available as cream, gel, or salve/ointment.  I wanted to give my friend fresh St.Johnswort oil in case the too-tight zip ties had caused any damage to the nerves when they cut off circulation.  St. Johnswort is great for nerve damage (sciatica, post-surgery wound healing), and also helps with inflammation response.  It can be used both externally, and internally in homeopathic form under its botanical name, Hypericum perforatum.  (The tincture taken internally can interact in a negative way with certain medications, so homeopathic pills or external remedies are best for demonstration situations where you may not know folks' health history)  Calming/grounding/protective spray and Heart Elixir would be great emotional after-care.  I hadn't thought before of making an herbal first aid kit/care package to be there when people were released to help heal the physical and emotional trauma that is common during arrest and while locked up.  I am excited about the idea and look forward to putting such a kit together for next time.

Note: Don't forget that cacao/chocolate and coffee are medicinal!  When you have long rides home after big events, make sure the driver has energy.  Having some form of caffeine can help fuel the trip home so everyone arrives back safely.  Luckily I happened to have some fair-trade chocolate this time and will be sure to bring some next time, too!  Chocolate is also medicinal and grounding.

Herbal First Aid Kit list and considerations:
-Connect with organizers out of courtesy and to receive consent.  If you're welcome to be part of the event in the role of community herbalist, street medic, etc, connect with others who may have a similar role at the event to collaborate in a good way.  If you're someone with privilege (white, US citizen, cisgender, etc), be clear about your role as an ally /accomplice and respect and follow the leadership of the communities most impacted by detention, deportation, transphobia, police violence, etc.  

-Choose what to bring based on the community attending, what form of remedy is easiest to distribute in the particular setting Do you have access to hot water to make teas?  Will you be in the streets or in an indoor community space?  What form is easiest to transport, carry, distribute?  Does the community wish there to be no alcohol?  What herbs are people familiar with?  If folks aren't as familiar with herbs, how can you be a bridge and introduce herbs in an empowering and good-tasting way?  What will the weather be like - lots of sun (extra water, sun protection), cold (extra layers, warming remedies)?

-Label things well with all ingredients listed (folks may have allergies to particular plants, bee products, nuts, etc) and directions as to when, how, and how much to take.  Some folks have sensitivities to scents, so be sure to check in before using scented items, like a spray.  Or just leave essential oils out of your blends.  Label if a remedy is only for external use.

-Arrive at event as present as you can be.  If possible: try to get a good night's sleep, eat nourishing food, hydrate yourself, breathe/pray/meditate/burn a candle or herbs, whatever you do to ground yourself so that you can be present for others and yourself.  If you're feeling overwhelmed or out of your body at the event, take some time if possible to re-ground, re-group.  Breathe deep, check in with a friend.  You can use this In Case of (emotional) Emergency: self-care form to fill out beforehand to help remember how to center yourself.


What To Bring
-Basic First Aid supplies such as bandaids, gauze bandage, a cool pack, gloves, pads and tampons, sunscreen, benadryl and ibuprofen. 

Dried herbs/capsules
-Ginger chews to settle the stomach if someone is feeling nauseous or car-sick
-Yarrow leaf and flower to chew and apply to open wounds to stop bleeding 
-Plantain leaf -Plantago- to chew up and apply to skin to draw out splinters, stingers, poison
-Goldenseal root powder cultivated, if someone has intense diarrhea and is becoming dehydrated
-Slippery Elm bark powder cultivated, to add to water to soothe irritation in the throat or digestive tract. Or Marshmallow root powder as an alternative 
-Activated Charcoal for food poisoning or chemical exposure  
-Chamomile tea bags to make a tea (if there's access to hot water) for muscle or menstrual cramps, calm to the nervous system, soothe the digestive system, or to moisten and apply to irritated eyes or irritated/inflamed skin.

-Throat Spray and/or Immune Support tincture
-Relaxation remedy to support the nervous system, calm, and ground
-Anti-spasmodic remedy for menstrual cramps/muscle tension (Skullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora- is nice and calming and people don't tend to be stimulated/agitated by it like some are with Valerian root)
-Heart Elixir for emotional support

For External Use
-Herbal Salve for minor skin irritations 
-Sore Muscle rub/Salve for Pain and Nerve Damage ie Arnica and St. Johnswort (oil can be used, but salves are less spill-y if you're on the go)
-Spray to Relax and Ground to mist on the body or in an area
-Aromatherapy Bubbles or something fun for kids

-Homeopathic Arnica for strains, sprains, physical trauma, police violence, pain from being hand-cuffed.  Tablets for internal use or diluted Arnica drops (homeopathic dosage, preserved in brandy) for internal or external use. 
-Water preferably in a squeeze-bottle, and back-up jugs for refills   
-Snacks for protein, sugar (in case someone's feeling low-blood sugar), avoid common allergens like nuts and dairy if possible.  Chocolate for grounding, Chocolate or Coffee for energy/caffeine in case of needing to stay awake and drive after the event

What would you pack in your herbal first aid kit?  Your just-released-from-jail after-care kit?  Please share suggestions in the comments below or by emailing dandelion778 (at)  yahoo (dot)  com

Also see:

-Herbal Crisis/Trauma Kit by Berenice Dimas of Cantos de la Tierra
-Caring for Ourselves as Political Warfare by Adrienne Maree Brown
-In Case of (emotional) Emergency: self-care form to fill out

Herbal medicine-making posts:
-(Im)migration and Lip Balms for Social Justice?!  with directions for making infused oils and salves
-Heart Elixir: to open, heal, and protect the heart with directions for making tinctures and elixirs
-Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipes
-Do-It-Yourself Hydrosols - Making and Using Flower Waters for Community Health and Self-Care
-Winter Immune Health: Tonic Not Toxic and Idea and Remedies for When You're Home Sick... and Ginger Lovers Unite!: Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Ginger Root with immune-supporting recipes/practices

(more info added to blog post on 4/24/14 * 12/17/14 * 4/18/17)

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