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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Use of herbs in battlefield medecine


John_Hartley
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Apart from my time here, I frequent another board (not military history).

Mention was made there that lavender (presumably an extract of lavender) was used as an emergency medecine because of its antibiotic qualities. Is there any truth in this?

I'm sufficient of a gardener to know that thyme has antiseptic properties but that's about it.

If lavender, or some other herb, was used in emergencies, what would have been the process? Nipping round to Madame Dupont's for a bunch from her garden which you then slap on a wound? Or would it have been brewed up in some way.

Truth be told - I rather suspect the poster on the board is talking through their **** but I'd really like to give an authoritative retort. Can you help me out?

John

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John, a Mr Bowbrick asked a similar question in the early days of the forum: here.

If you search on Monciere, Gattefosse (1920s) or Dr Jean Valnet (WW2), you might find something to help. I did learn Aromatherapy a few years back, but I wouldn't want to say anything misleading without checking it first. Lavender is antiseptic and anti-an awful lot of other undesirable conditions (antidepressant, decongestant, analgesic, fungicide, insect repellent...) It was burning his hand in a lab accident and noticing how effectively lavender healed it that led Gattefosse to 'invent' aromatherapy. Thyme is good for respiratory infections.

Gwyn

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Don't sound so dissapointed Harters. :P

After all, you have learnt something!

And also garlic and chilli. Both good for everything. :D

There was a thread a few years ago about this sort of thing, Sphagnum Moss for wound dressings comes to mind.

Cheers

Kim

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And also garlic and chilli. Both good for everything. :D

Yes indeed. (Bet chilli was hard to find on the Western Front though! :lol:) An infusion of sage leaves is very good for a sore throat too.

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There is now an ointment produced and available on the NHS which uses the essence from chili peppers to calm nerve pain.

Particularly used for the relief of Shingles pain as I know from experience.

Makes your skin a little red for a while but does the job better than any tablets.

And you have to make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after you have applied it!

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Oh, Squirrel, you reminded me! I was given capsaicin (the chill-based preparation) by a pain consultant after a knee injury. When I had my follow-up appointment with him, he told me about one of his patients who had objected that it hadn't done any good at all; in fact it had made her feel terrible. And it really stung her mouth.

On further questioning, it turned out that she thought she was supposed to clean her teeth with it. For her bad back. It was in a tube, see.

As he said, there's no accounting for stupidity.

Gwyn

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I just thought I would add that there is a book on Homeopathy in ww1 for sale on ebay at the moment.

Regards.

Tom.

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Apothecaries have been distilling essential oil and plant essences since at least the 10th century AD and it doesn't take much to remember some of the famous herbalists' names: Culpeper, de l'Ecluse. The ancient Egyptians used healing and medicinal plants. Even Moses made anointing oil.

What I would be interested to know is how exactly Great War physicians on the battlefields used what we would now broadly call aromatherapy. John asked how they obtained the plant essences. For example, did they carry little phials of oils, did they infuse plants that they found behind the lines, or did they make them as need arose?

Gwyn

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