University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article

FIRST AID FOR THE GARDENER'S SKIN
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
 

If you do a lot of gardening, you most likely have had, and will have, skin wounds.  Knowing what to do beforehand, and being prepared when you injure yourself, will help these wounds heal faster and allow you to get back to your gardening quicker.

Blisters are one of my most common skin ailments, especially early in the season.  These are caused by too much friction, and often occur on skin that doesn't move much, such as in your palm.  You may get these even if wearing gloves although occurrence is generally less frequent or the blister will be less severe.

For a small blister, just let nature do the healing, reabsorbing the fluid.  You may put a donut-shaped bandage on the blister to protect it while healing.  If a larger blister, wash the area with soapy water and use a needle sterilized with alcohol to break and drain the blister.  Leave the top skin on to protect the area while healing.  If you are getting blisters on your feet, wear socks and make sure your footwear fits properly.

Tea tree oil is a good natural disinfectant, which is made from the leaves of a small tropical tree.  It is very fragrant, similar to eucalyptus, and pale yellow in color.  If using this, make sure it is pure, and since it is potent, use it sparingly.  Keep it away from your eyes.  This oil can be used on blisters, bruises, and other skin wounds.

Bruises, cuts, and scrapes are also very common for gardeners.  Unless serious, you can treat these at home fairly easily.  It's a good idea to keep up to date on your tetanus shots.  If you haven't, and you cut yourself on a rusty tool or metal object, make sure you get to your physician for a tetanus shot as soon as possible.

When treating a cut or scrape, first wash the area with soapy water, then use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect and to kill any bacteria.  After cleaning the wound, apply an antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage.  You can purchase ointment, or make your own.

One of nature's best antiseptics is made from the herb goldenseal that you can buy at many health food or herbal stores.  It encourages scab formation and protects the wound from infection.  Steep a heaping teaspoon of goldenseal powder in a pint of boiling water for twenty minutes, let cool, and then apply to the cut.  Or make a paste of goldenseal powder and olive oil to apply on the wound.

You may not have this herb at home, but you probably have honey.  Unprocessed (not heated and filtered) honey is also an effective antiseptic.  Just dab some on the cleansed wound, and cover with a bandage or gauze.

Bruises don't break the skin but are caused by bleeding under the skin, which gives the injured area a black and blue appearance.  Who hasn't gotten a bruise from hitting your leg on a hard object, having a branch hit your arm, or hammering your hand instead of that garden stake?

In addition to first cleaning as above, you can take away the stinging and pain by raiding the kitchen pantry.  Look for a banana or potato, not to eat, but to put on the wound.  Actually it is the banana peel or a thin slice of raw potato that you should apply to the bruise.  Try these for pain from scratches, too.

Another old-fashioned and natural home remedy for bruises is witch hazel, an oil made from the bark of the witch hazel shrub.  You also can add a couple drops to rose, orange, or lavender water for an after-gardening skin freshener.

Arnica salve (from another perennial herb) can be purchased and used for bruises, as well as sore muscles.  Tiger balm is a Chinese herbal remedy used for sore muscles.  It smells similar to a popular commercial product that athletes and others use for aching muscles.

Juice from the aloe vera, a succulent cactus-like plant you can grow indoors in pots, is good for minor scrapes as well as burns.  You can  purchase lotions and gels although fresh juice or sap from a cut leaf is often much more effective than the commercial preparations.  Allow it to dry on the skin before you put on a bandage.

Bag balm can be purchased in many garden or farm stores and is the same as farmers use on the udders of their cows.  It is good for minor scratches, as well as sore and chapped hands.

With any natural remedy, go easy at first to make sure your skin doesn't have an undesired reaction.  If the wound is serious, or lasts more than a week without signs of healing, you definitely need to consult a medical professional.  Other great tips for safe gardening can be found in the book, Gardener's Fitness, by Barbara Pearlman.


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