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Nature's Essentials

Oils for the backcountry

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Nature's Essentials

Along with your bear spray, bandages, and homeopathic arnica, you may want to pack some essential oils that can help with common ailments such as itchy bug bites, bruises, cuts, rashes, blisters, and sunburn. Compact, versatile, and effective on a variety of levels, essential oils such as tea tree and lavender are must-haves in your first aid kit and can be used directly on the skin without a carrier oil.

When taking a hike in the bush, each breath is filled with the crisp, clean musk of the earth–this is the true essence of aromatherapy.

Life is teaming along Canadian hiking trails, and many health-conscious weekend warriors are rushing to the backcountry to hike, camp, mountain bike, and canoe. Minor injuries may be sustained at the hands of Mother Nature, but remember the Scout’s motto, “Be prepared.”

Along with your bear spray, bandages, and homeopathic arnica, you may want to pack some essential oils that can help with common ailments such as itchy bug bites, bruises, cuts, rashes, blisters, and sunburn.

Compact, versatile, and effective on a variety of levels, essential oils such as tea tree and lavender are must-haves in your first aid kit and can be used directly on the skin without a carrier oil. Lavender is great for cuts, burns, and stings, and tea tree–a strong antiseptic–is an all-round healer. Catnip and citronella are effective at deterring insects; and cedarwood can help relax and soothe the tired muscles and minds of the active nature-lover.

You can also mix and blend essential oils to personalize their benefits to suit your own needs, but there are some guidelines you should follow.

Essential oils are very potent and most should be diluted in a carrier oil when applied to the skin. Carriers include vegetable and nut oils, salts, milks, shampoo and conditioner bases, and lotion and creme bases.

A general rule of thumb is, if you are using the oils for physical healing, place up to 28 drops per 30 mL of carrier oil (not on the face), and for emotional stress use up to 14 drops per 30 mL of carrier oil.

Aromatherapy blends should also be age- and health-specific; babies, seniors and face blends should utilize only minute amounts of essential oils. Pregnant women should avoid most oils during the first trimester of pregnancy but may introduce low concentrations of pregnancy-appropriate oils later on.

Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)

Citronella is a refreshing and familiar scent to those who have spent time in the mosquito-infested Canadian outdoors. Citronella essential oil camouflages the human scent, and using it topically will deter female mosquitoes from injecting their saliva into your skin. It has a fresh, herbaceous, and strong lemon scent. Citronella is also an antiseptic, antispasmodic, and antibacterial. Avoid during pregnancy. May cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Catnip is 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET, according to researchers at Iowa State University.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

First aid in a bottle! Tea tree oil disinfects and has very powerful antiseptic and immune-stimulating properties. It can be placed directly onto cuts and scrapes to clean, disinfect, and reduce pain. Tea tree can be used for blisters, athlete’s foot, burns, cold sores, infected wounds, insect bites, rashes, and warts. May be used directly on skin or with a carrier. May cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals.

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

Did you get too close to your campfire? Lavender essential oil is an exceptional remedy to use on burns, cuts, and stings. It has healing and antiseptic properties and its analgesic properties help soothe tired, sore muscles, and inflammation due to insect bites. It also aids sleep and benefits the immune system. Avoid during first trimester of pregnancy.

Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)

A powerful, uplifting antiseptic oil, cedarwood has a sweet woodsy-balsamic scent. It has antifungal, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, astringent, expectorant, and sedative properties.

Weekend Warrior Sore Muscle Rub

12 drops lavender
10 drops cedarwood
6 drops juniper
30 mL olive oil

Mix essential oils in olive oil in a 30-mL bottle.

Bush Essentials

Natural bug repellent spray

10 drops catnip
10 drops citronella
5 drops cedarwood
5 drops lavender
5 drops tea tree

Mix in 60 mL of distilled water and add to spray bottle. Shake before each use and avoid eye contact. Alternatively, the essential oil blend can be used in a base of soy oil and used as a repellent lotion.

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