First aid at the Rainbow Gathering

I recently returned from assisting with CALM at the National Rainbow Gathering in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in SW Montana. For my curious comrades, CALM stands for the Center for Alternative and Living Medicine, and it’s the first aid station at the Rainbow Gatherings. It’s served as a teaching site for 7Song and the students of the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine for several years, as well as a place of healing & respite among 10,000 people abandoning civilization in the middle of the woods.


I’m still unpacking, unwinding, and decompressing. While still in orbit, some useful thoughts & impressions are beginning to take shape.

  • Ragweed tincture (fresh leaf) is very effective for Type 1 allergic responses
  • Compliance is better when people are familiar with the plant
  • Bandaging & wound dressing is an art form, and vet wrap is a friend to the entire human race.
  • Have a pot of simmering yarrow infusion near the campfire: for soaking/ disinfecting wounds (and soothing inflammation)
  • Giardia: water born, charcoal filter should be sufficient, incubates for about a week. Sulphur burps. Oregon Grape Root/Berberis & activated charcoal (take charcoal 30 mins away from other herbs/medications).
  • Osha root (& Cordyceps) for altitude sickness
  • Propolis tincture: disinfectant, resinous barrier help protect against microbial onslaught
  • Lobelia for asthma attacks: another effective herb
  • Foot wound care is a beautiful & complex art, and watching Lorna Mauney-Brodeck work on feet was befuddling in the best way possible. She has a 30-page manual available for download here as well as other great resources on her site.
  • Don’t be afraid to hurt people a little when cleaning out their wounds. Calling them ‘Pookie’ helps (thanks again, Lorna).
  • Observing a few drops of tincture have an effect on someone is really neat. Think Lobelia, Valerian, Anemone and Ragweed. I do believe herbal practice is a lifestyle and expecting quick fixes isn’t the goal. When when they occur, they are awesome.
  • 7Song’s teaching style is truly awe-inspiring, and it’s always a pleasure to see him in action. I mean…damn.

And there were a few herbalist ‘wins’. For me, this happens when a plant really helps someone, and they come back to ask more about it only to realize that it’s something that’s been growing around their house or in their garden for ages. They get really excited, then you get excited, and a positive-feedback spiral of appreciation & giddiness emanates from the epicenter of a simple botanical preparation and explodes in a big-bang of actionable inspiration. You just facilitated an a-ha moment with someone and their connection to the land. That’s a HUGE win, and it’s my favorite part of practicing. I saw this happen with ragweed (for a bad case of hay fever), yarrow (wound soaking & disinfecting), and dandelion (at the clinic for lots of things).

Taking a break & tending the campfire. Note the bubbling vat of yarrow. (Part of me plotted a prank of subbing out lupine, but I turned out to be far too mature for such things.)

Taking a break & tending the campfire. Note the bubbling vat of yarrow. (Part of me plotted a prank of subbing out lupine, but I turned out to be far too mature for such things.)

Also, my love for working in an interdisciplinary team was cemented–particularly with the EMTs/NPs present, where there was mutual respect & interest towards the respective modalities.

I was also reminded that I am a very happy critter when I’m able to be with plants & people, and closing the laptop and tossing the books for a week is an incredibly healthy thing to do from time to time. But most of all, my time there affirmed that I’m a better practitioner when I’m able to be myself. I engage people better when I’m relaxed, somewhat odd, and abundantly goofy & dorky.

‘Be yourself’: perhaps the most cliche and important lesson there is. Other very important lessons: drum circles should never last all night, shoes are sometimes good, dancing barefoot in a fire may result in burns, and ‘Snoopy’ (aka Mr. GHB) is very interested in any & all drug donations if you see him at a drum circle.

(If you are interested in this type of work, you should check out 7Song’s video on herbal first aid at Rainbow on YouTube. He also has a video course on Herb First Aid on HerbMentor, which is one of the ways I prepared for this week.)

CALM Rainbow Sunset
About Author

Renée A. Davis MA RH is a designer and educator in botanical and mycological medicine. Her training began at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York City and concluded in biomedical sciences at the University of Washington. She currently directs research and development for a nutraceutical mushroom company in the Pacific Northwest.

1 Comment

  • Jay Taber
    July 30, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I forget if I mentioned to you that 13 years ago I became chronically fatigued, and after a battery of blood work by my physician, I was told there was nothing wrong. I then went to a licensed Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, who diagnosed one weak kidney, and put me on an herbal and root tea he blended that within two weeks had me up and running and enrolling for a double load in grad school.

    I’ve continued to take the medicine, now available in capsules, with no side effects, although the cost has gone from a dollar a day to a dollar and a half. It’s not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, of course, but maybe someday…


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