Monday, November 5, 2007

Herbs and Things for Copperhead Snakebites and Brown Recluse Spiderbites

In an austere, where-there-is no-doctor situation caused by natural or manmade disasters, we may have no choice but to rely 100% on our own resources. In that case, this information may come in handy. If competent medical care is available, I strongly advise that snakebitten or spiderbitten persons take advantage of it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or dysfunction. If you have a physical concern, it is recommended that you seek the advice of a competent health care professional.

Last week a young copperhead snake bit me on my finger. Fortunately the angle of the bite was in my favor. One of the fangs hit my knuckle bone and did not penetrate deeply; the other fang kind of rolled off and left a deep scratch. I think that because the snake struck me on the knuckle bone it did not turn loose with nearly as much venom as it would have if it had sunk its fangs into sure 'nuff in muscles or tissues. The pain and swelling was intense enough to make me wonder if somehow the fang had reached inside the joint. Yeow!

I opted for self-treatment because I live in a wilderness area where medical care truly is a dismal option. I would not trust the nearest local professionals on anything more than a bee sting.

If the bite had been on my face, neck or closer to my heart, or obviously hit an artery, or if I had been bitten by the deadlier diamondback rattlesnake or coral snake, I would have opted for the nearest competent hospital. Heh. That would be quite a long ride.

Death from copperhead snake bites are very rare (I believe the average is only about one per year in the USA), which is a good thing because statistics show that they account for most of the reported snakebites in America.

However, because serious complications are also frequently reported with copperhead snakebites, diligence and good medical care will greatly influence the outcome.

I have several traditional Native American snakebite remedies in my herbal arsenal. For my copperhead snake encounter last week, I relied on these herbs internally and made lots of poultices. More on poultices later.

Now the bruising and swelling has gone down and everything is looking and feeling MUCH better. I noticed that whenever I'd slack off on the echinacea regimen, the swelling and pain reminded me that it was time to take more of something!

Here's what I use for snakebites (and brown recluse bites, too...see below: "About Brown Recluse Bites").

Echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia or E. purpurea or E. pallida), (4 - 6 capsules, internally every two to three hours) and poulticed

Goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis), (2 capsules, internally every two to three hours in between Echinacea doses) and poulticed

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) root, poulticed

Slippery Elm bark (Ulmus fulva), (capsules internally, as needed for nausea and stomach pains) and poulticed

Plantain leaves (Plantago major), crushed and poulticed (this is a whiteman herb adapted to redman uses) Take one tablespoon crushed leaf juice every hour, at the same time applying the bruised leaves to the wound. The dried leaves can also be used when soaked in water or herbal tea. Plantain tea can be used as a wash to bathe the area often.

Garlic internally and poulticed

Salt water soaks

Honey, poulticed

Charcoal, poulticed

For pain relief: Calcium gluconate 500 mgs. every 4 - 6 hours in addition to your favorite pain relief measures. NO ALCOHOL, under any circumstances.

Vitamin C capsules 1,000 - 5,000 mgs several times a day, as much as can be comfortably tolerated (take with Slippery Elm powdered bark). I use Ester-C.

I used a combinatin of herbal teas and decoctions to moisten a single or combination of herbs being used in the poultice, depending upon the immediate crisis or need at hand (drawing/extracting, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, or anti-whatever else is needed at the time).


A poultice is a pulverized or powdered mass of herbs moistened with water, herbal teas, tinctures, infusions, oils, decoctions. It is applied wet to the problem area. If fresh herb is used, it is pulverized until juicy, then applied directly to the skin without moistening. A cloth can be wrapped around the poultice to hold it in place when there will be movement such as walking, etc.


By the way, the regimen outlined here is pretty much how I treated my brown recluse bites (3 bites, the first time two years ago, and another one a couple of months ago). Instead of the poultices, I poured a high quality tea tree oil directly into the "hole" that the bite caused. All four bites healed amazingly well, and tissue necrosis was kept down to the size of a dime, or less. I also took frequent large doses of echinacea as outlined in the other post.

Note: It is quite possible that I may be one of those tough old birds who is "immune" to Brown Recluse spider bites. I don't know if this is the case, or if my homemade treatment should take the credit for my success. If you have access to professional medical care, I urge to you seek it promptly if you think you have been bitten by a Brown Recluse spider. More often than not, the damage from Brown Recluse is very profound, as in severe tissue damage leading to loss of limbs... They are nastybad spiders.


I do not have an "extractor" of any kind in my arsenal. It is my understanding that they are no longer recommended first aid treatments. Not even the Sawyer Extractor (which involves no cutting or lancing).

Here are three (of many!) well-versed comments made about extractors:

Note - The Sawyer Extractor kit, is no longer viewed by experts (such as Dr. Sean Bush, the nation's leading expert on snakebite) as a useful therapy for snakebite treatment, and may cause more harm than good.

Proper protocol is to immobilize the bite, keep it at roughly the same level as the heart, and to transport to the hospital without delay. In the words of Dr. Bush - "Time is Tissue. The longer it takes to get proper medical treatment, the more tissue is damaged and destroyed."


Matt_H on 2005-02-26
I have to agree with Doctor Bush on this one. I've read several reports on the study of this device and have come to the conclusion that it is not a good idea for hemotoxic envenomations. From a medical point of view, consider this. When you are bitten the first thing to consider is whether the fang penetrated a vein or just tissue. the fang penetrates a vein it is immediately traveling through your bloodstream and envenomation effects will be rapid. If it has not penetrated a vein, then it will sitll enter your bloodstream (though a little slower) by absorbtion through the capillaries. Once venom enters your bloodstream it is at the mercy of your circulatory system which is continually flowing as long as your heart is pumping. A simple negative pressure at the bite site is not going to slow down your blood circulation enough to stop the travel of venom. At best, it can retain a small portion of the venom at the bite site. If you are bitten by a pit viper, or any other snake whose venom is hemotoxic, this will definately exaggerate the localized necrosis.

The main idea here is to try to slow the movement of venom until medical attention can be acquired. In order to slow down the movement of venom you have to reduce the circulation in the affected area. This is still best achieved by a pressure bandage, (NOT a tournequet). A pressure bandage will constrict the veins and arteries in the limb enough to slow the movement of blood through the limb and thus slow the movement of venom. The bandage should be tight enough to compress the limb but loose enough to slide two fingers under the bandage. In additon the limb should be immobilized. This combination should buy you plenty of time to seek emergency medical treatment.


By Tod Schimelpfenig
Curriculum Director – WMI of National Outdoor Leadership School, 2007
NOLS, 284 Lincoln Street, Lander, WY 82520-2848, USA

We've taught that if promptly applied the Sawyer Extractor may be helpful for pit viper bites, albeit with caveats that there is limited evidence it helps, and some evidence that concentrating venom locally may be harmful.

We've changed our curriculum on the Extractor, based on the opinions of experts and research that indicates the Extractor has not lived up to it's original promise. A study published in the February 2004 Annals of Emergency Medicine created a human model for "mock venom" extraction and found little to no venom (2% actually) was extracted by the extractor. A second commentary article reviewed past studies of the extractor and weighed pros/cons. The authors overall recommendation was "This study should change our practice. We should stop recommending Extractors for pit viper bites, and the manufacturer should certainly stop advertising that they are recommended medically as the only acceptable first aid device for snakebites."

The fundamentals of rattlesnake treatment remain scene safety; remaining calm (both you and the patient); removing constricting clothing and jewelry; keeping the patient resting with the bite site immobilized and at approximately the same level as the heart; monitoring swelling and evacuating the patient by carrying, walking only if it's necessary.

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This article is an excerpt from Mrs. Tightwad's Handbook #1: HOW TO SURVIVE DISASTERS AND OTHER HARD TIMES. For more information, see the left sidebar on this site:

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