Herbal Medic

A Green Beret's Guide to Emergency Medical Preparedness and Natural First Aid


By Sam Coffman

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With a focus on herbal medicine and first-aid essentials, former Green Beret medic and clinical herbalist Sam Coffman presents this comprehensive home reference on medical emergency preparedness for times when professional medical care is unavailable.

Herbal Medic covers first-aid essentials, such how to assess a situation and a person in need of treatment and distinguish between illness and injury, as well as how to prepare and use herbs when there is no access to conventional medical treatment. In addition, the book provides a basic introduction to herbal medicine, with detailed entries on the best herbs to use in treatment; information on disease in the body and how herbs work against it; instructions for making herbal preparations; a list of those herbs the author has found most useful in his clinical experience; and a wide array of specific herbal care protocols for a multitude of acute health issues.


I wrote this book in memory of my father, who taught me to appreciate our natural world, and my mother, who with her passion for gardening taught me to talk to plants at a very early age.

And I dedicate it to all of my students—past, present, and future. I hope it serves you well.




Part 1: Orthodox First Aid

Chapter 1: The First Aid Kit

Supplies and Tools

Remedies (Internal and External)

Packing a First-aid Kit

Longer journey First-aid Kit


Chapter 2: Assessment of the Situation

Triangle 1: Scene Survey

Triangle 2: Primary Survey

Triangle 3: Secondary Survey

Chapter 3: Basic Skills

Stopping Bleeding

Sealing Wounds: Occlusive Dressings

Immobilization: Splints and Slings

Taping Techniques for Injuries

CardiopuLmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

How to Apply a Splint

Illustrated First-Aid Techniques

How to Make a Sling from a Cravat Bandage

How to Improvise a Tourniquet

How to Improvise a Compression Bandage

How to Improvise an Occlusive Dressing

How to Tape an Ankle

How to Tape to Stabilize a Knee

Part 2: Herbal First Aid

Chapter 4: Foundations of Herbalism

Paradigms of Healing

Getting Started with Plant Medicine

The Liver

The Mucosa

The Immune System

The Urinary Tract

The Respiratory Tract

The Digestive Tract

The Nervous System


Chapter 5: Making Medicine

the Right Herbs to the Right Tissues

Routes of Elimination and Metabolism

Using Solvents

Preparing Herbs for Use

Basic Equipment for Making Medicine

Infusions and Decoctions

Tinctures and Glycerites

Setting Up a Percolation Tincture

Multifractional Extracts

Oils and Salves

Other Vital Components of Herbal Medicine

Using Herbal Preparations

Chapter 6: Creating Herbal Formulas

Mapping Out a Formula

20 Useful Formulas

Antibacterial Formula (Broad Spectrum)

Anxiety Formula

Cold and Flu Formula

Eyewash Formula

Headache Formula

Heartburn and Digestive Upset Formula

Herpes Family Virus Formula

Immune and Lymph Support Formula

Kidney Support Formula

Musculoskeletal Pain Formula (Internal)

Musculoskeletal Pain Formula (Topical)

Nausea Formula

Poor Circulation and Heart Support Formula

Respiratory Formula (Acute)

Respiratory Formula (Allergy)

Skin Allergy Formula

Sleep Formula

Stomach Flu Formula

Toothache and Gum Pain Formula

Urinary Tract Infection Formula

Part 3: The Herbal Medic in Action

Chapter 7: Shock

Hypovolemic Shock

Cardiogenic Shock

Neurogenic Shock

Anaphylactic Shock

Psychogenic Shock

Septic Shock

Chapter 8: Wounds

Immediate Assessment

Cleaning and Closing Wounds

Using Herbs to Heal Wounds

Dealing with Infection

Chapter 9: Burns

Mechanism of Injury

Treating First-Degree Burns

Treating Second-Degree Burns

Treating Third-Degree Burns

Chapter 10: Fractures

Types of Fractures

Stages of Healing

Nutrition to Assist Bone Healing

Herbs to Assist Bone Healing

Treating Soft Tissue Injuries

Dislocations and Subluxations

Chapter 11: Environmental Injuries

Hyperthermia and Heat Injuries

Hypothermia and Cold Injuries

Altitude Illness and Injuries

High-Altitude Formula

Chapter 12: Venoms and Poisons

Venomous Snakebites

Spider Bites

Insect Bites and Stings

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Contact Dermatitis

Chapter 13: Viral and Bacterial Infections

Viral Infections

Herbs for Treating Colds and Flus

Herbs for Treating Shingles, HSV-1, and HSV-2

Herbs for Treating EV-D68, MERS, and SARS

Herbs for Treating Dengue Fever

Herbs for Treating Viral Gastroenteritis

An Herbal Protocol for COVID-19

Bacterial Infections

Chapter 14: EENT: Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat

The Eyes

The Ears

The Nose

The Throat

Chapter 15: Acute Care

Urinary Tract Infections

Gastrointestinal Distress

Internal Parasites

Chapter 16: Emergency Childbirth

Birth Is Normal

What to Do First

Support during Labor

The Actual Birth

After the Birth

Dealing with Hemorrhage

Dealing with a Tragic Outcome

Materia Medica for Childbirth

Part 4: Materia Medica

70 Herbs to Know







Baikal Skullcap

Bee Balm



Black Walnut






California Poppy

Chameleon Plant



Chaste Tree


Cramp Bark


Devil's Claw








Gotu Kola








Milk Thistle







Oregon Grape




Pleurisy Root


Prickly Ash

Prickly Pear

Red Root


Saint John's Wort




Sweet Annie


White Horehound

Wild Lettuce

Wild Yam



Yerba Mansa


Common and Latin Names of Materia Medica Herbs

Common and Latin Names of Herbs Not Listed in the Materia Medica


Recommended Reading

Herb Suppliers


Learn More about Natural Health with These Other Storey Publishing Titles

Share Your Experience!


I remember hearing the sound of my bone breaking as I hit the ground, hands outstretched. It hadn't been a very impressive jump, but my mountain bike hit a patch of sand as I landed and over the handlebars I went. The resulting collision pulled a piece of bone away from the base of the thumb on my left hand in a classic avulsion fracture.

I had arrived at Fort Bragg a few days earlier, having made it through the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS, or "Sore Feet and Shoulders," as we called it) and Airborne School of the qualification course for the US Special Forces. After 8 months at Fort Sam Houston in Texas training as a battlefield medic, I was facing "med lab"—a whole new level of training and experience.

This program was designed to produce the best austere medics in the military—and to wash out anyone who could not handle the pressure. ("Austere" here means operating with limited supplies and support.) More than half of my original class was already gone. This second phase would be worse. And here I was in the middle of the woods, with a broken thumb less than a week before starting the most arduous training I would ever undergo.

After several hours of denial, I went over to the med lab compound and X-rayed the thumb myself. Sure enough, I had a prominent avulsion fracture, with several millimeters of separation between the bone and the large piece that had been separated from it. At this point I realized that I needed to see a doctor, so I went to the post's hospital, where the orthopedist told me I needed surgery and would have to postpone the hands-on training. I stubbornly insisted that he just put a cast on it, because my son's third birthday was coming up and delaying my training would mean missing more time with him.

After some arguing and against the surgeon's better judgment, he agreed to put on a cast. I went back to the barracks, where I promptly cut the cast off and got a ride into town where I'd noticed a store that carried bulk herbs. I bought a pound each of comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and horsetail (Equisetum spp.).

Using big gauze pads held in place by an elastic wrap bandage, I soaked my thumb with a wet poultice of both herbs almost 24/7. When I reported for the first session of goat lab (so called because we worked on live animals), I was relieved to find myself assigned to the half of the class that was learning lab techniques rather than practicing treatment of trauma. This meant that I had a 3-week reprieve before I would have to use my broken thumb in daily trauma scenarios.

The instructors knew that I had a broken thumb and were undoubtedly just waiting to see what would happen, but I was convinced that I could make it if the thumb would heal enough to allow me some grip strength. During trauma training, we worked with goats who were fully anesthetized and then given life-threatening injuries, from blocked airways to fully eviscerated intestines spurting arterial blood. These scenarios ran all day, every day, and my thumb would ache for hours after, for example, using kung-fu grip strength with my left hand to align and expose the trachea for the scalpel in my right hand.

Thanks to the amazing tissue proliferation brought on by the comfrey and horsetail, my thumb had healed rapidly, and I continued the poultices for another month into the course. By the time I was getting ready for the next phase, I had full grip strength back and only minor pain when stretching my thumb in certain directions. To this day, I have no arthritis or pain or difference in grip strength between my right and left hands.

That injury was my rite of passage into herbal medicine. I had been interested in medicinal herbs prior to my Special Forces training, and I had studied just enough to know that comfrey and horsetail were reputed to be extremely effective in healing a broken bone. However, experiencing rapid healing myself, in a situation of very high stress, gave me a whole new level of appreciation for and trust in herbs as medicine. I continued to study herbal medicine, and it balanced all of the orthodox medicine I was learning as a Special Forces medic.

I love medicine for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the way it challenges you to keep learning. When you study medicine—whether you are in medical school or teaching yourself herbal medicine from books or anywhere in between—you are on a path that will never end for as long as you choose to follow it. More importantly, you can choose the direction you want to travel. Nobody has all the answers in the world of medicine, and you will never learn all there is to learn on this subject.

When I began to study herbal medicine in earnest, my own ways of thinking about how the body heals began to expand. My ideas about the physiology and pathophysiology of the body as it relates to herbal medicine have evolved over the years, and I work with doctors who put my ideas to the test every single day. The more they work with herbal medicine, the more they keep returning because it is so effective. Herbal medicine provides some wonderful backstops to many of the holes that exist in conventional medicine today—and these are holes not only in the actual medicine itself, but also in regard to its availability in a health care system that is filled with flaws.

Whether you read this book from cover to cover or use it as a reference by chapter, I hope that my own experiences in the world of herbal medicine over the past 30 years will prove useful.


While this is a book about herbal medicine, it fully embraces the need for a solid foundation in emergency and orthodox medicine for anyone working in health care. The heart and soul of the concept of the "herbal medic" is grounded in the idea that medicine should be as sustainable as possible, while also being accessible to everyone. The herbal medic should ideally be able to work with the medicine that grows in forests, deserts, jungles, and, of course, our own gardens. However, the herbal medic also needs a thorough understanding of disease and injury from an orthodox point of view. This is essential for acknowledging the need to seek higher medical care when a medical situation is beyond our ability to help.

However, in my experience there is a helpful application from the world of plant medicine for nearly every illness or injury. It might be herbs to help with nausea from chemotherapy, or an herbal formula that is far more effective than expensive pharmaceuticals for a viral infection. It could be herbs to help a bone fracture heal or herbs to help with the respiratory difficulty of asthma. The spectrum of health issues that can be addressed with herbal medicine is huge. So too is the spectrum of effectiveness, depending on the condition, underlying factors (e.g., nutrition, lifestyle, age, health conditions), what herbs are used, and how those herbs are used.

With that in mind, it is likely that the readers of this book will come from many backgrounds. Some may be doctors or otherwise licensed health care providers. Some may be clinical herbalists. Some may be folks who are concerned with preparedness for disaster. Some may be herbal hobbyists who are just starting on their own journey to explore plant medicine.

Whatever your background, the purpose of this book is to define and teach all aspects of being an herbal medic, both in the field and at home. Outside of basic first-aid skills, the medicine we will discuss is specifically plant medicine. I believe that the herbal medic should be prepared to be the primary caregiver not just in the first few minutes of an injury or illness but for the first few hours or days, and potentially even for weeks and maybe months, depending on the situation. That's why this book is written primarily for an audience living and working in remote locations or interested in preparing for post-disaster scenarios.

That said, a foundation of practical herbalism is also very useful around the average home, and the information provided here can be used by professionals of all background and training, from doctors, nurse practitioners, and nurses to clinical herbalists. But above all, this book is intended to help anyone and everyone who desires greater self-reliance and sustainability in their own health care.

Using This Book

You can read this book from cover to cover, and you can also use it as a reference manual. The index, glossary, and materia medica offer easy access to definitions, explanations of concepts, first-aid instructions, and plant profiles. It is impossible to teach herbal medicine concepts without first introducing certain cultural understandings and vocabulary from the world of plant medicine. This is true whether you are working with trauma, acute or chronic illness, or recovery from trauma or surgery. The first thing you must realize is that in the tradition of Western or orthodox medicine, our understanding is shaped primarily by pharmaceutical medicine.

Plant medicine arises from an entirely different context of holistic, multifaceted healing. As an example, even though aspirin is derived from constituents found in willow bark (Salix spp.), you can't simply apply willow bark in the same way you would administer aspirin. From the perspective of plant medicine, using a single constituent—in this case, salicylic acid—out of the thousands of constituents found in willow bark is nowhere near as effective as using the whole plant, understanding the mechanism of inflammation, and taking advantage of the ways in which many different herbs can work though various pathways in the body to help heal inflammation.

This book is designed to create a foundation and then build on it. Part 1 concentrates on orthodox topics such as creating first-aid kits, bandaging and splinting, and supporting musculoskeletal injuries.

Part 2 explores some of the most important aspects of working with herbs, beginning with a basic understanding of the body. How do we approach an upper respiratory tract infection versus a urinary tract infection? Can one herb have different effects on different organs? What are the most effective ways to help different types of tissue heal? How do we make medicine from herbs? What is a formula, and how do we figure out which herbs to combine for a specific formula?

Understanding the process of disease provides a foundation for understanding the larger process of working with illnesses and injuries. A well-designed healing protocol may involve not just herbal medicine but also lifestyle adjustments, nutrition, stress management, and more. As we look at organ systems, we will also talk about the causative factors in disease—in particular, chronic disease.


  • "As a fellow Green Beret, survivalist, and medic,​ I can say without a shadow of a doubt: THIS IS THE BEST BOOK OUT THERE ON THE SUBJECT.​.. Everyone would benefit from Coffman’s wisdom and knowledge.” — Mykel Hawke, retired Special Forces Officer, Green Beret medic, and creator and star of Discovery Channel’s Man Woman Wild
    "Coffman is the most gifted herbalist I've come across. His knowledge of plant lore and his understanding of human physiology and disease conditions has contributed immeasurably to the knowledge base of herbal medicine." — Steve E. Pehrson, MD, former battalion surgeon and Special Forces medic 
    "Herbal Medic is a must-have resource for anyone interested in using plant medicine, from the layperson to the medical professional. This book will be a vital part of my library."— Kyla Helm-Swanson, MD
    “I have been aware of San Coffman’s healing work for many years and have been continually impressed with his service to those in need. This book is a welcome addition to the emerging field of the herbal treatment of serious conditions.” — Stephen Harrod Buhner, bestselling author of Herbal Antibiotics and Herbal Antivirals

On Sale
Aug 3, 2021
Page Count
416 pages

Sam Coffman

Sam Coffman

About the Author

Sam Coffman is a clinical herbalist who began his medical career with more than 10 years as a Green Beret medic. For more than 25 years, he has taught wilderness first-aid certification, remote and post-disaster herbal medicine, and urban and primitive survival skills. He is the founder of The Human Path, a preparedness school based in San Antonio, Texas, and cofounder of Herbal Medics, a nonprofit organization that teachers herbal medicine and preparedness skills in medically underserved areas in the US and abroad. He also teaches survival and austere medicine to doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who are preparing to embark into disaster-relief areas around the world.

Learn more about this author