The trouble with most first-aid kits is that you don't have them when you need them. They usually are stored safely in a bathroom closet or in the trunk of a car.

What if you could compile an easy-to-carry first-aid kit from items you have on hand?

Readers of this column frequently share the remedies they use in an emergency. Most are simple to assemble and could be kept in a pocket or fanny pack.

One of our favorites is yellow mustard. Stock up on several small packets of this condiment. It can do double duty, as demonstrated by these stories:

'I recently participated in a charity bicycle ride in Orlando, Fla. At mile 75 of 104, my right hamstring locked up pretty hard. I pulled over and stretched it a bit and ate two packets of French's plain yellow mustard.

Within minutes, I felt as if I never had the cramp and finished the ride strong. I can say that I am sold on mustard! '

Yellow mustard also can be used to alleviate the pain of a burn.

One reader shared this story: 'I found out about mustard for burns when I was in college working at a pizza joint, many moons ago. I picked up a pizza pan right out of the oven and promptly dropped the entire pan.

'My hand immediately turned really red, and the owner, Tom, who was Greek and spoke very little English, grabbed my hand and squirted mustard all over my palm and told me not to take it off. I worked my shift one-handed. When the mustard had dried, I washed it off. No pain and no blisters. '

Another option for treating a burn is soy sauce. This also is available in convenient packets from your favorite sushi spot. Here's a testimonial: 'The other day, I burned myself taking something out of the oven. I immediately ran cool water over it and applied soy sauce, then put on more soy sauce a few minutes later. The pain stopped right away, and later that evening I realized I had no pain on the burned area at all. '

For a minor cut or scrape that is bleeding, a packet of ground black pepper is super. Just pour it on, apply pressure and the bleeding usually stops.

There are even a few home remedies that could ease heartburn.

One reader had this experience: 'Last night I had too much delicious Chicago pizza with wine and had mild heartburn. I had read that almonds could be beneficial. So I chewed six almonds thoroughly, and my symptoms disappeared immediately. '

Other items that might belong in your portable first-aid kit include sugarless gum for heartburn and constipation, castor oil for bites, bruises and sore joints, and meat tenderizer for stings.


Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert.