Herbs for Seasonal Allergies

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One of the most uncomfortable day to day health challenges has to be suffering through a round of hay fever every year. Many people rely either on prescriptions or a handful of capsules from the health food store to stay comfortable during allergy season, but herbs for seasonal allergies can be a simple alternative, and surprisingly, many of them are readily available as common weeds.

Because of their weedy, grow-almost-anywhere nature, these plants make a great allergy back up plan for anyone looking for more natural remedies. Here are four of the best wild herbs to learn as part of your health preparedness strategies for allergy season.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

This plant has soft, fuzzy leaves and a dramatic spike of pale, yellow flowers when it

Mullein for allergies.

Mullein.

blooms. Mullein is traditionally used for allergies and dry, irritated coughs. It is also good for the lymph glands, which is a bonus for the immune system during allergy season.

It usually grows in dry soil, and a good place to look for this herb when you are first learning to identify it is along roadsides. Roadsides, however, are not a good place to harvest from because they are regularly sprayed with herbicides and collect polluted runoff from the road whenever it rains. Mullein also grows in fields, and is usually happy to grow from seed in the garden.  Tea can be made using either the leaves or the flowers.

Plantain (Plantago major or P. lanceolata)

Plantain for allergies

Plantain

Plantain makes an excellent tea for allergy season support, and the young leaves can also be steamed and eaten like spinach. P. major (the broadleaf variety) and P. lanceolata (narrow leaf plantain) can be used interchangeably. They can often be found growing near one another, although P. major prefers low areas with damp, rich soil and P. lanceolata prefers dry- even sandy- soil.

This herb provides soothing and anti-inflammatory action for the upper respiratory tract, and helps moisten delicate tissues when they are dried out and irritated. Plantain grows almost everywhere that the soil has been disturbed at some point. Look for it around homes, as a weed in gardens, and in abandoned lots. The leaves are the part of the plant used to make tea.

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

According to folk herbalists, the signature look for someone who will benefit from

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

goldenrod is those pink, watery “allergy” eyes. Goldenrod gets a bad rap for causing allergies, but usually it’s the ragweed blooming at around the same time that causes problems. If you have had allergy testing and know for sure that goldenrod is a trigger for you, then by all means avoid it; but pesky, less-showy ragweed blooming alongside goldenrod is the culprit for most people.

Goldenrod is easy to spot when it’s in bloom; the plant has a beautiful plume of bright yellow flowers. Fields and abandoned lots are two of this herb’s favorite places to grow. The leaf and flowers of this herb can be used.

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

One of the most well known traditional herbs for allergy season is nettles. Many of the nettle preparations available at the store are fancy, freeze dried versions of the herb, but herbalists have been growing and harvesting their own for hundreds of years before freeze drying equipment came along.

Nettles

Nettles

The young leaves from the top of the plant are harvested and dried for later use. Fresh nettles sting, but allowing the plant to dry gets rid of the sting. just be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves when you harvest.

Nettles love rich, moist soil, and will happily grow in damp pastures on low ground,  or along riversides; they don’t mind a bit of shade so you may also find them in open woodlands. Some people find that nettle works best for them if they begin using it daily a month or so before allergy season begins.

How to Use Herbs for Seasonal Allergies

All of the herbs above can be used alone or in combination. To make one serving of tea, use one tablespoon of the herb (or one tablespoon of the blended herbs) per 8 ounces of boiling water. Allow to steep, covered, for fifteen minutes, and let cool before drinking. A few rosehips or elderberries can be added for flavor (and extra Vitamin C!). If you prefer a mint flavored tea, mix in a little dried peppermint or spearmint.

Precautions:

Be sure to check with your doctor before using herbs, as some herbs may interact with medications or preexisting medical conditions. For instance, you should use nettle use with caution if you have diabetes or blood sugar problems.You should also discuss using nettles with your doctor if you take any of the following: blood thinners, blood pressure medications, diuretics, lithium, or drugs for diabetes.

 

Resources mentioned in this article:

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Learn the Art of Herbalism Your Own Way

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Learn Art of HerbalismAre you thinking about learning herbalism as a readiness skill to better help yourself and loved ones during an emergency? Let me be the first to tell you that getting a solid herbal education can be tough, but it’s incredibly rewarding. There’s a lot of information to cover, and many different approaches to teaching and practicing herbalism. There are also many different ways to learn herbalism: you can enroll in a local herb school, take online classes, or gather resources to teach yourself. But as a prepper, how do you sort through all of the options and determine what’s right for you?

Herbalism is largely unregulated in the United States. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that you, as a consumer shopping for an herbal education, need to weigh your options and do your research. And if you’re also a prepper, it’s important to feel confident that your teachers have done their research and had extensive experience, and that the course materials will cover topics that are relevant to preparedness and survival.

My Own Herbal Education

My first “official” herbal school experience left me frustrated that my instructor relied mainly on industry street cred and charisma. Most of the information in that course was good, but there were no references to external research ANYWHERE in the course. The more I studied, the more this made me uncomfortable. I had read widely on my own prior to enrolling, so I had a sense of what was reliable and what wasn’t, but it was still a very frustrating experience. Also, my main focus at the time was on working with clients more than preparedness, but the course didn’t really even cover as much of that as was implied. Very frustrating!

After several more years of self directed study, I found an herb school that focused on herbalism in remote settings and for community emergency preparedness. This school (The Human Path) has been a great fit for me, because it has allowed me to fully develop my interest in emergency herbalism, and even offers clinical outreach programs in remote settings that will allow me to gain more experience with my intake and evaluation skills while actively making a difference in communities. Founder of The Human Path, Sam Coffman, wrote this article on The Survival Mom blog.

Around the same time, I also began working for an herb school (The Herbal Academy) that offers online programs (from beginner level to family herbalists to clinical professionals) that are created collaboratively. Because of the school’s emphasis on collaboration, the courses reflect the wisdom and perspectives of many experienced herbalists rather than a single person. Click on this ad to learn what this course is all about. I highly recommend their courses.
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Where should YOU learn herbalism?

There are many more options available now than there were even a few years ago. Take advantage of that! Spend some time researching different schools. You might even be lucky enough to have a local herb school nearby so that you can learn in a classroom setting, which can make learning skills like plant identification and applying your knowledge (via student clinical programs) much easier.

Nowadays, many herb schools are even accessible online (and yes, this is great. Trust me- I mailed my lessons in via snail mail at the first school!). There are several advantages to taking online courses:

  • It’s easier to reach instructors,
  • Easier to participate in virtual classroom settings like webinars and chats.
  • Online, you can quickly research questions you might have.
  • It’s easier to be in touch with current and former students, so you can get their reviews and insights into a particular course before you enroll (always a good idea!).

You should understand, though, that there’s no formal syllabus that all herb schools are required to follow, or any accreditation process that they must undergo (at least in the United States), so where you go to learn herbalism will depend largely on your goals. You will need to take a look at the founder’s philosophy, whether or not the lessons are backed with adequate research materials, and whether the training offered at the school is a match for your needs.

Generally speaking, steer clear of programs that claim to make you a “master herbalist.” The phrase is just hype. There is no meaningful standard by which to judge the qualification. “Certified herbalist” is the same way. Just as there is no accrediting body specifically for herb schools, there’s also no regulatory body that grants titles for herbalists. A school can, however, give you a certificate of completion for successfully passing their exams.  

Herb schools will typically fall into one or the other of these categories based on the focus of their programs. Keep these in mind as you sort through which schools might be a good fit for your needs:

  • Tradition-focuses on a historical subset of herbalism (such as Ayurveda from India)
  • Career- focuses on developing skills and advanced theory needed in a modern clinical setting
  • Family Herbalist- focuses on everyday use of herbs in a family/home setting
  • Survivalist- focuses on herbalism in remote or survival settings
  • New age- focuses on intuitive herbalism, shamanism, or spiritual aspects of herbalism

For preparedness purposes, a course with a survival school is a wise investment, but you shouldn’t overlook a solid foundation with a school focused on home herbalism, either.  A good home herbalism course will usually teach you how to make many different types of herbal preparations and give you plenty of information that you can apply for everyday health needs.   

An herb school may also divide their programs into different tracks based on specific skills or skill levels, such as beginner, intermediate, or advanced, so take your time investigating the schools that interest you. Even if you don’t think every course they offer is a good fit for what you want, there may be a specific track or set of courses that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Here are three school directories you can peruse to get a feel for some of the options available:

Here are three school directories you can peruse to get a feel for some of the options available:

Herbal Education Guide from Plant Healer Magazine

School Directory by the American Herbalist Guild

Herb Schools List at Mountain Rose Herbs

How to Learn Herbalism on Your Own

It’s also possible to be a self taught herbalist. This approach requires careful research and the dedication to seek out many professional perspectives, and no, reading internet forums for different opinions and ideas doesn’t count! There are a few things you can do to make your self-guided herbal preparedness studies more fruitful:

  1. Invest in a solid herbal textbook like Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman, or Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy by Kerry Bone. Read it, cover to cover, and take notes. This will give you a very good introduction to herbalism from the more scientific side. (This is what I did after my first, not-so-successful experience, and it was worth every penny).
  2. Get a few herbal recipe books that teach you how to make herbal extracts, teas, and other preparations. James Green’s The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health or Homegrown Remedies by Anne McIntyre are all excellent resources. Work through the book and teach yourself to make the different types of products.
  3. Make a list of the types of health problems you know you will need to address, personally, and research them. Start looking up (and using, with your doctor’s permission) herbal alternatives.
  4. Create herbal components for your first aid kits. Here is more information about that.
  5. Part of the beauty of having herbalism as a survival skill  is that herbs are renewable- you can grow them yourself! Select a few new herbs each year and add them to your garden. Many are lovely to look at and can be added to urban and suburban landscaping, or grown on a balcony or patio in containers. Herbs can be difficult to grow from seed, but many do very well if grown from cuttings or root division. You’ll need to learn the specific needs of each plant as you go.
  6. Foraging is much less reliable as a supply tactic than many people think it is. Plants may not be available when you need them, or it may be hard to find certain ones in your area. If you want to learn to forage, you will need field guides specific to your area and lots of time to learn plant identification. You will also need to learn the individual timetable of each plant- when it blooms and when to harvest- and what specific parts are used. You’ll also need to tend your foraging plots so that (hopefully) there will be even more of the plants available the next year because you took the time to spread seed or otherwise help the plants regenerate. It’s best to focus on one or two really abundant “weeds” at a time and add more as you hone your skills.
  7. Wilderness First Aid- if at all possible, take a course in wilderness first aid to supplement your herbal studies.
  8. One prepper and herbalist, Cat Ellis, offers this book written from a prepper perspective, all about various herbal and natural remedies.

All of this goes to show that there are many, many different herbal schools to choose from, and that whether or not you enroll with a school or strike out on your own, you should be a very active participant in your education. Ask questions, read widely, create herbal products to use at home, and really participate in what you are learning! Herbalism is so much more than “book learning” and you will have the best results later by learning to incorporate herbs into your current lifestyle now as well as how to utilize them in a remote or disaster setting.  

Learn more about herbalism right here on The Survival Mom blog

3 Types of Herbal First Aid Kits

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herbal first aid kit

Herbal first aid is a great skill to have in your preparedness tool kit, and although I’m going to go over some of the contents of 3 types of herbal first aid kits with you in this article, it’s important to remember that herbal first aid is also a set of skills. You need to learn the correct doses, how to prepare herbs into usable form, plus all of the regular first aid (and wilderness first aid) skills to go with them.

Being an herbalist in general is a pretty good background for survival skills- you already know many herbs and the basics of how the body works- but I’ve taken classes with The Human Path, led by a former Green Beret medic and herbalist, Sam Coffman, to up my survival herbalism game. You can read an article Sam wrote for Survival Mom about the benefits of learning herbalism for disaster preparedness here.

Based on what I’ve been learning, I now have three types of herbal first aid kits. My everyday carry kit is small — I can fit it in a purse or tuck it into a backpack with no problem. I’ve even heard of people making their EDC (EveryDay Carry) herbal kits small enough to fit into a cargo pants pocket for times when they want to take it to a sporting event or other venue that doesn’t allow bags. My home first aid kit is much larger, with a wider variety and larger quantities of things for everyday comfort. The field kit/evacuation kit covers the herbs I would want to have on hand during a natural disaster or pandemic, but works equally well for rounding out my home first aid kit or as an organized bug-in supply.

Here’s a little more about each type and what I’ve included.

Herbal First Aid Kits: Everyday Carry

For everyday carry, small and durable is good. The idea is to keep a few things on hand that help make your life easier until you can get home. For example, use 1 ounce nalgene bottles, or make single serving packets out of drinking straws (I like this tutorial.) You can use a fanny pack, the kind of travel pouches used to organize a carry on or suitcase, or a makeup bag to hold your herbal EDC. A ziploc bag that goes in and out of different bags also works well. Don’t leave your herbal EDC in the car, though, because herbs and tinctures are heat sensitive and lose potency quickly in a hot car.

Some things that I’ve included in mine:

  • Meadowsweet extract — This herb can be useful for indigestion and pain.
  • Rose/Hawthorn/Albizzia extract (equal parts each) — An uplifting nervine, tis is my go-to for clearer thinking and feeling calmer after an emotional shock to the system.
  • Cayenne — Cayenne has several first aid uses. Dr. John Christopher spoke highly of it for hemorrhaging and for heart attacks, as it appears to equalize the circulation. It’s also very handy during cold and flu season for clearing the sinuses. A little cayenne is also my secret ingredient for sore throats, along with honey and lemon. In a pinch, you can get a wedge of lemon, a cup of hot water and a packet of honey at a restaurant. Mix the honey into the water and squeeze the lemon into the cup. Add a little cayenne and sip slowly.  
  • Black Cohosh/Jamaican Dogwood/ Cramp Bark extract (equal parts) — I learned about this blend from Dr. Aviva Romm’s website, and love it. This is a really potent blend. Helps provide comfort when dealing with pretty much any kind of pain — headaches, injuries, menstrual cramps, etc.
  • Plantain salve — My favorite salve blend is bright green and has plantain, chaparral, goldenseal, and bloodroot, among other things, but use whatever herbal salve you like the best.
  • Witch hazel extract — This is handy when cleaning up cuts and scrapes. I like to keep a travel size bottle in my EDC

Home First Aid

Personally, I have a full fledged home apothecary, but then again I’m a die hard herbalist, and constantly work with new recipes and other personal experiments. If you like, you can take a peek at my apothecary. Maintaining a home apothecary is a skill all of its own — things need to be rotated in and out, records kept, resources managed. I find it highly rewarding, but if you want a smaller home first aid kit (completely understandable), I talk about some of my must-have herbs in An Herbalist’s First Aid Kit: What I Use and Why. It covers 12 versatile herbs you might want to consider, and some ideas for preparations like eyewash, liniment, and an herbal spray for sore throat.

Important herbal categories for the home first aid kit can also include:

  • Digestive wellness: Include herbs that soothe the digestive tract like marshmallow root and meadowsweet; or astringents like blackberry root and sumac that are traditionally used to dry up bouts of diarrhea.
  • Herbal comfort for aches and pains: Black cohosh, jamaican dogwood, corydalis, valerian, passionflower, cramp bark, and willow can make good choices here.
  • Immunity and lymphatic support: Herbs that help the body during a viral or bacterial challenge like cleavers, violet leaves, and red clover for the lymphatic system; herbs that support the immune system more directly like elderberry and eleuthero.

You will want to keep your home first aid kit in an area that is easily accessible, but also out of direct sunlight and away from dampness. The basement and the bathroom are probably not good choices, because the higher humidity in these areas can take a toll on your supplies. A hallway closet or spare kitchen cabinet are good locations.

Herbal Field Kit/Evacuation Kit

A field kit or evacuation kit is probably going to be the most technical type of herbal first aid kit that you put together. For durability, use nalgene bottles. My field and evacuation kit focuses mainly on worst case scenarios — the kind of scenario where higher medical care is unavailable for short or long term. It’s heavy on the herbs I would want to have during a natural disaster or pandemic. It’s a much better idea to focus on a selection of formulas for this kit, rather than single herbs. That level of detail is a little beyond what I can cover in this post, so I’ve added a brief list of some of my favorite herbs that can be used for each category below, as a place for you to start with your own research.

  • Wound care/physical trauma — angelica, albizzia, St. John’s wort, arnica, yarrow
  • Lung support in case of smoke or dust, respiratory problems — lobelia, elecampane, horehound, licorice, marshmallow
  • Digestive tract — sumac, black walnut, marshmallow, blackberry root, Oregon grape, digestive bitters
  • Herbal antibiotics and antivirals — bidens, sida, artemisia, isatis (You will notice there’s not a lot on this list. Read The Truth About Herbal Antibiotics to find out why.)
  • Lymphatic herbs that support the immune system — cleavers and red root
  • Adaptogens that maximize overall resiliency and wellness– eleuthero, rhodiola
  • Nervines that offer strong support during shock, trauma, grief, and depression– angelica, calamus, albizia, valerian, holy basil

It’s also a good idea to tuck in a few herbal and first aid references.

Of course, this is just a glimpse at the botanical portions of my first aid kits. You will also need other basic to advanced first aid supplies like bandages and sutures (and the skills to use them).  Remember to review the contents of your herbal kits frequently, at least once a month, to check for leaks and to stay familiar with the way your kit is packed. Like all of your prep kits, it’s really helpful to pack your kit the same way every time, so that you can easily find what you need, when you need it. Feel free to use the herbs I’ve suggested as a guideline. Chances are, you will begin to develop your own tastes and preferences the more you work with herbs, and that’s a good thing! I wish you the best of health as you work on your herbal preps!

More Resources

Here are some additional resources for herbal/natural health:

herbal first aid kit

How to Make an Herbal Liniment

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diy herbal liniment

An herbal liniment is a liquid herbal preparation for rubbing into the skin. In an emergency preparedness scenario, liniment-making is a good skill to have in order to provide extra comfort for burns and sunburns, strains and sprains, and injuries from accidents or trauma.

Witch Hazel: A Versatile Herb for Liniments

Rubbing alcohol, vinegar, or even vodka can be used as the base for an herbal liniment, but witch hazel extract is one of the most popular bases. And, even though other herbs are often added to the witch hazel extract to make a more sophisticated herbal liniment, even a simple witch hazel preparation makes a great liniment on its own.

A tea made from witch hazel (properly called a decoction in herbal parlance) was used by the Menominee as a rub down for the legs, and to “cure a lame back”; and the Iroquois used it for bruising. For more information on the ethnobotanical uses for witch hazel, type in witch hazel’s botanical name, Hamamelis virginana, over at the University of Michigan-Dearborn online database.

Witch hazel also has several other uses that are good to know. First, it is a natural astringent. Folk uses of witch hazel include soothing burns, insect bites, and stings; as a styptic to astringe tissues and slow bleeding. These are some of the most common uses that have entered into the practice of modern herbalism. Native American tribes used witch hazel for many other purposes, including as a tea for colds, for cholera, and asthma. Liniment ingredient aside, it’s an herb with a long tradition of many different uses and well worth studying.

If you want to know if witch hazel grows in your area, the USDA Plants Database has excellent information on range, habitat, and identification. Witch hazel can also be added as a landscape plant in many areas, and bears unusual yellow flowers during winter when nothing else is blooming. It would be an excellent choice if landscaping with an eye towards herbal emergency preparedness!

Making Witch Hazel Liniment

The advantages of making an extract from witch hazel include adding a longer shelf life, and being able to create more complex liniments using witch hazel extract as the base. This easy recipe for witch hazel extract can be scaled up or down based on the amount of witch hazel bark that is available. This is a different method of preparation than typically used to make tinctures (which are also referred to as extracts), but it works very well and will yield a similar product to the witch hazel extract that you can pick up at your local pharmacy.

Ingredients:

  • Minimum 3 oz of witch hazel bark
  • Enough clean, potable water to cover the bark by two inches in a saucepan with lid
  • Vodka (acts as a preservative)

Directions:

  1. Place the witch hazel bark into the saucepan and add enough water to cover the witch hazel with two inches of water.
  2. Bring the pot to a boil, then cut the heat back and allow the witch hazel bark to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat and allow the witch hazel decoction to cool to room temperature.
  4. Strain the decoction through cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a fine mesh strainer and then measure the remaining liquid.
  5. For every two ounces of witch hazel, add one ounce of vodka. This extends the shelf life of your witch hazel preparation by about a year.

Other Liniment Herbs

Now that you know how to make your own witch hazel extract, you might be interested in making other, more complex liniments. Some herbs that are excellent for this include:

Goldenrod (Solidago spp) – Goldenrod, a common weed in much of North America, is ideal for a liniment to soothe muscle related injuries like strains and sprains.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) – Comfrey is a good herb to include in a liniment for broken bones and blunt force trauma.

Plantain (Plantago spp) – A popular herb for many different skin discomforts, plantain complements witch hazel’s soothing capacity on insect bites and stings. Combined with jewelweed, some herbalists have reported success in dealing with poison ivy.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) – Wormwood has an affinity for fatigue related pains. Mugwort liniments are great after a long day of hiking or hard physical labor.

Arnica (Arnica montana) – Another excellent choice for general muscle related pain, arnica is often used in oil-based preparations but is equally as useful as a liniment.

St. Johns’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) – This can be especially useful for injuries involving nerve pain. Be aware that St. John’s wort has a  reputation for increasing the sensitivity of the skin to sunlight, so you may need boost your sun protection while using it.

Other popular liniment ingredients include warming herbs that increase circulation, such as angelica, cayenne, and ginger.

How to Make an Herbal Liniment

When making a liniment, you may find that you have the best results from using dried ingredients. Extra water content from fresh herbs may make your liniment spoil sooner.

Here’s how to make a liniment:

  1. Choose a few herbal ingredients to include in your recipe. One to three herbs is a good place to start. Think about the intended purpose of your finished liniment and focus on herbs that are a good fit.
  2. Fill a glass canning jar half-full with the dried herbs you chose in step one.
  3. Pour enough witch hazel into your jar to cover your herbs with one or two inches of liquid and place a lid securely on the jar.
  4. Gently shake the herbs each day for two weeks, and add more witch hazel extract if needed to make sure the herbs stay covered.
  5. After two weeks, strain the herbs out of the witch hazel extract and bottle your liniment for later use. Be sure to include a date, the ingredients, and “For Topical Use Only” to remind yourself that your liniment is meant to be applied topically, not ingested. If you like, you can put your liniment in a mister or spray bottle to make applying it easy.

As you begin making your own liniments, you will quickly realize that adding this skill to your herbal bag of tricks can make everyday life, as well as extraordinary circumstances, much more comfortable.

Further reading on Liniments and Witch Hazel

A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve

A General Guide to Creating an Effective Pain Liniment or Salve by Bear Medicine Herbals 

Making Herbal Liniments at the Mountain Rose Blog

diy herbal liniment FB size

Herbal Wound Care Options

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Herbal wound care

Wound care should be an important part of your first aid preparedness training. After all, what may be a harmless paper cut by today’s standards could set the stage for infection in a less sanitary environment. Furthermore, if access to higher medical care were interrupted, there would be no ambulance or life flight, and maybe even no emergency room, to provide care for more serious wounds and injuries.

First aid for wounds covers many different aspects. Especially in a SHTF scenario, you would need to know how to safely control bleeding, assess the injury to gauge extent of the damage, and be able to clean the wound and prevent infection. Wilderness first aid or first responder training can be invaluable because there is so much to learn on this topic. Being able to learn from an instructor in these courses is also extremely helpful- they will correct any errors you might make and often have a great deal of  personal experience to make the material more relatable.

In long term scenarios with no higher medical care, the prevention of infection becomes a crucial step in the healing process. By using herbs to encourage healthy wound healing and support the immune system, you have a back-up plan in case medical supplies run short.

There are five basic types of herbs to keep in mind for herbal wound support: Hemostatics that curb excessive bleeding; anti-inflammatory herbs for healthy inflammation response; proliferative herbs that help with scabbing and the formation of new skin; anti-pathogenics that help minimize contamination of the wounds, and lymphatic herbs that support a healthy immune response. We will also briefly cover helpful pain relieving herbs.

Let’s take a look at the five main groups of herbs for wound care:

Herbal Hemostatics

Most herbs that have hemostatic properties are classified as astringents in traditional herbalism. These are herbs with a reputation for drawing up and tightening tissues, and drying up excessive fluids of all types. Traditional wound herbs utilized for their hemostatic properties include the leaves and flowers of shepherd’s purse, oak bark, wild geranium root, yarrow leaf and/or flower, raspberry or blackberry leaf or blackberry root, and chaparral leaf.

White oak and English oak are the two “official” oak species used in herbal medicine, but all oaks exhibit a high level of tannins and can be used interchangeable for their astringency. These herbs may be prepared as an infusion or decoction and applied as a wash, or if an extract is available it can be diluted in water and applied equally well. These herbs are also beneficial for oozing or weepy wounds or sores.

Herbal Anti-Inflammatories

These herbs may be applied topically alone or as part of a formula to encourage excessive inflammation to return to normal. Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, but if the wound is large these herbs can help with comfort during the healing process, and help the tissue recover from pain and swelling. Several of them can also be found under the antipathogenic category, and under pain relievers. Examples of herbal anti-inflammatories include willow, meadowsweet, chaparral, lobelia, self heal, comfrey, plantain, birch, alder, aspen, poplar, and turmeric.

Proliferatives

Herbs that encourage the growth of healthy tissue during the growth process are also important. Chaparral, comfrey, horsetail, plantain, calendula, and aloe are great examples of this type of herb. It’s important to use proliferatives judiciously over deep wounds, as they can promote healing of the top layers of the epidermis before the wound has healed completely underneath. This could set the stage for infection. Be sure that the wound is clean and has started to heal well internally and that there is no chance of infection before using them.

Comfrey and calendula can promote healthy tissue growth when there is a concern that scar tissue could be damaging. These herbs have a traditional reputation for helping a wound to heal with minimal scarring. Elecampane root can be beneficial when there is “proud flesh,” meaning the wound is having difficulty forming a healthy scab (7). Stinging nettle can be taken internally as a tea, or eaten as a steamed green, during the healing process as this herb supplies micro-nutrients and protein that support the healing process (2,4).

Anti-Pathogenics

Antipathogenics are herbs that help keep the wound clean from bacterial contamination. Note that these are not going to behave in the same manner as an internal, systemic antibiotic. They need to be applied topically. Chaparral, plantain, acacia, aloe, echinacea, goldenseal, and sida are examples here. Even though goldenseal is listed, it’s important to understand that the berberine content in goldenseal does its best work topically. It’s not well absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut.

Learn More: If you would like to read more about the few herbs that do seem to have a systemic anti-pathogenic effect, you can visit my blog to read this article on Herbal Antibiotics: What You Really Need To Know. But you also need to learn about herbal lymphatics.

Herbal Lymphatics

Because there are very few herbs that have a systemic action approaching modern antibiotics, we turn to another staple in the prepared herbalist’s medicinals kit: Herbal lymphatics. These herbs work with our bodies to support the effectiveness of our immunity through our lymphatic system. If you’ve ever experienced swollen lymph glands during a fever or infection, you know first hand how hard these glands work during an immune system challenge.

Herbal lymphatics promote the movement of lymph and the ability of the body to drain off and process the byproducts of infection. Poke root, blue flag, echinacea, red root, boneset, and cleavers are herbs in this class. Alteratives, or blood purifiers, such as burdock and red clover, can support lymphatic herbs. Lymphatics can be applied as compresses over swollen lymph glands, but it is usually more practical to take them internally. Poke and blue flag are generally used in small amounts, even only a few drops at a time, due to their potency and potential toxicity. Cleavers is a very safe lymphatic that may also be eaten as a steamed green.

Herbal Support for Pain

The last topic we need to cover for herbal wound care is the problem of pain. Everyone has a different pain tolerance, but the topic of pain should be taken seriously during wound care in a SHTF scenario. Pain places more stress on an already stressed system, and can interfere with sleep and appetite. Adequate rest and nutrition are important for healing in any scenario, but especially in an emergency situation where no higher care is available. The same can be said for managing stress in what is most likely a very stressful environment to begin with. Herbs that have a tradition of use for pain include Jamaica dogwood (1), meadowsweet, willow, and black cohosh (5).

Applying Herbs in a Wound Care Scenario

In addition to knowing first aid skills and what herbs to use, you also need to know how to use the herbs. Now that you have a basic understanding of the types of herbs that could be used for wound care, you may still be curious about how the herbs would be applied.

As a general rule, the two most practical herbal preparations in any SHTF scenario are going to be extracts (sometimes called tinctures); and infusions or decoctions. Extracts are made by soaking herbal material in alcohol (if made at home, it’s common to use Everclear mixed with water or vodka), which preserves the herbs and pulls the beneficial components into the liquid. Teas made with herbs are known as infusions (for fresh or dried leaves and flowers) and decoctions (for fresh or dried roots, barks, and seeds). Both types of preparations have the flexibility of either external or internal use (depending on the herb). Extracts are most commonly used internally, but may be diluted in a small amount of water to create a wash or applied without dilution if needed.

Some of the herbs listed above, like Jamaican dogwood, poke root, and chaparral, are at one end of the herbal safety spectrum and are called for in only small amounts at a time. Herbs like burdock and cleavers fall on the opposite end of the spectrum and are safe enough to be foraged as food. Most fall somewhere in the middle, but it’s important that you become familiar with each herb you plan to use during emergency situations so that you understand the plant’s unique profile as well as how much to use.

Read More

1. 7song (2014) Jamaican Dogwood Monograph. Retrieved from: http://7song.com/blog/2014/03/jamaican-dogwood-piscidia-piscipula-2014/

2. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, The (2015) Nutrition Guidelines to Improve Wound Healing. Retrieved From:
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/healthy_living/hic_Keeping_Your_Digestive_Tract_Healthy/hic_Nutrition_Guidelines_to_Improve_Wound_Healing

3. Coffman, Sam (2016) Zombie Apocalypse Herbal: A Basic Plant-Medicine Primer for Post Disaster or Remote Environs. The Herbaria: Plant Healer Magazine’s Free Supplement. Volume 6, Issue 3.

4. Laban K. Rutto, Yixian Xu, Elizabeth Ramirez, Michael Brandt. (2013) Mineral Properties and Dietary Value of Raw and Processed Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.).
International Journal of Food Science, Volume 2013, Article ID 857120, 9 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/857120

5. Noveille, Agatha (2015) Herbal Comfort for Aches and Pains. Retrieved from https://theherbalacademy.com/herbal-comfort-for-aches-and-pains/

6. Woo, Kevin. (2012) Exploring the Effects of Pain and Stress on Wound Healing. Advances in Skin and Wound Care, Volume 25 – Issue 1 – p 38–44
doi: 10.1097/01.ASW.0000410689.60105.7d

7. Wood, Matthew (2008) The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley

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The Truth About Herbal Antibiotics

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herbal antibiotics

Antibiotics are often a popular topic in preparedness circles. In addition to adding prescription antibiotics to their survival supplies, some people want to incorporate herbal antibiotics as alternatives to prescriptions. This might be from a desire to incorporate plants they can grow or forage so they have backup supplies, or because of a concern for antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misinformation that gets passed around on the Internet regarding herbal antibiotics. You have probably come across long lists of herbs that supposedly have antibiotic potential, yet there isn’t much information provided and no references are cited that would allow you to find more info. Most of the lists give the impression that you can pop a few capsules of certain herbs and immediately have the same effects of taking a pharmaceutical.

If you are skeptical of such lists, good- because they are usually more than a bit misleading. Pharmaceutical antibiotics have a systemic effect on the body. Once you take them, the body breaks down the tablet and the antibiotic becomes available in the bloodstream at levels high enough to kill bacteria. Herbs don’t typically work that way.

Only a small handful of herbs appear to have the ability to work in a systemic fashion. Other than Artemisia, which is commonly known as sweet wormwood, you may not have even heard of these other herbs. Herbs commonly touted as having antibacterial properties most likely have, at the most, only a potential to act locally when the herb comes into direct contact with an area. Things like honey, goldenseal, oregon grape, and garlic are part of this group.

Some of the most promising herbs with systemic potential for use in a SHTF scenario include:

  • Cryptolepis sanguinolenta– Native to Africa; generally known as cryptolepis in the west
  • Sida acuta– Occurs in North America; commonly called wireweed
  • Alchornea cordifolia– Native to Africa; sometimes known as Christmas bush
  • Bidens pilosa– Native to North America; also known as beggar-ticks or Spanish needle
  • Artemisia annua– Also known as sweet wormwood; native to Asia but naturalized in some areas of North America

The truth is, the topic of herbal antibiotics is much, much more complicated than finding a list of a few herbs and choosing a few bottles of capsules off the shelf at your local health food store or pharmacy. Following are a few ways that you can set yourself up for success with this type of prep.

Teach Yourself the Basics of Herbal Antibiotics

If you are interested in adding herbal antibiotics to your preparedness supplies, you should start with a detailed reference like the second edition of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria
. Having a reference like this is incredibly important. There’s a lot of information you need to know to be able to use herbs for something as serious as this: Which herbs to use, how to prepare them, how to combine them for best results, and much more. A good reference will give you the “why” as well as the how, detail the traditional uses of the plant, and brief you on scientific studies that support the author’s claims.

Stock Up

In addition to a reference that details how to use the herbs, you will need sufficient amounts of the herbs in your preparedness supplies. Alcohol based extracts, also called tinctures, are your best bet. Dried herbs or capsules can quickly lose potency on the shelf, but a properly prepared extract can last for ten years or more. Four ounces of each extract per person is the minimum I use in my personal preps.

Store Correctly

Alcohol based extracts do need to be stored correctly to have such a lengthy shelf life. Store them in a dry place, protected from light and extreme temperatures. Amber glass bottles are a popular choice. If you are concerned about portability, then brown nalgene bottles may be more practical. Stay away from glass pippette/dropper tops and stick to plain screw cap lids. Store the droppers separately if you like, but be aware that dirty droppers can easily contaminate a bottle of extract.

Know How Much to Use

Learning to judge the proper serving size is somewhat of an art. A good reference guide will give you the basics. Remember that most herbal guidelines are based on an 150lb adult, so the serving size may need to be adjusted for someone much larger or smaller than the norm. If you don’t have the dropper tops for your extracts or choose not to use them, it’s also helpful to remember that for most purposes, a teaspoon is equivalent to thirty drops. You may also be able to use the cap as a measuring tool. Do a test and measure out a teaspoon into your cap so you can estimate the amount in a pinch.

Be Able to Grow and Harvest

If your climate and your living situation allows for it, you should consider adding the herbs to your garden, and possibly adding a good field guide that will help you identify the herbs in the wild. Foraging for a specific herb can be hit or miss even under good circumstances, so having an extra supply growing under your care where you can find it easily is preferable. You should still learn to identify the herbs in the field, but be aware that you may not be able to rely on foraging if the herb isn’t common in your area. Even if the herb is commonly available, you will need to know how long the growing season is and when to harvest for peak potency. For the leaves and upper portions of the plant, this is just prior to blooming. For roots, you will need to harvest in the fall when the plant is preparing to go dormant for the winter.   

Think Holistically

If you are going to take herbal antibiotics seriously, you also need to learn about several other classes of herbs: Adaptogens, alteratives, and lymphatics. These herbs have the potential to support the role of herbal antibiotics by working directly with our immune systems.

Adaptogens include herbs like rhodiola and astragalus that boost immunity and overall resiliency. Alteratives like red clover help the body process metabolic waste during illness. Lymphatics, such as cleavers, were traditionally used to boost immunity by supporting the function of the lymphatic system.

Whether or not you choose to incorporate herbs with antibiotic potential as part of your preparedness supplies, it’s important to remember that it’s best to approach herbalism as a unique skillset. A list of ways that you can purify water or splint an injury won’t get you very far when the SHTF, and neither will a list of herbs! But if you take the time to learn your craft, train and practice regularly, herbalism is a very satisfying way to round out your abilities and provide you with more flexibility and options, just in case you need them.   

More Resources

To learn more about herbs and natural health, here are some additional resources:

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6 Surprising Preparedness Uses for Sage

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uses for sageSage – the culinary seasoning that makes its way into so many holiday recipes – should also make its way into your herbal preps kit. Here’s some of the best preparedness uses for sage.

Although it is usually only valued as an ingredient in savory dishes nowadays,  sage (salvia officinalis) has been valued for health and healing for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks as well as Chinese used varieties of sage for an astounding number of health problems. Common garden sage, the one we now use for cooking, was even used for broader health purposes as recently as the late 1800s by early doctors such as the Eclectics, Thomasonians, and Physiomedicalists in America.

Throughout history, sage has proven itself time and time again for everything from minor discomforts like gas and bloating after eating a fatty meal, to more serious conditions such as typhoid fever and tuberculosis.

Respiratory Health

Sage can help strengthen the lungs during bouts with coughs and bronchitis. Traditionally, sage was used in smoking blends for asthmatics. Although we realize now that the particles from a smoking blend could cause more problems in the long run than they relieve in the short term, using sage as an herbal steam might still offer some relief. In addition to the coughing that comes along with a common cold, sage can help balance the runny nose and postnasal drip that often accompanies the cough.

If you do use steam, essential oils are the fastest and easiest method. It is a good technique for respiratory problems but anyone with asthma should be very careful with this method. After removing the boiling water from heat, drop a few drops in the heat. Put your head over it with a towel draped on top to keep the steam in.

Digestive Health

Constituents in sage are believed to assist the body with the breakdown of fats and proteins, which is one reason sage may have been such a success as a seasoning for meats. In addition, sage’s astringent, antispasmodic, and carminative actions can help calm the digestive tract during a round of diarrhea, gas, or bloating.

Emotional Well-being

Sage is also a very capable nervine, an herb that settles and calms the nerves and strengthens the nervous system. Many old sources discuss sage as an herb for healing grief and uplifting the emotions. Because of its influence on the nervous system, sage was also commonly used for disorders like palsy and epilepsy.

In addition, Sage is beneficial for strengthening the senses and sharpening the mind. Because grief can be something that is part of the aftermath of a natural disaster or emergency scenario, sage is valuable in the herbal preps kit on the strength of its nervine properties alone.

Oral Health

Tea made from sage leaf can be used as a gargle to promote oral health and the textured leaves make a decent stand-in for a toothbrush in a pinch. Traditional uses of sage for oral health include as a mouthwash for bleeding or receding gums, or as a gargle for hoarseness, swollen glands, and sore throat. This makes it a nice addition to an herbal first aid kit for dental hygiene and throat health.

Trauma Recovery

A less well known ability of sage involves the blood. Traditional herbalists made use of it when there was a traumatic injury potentially leading to dangerous blood clots, in order to harmlessly break up clots and discourage strokes and thrombosis. Sage also has astringent properties that make it useful for cleaning up cuts and scrapes in a pinch. Applying sage tea as a wash for wounds and bruises, or applying the extract are good ways to utilize this aspect of sage.

Fevers

Sage was also used as an herb to support the nervous system during fevers, and was used when there were fevers with signs of stress on the nervous system. This included high fevers with delirium or convulsions, or lower fevers with restlessness or muscle spasms.

Safety and Use

Sage is very safe when used at the levels normally found in cooking, and is considered safe by most herbalists when used for less than three weeks at a time at the serving size listed below. Modern research has shown that sage contains a compound, thujone, that can be toxic if it builds up in the body over time. Large doses of thujone can lead to convulsions or even coma, so be sure to follow the directions on the packaging that come with any sage supplements you purchase at the store, and follow the traditional wisdom regarding length of time and serving size if you are using sage you have grown yourself.

Sage Tea

One serving of sage tea can be made by adding 1-2 tsps of fresh or dried leaf to 8 oz of boiling water, and allowing to steep for 10 minutes.

Sage Extract

15-30 drops 1-3 times per day

For more information on sage

uses for sage