Use Some Common Sense
If you are suffering from a serious medical condition, use your common sense, for Pete’s sake, and go see a doctor. This article is not intended to replace professional medical advice. The information provided is intended as an educational guide to common herbs used as traditional remedies by our ancestors. If you are concerned about getting sick in a survival situation or in the post apocalyptic world, you should learn to identify common medicinal herbs. Wild remedies such as these may be necessary when there are no pharmacies or doctors to rely on. For serious injuries, see our post 21 Medical Must Haves
How to Get Started
Beg, buy, or borrow a guide to medicinal plants for your area. I depend on my copy of The Peterson Field Guide: Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Before you head out into the field and start collecting samples: learn how to read the book, what the symbols mean, and how to positively identify the plants listed in your guide. Make sure you understand the difference between alternate vs. opposite leaves, glabrous vs. smooth, and so on. These terms could save you from an unpleasant, or even fatal, experience. Some medicinal herbs are toxic in large amounts, so be sure to follow the instructions given in your guide.
You also need to learn how to prepare these herbs for use. For example, a poultice is prepared by crushing certain parts of the plants and applying to the affected area. Herbal tea is brewed with fresh or dried plant parts in very hot water. Make sure you are using the proper part of the plant, as some plants have poisonous seeds or flowers, but the leaves or roots are safe to use. Educate yourself before you get started!
For our purposes, we will look at a few species that are common in the United States that are generally considered safe to use. Some of them also have value as wild edibles.
*Common Medicinal Herbs:
- Burdock – (Actium species) Both the Common Burdock and Great Burdock are great sources of food and medicine. A tea made from the roots has traditionally been used as a blood purifier, diuretic, and an aid for digestion, gout, liver and kidney ailments, as well as rheumatism and gonorrhea (hey, it could happen). The roots are also high in inulin which has traditionally been used for diabetes. Some compounds in the roots have been shown to have antibacterial properties. Leaves may be poulticed and used to treat minor burns, ulcers, and sores. Studies suggest anti-cancer properties of the roots.
- Yarrow – (Achillea millefolium) This strongly scented flower has traditionally been used as a poultice applied to stop bleeding. An herbal tea brewed from dried flowering plant has also been used to treat colds, fevers, indigestion, gastric inflammations and internal bleeding. Expectorant, analgesic, and sweat-inducing properties that may be useful for treating colds and flu. Do not take in large amounts or for long periods of time as the compound thujone is present in small amounts and is toxic.
- Wild Bergamont – (Monarda fistulosa) Historically, the leaves were used to brew tea used to treat colic, colds, fevers, stomachaches, insomnia, and internal parasites. Contains antioxidant compound carvacrol with anesthetic, worm-expelling, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Dandelion – (Taraxacum officinale) One of the easiest medicinal herbs to identify, dandelion root tea has been used to treat ailments of the liver, gallbladder, kidney, and bladder. It has diuretic properties and may also provide relief for constipation. The root may be hypoglycemic, and a mild antibiotic against yeast infections.
- Jewelweed – (Impatiens capensis) Jewel weed has been used for ages as a poultice for poison ivy rash. The leaves contain the compound lawsone, which has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a traditional folk remedy for bruises, burns, cuts, eczema, insect bites, sores, sprains, warts, and ringworm.
Those Who Help Themselves
I have a great deal of respect for people who learn to do things for themselves. Why wouldn’t you want to know the common herbal remedies that are available for free in the wild? If you’re on a foraging hike and find yourself in the middle of poison ivy, why wouldn’t you look for the closest herbal remedy to tide you over until you get home? Lost in the wilderness and suffering from a severe head cold? You’ll want to know what plants you can rely on for relief while you concentrate on finding civilization. Or maybe you’re running from zombies in a post apocalyptic scenario and there aren’t any antibiotics available. Learn which plants have antibacterial properties so you can live to fight another day.
It is beyond the scope of this article to cover the numerous species of medicinal plants growing wild around the world. This short list is intended to get you started on some of the more common and safe plants you might come upon in the wild. The only way to really learn about this topic is to get out there and start identifying plants. If you have an experienced guide, it will be much easier to find, identify, and use wild herbal remedies. As with any survival skill, reading about it from the comfort of your couch will not prepare you for the real world. So get out there and start preparing for our uncertain future now!
*Medicinal properties referenced from Peterson Field Guides: Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and James A. Duke