Being able to take care of our own medical conditions is very important. Sometimes we can't get to a doctor, can't afford it or perhaps there will be a breakdown and there are no doctors available. I've found it invaluable to know what to do on my own when out on backpacking trips and an injury or sickness shows up.
In cases like this having a good knowledge of herbal medicine and having a few things on hand can mean the difference between agony and wellness or even life and death. I've used herbal medicine for over 20 years for livestock and pets as well as friends and family members. Having children around has provided plenty of opportunity for using herbs whether it's a scrape that's bleeding or accidentally eating something poisonous from the cupboard, not to mention a few colds, headaches, bruises and broken bones.
Living on a farm with livestock has also been an education. In the years I have used herbs I have never had to call in the veterinarian, everything encountered has been treatable with herbs and there have been many notable successes to prove the effectiveness.
This is a basic overview of the herbs and formulas I use regularly. It's not intended to be a complete course in herbal medicine. I do not have all the answers, I just have a small amount of experience that may help someone someday. These are basics, I have used many things that work wonderfully but I find myself grabbing these basic things most often and am sure that if I had these few herbs on hand I wouldn't be completely helpless, in fact, I feel incredibly rich. With that said, here's the favorites from my herbal medicine bag.
One of the few herbs that I use almost exclusively fresh. Freezes well too. One of my favorite antibiotics, illnesses and parasites just can't bear to stick around when you are taking lots of garlic. For ear infections I make a garlic oil by soaking crushed fresh garlic cloves in olive oil, leaving in a warm place for 24-36 hours. Applied by dropper into the ears and held in place with cotton this has always worked for my family. Garlic works through the combination of chemicals in the plant that when combined work effectively. The goal is to combine them, and this is best done with fresh garlic. As distasteful as it may be the most effective way to use garlic internally is to chew up whole fresh cloves. Swallowing them (chopped to a manageable size) is a close second. Garlic products like pills and powders are okay but I prefer fresh. Garlic taken internally is a must as well to help fight infection.
For a bad bruise there's nothing better. Simply slice a thin piece of onion to cover the bruise and tape it on the bruised area as soon after the injury as possible. I've used this many times when one of the children runs in crying after being smashed up and with the onion slice in place they are soon out running around like nothing had happened, no bruise. For tender skin I will put a little olive oil on the area before the onion as this helps keep strong onions from burning the skin.
Do not be caught without a good supply of finely powdered charcoal. Fifty pounds would not be too much, it's free so there's no reason not to have plenty. You can buy activated charcoal for some absurd amount of money in small containers but the stuff you can make yourself works just fine, I've saved many of my livestock that managed to eat something poisonous with it. Powdered charcoal has a mechanical action, it's not some miracle thing, it just has microscopic pores that somehow absorb immense amounts of poisons and hold it fast. I use it internally and externally. Internally for any ingested poison, for instance, when my dog eats the rat poison, or externally for things like snakebite or spider bite. For cases of blood poisoning I clean the wound and keep a charcoal poultice on the area 24 hours a day until the red line is gone. This has worked well for everyone I have used it on.
Making charcoal is easy, simply make a nice hot fire with clean hardwood, willow is very good but most any other non resinous hardwood will work fine. Don't use old barn boards or treated lumber. Once the wood chunks are red coals use tongs or something as effective to place the coals in an airtight and fireproof container, a metal can with a tight lid works good. Leave this filled with the coals and sealed as well as practical in the fire, adding more wood to keep the fire burning fairly well. The coals will not turn to ashes in the can because there is no air for them to burn. After the fire has died down, usually an hour or so, I take them out and let cool. Once cool I grind it all up to powder in a blender. The finer the powder the better. Be forewarned, this makes a terrific mess.
My number one herb. Stops bleeding, heart attacks (almost instantly) and shock. A couple of pinches of cayenne powder in a glass of water will almost always stop a bloody nose, you have to drink the cayenne water though. I've had kids balk, thinking it will burn, it won't. I've tried it too many times and I know there's no burning.
I keep some raspberry leaves on hand, especially when I travel, if I feel like I might be getting a cold or flu I have a few cups of strong raspberry leaf tea and usually this takes care of things.
Yarrow works like the raspberry leaf, I like the taste better. Adding a little honey to a cup of yarrow tea makes a really nice drink and it's really good for you too.
I like ginger tincture for motion sickness but the powder is good for adding to a hot bath. A hot ginger bath taken when sick really helps and increases the circulation quickly to help the body cleanse toxins and fight infection. Good for frostbite, colds, flu etc. Just beware, it's rather aggressive on delicate skin and can burn. If taking a ginger bath you would do well to cover delicate areas with Vaseline.
Thank God for Slippery Elm bark! It has so many uses, for people that can't keep food down a slippery elm gruel (powder mixed with enough water to make something like oatmeal) will usually stay down and is extremely nourishing, you can live for a long time on nothing but slippery elm bark and water. For deep wounds, large gashes or bullet wounds packing the wound and area with slippery elm bark powder mixed with water to make a paste will heal things up nicely. Don't remove, just keep adding and keep moist by covering with a bandage and some plastic. You can moisten the dressing with comfrey tea for even better effect. I also like adding a little marshmallow root powder and/or comfrey root powder to the slippery elm for a stronger effect. Often this will heal so well there will be no scar, I have proven this on myself but it's hard to convince people because there's no scar to show how bad the injury was.
One of God's healing gifts. I plant comfrey everywhere because I never want to be without it. The leaf and roots have the same properties but the root is stronger. I've used it on cuts, burns, broken bones, sprains, etc. Comfrey is also a highly nutritious feed for livestock and will help build strong bones. I feed it to my horses.
Highly nutritious. When there's been a lot of bleeding I give lots of alfalfa to help build back up. It does thin the blood a little so wait until after the bleeding stops!
Extremely nutritious, high in all kinds of minerals the body needs for health and for growing. I feed it to my livestock and there's a very noticeable improvement in their health and energy. When food is scarce or poor quality I'll be supplementing with kelp and alfalfa. A side benefit is that kelp is extremely high in usable iodine and works well as an inexpensive substitute for potassium iodide during a nuclear incident.
High in iron and highly nutritious. I use it when I need a blood builder or for anemia.
High in iron and other blood building nutrients. For cases where a blood transfusion is needed but unavailable a daily dose of beet juice, carrot juice, wheat grass juice, alfalfa juice, comfrey juice, bee pollen and slippery elm will often work instead to help the person recover without the transfusion.
I would venture to guess that in a time where the access to good medical care is unavailable and life perhaps is more dangerous with more chance of gunshot wounds or stepping on a nail, gangrene will be more common than it is now and we will be glad to know what to do with it. Doctors usually cut off parts of the body afflicted with gangrene, I have a better solution. Soak the area in a very strong tea of marshmallow 12 hours a day until all traces of gangrene are gone. For instance, if a leg or foot were affected I would use a steel barrel (clean) over a fire to make an immense batch of marshmallow tea. Keeping it warm, soak in the barrel as long as it takes, usually not much more than a few days. If you can't get that much marshmallow you can use hollyhocks, which are from the same family. Another use for marshmallow is as a milk replacer substitute. When I was many years younger I raised three orphan lambs on a milk replacer made of slippery elm and marshmallow powder mixed with warm water until it would just barely go through the bottle nipple and a trace of kelp. When it was available I would add as much goat milk as I could in place of the water but it wasn't always on hand. The lambs grew into some of my finest animals and won many trophies at the fairs.
High in nutrients, good for when the food supplies are poor. Also great for allergies believe it or not.
When I need a strong blood cleanser I reach for the chaparral. Not only does it help purify the blood but it cleanses the liver as well as fights internal parasites and is an antibiotic. For regular body maintenance when conditions are less than we could wish for or for helping with infections.
If I could only grab one thing cayenne would be it. For stopping bleeding there's not much that will work better. For bleeding I like to use the tincture internally and powder topically at the same time but you can use a teaspoon or more of the powder in a glass of water internally if you don't have tincture. Cayenne evens out and stabilizes the blood pressure and once you have used it will be amazed at how well the bleeding stops, from nose bleeds to large gashes it works great and doesn't burn like most people think it would. Also there's nothing better for shock, a real stout dose internally for someone that is in shock will really help them pull through. Also works for heart attacks, while I've never had one myself if I thought I might be having one I would drink a half bottle of cayenne tincture immediately, then take more throughout the day. I have heard from people with experience that this works but I hope I never have to try it out.
If I had to pick only two tinctures that I could take with me the easy choice would be cayenne and lobelia. Lobelia is a lifesaver, and I mean that literally. In large doses (tablespoons) it causes vomiting, which can be useful in cases of poisoning. In smaller doses ( 5-10 drops) it stops spasms, such as cramps, seizures, involuntary muscle contractions. It's also very effective at opening the bronchial tubes so when a child has croup or bronchitis I reach for the lobelia tincture.
Helps with making childbirth go much easier, at least that's what I've been told by the women that have used it, being a guy I haven't tried it myself. Also works great for anything I would use yarrow for.
I use yarrow constantly. Colds, flu, stomachache, headache. You name it, I grab the yarrow. Ginger About ten minutes after I get in a small airplane I am beginning to turn green and dizzy. Motion sickness is no fun but when I have a bottle of ginger in my pocket I don't worry.
Cold? Flu? Along with garlic Elderberry works great. Alone it works great too but I like using garlic with it. Shepherds Purse Here's a great one for putting a stop to excessive bleeding/hemorrhaging. Good in childbirth for instance.
A strong blood cleanser and blood thinner. Works good to help remove toxins in the blood, just remember your blood will not clot as well as usual. I made the mistake one time of castrating a bull calf that had been grazing on a rich clover pasture. He bled like a faucet.
An extremely effective fungicide and vermifuge that I use for keeping my livestock free of internal parasites and problem fungus. I've used it just as effectively on people. Is also is a very effective dark brown stain so don't be surprised if when you use it, for instance on fungus on your feet, you have brown skin for a while.
Urinary tract problems? Anyone that has experienced this will appreciate parsley root.
Has a good quality Iron, easily used by the body. With a lot of bleeding for instance you might be glad to get a little boost to your iron levels to help recover. Also good when you feel tired all the time. Echinacea I use to turbocharge the immune system. Works good for things like spider bites too. One warning, I don't suggest using more than two weeks at a time because the effectiveness wears off.
Usnea is a parasitic plant that grows on trees in wet climates. Being an extremely powerful antibiotic it's one very useful tincture to keep on hand and in your BOB. In my experience it's more powerful than penicillin, cheaper too if you collect it yourself and make the tincture. Years ago I had a sheep with a retained afterbirth that had become infected. This usually results in death, and being one of my favorite ewes I reacted, probably overdoing things a bit but the ewe was completely recovered the next morning. First I manually cleaned out the afterbirth, then gave her via syringe and tube a large dose of raspberry leaf tincture to help her body clean out what I could not. Then I gave her several large syringes full of usnea tincture made with vodka. This resulted in the first intoxicated sheep I have ever met. Despite the obvious overdose she quickly recovered and the infection (which was serious by the time I found her) was gone.
Catnip and Fennel Mixture
Especially with a baby around, this can be a real favorite. A baby with colic or indigestion, screaming half the night can be a real miserable proposition for both baby and family and if life isn't normal this could happen more often due to various upsets. A few drops of catnip and fennel tincture (or tea if you prefer, works well, just not as easy to carry in your pocket) has always worked for my family.
Herbal formula for internal parasites
A tincture made of black walnut hulls, wormwood and cloves is excellent for getting rid of internal parasites. I've used it on people and animals with great success. Taking large amounts of fresh garlic along with this tincture has proven to be even more effective as not many creatures want to stick around when you smell like garlic.
Powdered pool chlorine
A little of this goes a very long way. You'll need it for making a bleach solution which will come in handy for disinfecting. I suspect there will be plenty of applications.
Plantain and Chickweed Salve Made by gently melting beeswax and olive oil and steeping the dried herbs in this for several hours. The proportions of oil and wax determine how hard the salve is, you will need to experiment to see what works for you. I use it for any itching problems, healing skin ailments, bee stings, bug bites, etc.
Ever have a toothache? Try getting a good nights sleep with one! At some point you will be willing to do just about anything to get a bit of relief and that's when you will be thankful you put that bottle of clove oil in your bag. Put a dab of oil on your finger and put it on the gums around the affected tooth. In my experience the relief is very fast, the taste is a little overwhelming at first but you won't care when you get the relief. It doesn't last long so carry the bottle of oil in your pocket, ready for application whenever you need it. I recommend keeping several bottles on hand.
I've mentioned a long list of tinctures that I like to keep on hand but for some it can be too expensive to buy them all. Thankfully they are very easy to make yourself if you are so inclined. Here's basic instructions for how I do it. I almost always use dry herbs. Fresh herbs can be used but their moisture content tends to dilute the alcohol a bit making it less potent. I like alcohol tinctures because they last virtually forever, never freeze in bad weather and are very effective as the alcohol can take the herbal properties into the system quickly. You take such a small dose that, unless you are giving insane doses like I did with the sheep, there's no chance of intoxication, and tinctures taste so bad nobody would ever take more than needed accidentally. I use Vodka because it's just alcohol, nothing added. I take the dried herb I plan on using and place it in the blender, cover with the Vodka, place the lid on the blender and blend until thoroughly incorporated. I then pour into a clean glass jar, put the lid on, label (very important) and place in a fairly warm place like the top of the refrigerator or by the wood stove for two weeks. Every time I go past or think about it I stop and give the jar a few shakes to stir things up a bit. You want to have enough alcohol to allow plenty of sloshing, not a mushy mass. After two weeks of this I strain into another clean jar, preferably dark glass, press out as much liquid from the herbs as possible, close up and label. That's all there is to it. Since almost all tinctures look the same it's extremely important to label them some way that won't disappear with time and use.
Storage: Keep tinctures in dark glass containers. Cool is better but I've never had a tincture go bad even when stored in the car through hot summers and below zero winters. While there are many more herbs that I like to use these are the ones I grab the most. These, in a kit with some instructions would be a great addition to any bug out bag or car kit and for sure keep a supply at home.