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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

my list of post-apocalyptic must-have remedies

My husband and I have been in the habit since we first began dating of having long chats about the future or any number of bizarre scenarios. You may find this strange, but one particular thought that surfaces fairly often is the question of what we would do IF the economy collapsed, or the USA broke out into civil war, or electricity suddenly vanished nationwide or worldwide, or some other similar disaster occurred. We've even covered the topic of being thrown back in time to a world long before guns and modern meds, with 10 minutes', 10 hours', or 10 days' warning. Take the theme with a pinch of humor. We're not actually paranoid, but these ideas do make for some stimulating discussions. 

Of course, one of the top things in my mind is always to somehow stock up on whatever natural remedies and knowledge of such we could procure, given that conventional treatment would have been thrown into disarray, and knowing that a great portion of the freaked out community would be storming the hospitals for penicillin and overlooking more traditional, non-refrigerated, growable or otherwise sustainable remedies.

There are many, many valuable herbs and natural remedies that could be on this list, but my experience thus far in life brings these twenty most quickly to my mind. This is partly because I am already familiar with their properties and uses due to frequent use, and partly because I feel that these are the most useful for the wider portion of scenarios most families experience. Of course, given the chance, I would bring my entire stash of dried herbs, essential oils, and my own made up herbal infused oils and tinctures, along with all the books I own on herbology and natural healing. Why not dig up some of the garden herbs and retrieve available seeds and root starters while I'm at it? But I had to narrow the list somehow! What would you change here?

1. Garlic bulbs. Right at the top of my thoughts as to value. Highly useful antibiotic in easily assimilated food form, and a ready grower with surprisingly little effort. I would want a giant sack of organic bulbs that I could plant, eat, use topically in compresses. And, of course, garlic makes many savory foods taste fabulous, so I would definitely want garlic to add to the stew pot as well as rubbed all over my wild elk or jack rabbit steaks. 

From Practical Herbalism by Fritchey:
"Prior to the advent of antibiotics, and during wars when they have been in short supply, Garlic preparations were used on wounds to prevent infection. Practical experience and scientific research alike has confirmed its abilities to strengthen immune function, improve circulation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, quell infections and lower fevers. In laboratory studies, Garlic has been shown to have direct anti-microbial actions equivalent to many anti-biotic drugs, but without those drugs' tendency to create resistant strains of pathogens.
"Garlic, much like aspirin, has a reputation as a blood thinner. It has been shown to inhibit blood platelet aggregation (reduce the clotting ability of blood). While that makes it a powerful aid if you are at risk for stroke or heart attack, it has also been suggested that it is probably unwise to consume it in large amounts in advance of any anticipated surgical procedure, or if you are taking other anti-coagulant medications. Garlic's actual effect on blood viscosity could better be classified as a 'normalizing agent,' and it has never been shown that it will make the blood 'too thin,' as some chemical agents do."

John Heinerman (Heinerman's Encyclopedia of Healing Herbs & Spices) states, "The role of Garlic as an antiviral and anti-bacterial agent is unsurpassed. There are no...repeat, NO...modern antibiotic drugs in the entire arsenal of medical science that even come close to doing what Garlic can do."

2. Raw honey. Amazing stuff. Another antibiotic. Useful internally and externally, this is a great menstruum for preserving herbs as tinctures or syrups. I give my son raw garlic by folding it, minced, into a small amount of raw honey on my fingertip. Stored properly and kept clean, this stuff doesn't really have an expiration date. Sealed honey has been discovered in Egyptian tombs from long ago that is still good today, edible and still with a high quality of antibacterial properties. True raw honey is much more than just a sugar, containing pollens, enzymes, minerals and antioxidants that make it not just a whole food but a fabulous moisturizing and anti-aging facial treatment. Basically, raw honey is dubbed the food of the gods for a good reason and well worth keeping around.

From Herbal Antibiotics by Buhner:
"Promotes healing for wounds, moist wounds, peptic ulcers, and bacterial gastroenteritis; reduces plaque; good for gingivitis; facilitates debridement; soothes inflames tissues; acts as a wound barrier; and stimulates skin and muscle regeneration."  
"Raw wildflower honey should be used, not the clover or alfalfa honey readily available in grocery stores. Alfalfa and clover crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides and they do not have the broad activity available in multiple-plant honeys. Further, large commercial honey growers may often supplement their bees' food with sugar water, which dilutes the honey's power. Pure wildflower honey should lightly burn or sting the back of the throat when taken undiluted."

3. Lavender essential oil. Antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, a little bottle of this stuff goes a long way in terms of keeping away nasty germs in all kinds of situations. Useful for cleaning everything from laundry to dishes to toilets to some wounds, lavender is also a quick healer for insect bites, burns and bruises due to it's anti-inflammatory action, although fake lavender oil is readily available but not good medicinally, so be sure to obtain true angustifolia type, not lavandin.

4. Eucalyptus essential oil.
Also antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, eucalyptus is fabulous as an aroma or local application cure on temples for nausea and headaches, and inhaled kills nasty germs while opening the respiratory system. A salve applied to the chest can relieve coughing. Together with olive oil and garlic, eucalyptus can make an effective remedy for ear infections. This is one of my most often used essential oils.

5. Tea tree essential oil. Yet another oil that is antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, and antifungal, and so good for all kinds of cleaning, this oil is safe to apply neat to the skin, like lavender but unlike the majority of essential oils. It is one of my favorite skin tonics, and since my husband gets a twitchy nose from too strong a scent of lavender I resort to tea tree for his sake. This is also a great insecticide as well as healing and sebum balancing to the scalp, so I would definitely want this on hand as an aid to preventing fleas, for example.

6. Beeswax. Adding a sweet scent of honey and containing some of the preservative and antibiotic properties of raw honey, raw beeswax is indispensable for thickening and preserving herbal infused oils into salves for easy storage and application. I also use this as a thickening agent in making deodorant, lotions, lipbalms, and wood furniture polish.

7. Olive oil. Okay, not a herb, but when thinking about the hypothetical disaster scenarios above, I really wanted olive oil! This would be hard to find, tastes great, provides healthy fats and protection to the body from within and without, but most importantly is a reliable menstruum for preserving herbs into oils and salves. I would not want to use lard or tallow if such could possibly be avoided, so in the unlikely event that all power in the USA goes out I will be sending my husband on a mission a.s.a.p. to procure several gallons of olive oil for me to hoard in a cool cellar. 

8. Vinegar of the Four Thieves mix. This is a blend of herbs, but since it is already mixed up in my cupboard I don't consider it to be cheating. Made of equal parts of dried rosemary, lavender, peppermint, sage and wormwood, this would be my go-to for all insect repelling. I get eaten alive by bugs unless I have sufficient protection. Four Thieves herbs made up into a herbal vinegar with raw garlic smells strong, and my family have dubbed it "pickle juice", but it really works! Rue added to the made vinegar makes an effective cure for head lice. The diluted vinegar can also be used for hand and bathroom sanitizing sprays, although wormwood should not be ingested so I don't recommend using this as a cleaning spray without then wiping the surface with a damp rag. This blend could even be infused into an oil and thickened with beeswax for a pocket tin of salve, with essential oils for fragrance stirred in off the heat.

9. Iodine tablets. As per my husband's request, for water purification. These are fairly inexpensive and effective in cleaning water for safe consumption. A healthy body can survive for weeks if needed without food, but will only last a matter of hours without clean water.

10. Pau d'arco. This herb is highly antifungal, and quite conveniently one of the most heat stable herbs, which means that cool storage isn't so critical as with delicate herbs such as chamomile. Pau d'arco has many uses internally and externally, but I bear in mind two particular things for which, especially if caught in an emergency, I would want a fast, safe, effective cure: yeast infections, and athlete's (or hunter's) foot. Let's face it, neither one is very comfortable at the best of times, and both can be quite damaging to the body if left to linger. 

11. Activated charcoal powder. This has many uses but essentially is a poison absorber. I want this fine powder handy for quick treatment of any poisonous bites, from mozzie to scorpion to spider to snake.

12. Calendula flowers. My favorite skin care herb, this seeding perennial flower grows fairly readily in most warm climates. It looks like a cross between a common marigold and a daisy. The flower heads, cut in the prime of their bloom, are the medicinal part used, and good quality bulk flowers will often contain a fair amount of viable seeds. I love to use this as a tea astringent and in making herbal infused oils for skin remedies for young and old alike, as it is marvelous for healing and protecting the skin surface, calming redness, and warding off infection from minor cuts and scrapes.

From Practical Herbalism by Fritchey:
"Calendula is one of the best herbs for treating local skin problems. It may be used safely whereever there is an inflammation on the skin, whether due to infection or physical damage. It may be used for any external bleeding or wounds, bruising, or strains. It will also be of benefit in slow-healing wounds and skin ulcers. A very useful anti-septic ointment can be made by combining it with Comfrey root, Oregon Grape Root, and Myrrh."

13. Arnica flowers. Fabulous for external healing on unbroken skin of all manner of bruising and inflammation, this herb is one I am careful to store away from any heat sources because it is sensitive to heat variations. So were I stranded in the desert, I would quickly make this up into a salve, still being careful to keep it cool, and I would not be able to keep it potent for as long as I do in the comforts of my modern life. However, a very useful herb in many situations. We like it best made into a salve and I keep a little in the kitchen, the bathroom, and the diaper bag.

14. Catnip. I grow this herb in my garden and harvest it two or three times while in bloom before the end of September. While it makes cats go nuts, and as a child I found great mirth in giving some to our family pets and watching them get totally high on the stuff, catnip has the opposite effect on humans, causing relaxation with it's antispasmodic properties. We drink this as tea with chamomile and citrus peels, use the infusion as an enema for the healing of fevers and belly upsets, and make it up into a "sleepy tincture" with various other herbs and glycerine as a sleep aid for adults and children alike.

15. Celtic sea salt. Not just for flavoring food, Celtic sea salt is unrefined, cleansed naturally in clay beds of the sea off the French coast, and has been harvested in this raw form for many, many decades. Being unprocessed and unrefined, it has far superior flavor to standard American table salt (and which we find brings our taste buds greater satisfaction with less) but most importantly a high density of essential minerals. Table salt will make a body thirstier. Celtic sea salt will help rehydrate and balance a depleted body when added to water, tea or juice.

16. Cinnamon sticks. The more whole a herb when stored, the slower the breakdown of valuable properties, which is why grinding, mashing, masticating, or crushing herbs before making a remedy often makes that remedy more effective. Cinnamon sticks can be ground, or smashed into chips, or used whole. Cinnamon is a great flavoring to add to bitter herbs. I make a cinnamon glycerite to add to bitter alcoholic tinctures. Cinnamon also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, and is antibacterial and antifungal. Cinnamon powder could be added with ground cloves to baking soda and/or Celtic sea salt, and bentonite clay if available, for a sweet, breath freshening and gum healing tooth cleaning powder. 

17. Cloves. As mentioned above, this spice is highly valuable for flavoring remedies, even helping to preserve them, but I would particularly want this herb for tooth and gum health, as it is so helpful in killing off bad germs. Interestingly, clove oil is a very common ingredient in many commercial perfumes and fragrances, due to its preservative and astringent qualities, and is surprisingly delicious added in very small amounts to curried or stewed meats.

18. Red raspberry leaf. "Red Raspberry is the best single herb that we can take for total uterine health. There is a long list of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that the uterus needs to work efficiently. Red Raspberry Leaf has virtually all of them. The most popular use for Red Raspberry Leaf Tea is for mama and baby’s health throughout pregnancy. It provides your uterus with a nourishing source of vitamins and minerals that are vital for a healthy pregnancy. Red Raspberry is also an excellent source of an alkaloid called fragrine, which tones the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus itself. This really helps to lower and sometimes eliminate cramps from the menstrual cycle and also makes for an easier birth. Red Raspberry leaves also contain many vitamins like vitamin C, E, A, B complex, and minerals like magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, silicon, sulfur, tannins, also easily assimilated calcium and iron. All of this makes Red Raspberry leaf the best base available for all of these teas."

From Practical Herbalism by Fritchey: 
"While it is Red Raspberry that has captured the bulk of the notoriety in herbal literature, virtually all members of the bramble fruit (Rubus spp.) family can be used in similar fashion.
"...Most species have similar medicinal value. Red Raspberry leaves are preferred as the most dependable and predictable general astringent tonic, and aid to female and children's issues. Blackberry Root is generally considered to be the most potent astringent of the group."

I drink this herb regularly, as do both my son and my husband. Calcium and magnesium are highly beneficial in supporting the nervous system, which helps the body to handle pain and stress efficiently, and so this herb is valuable for anyone of any age, at pretty much any time, not just for pregnant or nursing women or trying to conceive couples. Fed to stock animals, red raspberry leaf also helps them in conceiving and delivering efficiently and healthily, and maintaining high quality milk supply. If I were keeping goats or cows for milk in a situation of partial or full self-sufficiency, I would absolutely keep red raspberry brambles on my property so that I could ensure healthy animals and plenty of rich milk by feeding them the harvested leaves.

19. Comfrey. The ultimate "knitting" herb -- knits flesh and bone together, speeding the healing of even deep wounds, it works so effectively that some herbalists caution against the use of comfrey with bone-deep wounds for the first few days, to avoid deep tissue scars forming too quickly. This herb is not for internal consumption but is wonderful on all kinds of broken tissue, most often called for use as a poultice or salve.

From Practical Herbalism by Fritchey:
"Care should be taken when using Comfrey with very deep wounds as its rapid healing power can lead to tissue forming over the wound before it is healed deep down, possibly leading to abscesses. Make sure that wounds are thoroughly cleaned and protected from infection.

"*The FDA advises against taking Comfrey internally, due to the presence of trace amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA's). In contrast, date published in the journal, Science, by noted biochemist Bruce Ames, Ph.D., of U.C. Berkeley, would indicate that Comfrey taken internally is less toxic or carcinogenic that in an equivalent amount of beer. It is probably wise NOT to make Comfrey, or beer, a significant part of your regular diet for an extended period of time."

20. Cayenne pepper powder.
From The ABC Herbal, by Stephen H. Horne:
"This is an excellent herb to have on hand in an extract form because it is one of the most powerful of all herbs for stimulating the body’s energies for healing. We would never be without capsicum (cayenne pepper) in our home because of its value in stopping bleeding and treating shock. Even if you do not use it internally with children, it is an excellent remedy to have on hand for external use. As we will discuss later, it is especially powerful when combined with lobelia and used as an external massage for relieving pain.
"For sore throats, I generally apply a mixture of capsicum (cayenne pepper) extract and Lobelia extract directly to the throat. (These are alcohol based extracts as they work best for external applications…glycerites are too sticky.) Then, I gently massage the throat from the top down. This is a very gentle, slow process. Never apply so much pressure that the child feels uncomfortable. Work the sides and the back of the neck as well. You will feel the swollen lymph nodes. The idea is to gently "milk" them until they are no longer swollen. The capsicum and Lobelia help to relax the tissues and encourage the flow of blood and lymph." 
From Practical Herbalism by Fritchey:
"This medicine possesses an extraordinary power in removing congestion by its action upon the nerves and circulation. Tired, painful muscles, stiffened joints, poor circulation, and relaxation of any part are common conditions in the elderly that can be improved by Capsicum." 
"Topically applied, Capsicum relieves pain by depleting the activity of Substance P, the body's chemical pain messenger. While this might give relief from painful muscles and joints, it does not repair the damage that gave rise to the pain in the first place. Use good judgement when 'pushing through' pain messengers, so as not to aggravate a deteriorating physical condition."
Another spice invaluable for all kinds of cooking, this also makes a great potentiator of other herbs, both internally and externally (although common sense says to avoid applying cayenne powder to flesh wounds), increasing their action and uptake in the body. Used with arnica, comfrey and St John's wort, as a stimulant herb cayenne creates a soothing, warming effect on sore joints and muscles. Taken with garlic, the antibiotic effect is vastly increased. Cayenne is often said to be a chi enhancer, and as such is especially recommended for the elderly, who typically suffer slowing and cooling in their aging bodies.

Disclaimer: This article is in no way intended to supercede professional medical attention! However, God gave us herbs to use in educated ways for our healing and vitality, and brains to make educated choices. So if you are bitten by a snake, break your arm, or contract infectious pneumonia, by all means take 60 seconds to slap on a poultice of activated charcoal or warmed comfrey and swallow some raw garlic and honey...and then make a trip to the ER or Urgent Care or your local doctor for professional advice and care.

Further reading:
Practical Herbalism by Fritchey
The ABC Herbal by Horne

Organic Body Care Recipes by Tourles
Herbal Antibiotics by Buhner
Nutritional Herbology by Pedersen

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