Prepper's Natural Medicine: Life-Saving Herbs, Essential Oils and Natural Remedies for When There is No Doctor

CHAPTER 4. MATERIA MEDICA

“Materia medica” is the Latin term for a reference guide detailing the ingredients of medicine and their therapeutic properties. The term is used most often with natural medicine-making ingredients such as herbs, trees, minerals, fungi, and bee products. The guide provides information on a substance’s properties, preparation, and precautions.

The following materia medica will provide you with specific information necessary for making potent natural remedies. The information I have provided includes the herb’s common name and scientific name, the plant parts used, the herb’s actions, ratios and percentages for tincture making, contraindications, and some brief notes about the best uses.

For simplicity’s sake, in the directions for tincturing fresh and dried plant material, I use the term “fresh tincture” to mean a tincture made with fresh plant material and “dried tincture” to mean a tincture made with dried plant material.

For the overwhelming majority of herbs, the tincturing ratios and alcohol percentages are very similar. A ratio of 1:2 (1 ounce of plant material by weight to 2 ounces of menstruum by volume) is standard when working with fresh plant material. For dried material, a ratio of 1:5 (1 ounce of plant material by weight to 5 ounces of menstruum by volume) is standard. For alcohol percentages, this will depend on whether you are using fresh or dried herbs, as well as the particular herb and its chemical composition. This chapter contains specific ratio and alcohol percentage information on 50 herbs. However, as a guideline, use grain alcohol, or the highest percent alcohol you can find, with fresh herbs. Use alcohol such as vodka or brandy in the 40% to 60% range for most dried herbs.

However, these ratios and percentages are guidelines, and it’s best to look up each herb individually, get some first-hand experience making them, and get a feel for how you like them. Or you can use the simpler’s method (page 22) and bypass the ratio and alcohol percentage issue altogether.

Like ratios, dosages given are standard recommendations, but not hard-and-fast rules. As your experience with natural medicine expands, you may find a lower dose more effective if taken for a longer period. You may also find that some people need more or less of a medicine. Herbs that are specifically “low dose” will be noted as such; they cannot be increased safely.

Tinctures are generally taken diluted in an ounce or two of water. Certain tinctures, however, may have a strong and unpleasant taste. It is normally acceptable to use juice instead of water to mask the taste. This is not the case with bitters. If you are taking an herb as a digestive bitter, you must actually taste the bitterness to set off the chain reaction that begins in the mouth. I find it easier to take digestive bitters with an ounce or two of something spicy and pungent like Traditional Fire Cider (page 118). It will still let you taste the bitters, but it will be much easier to tolerate.

I strongly encourage you to research each herb further, as there are many additional uses for each. For more information on ratios and percentages, see the Tinctures section in Chapter 3, Basic Skills.

For those who wish to avoid alcohol, consider making either an acetum or a glycerite. You may have to increase the dosage, and there are some constituents that simply require alcohol as a solvent for extraction. However, for most applications, using either vinegar or glycerin will provide an alternative to alcohol for fluid extractions of most herbs. When using a bitter herb, I recommend vinegar instead of glycerin to make the remedy effective as a digestive bitter. Raw apple cider vinegar with the “mother,” which is protective of the liver, is my top choice for vinegar in making an acetum. Your ACV must be raw and have the mother for it to be hepatoprotective.

For definitions of all the actions listed for the herbs in the materia medica, see Glossary: Actions of Herbs on page 147.

WHERE DID THIS INFORMATION COME FROM?

We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Over the years I have amassed copious notes from courses, weekend workshops, professional publications, conversations with other herbalists, and books—oh, the many, many, many books! I dream someday of having a dedicated library in my home containing leather-bound books with gold edging—ah… someday.

Also, much personal experimentation (a.k.a. trial and error) and observation have gone into testing the recommendations from these books, articles, and classes. In today’s electronic world, there are several quality sources of Internet-based information from respected teachers that have been immensely helpful on my journey into natural medicine. I have changed and adapted my formulas and practices over the years as I acquired newer, better information. I expect that to continue because herbalism and natural medicine are not static. I always give feedback from clients the most serious consideration.

Out of all of this, I have come up with my own materia medica, a rather unwieldy set of binders bursting at the seams with pages in plastic sheet protectors and containing documentation on several hundred herbs and their uses. That level of detail is beyond the scope of this book, which is intended to be a quick reference during difficult times.

On these pages I included the 50 herbs that I think are the most important for preppers to have on hand and that are obtainable throughout most of the United States (assuming supply lines are down and ordering herbs is not possible).

Almost every description of the herbs would ordinarily require multiple citations, but this book would be so unwieldy that it would no longer the quick reference it is intended to be. To balance readability with the need to give proper credit, I’ve included some references to various sources when the information is quite specific. If I have had a notable personal experience with an herb worth sharing, I have done so. At the end of this book, I included a resources section that lists all the book titles and websites where I did the bulk of my research, and gives additional information on reputable suppliers and herbal education.

 AMERICAN SKULLCAP

Scutellaria lateriflora

Parts Used: Aerial parts, fresh or dried.

Actions: Antispasmodic, hypotensive, nervine tonic, sedative.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); tisane.

Dose: Depends on the individual. Start with the lowest standard dose of 30 drops of tincture, and adjust from there. Take as needed.

Uses: American skullcap is what most people mean when they say “skullcap.” (Read more about Chinese skullcap on page 48.) This herb excels in reducing tension and anxiety. It is wonderful to use when dealing with insomnia, especially sleeplessness caused by pain or nervous tension.

I can attest to skullcap’s ability to help break out of the cycle of insomnia caused by anxiety. During a particularly difficult time when my husband was laid off and we had a newborn, I developed insomnia. If you are faced with someone who is trying to cope with insomnia and is full of tension and worry, and perhaps even clenching their teeth while sleeping (and waking up in pain from this), skullcap may be more effective than other sedative herbs such as valerian.

Skullcap can be used in a relaxing tisane about 20 minutes before bedtime, but do blend it with other herbs. The taste of skullcap isn’t the worst, but it certainly isn’t the best either. My favorite option is to make a calming nervine tea (see Stress, Anxiety, and Traumatic Events on page 112). Add 30 to 60 drops of skullcap tincture to the tea as it steeps. Take as needed to reduce anxiety.

This herb can also assist in breaking habits and addictions, specifically those triggered by stress. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, glass of wine, or junk food, try a cup of skullcap tea, either as a blend, perhaps with peppermint and milky oat tops, or in a tincture added to tea, until the urge dissipates. The skullcap may help ease tension enough to avoid the habit or addictive substance.

During a disaster, I suspect many people may turn to substance abuse as a form of escape. Calming nervines such as skullcap will be important in helping people cope and overcome the emotional toll.

As a nervine tonic and antispasmodic, skullcap helps with spasms, twitching, tremors, and petit mal seizures. This is a remedy I often recommend for pinched nerves with muscle spasms.

Contraindications: May cause drowsiness. Can intensify other sedatives. Taking too much can result in a loss of concentration as well as dizziness.

 ARNICA

Arnica montana, A. chamissonis, A. cordifolia

Parts Used: Aerial parts, especially flowers. Leaves are less potent.

Actions: Analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-ecchymotic, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); infused oil.

Dose: Do not ingest. Use topically by applying oil over the affected area or in skin preparations.

Uses: Arnica is indicated for traumatic injury that does not break the skin, such as bruises, sprains, or pulled muscles, tendons, or ligaments. It is also effective on arthritic and inflamed joints. Topical use only is recommended.

Arnica is often used in topical preparations including liniments, lotions, and salves. The tincture may be applied directly to bacterial and fungal infections. Arnica is most commonly used for achy joints, especially arthritis pain. While the roots of mountain arnica (A. montana) are also beneficial, keep in mind that this species is endangered. If you have the option of growing meadow arnica (Arnica chamissonis) or heartleaf arnica (A. cordifolia), please do so.

Contraindications: Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use on broken skin.

 ASTRAGALUS

Astragalus membranaceus, syn. A. propinquus

Parts Used: Root.

Actions: Adaptogenic, anti-cancer, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, cardiotonic, diuretic, hepatoprotective, hypotensive, immunomodulator, immunostimulant, nephroprotective, tonic.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 60% alcohol); decoction.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 to 5 times daily; 1 cup of decoction, 2 to 3 times daily.

Uses: Astragalus is most commonly used in combination with other herbs to improve immune response. Protective of the heart, liver, and kidneys, astragalus is known as a longevity tonic in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is used to support immune function in cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

Astragalus is an easy herb to add to recipes because of its mild taste. It is almost always used in combination with other herbs as opposed to being taken alone. I sometimes add astragalus to my version of fire cider.

I also add it to chicken stock. I make bone broth in my slow cooker on almost a daily basis to get all that healthy gelatin to my gut. While the chicken carcass and vegetable scraps are simmering away in the pot, I add astragalus along with thyme, sage, and black pepper.

Contraindications: No known toxicity. No known risks during pregnancy. No known risks during breastfeeding. No known risks for children. TCM advises against using astragalus with high fever and inflammatory infections. It’s not for use during acute infection. Anyone with an autoimmune disorder may wish to avoid astragalus.

 BERBERINE

Berberine is an alkaloid found in a number of herbs, not an herb itself. Plants that contain berberine include (but are not limited to) goldenseal, Oregon grape root, barberry, coptis, chaparral, algerita, and Amur cork tree.

Parts Used: Root. Amur cork tree (phellodendron amurense) has berberine in abundance in the inner bark; it can be easily harvested from the branches.

Actions: Antibiotic, anti-cancer, antidiabetic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antisteatosis, cholagogue, choleretic, depurative, hypolipidemic, mucous membrane trophorestorative, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 60% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); decoction.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture; 3 times daily, preferably 30 minutes before a meal for digestive/metabolic uses; 6 times daily for antibiotic uses; 3 to 4 times daily for metabolic uses.

Uses: Berberine has metabolic as well as antibiotic applications, giving this one substance a wide range of uses. Each berberine-containing plant has unique properties, and some are better than others for specific applications. However, the various plants can be used in a similar fashion.

In his book Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner devotes a section to berberine-containing herbs, and lists which have the most berberine. Coptis tend to have the most, followed by Amur cork tree. Goldenseal has the least.

If you use goldenseal to fight respiratory infections, I suggest that you look to other herbs. Goldenseal has a very drying effect on the body and the mucosa. One of my first “trial and error” uses of medicinal herbs was with the misguided combination of echinacea and goldenseal marketed for colds. It was an awful-tasting liquid that essentially was a waste of both herbs. The goldenseal dried me up to the point that I could barely get any mucus out, and there wasn’t enough echinacea to be of any benefit.

While goldenseal is a wonderful herb, I don’t use it in either my emergency preps or in my herbal practice. It has been overharvested and is now endangered. Technically, if you are ordering goldenseal that is certified organic, then it must come from a cultivated source, not a wildcrafted one. Certainly, if you grow your own goldenseal, you can manage your resource as you see fit. But if we preppers were ever dependent on wildcrafted goldenseal that we had to forage, we would be hard-pressed to find it. It’s probably wiser to let that plant recover its wild population and use something else.

Berberine’s metabolic applications include maintaining healthy blood sugar, reducing the inflammation of fatty liver disease, improving HDL and LDL cholesterol, lowering overall cholesterol, and lowering triglycerides. Berberine strengthens the gut wall and helps fight obesity.

Studies have shown that berberine, unlike other antibiotics, does not harm beneficial gut flora and keeps candida in check. These metabolic effects are covered in great detail in Kerry Bone’s text Principals and Practice of Phytotherapy. Many of the studies cited in her book were conducted for 3 months, with no adverse reactions noted.

There is a myth that berberine can be used for only 7 to 10 days at a time. I was taught that berberine is for short-term use only, and I passed along that information in my classes and on my website. However, all evidence points to berberine’s safety for at least 3 months of consistent use with no adverse effects. I can only conclude that this myth came about as a misunderstanding based on how pharmaceutical antibiotics can impact gut flora. I no longer consider berberine’s use restricted to 10 days.

There is a lot of scientific interest in berberine’s multidrug resistance (MDR) pump inhibitor. Just as bacteria have been evolving, thankfully so have plants. While superbugs, such as MRSA, have a kind of a pump that pushes out the antibiotic drug before it can harm the bacteria, berberine shuts down that pump. Without that pump, the antibiotic properties of berberine are free to kill the bacteria.

Berberine does not pass through the gastrointestinal tract efficiently to get into the bloodstream, making it a local antibiotic and not a systemic one. This makes berberine a poor choice for something like sepsis, but a good option for eyewashes and compresses for conjunctivitis, throat sprays for strep throat, douches for bacterial vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and infectious diarrhea like giardia. Topically, it works on skin infections, including MRSA. Berberine has been shown effective against both streptococcus and staphylococcus infections, but it must come in contact with the tissues to be effective.

Contraindications: No known interactions. Not for use during pregnancy.

 BILBERRY

Vaccinium myrtillus

Parts Used: Fruit, leaves.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-edema, astringent, vasoprotective.

Preparations: Fresh, fermented, or dried fruit (dried at below 100°F to protect the anthocyanins); dried tincture (1:2 in 40% alcohol).

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 to 6 times daily; in food, as much as desired.

Uses: Bilberry, often confused with blueberry because of its blue color, is known for helping vision and fighting urinary tract infections (UTIs). Bilberry’s vasoprotective qualities are especially helpful to the capillaries. More blood and more oxygen in the capillaries means more blood and oxygen get to the eyes, thus promoting eye health and presumably better vision.

Because certain diseases interfere with circulation, bilberry offers some protection from diabetic and hypertensive retinopathies. Bilberry is also a good choice for vascular issues like Reynaud’s disease, and venous insufficiency (poor circulation) in the legs.

Bilberry’s vasoprotective and astringent properties make it an excellent choice for hemorrhoids. Its astringent nature makes bilberry a decent option for diarrhea relief and dyspepsia. Bilberry is also related to cranberry and contains the same anthocyanins credited with bringing relief from UTIs. The anthocyanins also give bilberry some impressive wound-healing properties. Applied topically, bilberry is according to Kerry Bone, more effective than even the herb gotu kola at cell regeneration in wound healing.

Bilberry is not known to have any contraindications for pregnancy, and is often included in midwifery practices for common prenatal complaints, such as poor circulation, indigestion, hemorrhoids, and UTIs. Bilberry powder is well tolerated by infants with acute dyspepsia (indigestion).

Contraindications: Safe for long-term use. It may dry up lactation, although evidence is thin to support the warning. Possible interaction with anti-platelet drugs when taken in exceptionally large doses.

 BLACK COHOSH

Actaea racemosa, syn. Cimicifuga racemosa

Parts Used: Rhizome, fresh or dried.

Actions: Anti-cancer, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, hormone-modulating.

Preparations: Fresh tincture preferred over dried, 1:2 in 95% alcohol; dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); decoction; infused oil.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; decoction, 2 or 3 times daily; topically in infused oil as needed for relief from muscle spasms.

Uses: Black cohosh is known as a PMS and menopausal herb. It relieves the uncomfortable cramping and mood swings that often accompany menstruation, and it can bring on a delayed menstruation.

Black cohosh is used also to reduce hot flashes and bone loss in menopause. Recent research has shown that the herb’s estrogen-like effects are not from phytoestrogens, as was previously thought. The effects are brought on by some mechanism we do not yet understand.

Black cohosh has been shown to improve female fertility and encourage ovulation. It also has the ability to lower luteinising hormone (LH), which is associated with a higher risk of miscarriage and is often very high in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Also, whereas black cohosh was once thought to contain phytoestrogens, it actually seems to block some estrogenic effects. Again, good news for women with PCOS.

Considering the prior belief that black cohosh contained some estrogen-mimicking constituent, several studies of its impact on breast cancer cells and health safety for women with breast cancer were conducted. The conclusions were very positive: Not only did black cohosh not mimic estrogen, but it significantly limited the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Black cohosh was not as effective as tamoxifen, but when used together, the combination worked better than either tamoxifen or black cohosh alone. Black cohosh has shown a similar inhibiting effect on prostate cancer cells.

This is an important herb to have on hand for childbirth. Black cohosh can be used to help encourage labor. It is also used to speed along a healthy recovery postpartum.

While black cohosh may have a reputation as a women’s herb, it is a wonderful pain reliever for dull aches, rheumatoid arthritis, muscle spasms, and tendinitis. It also has a history of use for tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and rattlesnake bites. No modern testing has been done, however, to verify its use as a rattlesnake remedy.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy or for anyone with liver disease.

 BURDOCK

Arctium lappa

Parts Used: Fresh or dried root.

Actions: Antibacterial, anti-cancer, antifungal, bitter tonic, depurative, hepatorestorative.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); decoction.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily, 30 minutes before a meal; 2 or 3 cups of decoction daily, 30 minutes before a meal.

Uses: Burdock acts as a depurative. Formerly known as a “blood cleanser,” a depurative removes metabolic wastes from the body. In a sense, it helps to keep the body “clean.” This cleaning is why certain herbs were thought of as “blood purifiers.” Burdock is also a hepatic herb, meaning it has tonic and protective benefits for the liver. None of these roles is surprising, considering that burdock is a digestive bitter.

Burdock can be taken on its own, or included in blends called “digestive bitters” along with other liver-supporting herbs, such as dandelion and yellow dock. Digestive bitters have a cleansing effect on the body because they stimulate the liver. Any time the liver is cared for and functioning at top efficiency, it can bring relief to a wide range of issues, especially skin issues. In this case, burdock can clear the body of skin problems like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and impetigo.

Be sure to drink plenty of fluids with burdock or any other depurative herb. It will help to remove impurities from the body through urine. Otherwise, the impurities may be expelled through the skin, causing skin eruptions instead of clearing them. Besides elimination, the body detoxifies through sweating. However, this can clog pores and allow bacteria to build up.

Sometimes burdock is consumed as a root vegetable in medicinal cooking, and has a long tradition of widespread use from China to Europe in treating cancer, including use by St. Hildegard of Bingen, whose writings are some of the most important documents detailing medieval herbal and medical practices. Burdock has been paired with red clover as part of certain cancer treatments. For more information on burdock and other herbs in cancer care, see Michael Tierra’s book, Treating Cancer: An Integrative Approach. Additionally, burdock is effective against staphylococcus (staph) infections.

Contraindications: Avoid during pregnancy.

 CALENDULA

Calendula officinalis

Parts Used: Flowers.

Actions: Antifungal, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, febrifuge, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); infused oil; tisane.

Dose: Topically applied in tincture as needed; topically in infused oil or made into salve or lotion as needed; 2 or 3 cups of tisane daily.

Uses: Calendula is used as a tincture or a tisane for throat and oral ailments. It is an important addition to mouthwashes and rinses for mouth sores and sore throats.

In a compress, calendula can help bring down a fever. It also makes a soothing compress for the eyes, especially to relieve conjunctivitis.

However, calendula is most known for its skin-protective properties. It is excellent for all antifungal creams, especially those intended for diaper rash. Calendula is great in any salve for bug bites, scratches, itchiness, scrapes, and burns.

Sometimes, no matter how often you change a baby’s diaper, those little tushies still end up with diaper rash. Although my son had no issues with this, my daughter did. No amount of vigilance would completely prevent a diaper rash. The only relief she got was from calendula cream so thick that it was almost a paste. This potent, antifungal cream took a lot of tweaking to get just right. It can easily be adapted for other fungal infections. (For the recipe, see Antifungal Baby Balm on page 129.)

Calendula tincture can be dropped directly on wounds to promote healing.

Contraindications: No known contraindications. You may feel nauseated if you ingest very large amounts of calendula, far beyond what I have recommended here.

 CALIFORNIA POPPY

Eschscholzia californica

Parts Used: Flowers.

Actions: Analgesic, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, sedative.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); tisane of dried flowers.

Dose: 15 to 25 drops, up to 3 times daily; 2 or 3 cups of tisane daily.

Uses: California poppy may not be as potent as its cousin opium poppy. Still, it has some impressive uses. California poppy is effective on its own, and can also be blended with other herbs to great effect for both pain relief and anxiety relief.

If access to resupply were cut off and pharmacy shelves bare, a lot of people would miss their anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. Now, put these folks who are without their anxiety medication through a crisis. Consider how important an herbal alternative will be for them—and what a great barter item California poppy tincture will be for you.

California poppy is something I include in formulas for serious pain. As a sedative herb, it helps to dull the sensation of pain. It also helps people to sleep when they are kept awake because of pain. This poppy helps relax the smooth muscle tissue, and blends well with corydalis, valerian, kava kava, and St. John’s wort.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy or nursing. Not for use in young children. I personally keep this for ages seven and up, and adjust for a child’s dose. Do not use it while taking prescription medication for anxiety, depression, or pain relief.

 CAYENNE

Capsicum annuum

Parts Used: Whole ripe red peppers, fresh or dried.

Actions: Analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, antioxidant, antispasmodic, rubefacient, styptic, peripheral circulatory stimulant, vasodilator.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); infused oil; powdered in capsules.

Dose: Varies by individual tolerance.

Uses: Cayenne is a highly versatile natural medicine. Topically, it can be made into a salve or applied as an infused oil to massage away pain from sore muscles and ease aching joints. Cayenne is loaded with capsaicin, which dulls the sensation of pain. This property makes cayenne an appropriate choice for arthritis, tendinitis, sciatica, low back pain, pain radiating from a pinched nerve, and fibromyalgia. This is one of my favorite ingredients in lotion for my massage clients.

Cayenne is a rubefacient, meaning it increases circulation. Cayenne can be taken either as a food or applied topically to get the blood flowing to the extremities. This can help in cases of poor circulation as well as in poor wound healing, as more blood to the area brings more nutrients and oxygen to the wound.

As a vasodilator, cayenne helps the blood to flow more freely. Taken internally, cayenne can thin the blood. If you need surgery and you tell your physician that you take cayenne as a supplement, you will be advised to stop taking it because it thins the blood.

However, if you are bleeding, you can apply cayenne, either as a tincture or a powdered herb, to the wound. Depending on the seriousness of the wound, cayenne may not be appropriate. Large, open wounds expose delicate tissue. Cayenne can stop bleeding, but it will cause a burning sensation as well. Yarrow is a better choice, but if you have cayenne on hand and nothing else, and the bleeding won’t stop, go ahead and use it. It’s not my first choice, but it works. Just remember, internally, cayenne is a blood thinner. Externally, cayenne is a styptic.

Cayenne is hot, and not everyone likes the intensity. You can buy cayenne capsules, but remember that capsules are a finite resource during a disaster and must be stored where they will not be crushed, melt, or get wet. On the plus side, a capsule allows the cayenne to go farther into the gastrointestinal tract before being released. Capsules are an excellent way to take cayenne for infectious diarrhea. One to two size-00 capsules is typical to start with. Adjust the dosage to your body’s tolerance and needs.

Keep cayenne away from eyes and mucous membranes. Don’t touch your face after handling cayenne. If you do touch your face, odds are the oils in cayenne will migrate to your mouth, nose, and eyes. If this happens, flush with milk immediately. As a precaution, use protective gloves when handling hot peppers.

Cayenne is one of my favorite herbs for cold and flu season. It is a primary ingredient in the traditional immune-boosting remedy fire cider. It is also a highly effective anti-inflammatory decongestant. Not only can the heat of the cayenne cut through intense sinus congestion, but it is also incredibly effective in reducing nasal inflammation. Nasal inflammation is a major factor in feeling congested even when mucus is not actually clogging the nasal passages.

To grow this pepper in the North, start seeds indoors early and provide some heat for the soil. I have repurposed heating pads and clamp-on lighting fixtures intended for pet reptile tanks to help cayenne get an early start in the spring.

Contraindications: Not for anyone hypothermic. If you suspect someone has hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature, 95°F or below), the last thing you want to do is to bring heat away from the body core. After the person has been warmed up and is no longer hypothermic, cayenne salve can be applied to the extremities (hands and feet) to increase blood flow to those regions. Cayenne is contraindicated before surgery, as it is an effective blood thinner. Do not take cayenne if you are already taking a blood thinner.

 CHASTE TREE

Vitex agnus-castus

Parts Used: Dried berries.

Actions: Dopamine agonist, galactagogue, prolactin inhibitor.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:4 in 75% alcohol).

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 1 to 3 times daily to regulate the menstrual cycle. Take 3 times daily to bring on delayed menstruation, and then reduce to 1 time daily to establish normal cycle. This may vary in women from just a couple of months and being able to stop taking chaste tree to other women needing to take a single dose on an ongoing basis

Uses: Chaste tree has been used traditionally to normalize women’s menstrual cycles. Whether the cycle is too far apart or too short in between, or just completely irregular with no pattern, chaste tree brings hormones into balance for a normal, monthly cycle. This is critical in cases of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

In addition to establishing a normal cycle, chaste tree is used to mitigate premenstrual symptoms and increase female fertility. It is also used postpartum as a galactagogue for better milk production.

The way chaste tree works is still not entirely known. For several decades, it was believed that chaste tree caused the pituitary gland to send chemical messengers to the ovaries to correct the hormonal imbalance of too much estrogen and too little progesterone. Another theory was that chaste tree actually contained progesterone, but it does not.

The latest research is both interesting and contradictory. It appears that chaste tree acts in a similar way as dopamine. Dopamine inhibits prolactin. A high prolactin level, which may be due to stress, inhibits the corpus luteum (the follicle that remains after ovulation) from producing enough progesterone. With a lowered prolactin level, the corpus luteum is able to produce adequate progesterone. So, through complex signaling, chaste tree indirectly supports healthy progesterone production.

The contradictory part is that prolactin is a necessary hormone for milk production. At first glance, this should mean that as a prolactin inhibitor, chaste tree should actually dry up a lactating woman’s milk supply. However, the opposite has been observed and recorded by herbalists reaching far back into history. It seems that chaste tree—which was so named for its ability to curb sexual desire in medieval monks—or perhaps lactation, or both, still have some undiscovered mechanisms.

Contraindications: No known contraindications, but the traditional wisdom is to avoid chaste tree during pregnancy.

 CHINESE SKULLCAP

Scutellaria baicalensis

Parts Used: Root.

Actions: Antibacterial, anti-cancer, anti-diarrhea, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, cholagogue, diuretic, expectorant, febrifuge, nervine, neuroprotective, synergistic.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol).

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, every 3 to 4 hours. In acute conditions, double the dose.

Uses: Apart from producing a beautiful garden flower, Chinese skullcap is a potent synergist, intensifying the potency of any herb it is combined with. It also offers some serious antiviral and antibacterial protection.

Chinese skullcap is effective against some of the infections that preppers tend to be the most concerned with, including influenza A and B; hepatitis A, B, and C; Epstein-Barr virus; measles; candida; chlamydia; E. coli; Helicobacter pylori; Klebsiella pneumoniae; Mycobacterium tuberculosis; Vibrio cholerae; meningitis; and various staphylococcus and streptococcus strains.

This herb has a pump inhibitor, just as berberine herbs do. Bacteria and cancer cells that have developed a “pump” to resist medication find that Chinese skullcap has outsmarted their defenses and shut the pump down.

Chinese skullcap is known to reduce inflammation in the brain and protect the central nervous system. It is also a good source of plant-based melatonin. During stressful times, like the emergencies for which we are preparing, expect nerves to be frazzled, immune function impaired, and sleep patterns interrupted. Chinese skullcap can help you readjust and get a good night’s sleep (or a good day’s sleep if you are responsible for duties at night).

Contraindications: Use caution when taking Chinese skullcap with other herbs or with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications. As an effective synergist, it increases the effect of other therapeutic substances taken with it.

 CLEAVERS

Galium aparine

Parts Used: Aerial parts.

Actions: Astringent, depurative, diuretic, hypotensive, lymphatic tonic.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture, preferred over fresh (1:5 in 50% alcohol); preserved juice (3:1 in 95% alcohol); cold infusion from dried herb; topically as an infused oil from dried herb; poultice.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of dried tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of cold infusion.

Uses: Cleavers is known as a spring tonic. Use it to support herbal cleansing protocols, ridding the lymphatic system of metabolic waste through urination. Cleavers cools the urinary tract, assists clearing urinary tract infections, breaks up gravel, and may calm kidney inflammation. This herb is useful any time there are swollen glands.

The cleavers plant is almost entirely water (the water content is about 90%). Drying the plant takes a long time, and heat destroys its properties. Try to use fans to air-dry cleavers rather than heat. It will still take 2 to 3 days, and perhaps longer in humid conditions.

It is better to make the tincture from the dried plant than the fresh. The fresh material will result in a lot of water in the tincture. If you have 95% grain alcohol for your tincture making, you should be fine. If not, use the dried plant material with something like 40% vodka. The risk here is that if you use the fresh plant with the lower percentage alcohols, you may not have enough alcohol in the tincture to prevent spoilage.

The preserved juice or freshly crushed plant makes a cooling and soothing poultice for all types of skin problems, including bites, poison ivy, poison oak, burns, and scrapes. You can make a soothing salve from oil infused with cleavers.

Contraindications: Cleavers contains the anticoagulant coumarin, and theoretically it could thin the blood and lower blood pressure. I have not been able to find any reports of complications. Still, theoretically, you could risk a serious bleed if taking along with being on a prescription blood thinner.

 CODONOPSIS, A.K.A. DANGSHEN

Codonopsis pilosula, C. tangshen

Parts Used: Roots from plants at least two years old.

Actions: Adaptogenic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, expectorant, hypotensive, immunomodulator, stimulant.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 50% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 25% alcohol); decoction.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; decoction, 2 or 3 times daily.

Uses: Codonopsis is often used as an inexpensive substitute for Chinese ginseng and even has the nickname “poor man’s ginseng.” It can help people who are feeling tired or weak, or who are convalescing from an illness or injury recover their energy and vitality. Many books claim that codonopsis promotes weight gain. To an extent this is true. If someone has been weak and wasting away due to illness, then codonopsis can encourage appetite. That’s a good thing. It will not encourage a healthy person to start overeating.

As an adaptogen, codonopsis helps to bring the body back into balance. Sometimes codonopsis can act as a stimulant, but not always. For example, while it can be a stimulant and fight fatigue, it may also lower blood pressure. It is sometimes thought of as an immune system stimulant, yet it restrains the immune overresponse in autoimmune disease, specifically lupus. Ultimately, the action on the immune system depends on what will help bring the body back into balance.

Codonopsis is a demulcent and mild expectorant. It is useful in chronic lung complaints, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma. It is not my go-to remedy for an acute asthma attack, but it’s useful for preventive care. Codonopsis is also used to address headaches, including migraines, as well as tight, sore muscles.

Do not confuse codonopsis with red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza), when ordering the herb. While the English and scientific names are easy to spot, the Chinese names differ by only one letter. Codonopsis is dangshen, while red sage is danshen.

Contraindications: There are no known contraindications. This is my choice for migraine and mild asthma relief for pregnant women and children.

 COMFREY

Symphytum officinale

Parts Used: Leaves, roots.

Actions: Analgesic, astringent, demulcent, expectorant, vulnerary.

Preparations: Infused oil from dried leaves; poultice; tisane.

Dose: Topically as needed; 2 to 3 cups of cold infused tisane daily, but limit to 3 weeks. If the injury is severe and requires longer than 3 weeks to heal, take at least a 1 week break from ingesting the tisane, and then resume consumption. Repeat this 3 weeks on, 1 week off pattern until the person has recovered.

Uses: Comfrey is most known for its wound-healing abilities. Its folk names really tell the story: knitbone, boneset (not to be confused with Eupatorium perfoliatum, which is also called boneset), and bruisewort.

Some controversy surrounds pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA), which occur in comfrey. A study was done using just PA on its own, not as part of a whole plant preparation, and in much greater quantity than a person would take in a normal dose. This type of usage—which is not even possible by home herbalists without some way to extract the PA—was shown to result in liver damage. In fact, there is a long history of safety using comfrey internally.

This may mean that the other constituents in comfrey somehow mitigate the impact of PA. It may also just be a dose-dependent reaction. In either case, there is more PA found in the root than the leaf. If you are looking to avoid PA, then avoid the root and stick to the leaves.

Personally, I rarely make a tincture of comfrey, although I have some on hand. For most purposes, I favor an infusion made from dried leaves for internal use. Comfrey is also wonderful in salves. You will find salve recipes that include comfrey in Chapter 5, Herbal First Aid Kit. Use comfrey salve for bug bites, blisters, scrapes, bruises, and comfrey poultices for sprains, and fractures.

Comfrey poultices are a must-have for lower back pain, and to help bones, tendons, and ligaments heal. Make a cold infusion of comfrey, and without straining the leaves, mix in flour or a powder to form a paste. I use lavender flower powder, but even bread flour will work. Spread the poultice on the injured site, and, if possible, wrap to keep in place. Or you could put the paste in a muslin bag and then apply it to the injury.

The one caution I stress is that comfrey is so efficient at wound healing and cell regeneration that it is not for use in deep wounds. Comfrey will heal the top layers too fast, and healing a wound from the outside in is the last thing you want for a puncture or other deep wound. That could easily leave the wound underneath vulnerable to infection. St. John’s wort and honey are much better choices for a deep wound.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Not for long-term use. Not for use on people with liver disease. Use with children should be limited and the dose adjusted. See instructions on calculating children’s dosage on page 90.

 CRAMP BARK

Viburnum opulus

Parts Used: Bark.

Actions: Astringent, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); strong decoction.

Dose: 30 to 90 drops, 3 or 4 times daily; 3 to 4 cups of strong decoction daily.

Uses: Cramp bark is used to relieve muscle cramping and spasms. It is widely used for cramping associated with PMS. If excessive bleeding is a problem during menstruation, cramp bark’s astringent nature may help to rein it in. Cramp bark, along with other herbs, is used by midwives for cramping and bleeding during pregnancy, and when miscarriage is a risk.

Cramp bark can be helpful with any kind of spasm, not just spasms associated with the uterus. It can be used to help relieve asthma, violent coughing from bronchitis, or a muscle spasm. Like another viburnum, Black haw (V. prunifolum), cramp bark contains two antispasmodic phytochemicals, aesculetin and scopoletin. Cramp bark also has a small amount of salicin, which is related to the synthetic acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin.

Contraindications: Not for anyone with a history of kidney stones. Not for anyone allergic to aspirin. While there is no evidence to show that salicin would cause the same reaction as acetylsalicylic acid, there is no evidence to show that it wouldn’t. Do not give cramp bark to children with a fever. Cramp bark may worsen tinnitus.

 DANDELION

Taraxacum officinale

Parts Used: Fresh or dried root, fresh leaves, fresh flowers.

Actions: Antirheumatic, bitter, cholagogue, choleretic, diuretic, tonic.

Preparations: Fresh tincture from root or entire plant (1:2 in 75% alcohol); dried tincture from root (1:5 in 50% alcohol); tisane from fresh flowers; infused oil from fresh flowers; wine from fresh flowers; fresh leaves added to salads and soups.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; tisane, 2 or 3 times daily; fresh leaves freely as food; dandelion wine in moderation.

Uses: Dandelion is bitter, tonic, and diuretic. It is used as a tonic after winter’s long digestive slumber without fresh foods. Dandelion root tincture kick-starts digestion; it revs up the liver’s bile production and encourages bile to move deeper into the digestive system. Bile is necessary for the proper absorption of fats and nutrients, as well as the elimination of wastes from the body.

Dandelion is a highly effective diuretic. However, unlike many diuretics, dandelion is high in potassium and replenishes potassium lost in urination.

Look to digestive bitters to help anyone who has been taking large amounts of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or processed foods; lacks sufficient vegetables in the diet; has an hormonal imbalance, skin condition, urinary tract infection, or fatty liver disease; is overweight; or has insulin resistance. Dandelion is in almost every bitters blend I make. If the liver needs something gentler, I might look to soups with dandelion greens, or a tincture made from the leaves and flowers instead of the more potent roots.

Contraindications: Not for anyone with gallstones, or any inflammation or disease of the gallbladder.

 ECHINACEA

Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea

Parts Used: Root of E. angustifolia; aerial parts of E. purpurea; seeds of either species.

Actions: Analgesic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, immunostimulant, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture from E. angustifolia (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture from E. angustifolia (1:5 in 70% alcohol); E. purpurea is best made into juice and preserved (3:1 with 95% alcohol); seeds (1:4 in 75% alcohol); wound powder.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of root or seed tincture, 3 to 6 times daily for topical infections; in acute illness, 30 drops every 30 minutes; 1 ounce of E. purpurea juice, 3 to 6 times daily; topically as wound powder, as needed.

Uses: Echinacea is probably one of the most misunderstood and misused herbs. It is most commonly known as a cold and flu preventive and treatment, which is a fairly poor use of it. Some people say usage must be kept under 7 days and others say 3 weeks, and yet the Eclectic physicians, America’s forgotten physicians who used botanical medicines extensively, used echinacea for much longer periods and never mentioned a time limitation. Other people insist that echinacea is an immune “tonic,” which it is not. And the worst are those claiming echinacea is a cure-all.

Echinacea is not an immune tonic. That would mean it supports and strengthens the immune system. That’s not what echinacea does. Echinacea stimulates immune response. Stimulating a system to work more and work harder is different from building up and supporting a system.

A cautionary note: If you do not rest and focus on proper recuperation, and instead rely on echinacea to force your way through an infection, ultimately your immune system will be too spent and a far more serious case of infection will result.

To be clear, it’s not that echinacea won’t help a cold or the flu, but rather that it’s not what this herb really excels at and there are better herbs for that purpose. If you are going to use echinacea for a cold, then you must take it right at the onset of symptoms, and take hefty, frequent doses of it. If that’s what you have on hand, use it. However, there are more effective ways to approach a cold or flu that don’t involve using echinacea tincture every half hour.

When taking echinacea tincture orally, it’s best to take it sublingually. Place the drops under the tongue, and hold them there for approximately 1 minute. This helps to get the herb into the bloodstream as quickly as possible. Adding echinacea to water diminishes its effectiveness.

Echinacea creates a numbing sensation, making it appropriate for sore throat sprays, children’s ear oils, and topical application either through tincture, powder, or salve made from echinacea infused oil. During an emergency when no medical help is available, echinacea tincture can be used topically on venomous bites by dropping 30 to 60 drops of tincture directly on the bite. For more on dealing with bites, see “Snake- and Spider-Bite” Care on page 108.

Echinacea is an excellent ingredient in wound powders as it helps to numb the sensation of pain and is also being antibacterial. These same properties make the tincture a good option for dental abscesses and other oral wounds.

Echinacea is systemic if given in very large doses, meaning it can enter the bloodstream. Because echinacea is able to enter the bloodstream, it can be added to other herbal formulas to treat septicemia, or blood poisoning. Septicemia can lead to sepsis, a very dangerous condition in which the entire body responds to an infection somewhere in the body. Sepsis can lead to multi-organ failure.

Echinacea makes for a lousy-tasting tea, but a tisane or decoction made from it can be used as a wound wash.

Echinacea has a history of safe usage among pregnant and nursing women when using the recommended dosage and for short periods of time. There doesn’t seem to be any toxicity or reason to expect problems from long-term use. However, at the time of this writing, there are no controlled studies of pregnant or nursing women who have taken echinacea on a long-term basis.

Contraindications: If you are allergic to ragweed, you may have an allergic reaction to echinacea. It isn’t a guarantee, as I know several people who are allergic to ragweed and have no ill response from echinacea. Another point of confusion is with autoimmune diseases. Echinacea is an immunostimulant. With as many people as we have today diagnosed with autoimmune diseases and with an herb so commonly consumed as echinacea, you would expect to see ample evidence of harmful reactions to echinacea consumption. In fact, that isn’t the case. To anyone with an autoimmune disease who wants to try echinacea, I suggest proceeding with caution and common sense.

 ELDER

Sambucus nigra canadensis

Parts Used: Berries, flowers; rarely leaves and roots (see comments on leaves and roots below).

Actions: Antibacterial, antiviral, immunostimulant.

Preparations: Dried tincture from berries (1:4 in 60% alcohol); fresh tincture from flowers (1:2 in 75% alcohol); dried tincture from flowers (1:5 in 50% alcohol); fresh berries in syrup and prepared foods (such as preserves and pie fillings).

Dose: 30 to 60 drop of tincture, 3 to 6 times daily; 1 teaspoon of syrup (minimum) throughout the day.

Uses: While the berries and flowers are effective against a limited range of bacteria, and the roots and leaves have emetic properties, elder is known for its berries because they does one thing exceptionally well: They fight the flu. The combination of both elderberry and elder flower make, in my opinion, a stronger medicine together than separately. There is ample research on the safety and efficacy of elderberry as a remedy for various strains of both influenza A and B.

Unfortunately, elder is not effective on rhinovirus, the virus most often behind the common cold. While elderberry is not a remedy for the common cold, both the berry and flower are immunostimulants. Although this herb does not work directly on a cold, it can be taken to increase immune response.

Elderberry syrup—a delicious, warming syrup with a honey base—is an easy, tasty remedy for respiratory issues I have been making for years (see Natural Flu Syrup on page 128). Kids love it and will ask for more. I give 1 teaspoon every hour for the first day. Then I back down to every 2 to 3 hours the next day, and continue until symptoms stop. It may sound like a lot of syrup, but it’s tasty. I add it as a topping to homemade yogurt. (Also, I do not wait until it’s obvious whether the respiratory infection is a cold or the flu. See entry on Ginger.)

The tincture can be taken with honey and brandy as an elixir. Instead, I usually opt to add it to a glass of apple juice. If I have apple cider on hand, even better. The flavors go well together and encourage the consumption of fluids, which is important during the flu.

Topically, tinctures made from the root and leaves are antifungal. See Contraindications below for more information on elderberry root and leaves.

Contraindications: There are some misconceptions about elder’s safety and toxicity. Elder root and leaves, as well as the uncooked berries to a lesser degree, are emetic. This means, if you take enough of these plant parts, they will induce vomiting. However, this is not quite the same thing as being poisonous. Emetics are used to induce vomiting, which may be useful in case of a poisoning. If you have been poisoned, and have any option at all of getting to a doctor, do so immediately. If that is not an option, emetic herbs may be appropriate. Topically, the roots mashed into a poultice are safe to use on stubborn fungal infections.

 ELECAMPANE

Inula helenium

Parts Used: Root.

Actions: Antimicrobial, antitussive, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, vermifuge.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 75% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); cold infusion; decoction; syrup; candied root; powdered root pastilles; infused honey.

Dose: As needed for relief from deep or lingering coughs; 30 to 60 drops of tincture daily to expel parasitic worms.

Uses: Elecampane is a powerful remedy for tough coughs and tightness in the chest. When difficulty in breathing is the problem, I reach for elecampane. In the tincture, the alcohol portion extracts antimicrobial properties, while the water portion extracts the polysaccharides that make elecampane a superior herb for respiratory complaints.

Elecampane is bitter, but not very bitter. It can be sweetened easily enough with honey, which has the benefit of soothing a sore throat. Elecampane can be made into a syrup, infused honey, or powdered and made into pastilles with honey.

As an expectorant, elecampane can be included in remedies for asthma, whooping cough, and shortness of breath. The 17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that elecampane could be chewed or made into a tea to gargle to reset loose teeth and prevent the teeth from “putrefaction.”

Contraindications: Not for use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Tea, syrup, and candied elecampane can be taken by children who are over one year of age.

 GARLIC

Allium sativum

Parts Used: Bulb.

Actions: Antibacterial, choleretic, diaphoretic, expectorant, hypotensive, immunotonic, immunostimulant, vasodilator, vulnerary.

Preparations: Raw or lacto-fermented whole cloves according to taste; fresh tincture of raw cloves (1:2 in 95% alcohol), 3 to 4 times daily; decoction 2 to 3 times daily; 1 teaspoon syrup, 3 to 6 times daily; infused oil for use as ear drops, 1 to 2 drops in ear as needed.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 to 4 times daily; consume to taste and stomach tolerance in diet; due to garlic’s strong, pungent flavor, it is the individual’s personal tastes which will dictate how much garlic to include in a remedy such as a decoction or syrup or with food.

Uses: Garlic benefits the immune system, respiratory system, and circulatory system. It is associated with lower cancer risks and can be applied in topical preparations as an antibiotic. In World War II, soldiers used garlic juice as a topical treatment to prevent wounds from becoming infected and worsening into septicemia (bacteria in the blood) or sepsis (when bacteria has infected an organ). Ingested, garlic acts as an immunotonic, strengthening the immune system, and as an immunostimulant to kick-start immune response when an infection begins to take hold.

Garlic works especially well for respiratory infections. Garlic taken as a tincture, decoction, syrup, or in the diet, perhaps in soup or a strong, garlicky tomato sauce, right at the beginning of a cold can often stop the cold in its tracks. This is assuming, however, that the sick person takes the time to properly rest and let the body handle the infection. Garlic induces sweating. Open pores for perspiration is one of the ways the body detoxifies itself. Inducing perspiration is cooling, and the most beneficial way for the body to reduce a fever.

Choleretics are a good choice to help the liver when it may be a bit overworked. Garlic’s function as a choleretic means it triggers the body to produce more bile, which helps the liver work more efficiently. For example, if you have taken a lot of prescription drugs, that’s a lot of strain on the liver. It is the liver’s job to filter out what is helpful and what is toxic to the body. When overworked, the liver may not be filtering as efficiently as it should. The same is true for certain hormonal imbalances where excess hormones are filtered out by the liver. At some point, the liver becomes sluggish and does not do a good job as the body’s filter. Choleretics, many of which are strong-tasting, bitter, or pungent herbs, help the body help the liver get the job done.

Last but not least, garlic is widely used to improve heart and circulatory health. Garlic encourages vasodilation, which expands the blood vessels and thereby lowers blood pressure. It is used to prevent hardened arteries. When arteries harden, the body tries to heal over the area with cholesterol. The body uses cholesterol to protect the blood vessel, like a soothing balm over a scab. Unfortunately, this can also cause a blockage if too much cholesterol collects in one spot.

Garlic and other circulatory and heart-healthy herbs are best used in a preventative way to cultivate heart health, as opposed to a response to a cardiovascular emergency. Unfortunately, there are no good answers for a cardiac emergency without access to a hospital. Herbs and natural remedies can offer great preventative care as well as solid aftercare. But, if one were to have a heart attack when no hospital care is available, the best thing to do is to just relax through it. Someone must be designated as the heath care provider, ideally with assistants, and that person must be able to administer CPR. It would be very beneficial to have a portable defibrillator (AED machine) for your family or mutual support group, and have someone trained on how to use it.

The moral of this story is to eat garlic. Eat it raw. Eat if fermented. Eat it cooked. It’s good for you any way you take it. Garlic is both a medicinal herb as well as a food. There is no maximum “dosage” other than your own taste buds can handle, and there is potentially some stomach upset if you eat too much.

Finally, there is one more garlic remedy that needs to be discussed—garlic infused oil. This is an old remedy for ear infections. It’s simple and effective, and if you can warm garlic in oil, you can soothe a child’s earache quickly. The tricky part about making garlic infused oil is that it is very easy to end up with botulism in your oil, especially when macerating garlic in oil for weeks at a time.

With other herbs, I normally let my oils infuse anywhere from 2 hours to 2 weeks in a slow cooker. (A well-vented solar oven would work as a substitute for a slow cooker where there is no electricity.) But, with garlic, I let this warm up gently anywhere from 2 to 6 hours tops, and then strain out the garlic, which I would likely use to make chili that night or some hummus for a snack. Then, I store my garlic infused oil in the freezer for safety. Botulism can grow anywhere between 40° and 120°F. Most refrigerators are set for 40°F, but if power were to go out, a well-packed freezer will retain its colder temperatures longer. Freeze it in ice cube trays, and when solid, transfer to a freezer storage bag. When you need it, just take a cube out and let it melt. I store this in small, glass jars which can be gently warmed by putting the jar in warm water. Use an eye dropper to dispense.

If electricity is out and freezer storage is not possible, then only make garlic oil in micro-batches of just enough for your needs at the moment. Other options for earache oils would be mullein flower, bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), and echinacea glycerite.

Many people have stored garlic cloves in oil on the counter and never had an issue. That still doesn’t make is safe. Botulism is a serious medical emergency in the best of times. A little extra precaution to prevent it in the worst of times seems prudent.

Contraindications: When breastfeeding, garlic may cause gastric upset (nausea or heartburn) in the infant. Gastric upset can also occur in adults eating very large amounts of raw garlic.

WHAT IS LACTO-FERMENTATION?

Lacto-fermentation is a process that uses beneficial bacteria to ferment foods, as opposed to using a yeast as is done for breads, beer, and wine. The “lacto” in lacto-fermentation comes from “lactobacillus,” a genus of bacteria with several species, like L. acidophilus and L. reuteri. These types of bacteria are found naturally on plant surfaces and help to keep a healthy balance of bacteria in our intestines.

During the fermentation process, a small amount of salt prevents spoilage just long enough to allow the beneficial bacteria to flourish and get the fermentation process going. Whey can be added with or instead of salt, as it provides the needed levels of bacteria right from the beginning. Whey is a by-product of making yogurt, which is also made by lacto-fermentation, just without the salt. During the fermentation process, the nutrients are made more bioavailable, so you get more nutrients from your food. The process also reduces the amount of gluten if present.

Common ferments are cabbage (sauerkraut), kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and sourdough bread. Just about any vegetable can be fermented this way, and can be stored for many months in cool temperatures without refrigeration, such as a root cellar or basement. Fermented dairy does still require refrigeration.

 GINGER

Zingiber officinale

Parts Used: Rhizome (almost always referred to as a root).

Actions: Analgesic, anti-arthritic, antibacterial, anti-diarrhea, anti-emetic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antispasmodic, antitussive, antiviral, diaphoretic, hypotensive, immunostimulant, peripheral circulatory stimulant, synergistic vasodilator.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); preserved juice (3:1 in 95% alcohol); decoction; syrup; infused honey; candied ginger.

Dose: Depends on individual taste, take as needed.

Uses: Ginger is a must-have natural medicine. Even if you live in a cold climate, ginger is worth growing in containers and bringing indoors for the winter. It is a potent synergist, making a blend of herbs more powerful than each herb on its own. Ginger is excellent for viral respiratory infections, pain relief, and gastrointestinal problems.

The very first medicinal herbal remedy I ever tried was a very strong-flavored decoction heavy with ginger. I had the flu, and it was rough going. The ginger caused me to sweat, helped to calm the violent coughing, and chased away the aches and the chill of the flu. I was better in record time, just a matter of days. It was my “aha” moment with herbs and natural medicines.

I have used ginger successfully to reduce inflammation in swollen joints from a host of complaints—everything from arthritic joints to swelling triggered by food allergies.

Ginger has shown effectiveness against the common cold (rhinovirus), whereas elderberry has not—but elderberry fights the flu. The two tastes blend very well together. Rather than wait and see if the infection is a cold or the flu, take a syrup combining elderberry and ginger (and other ingredients, including echinacea) at the first sniffle.

For nausea and the horrible stomach cramping associated with bouts of diarrhea, ginger is an important herbal ally. It acts against E. coli, salmonella, listeria, and Helicobacter pylori bacteria.

Ginger is a well-known remedy for morning sickness in pregnant women. Despite a pervasive myth that ginger will trigger a miscarriage, there is no evidence that ginger does any such thing.

As a peripheral circulatory stimulant, ginger brings blood to the extremities. That means ginger will help in cases of cold weather injuries to the hands or feet. Give the ginger with cayenne (also a peripheral circulatory stimulant), but only after making sure that the core of the body is sufficiently warm.

Contraindications: In high doses, ginger may thin the blood and cause heartburn. Ginger is a synergist, so it may increase the effect of medication taken with it. If pregnant, avoid excessively large amounts of ginger.

 GOLDENROD

Solidago canadensis

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves.

Actions: Analgesic, anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, renal trophorestorative.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 75% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); cold infusion; standard infusion tisane; infused oil; acetum; elixir.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, elixir, or acetum, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of cold infusion or standard infusion/tisane daily; apply infused oil as needed topically.

Uses: Goldenrod grows prolifically in my area. I gather it in copious amounts every year because it has so many important uses. Goldenrod has received a bad rap because it’s confused with ragweed. Ragweed is a completely different plant. The two do not even look alike, but goldenrod is in full bloom when ragweed allergies hit.

Many people have mistakenly cursed this plant, believing it to be the cause of their allergy symptoms, often called hay fever. In fact, goldenrod is an effective remedy against serious allergenic rhinitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose), including hay fever.

Goldenrod is probably known best for its benefits for urinary tract infections, bladder infections, and kidney problems of all sorts. Goldenrod is trophorestorative to the kidneys. If I were in the position of caring for someone with swollen feet and low back pain, without any other symptoms and having no tests available, goldenrod would likely be part of my treatment plan.

Goldenrod makes a wonderful addition to salves and massage creams. It soothes and relaxes achy, sore muscles and joint pain, especially from arthritis.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 GRINDELIA

Grindelia robusta, G. squarrosa

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves.

Actions: Antipruritic, expectorant, sedative.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 95% alcohol).

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily.

Uses: As far as I know, grindelia does only a few things, but it does those few things exceptionally well. Grindelia is an efficient expectorant used for whooping cough, asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. It is better suited for the ongoing prevention of asthma, as opposed to an asthma attack.

Grindelia is also a great remedy for all sorts of itchy annoyances, including poison ivy, poison oak, bug bites, and stings. Jewel weed (impatiens) is often given as a remedy for poison ivy and poison oak, but if I don’t have that, grindelia is a great alternative, especially made into a spray with plantain and calendula vinegars.

According to British herbalist and author Maud Grieve, grindelia has an action similar to atropine, a drug given to stabilize the heart rate after a heart attack and during surgery (it dries up body fluids to prevent choking on saliva during surgery).

I have never been in the position of having to administer grindelia to someone who just had a heart attack. However, after some digging, I was able to find that G. squarrosa was listed in The British Pharmaceutical Codex in 1911 as having an atropine-like effect on the heart.

Contraindications: If taken in larger-than-recommended dosages, grindelia might be irritating to people with kidney or gastrointestinal problems.

 HAWTHORN

Cragtaegus spp.

Parts Used: Fresh or dried berries, flowers, and leaves.

Actions: Antiarrhythmic, antioxidant, cardioprotective, cardiotonic, hypotensive.

Preparations: Fresh tincture from leaves or flowers (1:2 in 75% alcohol); dried tincture from leaves, flowers, or berries (1:5 in 50% alcohol); tisane from fresh or dried leaves or flowers; decoction from fresh or dried berries.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 to 6 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane or decoction, 3 to 4 times daily.

Uses: Hawthorn is a well-researched herb known for its heart health properties. The leaves, flowers, and berries contain oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) and flavonoids, both of which have antioxidant effects. The leaves have more OPCs, while the flowers and berries have more flavonoids. This antioxidant content helps to inhibit oxidation and degradation of cells.

Hawthorn is a mild hypotensive. If you were using hawthorn for high blood pressure, and you didn’t see improvement, you would most likely need a larger dose, an additional dose, or perhaps both.

What hawthorn is most known for is its protective actions on the heart. Hawthorn is used to stabilize heart rhythm after a heart attack, as well as to heal the heart from the damage of a heart attack. Hawthorn is also used to improve the strength of heart beats.

Hawthorn has been well researched in several double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies that clearly demonstrate its safety and effectiveness, even when individuals were also taking a number of powerful prescription cardiac medications. In some cases, hawthorn was used by itself, and in others combined with additional herbs such as passionflower. In still more studies, hawthorn was combined with nutritional support from coenzyme Q10 and magnesium.

Contraindications: Use caution if taking other cardiac medication, or medication to lower blood pressure. No known contraindications for pregnancy and breastfeeding.

 HYSSOP

Hyssopus officinalis

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers.

Actions: Antirheumatic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, stimulant.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); tisane; syrup.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily; 1 teaspoon of syrup every 2 hours as needed.

Uses: If there were only one herb that I could have for chest congestion or a feeling of tightness in the chest, I would pick hyssop. Hyssop opens “stuck” conditions. If you feel as if a pending infection is “gripping” at your chest, or if your chest and head feel like a solid mass that isn’t budging, my top pick for you is hyssop.

I take hyssop in a tea blend at the first sign of an infection (see Respiratory Infection Tea on page 107). Often, I don’t end up getting sick. Of course, getting that run down, “I’m starting to get a cold” feeling is a sign to rest. Trying to rest and not being able to do so because of congestion and chills is beyond frustrating. But if you don’t rest, you can be sure that the infection will catch up with you eventually. Hyssop can help you get the rest you need, by clearing the lungs and warming up the body.

Hyssop is often combined with horehound in syrups made with honey. I like to combine hyssop with clove for a different yet pleasant taste combination and for synergism. As good as hyssop is, it works much better when clove is added. Most studies on clove focus on essential oil of clove, a valuable natural medicine. Thankfully, cloves are high in essential oil content, and the oil has been shown to be highly antimicrobial, warming, and analgesic. I have found clove’s analgesic properties are pronounced in a tea or decoction.

Although hyssop is best known for providing respiratory relief, it is also effective as a topical analgesic and bruise treatment. Consumed as a tisane, hyssop is a remedy for rheumatism and arthritic conditions. In keeping with releasing “stuck” conditions, a woman who tends to skip menstrual cycles or has late or delayed menstruation can take hyssop as a tisane or tincture to release what physicians of a century or two ago would have called “stagnation” or “congestion” of the uterus.

Contraindications: Do not take during pregnancy.

 JUNIPER

Juniperus spp.

Parts Used: Berries, leaves.

Actions: Antibacterial, antifungal, antirheumatic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, diuretic, emmenagogue, nephroprotective.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); decoction of berries or leaves; powder of the berries; essential oil of the berries.

Dose: 20 to 30 drops of tincture, 2 or 3 times daily; topically as a decoction to disinfect or as a steam, use as needed; as a wound powder as needed; as drops of essential oil in a nebulizing diffuser (follow diffuser’s instructions on how many drops to use with your unit) or 3-5 drops in a bowl of steaming water (always use caution not to burn yourself with steam).

Uses: Juniper is a local antibiotic, excellent for urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney complaints, and candida. It is effective against some very tough bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, clostridium, listeria, Helicobacter pylori, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and various staphylococcus and streptococcus strains.

Juniper has shown activity against tuberculosis, which is very fortunate for us. While many people think of tuberculosis as a disease of past centuries, it hasn’t gone away. Tuberculosis has a 50% mortality rate without treatment, and strains of tuberculosis are developing drug resistance. One strain is completely resistant to all antibiotics.

In the face of drug-resistant bacteria, we need other options. Even if we do not see a global pandemic for another 100 years, and the economy is able to trudge along for another 50 years, we will face a crisis over antibiotic resistance in our lifetimes. Juniper, and other antibiotic herbs, offer an alternative to ineffective antibiotics.

The berries are best for UTIs, which often are caused by E. coli, as well as kidney infections. The overuse of juniper essential oil in extremely high concentrations could irritate the kidneys. Such misuse is not easy to do, and therefore easily avoided. Berries and leaves can both be used, individually or together, as a steam for respiratory infections, as can the essential oil.

All parts of the plant can be boiled and decocted for use as a disinfectant, which can be used much like modern hand sanitizer. Use it to wipe down counters and as a spray disinfectant on doorknobs and medical instruments. Juniper essential oil can be added to the wash water for laundry from a “sick room,” or to a salve or gel for sanitation, but its best purpose is in a nebulizing diffuser for respiratory infections. You can also add essential oil to salves and lotions for massaging into sore muscles and joints.

As an antiviral, Juniper has shown activity against SARS and is an appropriate place to start in treating a person with a coronavirus similar to SARS like MERS, which was found to have been transmitted to humans from camels. We may someday be faced with different previously unknown zoonotic viruses, and in coming up with treatments for diseases we have never heard of, a good starting place will be to know what has worked for similar viruses in the past.

Contraindications: Because Juniper is an emmenagogue, it is best avoided in pregnancy. Long-term, internal use of juniper is not recommended. Thankfully, most of juniper’s uses are short-term, such as for a UTI or a respiratory infection. If using it for tuberculosis, be mindful that juniper is similar to oil of turpentine and can be toxic with frequent, ongoing use. A sign of toxicity is urine that smells like violets. If that happens, stop use immediately. Tuberculosis requires treatment from 6 months to 1 year, so be sure to have other herbal antibiotics on hand in case toxins build up.

 LAVENDER

Lavendula angustifolia, L. vera

Parts Used: Flowers.

Actions: Analgesic, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, decongestant, diaphoretic, hypotensive, nervine, sedative, vulnerary.

Preparations: Tisane; infused oil; essential oil; hydrosol.

Dose: As needed.

Uses: The use of lavender flowers in teas, infused oils, and powders has largely been overshadowed by the use of lavender essential oil in most blog articles aimed at DIYers and homesteading types due to heavy marketing from essential oil companies. However, whole lavender flowers are a versatile ingredient in herbal preparations. Lavender tea, just lavender or in a blend with other calming herbs, is desirable for inducing a sense of calm. A strong infusion can also be used to wash surfaces (but not to disinfect on its own; use the essential oil instead), and bundles in potpourri will scent a room. Lavender is often used to scent medicinal herbal formulas that might otherwise be unpleasant to smell.

Lavender’s aromatic flowers are used in eye and neck pillows, herbal steams, and herbal baths. Wrap sprigs of lavender flowers in a muslin bag or cheesecloth so you don’t have to fish the petals out of the tub afterward. Lavender infused steam is excellent for relaxation and the respiratory system.

Lavender essential oil is very widely used. Lavender essential oil is so popular that it is often adulterated in some way. France exports more lavender essential oil each year than it produces, which should say something about how often it is faked.

The popularity of lavender oil is well deserved. Use the oil for disinfecting surfaces and scenting laundry. Lavender steam, either from the oil or the flowers, is a mild, gentle decongestant. Applied to the temples, the essential oil can help relieve a stress headache.

Lavender essential oil is quite possibly my favorite remedy for earache pain. A drop or two on a cotton ball, shaped into an earplug, and the pain (and infection) goes away. It’s nice to insert the cotton ball earplug, and then place a hot water bottle with enough layers of towel in between the water bottle and the ear to protect the skin in case the bottle is too hot. The heat and the lavender essential oil work like magic.

Lavender and lavender essential oil are used in various personal care products including soaps, lotions, and salves. The essential oil is often used in formulations to promote the healing of burned skin.

Contraindications: No known contraindications. However, use caution with lavender essential oil. Essential oils are not to be ingested. While lavender oil can often be used on the skin undiluted (without a carrier oil, like grapeseed oil), not everyone’s skin will react the same way.

 LEMON BALM

Melissa officinalis

Parts Used: Fresh or dried flowers and leaves.

Actions: Antiviral, anxiolytic, carminative, diaphoretic, febrifuge, nervine, sedative.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); tisane.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily.

Uses: Lemon balm is used primarily as a gentle calming herb and mild sedative to ease away tension. Its pleasant flavor can make “medicinal-tasting” herbs more palatable. This is especially important for young children, who often refuse anything that doesn’t taste good to their yet-to-develop palates.

This plant is safe to use in herbal blends for pregnant women dealing with nausea, heartburn, and nervousness.

Lemon balm can help bring down a fever by inducing sweating. Sweating is one way the body can purge itself of waste and detoxify itself. Sweat also cools the skin, which helps to relieve a fever.

There are many good, solid, mainstream studies that support the normalcy and even the need for fever when ill. Fever is an important function in fighting off an infection. Fever is uncomfortable, but it’s a natural self-defense mechanism against illness. However, if you have to bring a fever down, doing so with a sudorific at least assists with the normal function of the body (sweating, waste removal) instead of just blocking a response to illness.

Lemon balm has one more specific use: as a remedy for herpes sores. Apply the tincture, tisane, infused oil, or salve directly to the sores.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 LICORICE

Glycerrhiza glabra

Parts Used: Root.

Actions: Antiviral, demulcent, estrogenic, expectorant, immunostimulant, synergistic.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 20% alcohol, 60% water, and 20% vinegar); cold infusion; decoction; syrup.

Dose: Use tincture in blends with other herbs as a synergist or to add antiviral actions; 2 to 3 cups of decoction or infusion (with other herbs) daily; 1 teaspoon of syrup every 2 hours as needed.

Uses: Licorice tastes good, is a soothing demulcent, and is effective against a range of viruses. As a demulcent, licorice encourages the body to lubricate the mucosa, protecting it and improving immune response.

Licorice is also a potent synergist. Caution is called for when taking licorice while on medication, as the licorice may increase the effects of the medication. Licorice may also increase the effects of other herbs, but this can be a benefit when blending cold and flu remedies.

Licorice is often considered an estrogenic herb. It does not contain estrogen, but it has been found to increase the effects of estrogen. To what extent is up for debate. Licorice has been blamed for causing male breast tissue to grow. However, licorice also addresses most of the symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This leads me to question if licorice is really increasing estrogen or lowering testosterone. In either case, the estrogenic effects will last for a few weeks after licorice use stops.

It’s best to take licorice in small amounts and to be sure to get enough potassium. At high doses, licorice can sometimes cause an increase in blood pressure. Keeping licorice doses within the recommended levels and getting enough potassium should prevent this problem. If elevated blood pressure has been an issue, check your blood pressure regularly while using licorice—or skip licorice altogether.

Although licorice comes with a few cautions, it is very antiviral and a great choice for any respiratory infection. It is effective against influenza, SARS, West Nile virus, hepatitis, chicken pox, and measles. It is also a very safe herb to take as long as you keep the various warnings in mind.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy. Do not use with uncontrolled hypertension. Use caution if taking medications.

 LOBELIA

Lobelia inflata

Parts Used: Entire plant.

Actions: Antispasmodic, emetic, expectorant.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:4 in 75% alcohol and 25% apple cider vinegar); dried acetum (1:7 in 100% apple cider vinegar); infused oil.

Dose: Low-dose herb, 5 to 20 drops of fresh or dried extract, up to 4 times daily. Begin with the absolute lowest dose, adjust upward with control and only as needed; take as tisane by the cupful as needed to induce vomiting (tincture is not emetic).

Uses: Lobelia is a powerful herb. It is a supreme antispasmodic and top-notch expectorant. This is one of a couple of herbs capable of addressing an acute asthma attack.

There is no better herb for bringing a muscle out of contraction. Lobelia can even relax muscles in someone suffering from lockjaw. However, this comes with some risk. The heart is a muscle, and it is affected by muscle relaxers like lobelia. If you take too much lobelia, or if you already have a weak heart, you may inadvertently stop the heart. With a little attention to the dosage, however, lobelia can be a safe and effective remedy for serious spasms, asthma, and even as a first response to anaphylaxis (to be followed up with an antihistamine, such as ample doses of nettle tincture and tea).

Staying within the safe range and always trying to stay at the lower end of the dosage recommendations is a smart idea, especially when treating asthma. Naturally, a lot depends on the person with asthma. Use with caution and common sense. The biggest risk, as I see it, is lack of experience with this herb and, as a result, becoming nervous during an emergency and using too much.

Lobelia is an emetic herb. If you take too much, it will make you vomit. I have had lobelia as both tea and tincture, and I did not become ill. It does not have an immediate emetic response, such as happens with ipecac. Lobelia could be included in a tea as an expectorant in combination with better tasting respiratory herbs, as it is not the most pleasant tasting of herbs.

Although lobelia should not be used during pregnancy because of its emetic nature, it can be helpful when a miscarriage threatens. It is an antispasmodic, and the rationale for using it in this situation is that it will get the uterus to stop contracting. It is most often used in combination with other herbal tinctures for this purpose.

Lobelia can also be infused in oil and used either as a massage oil or as an ingredient in salves and lotions. This can be very useful when dealing with jaw clenching, TMJ problems, and trying to reduce (to return to proper position) a misaligned jaw gently with manual techniques.

Contraindications: Use lobelia with great caution. Anyone with a weak heart or cardiac problems should not use it. Avoid use in someone who is sleepy, depressed, or using alcohol. Not for use during pregnancy, except when appropriate to prevent miscarriage.

 MA HUANG

Ephedra sinica, E. vulgaris

Parts Used: Stems.

Actions: Analgesic, antispasmodic, decongestant, expectorant, stimulant.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 60% alcohol, 30% water, 10% apple cider vinegar); decoction.

Dose: 10 to 30 drops of tincture, 1 to 3 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of decoction daily.

Uses: Ma huang, or better known in the United States as ephedra, is banned from sale. You can, however, order the seeds, grow it, and make your own tincture. You just cannot sell it. Unfortunately, ephedra was being marketed as a weight loss product. And, if one pill is good, then lots of pills must be better, right? Because of this misuse, the FDA banned ephedra from being sold in any product.

Ephedra has been used as an expectorant, pain reliever, appetite suppressant, and stimulant. People taking ephedra need to be careful not to take too much. It can raise blood pressure, cause irregular heart beats, and reduce appetite. Ultimately, taking too much could lead to heart attack or coma.

I have seen the hot tea of ephedra stop an asthma attack: 10 drops of tincture were given immediately while the tea was brewing. Then the person having the attack was able to sip the tea until the entire event was over. Hot beverages, including hot coffee, can help with an asthma attack in a pinch as well.

Since I don’t have anyone with asthma in my house, and there are other herbs that work wonderfully for respiratory complaints and muscle spasms, I recently started carrying ephedra tincture in my emergency kit for a totally different reason—as a type of emergency herbal EpiPen, but with a much longer shelf life than the EpiPen.

We keep bees. We keep them for honey, wax, propolis, barter value, food value, and general medicinal value. None of us are allergic to bee stings at the moment. But this is always in the back of my mind: What if one of us developed an allergy to bee stings, and there was no medical help? What would we do?

Allergies to bee stings, like allergies to certain foods, can cause the body to go into anaphylaxis. This in an incredibly serious situation that could easily result in death if not treated. What is a prepper to do if he or she, or a loved one, starts to go into anaphylaxis?

The active ingredient in an EpiPen is epinephrine. Epinephrine and ephedrine (an alkaloid in ephedra) have very similar actions. However, ephedrine isn’t as fast acting or as strong as epinephrine. It is an option, however, when no other option exists.

The key to taking ephedra safely is not overdoing the dosage out of nervousness. I would start out giving the lowest dose, in this case 10 drops of tincture. I would then give 60 drops of nettle tincture. The epinephrine in an EpiPen is merely a stop-gag measure to buy time to get the anaphylaxis patient to a hospital. Once at the hospital, the patient would be given a strong dose of antihistamine medication, such as Benadryl. When antihistamine medications are not available, the antihistamine properties of nettle would be an alternative. I would repeat both the ephedra and nettle tinctures every 15 minutes for an hour, and then reassess. It may be a good idea to know how to insert a nasal trumpet for intubation to keep airway passages open in case the herbs do not work fast enough. (Even the pharmaceutical EpiPen and Benadryl may not work quickly enough, and intubation is necessary.)

Ephedra has a somewhat less potent cousin in the United States called Mormon tea (E. viridis). In fact, there are many varieties throughout the country. Find out which one grows near you.

Contraindications: Do not take when pregnant. Not for anyone with high blood pressure or with cardiac arrhythmia or other heart problems.

 MARSHMALLOW

Althaea officinalis

Parts Used: Roots, leaves.

Actions: Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, expectorant, hypoglycemic.

Preparations: Cold infusion from dried roots (preferable) or standard infusion of leaves; cold infusion can be used as syrup base.

Dose: Take cold infusion as needed, preferably warmed up, for coughs or any respiratory complaint; take the cold infusion 3 to 6 cups per day as part of UTI care to soothe tissues until symptoms go away; apply topically as needed to assist in wound healing, especially for burn care.

Uses: Marshmallow is a mucilaginous, demulcent herb. This slippery, slick herb creates a thick liquid that coats, soothes, and encourages the body to hydrate the mucosa. This way, even if the marshmallow doesn’t come in direct contact with the mucosa, it still has a lubricating effect on it.

This soothing action helps to quell inflammation, especially of a sore throat, while also encouraging productive coughing. Marshmallow is appropriate for bronchitis and whooping cough in addition to sore throats. And while it does wonders for the respiratory system, it also helps soothe inflamed and delicate tissues from urinary tract infections.

Although both the roots and leaves are usable, I far prefer the roots. Skip any thoughts of tincturing this herb. The results can very easily turn gloppy. Sometimes I brew the leaves like regular tea, but I’m much more partial to the roots as a cold infusion.

Marshmallow is loaded with pectin, which helps create a soothing, thick, calming, gel-like liquid. I like to add this thickened, gelatinous cold infusion instead of honey for syrups for diabetics who need to avoid excess sugar. It will be a runny syrup, as marshmallow cold infusion is not as viscous as honey, and the shelf life will be significantly decreased (3 days in refrigerator) without the honey. But, when extra sugar must be avoided, this is a good choice.

Making a cold infusion is very easy. Just put 1 cup of dry herbs into a quart mason jar, and fill to the top with room-temperature water. Screw the lid on, and wait at least 4 hours (I prefer overnight). After 4 hours, you will have a usable cold infusion. This cold infusion extracts the polysaccharides without all the starches. The strained liquid will be golden in color.

The cold infusion is helpful to anyone with a gastrointestinal problem. If you are working on healing your gut, you will want to check out this herb. Marshmallow, on occasion, can lower blood sugar, but only mildly so. Be aware if you take antidiabetic medication, check your blood sugar, and marshmallow should pose no problem.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 MILK THISTLE

Silybum marianum

Parts Used: Seeds.

Actions: Bitter, cholagogue, depurative, estrogenic, galactagogue.

Preparations: Ground seeds; tincture (1:3 in 95% alcohol).

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; ground seeds by the tablespoon 2 to 3 times daily

Uses: Milk thistle helps support and regenerate liver cells. It is a bitter tonic, and the most important herb to consider when the liver is diseased. This is the first herb I would include in a plan for someone with cirrhosis of the liver.

Milk thistle has many of the same properties as dandelion. There are differences, however. Although wonderful at improving liver function, milk thistle has some estrogen-like actions, making it a potential herbal helper to women going through menopause. On the other hand, if you have a hormonal imbalance with too much estrogen, like PCOS, use of milk thistle for liver support should be short-term use only, maybe 3 weeks to 3 months, and not on an ongoing basis. However, dandelion does not have the cell regeneration properties of milk thistle. Dandelion won’t increase lactation.

Contraindications: It is unknown if milk thistle’s estrogen-like actions impact estrogen-sensitive cancers or other estrogen-related complications. Considering that dandelion has many of the same properties as milk thistle, I would use dandelion instead.

 MOTHERWORT

Leonurus cardiaca, L. sibericus

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers.

Actions: Antispasmodic, anxiolytic, cardiac tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, nervine.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 60% alcohol); tisane; syrup.

Dose: 30 to 40 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily; 1 tablespoon of syrup, 4 or 5 times daily.

Uses: Motherwort is calming and stabilizing, just as you would expect a “mother” to be. Motherwort exerts its influence on the heart and the thyroid, as well as on menstruation, cramping, menopausal hot flashes, and afterbirth healing.

This herb is associated with a happy heart, both emotionally and physically. Good for anyone who has suffered great loss, motherwort can help lift the feeling of darkness that sometimes comes with experiencing trauma. It is appropriate for anyone experiencing mood swings, especially hormonal mood swings.

Motherwort has a long history of use to relieve premenstrual symptoms and to bring on delayed menses. It relaxes smooth muscle tissue, thus helping to calm cramping. Stress and stress hormones are a frequent factor in irregular menstrual cycles, and could be a significant issue after a disaster.

Also consider motherwort’s impressive cardiac benefits. The herb is useful in slowing a too-rapid heart rate and in establishing a steady rhythm in people with arrhythmia.

Contraindications: I have read warnings against using motherwort on anyone who has hypothyroid issues (underactive thyroid). However, my observations do not support this warning, nor have I seen any published studies to support this warning either.

 MULLEIN

Verbascum thapsus

Parts Used: Fresh or dried flowers; dried leaves (from first year plants only).

Actions: Analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, astringent, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, sedative (mild).

Preparations: Infused oil from flowers; tisane from leaves.

Dose: Topically as needed; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily.

Uses: One of the better known traditional remedies is mullein infused oil. Typically, the flowers are infused in olive oil to make a pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial remedy for ear infections. The infused oil can be added to salves and lotions to treat a range of conditions including dry skin, burns, scrapes, and arthritic joints.

Mullein leaves are used for respiratory complaints and diarrhea. The leaves are both astringent and demulcent, which makes for an ideal, if mild, diarrhea remedy. I add it to other astringent herbs when the diarrhea is severe.

For respiratory complaints, mullein can be made into a tea. The only issue is that mullein is quite fluffy and bulky, even when dried. It can take up a lot of space, making it challenging to get enough herb into the blend and still have it covered by the water.

The leaves take a long time to dry. They are large and soft, and would make an ideal substitute for toilet paper. Pick leaves only after the sun has risen and burned away any morning dew. When preparing mullein for storage in your dried medicinal herb collection, cut or tear the leaf along the vein to the stem. I don’t generally dry my herbs in a dehydrator, but for mullein, it’s a major help. Chop the leaves into small pieces, and use your dehydrator on the lowest setting.

When you think the leaves are completely dry, run a knife through them to chop them again and put them back in the dehydrator for another hour or two. Use a fruit roll sheet in your dehydrator if necessary. If you do not have a dehydrator, dry the leaves in the oven on the lowest setting. Give them lots of air and room on the tray.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 NETTLE

Urtica dioica

Parts Used: Young leaves, root, seeds.

Actions: Analgesic, anti-edema, astringent, diuretic, hypotensive, renal trophorestorative, tonic.

Preparations: Tincture from fresh leaves, roots, or new seeds (1:2 in 95% alcohol); tincture from dried leaves, roots, or older seeds (1:5 in 50% alcohol); tisane of dried or fresh leaves; syrup of dried or fresh leaves.

Dose: Use 30 to 60 drops of leaf (fresh or dried) tincture as antihistamine for more serious allergic reactions, 3 to 4 cups of tisane (fresh or dried leaves) to relieve swelling, release excess fluids, and for minor allergic reactions. Use 30 to 60 drops of fresh or dried root tincture, 3 to 4 times per day for prostate health and male pattern baldness. Use tisane or an acetum of the leaves and/or roots, fresh or dried, as a nourishing hair rinse. Use 20 to 40 drops of tincture made with older seeds for adrenal support and as a mood-enhancing adaptogen. Use 60 drops of tincture from new nettle seeds 3 times daily for serious kidney illness.

Uses: Nettle is an overlooked superfood. While an exotic ingredient that exploits some native population in a far-flung corner of the globe is hyped as the latest and greatest find, we ignore one of the most nutritious plants growing almost everywhere in the United States.

Nettle is often used to relieve edema, joint pain, and allergies. However, the applications for nettle are far more than I can list here. So much of our health is tied to nutrition, and nettle is a nutritional treasure trove high in iron, calcium, potassium, and chlorophyll. There is an expanded section on nutrition and uses for nettle in Chapter 6.

Chlorophyll is used as an “internal cleanser” or “blood cleanser.” The fact that chlorophyll-rich nettle significantly helps to cut down on body odor may be the origin of such claims.

Nettle does sting if not handled properly. Nettle stings were used medicinally from at least as early as the Middle Ages. The nettle stalk was wielded like a whip across the suffering part of the body. This brought the sting (and therefore the medicine) to the site of pain. It was used mainly for arthritis conditions.

Nettle, specifically nettle root, has important benefits for men. Nettle root (best taken as a tincture for this issue) helps relieve prostate symptoms. When combined with saw palmetto, nettle tincture may also be a treatment for male pattern baldness.8

Nettle is known for supporting the kidneys and adrenal glands. Nettle seeds share these traits along with the leaves. Nettle seeds have an adaptogenic effect, bringing the body back into balance, and instilling a sense of well-being. The fresh, newly harvested seeds, however, when made into a tincture appear to be trophorestorative to the kidneys. If I had to deal with serious kidney disease without the benefit of modern medicine, I would include tincture of fresh nettle seeds in my plan.9

Any survivalists worth their salt will want to have nettle in their area, and know how to harvest it and how to prepare it. Consume nettle cooked, not raw (cooking removes the sting). Use it as you would any dark, leafy green in soups or steamed. The stalk can be made into fiber for spinning or into cordage.

Contraindications: No known contraindications. Do not overuse nettle. It can be very drying. Overuse of nettle can result in a condition known as uticaria (hives). If this happens, stop using nettle, and rub crushed dock leaves (any kind of dock such as yellow dock or burdock) on the hives. Or if you have baking soda, make a paste and rub it on the hives.

8A study published by the American Botanical Counsel, “Saw Palmetto, Nettles, and Pygeum for Male Pattern Baldness” showed nettle, when combined with saw palmetto, to be an effective and safe approach to male pattern baldness. Karen Dean, “Saw Palmetto, Nettles, and Pygeum for male pattern baldness,” American Botanical Counsel 49 (September 2000): 31.

9In an article, “Urtica Semen Reduces Serum Creatinine Levels” by Jonathon Treasure, he details the benefits of nettle seed for serious kidney disease. Jonathon Treasure, “Urtica Semen Reduces Serum Creatinine Levels,” Journal of the American Herbalist Guild 4 (2003): 22–25.

 OATS

Avena sativa

Parts Used: Milky oat tops, oatstraw.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, demulcent, emollient, nervine, sedative (mild), tonic.

Preparations: Gruel (oatmeal); tisane.

Dose: As needed.

Uses: If you have ever wondered why oatmeal is such a comfort food, it’s because it really does make you feel better. Oats are a calming nervine that takes the edge off any stressful day. It is also useful when your skin feels too dry.

Oats have countless uses in skin care products, including soaps. It can relieve itchy, dry skin associated with eczema and psoriasis, and itches from sunburns and chickenpox, as well as menopausal dryness.

If you are suffering from insomnia, try a bowl of oatmeal or a cup of tea made from the immature tops or oatstraw a half hour before going to bed.

Contraindications: No known contraindications. If you are sensitive to gluten, be sure to get oats processed in a gluten-free facility for your long-term food storage.

 PEPPERMINT

Mentha × piperita

Parts Used: Leaves harvested before the plant flowers.

Actions: Analgesic, anti-emetic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, cardiotonic, carminative, decongestant, diaphoretic, refrigerant.

Preparations: Tisane; essential oil; hydrosol.

Dose: As needed.

Uses: Peppermint is high in aromatic, volatile oils, making it a viable option for those who want to distill their own essential oils. Peppermint can grow almost anywhere, and to the chagrin of many gardeners, it does. But the addition of well-rotted manure and moisture make peppermint crops for essential oil distillation a much more profitable venture.

Peppermint is the source of one of the most versatile essential oils. Because of the high concentration of menthol, peppermint oil makes a good pain reliever. Add it to salves and lotions for sore muscles. It is a great addition to creams for tired feet and is a favorite in soaps.

In a diffuser, peppermint essential oil is a powerful decongestant. Applied in drops to the temples, it can stop a migraine in its tracks. It has saved me from many lost days due to migraines. However, it must be applied immediately at the first signs of a migraine. It will still help somewhat if the migraine is already well entrenched. But if taken right at the very start, peppermint essential oil often can prevent the migraine from happening in the first place.

The oil can be used diluted in a spray to disinfect surfaces and repel pests, especially mice and ants. (This is very helpful when you have a cabin in the woods.) The oil can freshen up and disinfect a sick room.

Peppermint tea thins out mucous secretions, making it a useful decongestant for both upper and lower respiratory infections. Because it tastes so pleasant, peppermint is an easy medicine to give to children or use in blends to improve the taste of other herbs.

This aromatic herb is also a carminative and calms nausea. It is useful in alleviating morning sickness. Peppermint can also help to calm colon spasms.

The hydrosol is cooling. It can be used to spray on a burn, or on the forehead and neck of someone with a fever as a comfort measure.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 PLANTAIN

Plantago major, P. lanceolata

Parts Used: Leaves, seeds.

Actions: Astringent, demulcent, depurative, laxative, refrigerant, styptic, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50%); cold infusion; standard infusion; decoction of seeds; poultice.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 3 to 4 cups of leaf infusion or seed decoction daily; topically as a poultice as needed.

Uses: Plantain is one of those great medicines right under our noses. It’s in nearly every lawn. I’m sure my neighbors are irritated that our lawn is loaded with plantain and dandelions every year. All I see is beautiful, free, natural medicine. Obviously, spraying the lawn is out of the question.

Plantain contains a very soothing, cooling, and demulcent inner juice. It is ideal for burns, bites, cuts, and scrapes. However, when it come to caring for burns, do not waste time harvesting leaves from the lawn to mash up and apply to the burn. The first rule of burn care is to stop the damage from spreading.

Unless you have copious amounts of plantain juice on hand, you’re better off cooling the burn with clean water. Once the burn has been brought under control, then you can apply plantain in a poultice to the burn. It will work wonders then.

Plantain tincture can be used as a styptic, as well as for bringing down a fever.

This herb is a good ingredient in drawing, blister, and wound care salves. The leaves are highly astringent, which makes plantain excellent for skin healing as well as diarrhea. However, plantain seeds can be used as a laxative.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 SAGE

Salvia officinalis

Parts Used: Leaves.

Actions: Astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, antiperspirant, estrogenic, emmenagogue, stimulant.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); tisane; syrup; essential oil.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily; syrup as needed; essential oil 3 to 6 drops for steam inhalation, or the number of drops indicated by your aromatherapy diffuser, or topically in a carrier oil (dilution rate is 6 drops of essential oil diluted in 1 ounce of carrier oil).

Uses: Sage is an aromatic and culinary herb with some very interesting properties. Unlike the other estrogenic herbs, like milk thistle and licorice, sage actually does contain phytoestrogens, and doesn’t just mimic estrogen. This along with sage’s astringent quality makes the plant a good option for women dealing with menopausal night sweats. Night sweats are unpleasant enough in a world with air conditioning, but in a post-disaster world they will be miserable for both parties attempting to sleep in a soaked bed.

Sage is antibacterial and makes for an effective mouthwash. It is taken as a tea to bring on delayed menstruation. The aroma of sage is used to help improve both focus and memory. The essential oil can also be used for delayed menstruation diluted in a carrier oil and massaged onto the abdomen. Sage essential oil diluted in coconut oil can be applied to the scalp to fight dandruff, or anywhere on the skin to fight fungal infections.

Even though sage can be quite drying, it makes an excellent cough syrup in combination with a other herbs such as horehound, anise hyssop, elecompane, mullein, and marshmallow.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy.

 ST. JOHN’S WORT

Hypericum perforatum

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves.

Actions: Analgesic, anxiolytic, astringent, cell proliferator, expectorant, nervine, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); infused oil from fresh plant parts; capsules from dried plant parts; tisane from dried plant parts; infused honey.

Dose: 30 to 40 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily for relief from depression and anxiety; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily as an expectorant; topically in infused oil over closed wounds with resulting in nerve pain; topically in infused honey for burns and open wound care as needed; capsules vary by capsule size, and either a size 0 or 1 would be appropriate.

Uses: St. John’s wort is known mostly for its mood-enhancing effects for people with mild to moderate depression. While I don’t mean to diminish those properties, as I think they will be lifesavers to some people, it’s the wound care properties that preppers really should pay attention to. Still, keep some on hand as after a disaster, people will need anti-depressants, and there won’t be help from the pharmacy.

Comfrey usually comes to mind when thinking of wounds and cell regeneration. Few remedies knit tissue back together as well as comfrey. However, comfrey has a major drawback. It is so effective that often it closes the surface of a wound too soon, leaving an unhealed wound under the surface. This is a recipe for infection. Without professional medical care available, an infection could easily become life-threatening.

St. John’s wort, however, has a different habit. It heals from the inside out. This is exactly how you want a wound to heal. The challenge is, how do you get this medicine into a deep wound?

You could use a tincture, but the alcohol would not be comfortable. Also, if the wound were big, a tincture consisting of only few drops would not cover a large area. My solution is to infuse St. John’s wort flowers in honey. Honey is an ideal remedy for wounds, and infusing St. John’s wort flowers makes a uniquely suited wound care medicine.

An alternative is to make an infused oil of the flowers. Then add the infused oil to honey with a tiny bit of heat and a lot of elbow grease. St. John’s wort is a must to include with any remedy dealing with nerve pain. The infused oil is good for making salves. St. John’s wort infused oil and cayenne infused oil make an excellent salve for nerve pain. Other pain salve combinations for St. John’s wort could include the infused oils of arnica, lobelia, peppermint, and white willow bark.

Contraindications: St. John’s wort has a very long list of contraindications with medications, especially with other mood-enhancing pharmaceuticals. If you are taking prescription medications, it may be best to skip St. John’s wort.

 SIDA

Sida acuta, S. cordifolia, S. rhombifolia, S. spinosa

Parts Used: Aerial parts.

Actions: Antiamoebic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fertility, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, antivenom, antiviral, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, hematoprotectant, hypoglycemic.

Preparations: Dried tincture (1:5 in 60% alcohol), tisane (1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to 6 ounces of water).

Dose: 20 to 40 drops of tincture 3 to 6 times daily; tisane 3 to 4 times daily.

Uses: Sida is a systemic antibiotic. This means it passes readily into the bloodstream and circulates around the body. Sida has been shown to be active against a range of bacteria plus some viruses. It is used to treat E. coli, salmonella, various streptococcus and staphylococcus infections, infected wounds, Klebsiella pneumoniae, shigella, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Sida is also a hematoprotectant, meaning that it protects the blood. One such threat from which sida has protected the blood is snake venom, specifically the venom from a South American pit viper, Bothrops atrox. I doubt there has been testing of sida against other venoms, but if I were bit by a pit viper and there were no doctors or functioning hospitals around, I would look for my sida tincture, and I would be taking the higher dosage at the greater frequency.

As part of the mallow family, sida is soothing and has many similar benefits as marshmallow, being emollient, expectorant, and demulcent.

Contraindications: Since the herb has been shown to stop ovulation in lab mice, it may be best to avoid it when pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

 SPILANTHES

Spilanthes acmella

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, stems.

Actions: Analgesic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, emetic.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried flower buds to chew on.

Dose: By the drop on an aching tooth as needed; in a spray to spray on a sore throat as needed.

Uses: This is a relatively new herb in my repertoire, but it is absolutely impressive. Spilanthes is known as “toothache plant” for its numbing effects. If you have ever had severe mouth pain, then you know how awful it can be. Mouth pain can stop a person in his or her tracks.

Spilanthes creates a tingling, almost fizzy reaction in the mouth. It is similar to echinacea in this respect. Spilanthes tincture dropped directly on an abscess or mouth wound is a major help to anyone coping without a dentist (who may be even rarer than a doctor post-disaster). The plant can also be used to make an antibacterial mouth rinse.

Another use for spilanthes is as a remedy for ringworm. But perhaps one of the more interesting properties of spilanthes is that it can kill spirochetes (a spiral-shaped bacterium that causes Lyme disease and syphilis). Anyone who lives where Lyme disease is prevalent should grow spilanthes. Lyme is a complex disease, and it normally requires many different herbs in a comprehensive and personalized protocol. Spilanthes, however, would be in any Lyme strategy of mine.

Contraindications: No known contraindications.

 THYME

Thymus vulgaris

Parts Used: Leaves.

Actions: Analgesic, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antitussive, antispasmodic, expectorant.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); tisane of fresh or dried leaves; acetum of fresh or dried leaves; essential oil; syrup; infused honey.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily; acetum can be taken like tincture, or added freely in foods, marinades, salad dressings, etc.; inhalation through herbal steam or with essential oil in a nebulizing diffuser as needed; syrup or infused honey as needed.

Uses: Thyme works on just about any respiratory infection, viral or bacterial. It is excellent for calming a cough and is effective against whooping cough, bronchitis, and any sore throat. Herbal steams and (the steam from) herbal baths of thyme are both effective ways to bring thyme’s medicine to the respiratory system. A bath has the added benefit of using thyme to soothe the aches that often accompany a respiratory infection.

The essential oil distilled from thyme may be one of the most potent antimicrobial essential oils, if not the most potent. Thyme is certainly on my list of herbs to grow in quantity to produce some of this precious oil, which can easily be added to healing salves and used to prevent infection in cuts and scrapes.

Prepping for the unknown can be very challenging. There’s no way to know for certain if it will really be enough or effective until the post-disaster situation. But we can make strong educated guesses. If there were to be an outbreak of some new and unknown contagious respiratory illness, and I had to pick just one essential oil for inhalations and disinfection, I would pick thyme. There’s no guarantee that it would work, but it has a better chance than just about anything else natural that I’m aware of.

If you cannot distill your own oil, use the tincture topically on abrasions. Thyme also makes a lovely acetum.

Contraindications: As an herb, thyme doesn’t have any contraindications. However, thyme essential oil does. This is a “hot” oil. It can cause great irritation to the skin, especially sensitive skin. It is not a great choice for use in a diffuser with a child, as it can be more of an irritant than a help. For children, restrict inhalation time in herbal baths and steams. Always be sure the bath or steam is not too hot. No need to risk a burn. Young children should not be left unattended in any bath, especially a relaxing one.

 TURMERIC

Curcuma longa

Parts Used: Rhizome.

Actions: Analgesic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, cardioprotective, cholagogue, depurative, nephroprotective, neuroprotective, radioprotective, vasoprotective.

Preparations: In capsules or food. Consume with a small amount of fat and a pinch of black pepper.

Dose: Eat freely.

Uses: Turmeric is a powerhouse of an herb. It is well worth growing, although you must make some room for it in your garden, much as you would its relative ginger. Bring it in during the winter if you live in a cold climate.

A potent anti-inflammatory herb, turmeric is an herbal COX-2 inhibitor used for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis relief. I’ve used turmeric and ginger together to calm inflammation.10

While fresh turmeric is ideal, most people have access only to the powdered form. The powder is still quite active, and may be added to foods and capsules. Turmeric is more effective if taken with some kind of fat as well as black pepper. This happens naturally in much of Indian cooking, as turmeric is a major ingredient in many curry blends. Even if you don’t think you like curry, you may just not like the store-bought variety. There are plenty of recipes to test, and you’ll probably find one you like.

If you aren’t a curry fan, I suggest adding a pinch of black pepper and maybe washing the turmeric capsule down with dairy milk or coconut milk, or eating something with butter or coconut oil on it at about the same time. It doesn’t have to be coconut oil. You could dunk some homemade bread in olive oil.

You can apply turmeric like a paste on acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Also, you can infuse turmeric in water, soak a towel in that water, and use the towel as a compress for conjunctivitis. Do be careful, as turmeric can leave a stain on skin (temporarily) and clothes (less temporarily) that may take some time to come out. Another use for turmeric is as an addition to wound powders.

Contraindications: Turmeric is not a common allergen, but rare allergic reactions have happened. Since turmeric increases bile production, it is not recommended for people with gallstones or bile duct obstruction.

10In “Chemopreventive and Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin” in Cancer Letters, a mini-review published by Elsiver, it is suggested that this anti-inflammatory activity is one of several reasons for turmeric’s anti-carcinogenic properties. Annelyse Duvoix et al., “Chemopreventive and Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin,” Cancer Letters 223 (2005): 181–190.

 USNEA, A.K.A. OLD MAN’S BEARD

Usnea spp.

Parts Used: Entire lichen.

Actions: Analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, antiprotozoal, antiseptic, antiviral.

Preparations: Tincture and tisane, but not in the same manner all the others have been made (see below for instructions unique to usnea); wound powder.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily; wound powder as needed.

Uses: Usnea is a lichen found just about everywhere. There are hundreds of species of usnea, so one likely grows in your area. Usnea makes a strong antibiotic, especially against gram-positive bacteria, including drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.

Usnea is not a systemic antibiotic. It remains in the gastrointestinal tract, allowing it to address bacterial infections of the stomach and intestines. The powder of the dried herb is a welcome addition to wound powders.

Letting the lichen dry and then grinding it to a powder is relatively straightforward, but tincturing and tea making are less so. In his book Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner recommends using heat to make the tincture either in a slow cooker or in an oven on a very low setting.

Using the standard ratio for dry herbs in a menstruum of 1:5 (1 ounce of herb by weight to 5 ounces of menstruum by volume), and the menstruum being 50% alcohol and 50% water, place your dry herbs and the water portion in a slow cooker. Cover and set on warm for 48 hours. I’ve tried this on low, but it just got too hot in my slow cooker. I had to use the warm setting instead. Make sure the lid is on securely, so you don’t lose too much moisture to evaporation.

After 48 hours, transfer the mush to a mason jar. After it has cooled but is still warm, add the alcohol portion. Put the lid on the jar, allow the mixture to macerate for 2 weeks, shake the jar once daily (or whenever you think about it), and after 2 weeks, strain out the usnea through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Try to squeeze out as much of the tincture as you can.

Making a cup of usnea tea is unique as well. Ground 1 teaspoon of the herb, and pour just enough alcohol over it to saturate it. It’s really not much, and the herb shouldn’t be sitting in a puddle. Let it sit like this, covered, for 30 minutes. Then pour 6 ounces of boiling water over the herb and let steep for 15 minutes. This should cook off a good portion of the alcohol.

It may sound a little complicated, but it’s really just a small bit of effort more for an effective antibiotic that is available almost everywhere in the United States.

Usnea can also absorb toxins from the environment. Play it safe, and only harvest lichens from at least 300 feet away from the side of a road, factory, or other source of waste.

Contraindications: Not for use during pregnancy. If possible, test on a small section of skin first, as usnea may cause contact dermatitis. Better to learn that now, with just a tiny section of redness, rather than applying it liberally to a wound and learning only then that you have an allergic skin reaction to it.

 VALERIAN

Valeriana officinalis

Parts Used: Root.

Actions: Analgesic, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, nervine, sedative.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 75% alcohol); decoction.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 or 4 times daily; decoction, 2 or 3 times daily.

Uses: Valerian is the sleepy herb. It helps ease nerves and anxiety, induces sleepiness, and encourages the muscles to relax. At least, valerian does this for 90% of people. In 10% of the population, valerian acts like a stimulant.

The tincture dose suggested above is really just a standard guideline. Always start out with the least amount of valerian (or any herb for that matter). If you get no results, next time increase the dose by 5 drops. Continue this until you find your ideal dose, but don’t exceed 60 drops.

Valerian is helpful with back pain and nerve pain. I suggest you use valerian when your day is essentially done and you can rest. Use a topical treatment, like cayenne, to address nerve and muscle pain during the day.

Contraindications: This really depends upon how valerian affects you. If it causes drowsiness, do not operate vehicles or heavy equipment.

 WHITE WILLOW

Salix alba

Parts Used: Inner bark.

Actions: Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, febrifuge.

Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture (1:5 in 50% alcohol); decoction.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 to 4 times daily; 2 to 4 cups of decoction daily.

Uses: White willow is sometimes thought of as “herbal aspirin.” One of its constituents, salicin, is metabolized into salicylic acid in the human body. This acid has been synthesized into the active ingredient in aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid.

However, there are some major differences between aspirin and white willow. The amount of salicin in white willow is far lower than the amount of acetylsalicylic acid in aspirin. In reality, there is very little salicin in white willow.

This may mean that another constituent within the inner bark of white willow is responsible for the bark’s pain-relieving properties. It may also mean the synergistic nature of all the constituents is required to produce pain relief.

Yet the effect of white willow bark in relieving pain is quite similar to that of aspirin. Everybody reacts differently, but if I had to make any generalities about my experiences, I would say that white willow begins to relieve pain in about the same time as aspirin, although it takes a little longer for the pain relief to reach its peak. However, the overall effect of white willow seems to last longer than aspirin.

In studies involving white willow, there was a very low instance of allergic reactions or stomach discomfort (very common with aspirin). White willow also lacked the blood-thinning action found in aspirin.

While there has been research demonstrating white willow’s effectiveness as a pain reliever, and showing differences between white willow and aspirin, there have not been enough studies to say that white willow won’t carry some of the same risks as aspirin. So even though the amount of acetylsalicylic acid in aspirin is many times more than is found in white willow, and even though white willow bark has not demonstrated the same blood-thinning properties, those factors are not enough to base certain safety decisions on.

For example, aspirin is contraindicated in children with a fever or infection because it may lead to Reye’s syndrome. Although white willow contains a small amount of salicin, a different chemical than acetylsalicylic acid, giving white willow bark tincture or tea to a child with an active infection is not recommended. For pain relief without an active infection, white willow bark is a safe remedy for children. Be sure to look for signs of infection, including:

•fever

•red streaks extending from an injured area

•increasing pain, redness, swelling, or warmth around effected area

•pus draining from an effected area

For adults with no aspirin allergy, white willow provides an effective, lasting pain reliever that is easier on the stomach than aspirin. White willow is safe for long-term use.

Contraindications: Not for people who are allergic to aspirin. Not for use during pregnancy. Not for use during breastfeeding. Not for use in children with a fever (which may indicate an infection).

 YARROW

Achillea millefolium

Parts Used: Flowers, leaves.

Actions: Antiperspirant, astringent, diaphoretic, styptic, tonic, vulnerary.

Preparations: Fresh tincture from flowers (1:2 in 95% alcohol); dried tincture from flowers (1:5 in 75% alcohol); tisane from flowers; poultice from leaves.

Dose: 30 to 60 drops of tincture, 3 to 6 times daily, frequency depending on the purpose; 2 to 3 cups of tisane daily.

Uses: Yarrow is a complex herb made up of many active constituents. Yet yarrow has two primary Uses: to stop bleeding and to sweat out a fever.

The tincture can be applied topically, or the flowers can be made into a poultice, to stop a wound from bleeding. The tincture taken internally can help get internal bleeding under control. Yarrow also helps slow down an overly heavy menstrual cycle.

Yarrow is sometimes used by midwives in case of hemorrhage during or after birth. Another herb used in this manner is shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris).

Having the ability to stop internal bleeding, or stop the bleeding of a deep wound, is lifesaving. I always carry yarrow in my herbal kit.

The tea has a different function. A tisane of yarrow flowers induces a sweat and effectively sweats out a fever.

Contraindications: Not for use with children. Not for use during pregnancy (except during labor and postpartum emergencies). Do not use while breastfeeding.