Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
Walking is man’s best medicine.
In addition to a first aid plan, everyone needs a plan for preventive care, chronic illness, and common infections such as cold and flu. The key to being prepared lies in preventive care. By creating health, you reduce the instance of illness. Many chronic diseases are related to lifestyle. By changing habits, it’s possible to eliminate much of the heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, and certain cancers common in our modern society. Preventive care means taking a proactive stance about health and taking steps to improve it. This begins with nutrient-dense foods, clean water, clean air, and plenty of movement.
In addition to discussing nutritional concerns and preventive care, this chapter looks at herbal strategies to fill the gap when diet and lifestyle are not enough. I have included natural recipes to help cope with some of the most common illnesses when preventive care falls short. Most of us either are on some kind of maintenance drug or know someone who is. If access to pharmacies is cut off, many people will be without their blood pressure, asthma, allergy, arthritis, and cholesterol medications, and those circumstances require a plan B.
This chapter introduces women’s natural medicine, an important topic for everyday natural medicine as well as long-term preparedness. There is so much information to consider about the unique health concerns of women that it could easily be a book all on its own. In this chapter, I briefly touch on the most common concerns that women face, including PMS, birth control, pregnancy, and menopause.
Good health starts with good nutrition. Consider the fact that magnesium is involved in more than 300 functions in the body. Then consider how modern agricultural practices have depleted magnesium from the soil. If it’s not in the soil, then it’s not in the food. Suddenly, the reason for many of our chronic states of unhealth become clear. And that’s just one nutrient! I am not a fan of the U.S. government’s food guidelines, as I don’t think the recommended daily allowances (RDA) of nutrients are high enough to maintain health.
Although lacking in calories, many herbs are nutritionally dense. Stinging nettle is so nutritionally dense that I consider it a superfood. It contains vitamins A, C, D, E, and K; bioflavonoids; B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and B6 folate; and choline. Nettle is rich in minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, boron, iodine, copper, and chromium. Finally, nettle is high in chlorophyll, is very useful if you have been exposed to radiation, addresses pancreatitis, and helps in healing wounds.
Also of note, nettle is a complete protein with 16 essential amino acids. Its amino acid profile is similar to that of eggs. Furthermore, 40% of the dried leaf is protein. Fresh, the leaf contains more water but is approximately 22% to 25% protein. To put this into grams instead of percentages, there are 2.4 grams of protein in 1 cup of nettle, compared with 1 gram of protein in 1 cup of boiled beans.
I’m not suggesting that anyone stop eating meat in favor of nettle, but nettle can supplement protein intake during lean times. The government recommends that we eat about 50 grams of protein per day. It would take 20 cups of nettle to get the full day’s requirement for protein. That is a lot of nettle! The 2.4 grams mentioned above is only about 4% of the daily recommendation. In contrast, 1 egg contains much more protein at 6 grams, or 12% of the daily recommendation.
Harvesting nettle can be tricky because of the sting (which goes away upon drying or cooking), so use gloves or tongs, or fold the leaves to avoid coming in contact with the stinging hairs underneath. Once the plant has finished growing, you can make the stems into cordage. The stinging nature of nettle means it can be used as part of a security hedge. The sting feels like a less intense bee sting, but to move through an entire patch of nettle is quite unpleasant without proper protection.
Nettle is included in the Nutritional Syrup recipe under Fracture and Broken Bones Poultice (page 102). You can vary the recipe by using different herbs and sweeteners. The recipe calls for molasses, but feel free to use maple syrup, birch syrup, or honey instead. Each sweetener has some nutritional benefits.
Lately, I have been using yacon syrup. I want to experiment with growing yacon tubers, which look very much like sweet potatoes. The tuber produces a syrup from the cooked-down juice that’s similar in texture and appearance to molasses, but tastes more like caramel. Initial studies have shown yacon syrup to have a lower impact on blood sugar because of its high fiber content. And who wouldn’t want medicine or nutritional supplements to taste like caramel?
Nutritional syrups can be customized for women or men, pregnancy, chronic conditions, and so on. Customizing your nutritional syrup allows you to take one combined remedy instead of multiple separate remedies. This combination approach makes it easy for people to follow through.
Syrups have a limited shelf life. They may last a couple of days on the counter, depending on room temperature and water content. In the refrigerator, I’ve seen syrups last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. I store the dry ingredients and sweeteners separately, and make my nutritional syrups in small batches. If you have a storage freezer, you could freeze large amounts of syrup, but if your freezer lost power or stopped working, then you would lose everything in it.
Rather than the basic recipe for Nutritional Syrup included in the previous chapter, this is the version I take daily, along with my version of fire cider tonic. I take this syrup and fire cider tonic 3 times daily, about 30 minutes before each meal. It’s easier for me to remember to take them both by sticking to a schedule. Otherwise, take a nutritional syrup like this anywhere between 2 and 6 times daily, depending on your body’s needs. If you’ve been ill, take more. A child can take less.
Cat’s Favorite Nutritional Syrup
1/2 cup dandelion root
1/4 cup burdock
1/4 cup yellow dock
1 part nettle leaves
1 part alfalfa
1 part horsetail
1 part red raspberry leaves
1 part parsley
1 part rose hips
1 part oatstraw
Yacon syrup or honey
1Make a double decoction of the dandelion, burdock, and yellow dock in 4 cups of water. I use these herbs not for their function as bitters, but for their minerals. After straining the herbs, you should have approximately 1 cup of liquid.
2While the double decoction is reducing, blend equal parts of nettle, alfalfa, horsetail, red raspberry, parsley, rose hips, and oatstraw.
3While the strained double decoction is still hot (reheat if necessary), add 1/2 cup of the blended herbs to the hot liquid to steep, covered, for 30 minutes.
4Strain the herbs and pour the liquid into a 16-ounce (2-cup) bottle. It should be less than half full. Add enough yacon syrup to bring the total volume to 16 ounces. Cap the bottle, and shake vigorously to mix.
If using honey instead of yacon, make sure the liquid is warm, around 90°F. This will help the honey blend into the syrup more easily.
One problem remains: Fat-soluble vitamins are missing from a water extraction. However, nettle can be made into a soup with a cream base or into pesto. Top with some pumpkin seeds and the result is nearly perfect nutrition. Many recipes for soup made from fresh or dried nettle are available online.
BOOSTING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
I have a lot of favorites when it comes to natural medicine. Who can blame me? There’s a lot to love. Fire cider ranks as a favorite among favorites. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who has generously shared her recipe through workshops, books, and YouTube, has made this traditional immunity-boosting remedy famous.
Just about every herbalist who makes this traditional health tonic has put his or her own spin on it. My own version has seen several adaptations, and will probably see more as I tinker with it.
Fire cider is an oxymel, an herbal vinegar mixed with honey. I use raw apple cider vinegar and raw honey. As its name implies, fire cider is spicy. Its kick comes from plenty of cayenne and horseradish, with a warming sensation from fresh ginger. The garlic tends to mellow as it steeps in the vinegar, as does the onion. The flavor is just a bit different every time, depending on how hot the cayenne and horseradish are, how fresh the ginger is, and how much of each ingredient ends up steeping in the vinegar. Making this remedy is more like cooking, where you are free to adjust amounts, than it is like baking, where you must carefully measure ingredients.
Fire cider isn’t just hot. It’s also pungent, sour, and intense. That might not sound tempting at first, but once you start taking it, it’s hard to stop. I take mine by the ounce, in 2 ounces of apple juice. You can take it straight if you really like strong flavors.
Traditional Fire Cider
Raw apple cider vinegar
1There are no specified amounts of each ingredient. Experiment until you arrive at a blend you like.
2Layer the onion, garlic, horseradish, cayenne, and ginger in a quart or larger mason jar. Fill the jar three-quarters full. The herbs will expand as they absorb some of the vinegar.
3Pour enough apple cider vinegar to cover all the ingredients. Wait a few minutes to let the vinegar work its way down and into the jar, filling all the nooks and crannies where air bubbles are hiding. Run a butter knife down the sides to release any trapped air and get the vinegar into all the spaces.
4Top off with more apple cider vinegar, and cap.
5Allow to steep for 2 to 4 weeks.
6Strain out all the ingredients, and reserve the liquid.
7Measure the liquid, and add one-half the volume in honey. For example, add 1 cup of honey to 2 cups of infused vinegar. However, feel free to adjust the amount of honey to your taste.
In my version, I add turmeric, astragalus, Siberian ginseng, lemon juice, and hawthorn berries. I have at other times included thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon zest, and orange zest. I have seen some herbalists include rose hips, blueberries, and schisandra berries.
Many people take fire cider as an immune tonic and to ward off colds and flu. Sometimes, the full extent of a remedy’s benefits cannot be understood if the person taking the remedy is already in a good state of health. Give the same remedy to someone who is in a state of unhealth, and suddenly the remedy is a miracle potion.
I have worked with some very unhealthy people with multiple diagnoses of vague syndromes, such as fatigue, general achiness, weight gain, weight loss, headaches, brain “fog,” and a general sense of being unwell. I often give them variations of fire cider made with their general complaints in mind. Often, I also suggest a nutritional syrup, some digestive bitters, and fermented foods (or at least a probiotic supplement).
I have had people tell me that fire cider helped reduce some of their aches and pains, as well as sinus inflammation. I’m not surprised, as it is loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients. I’ve had others confess that their bowel movements became easier and were “cleaner” since they started taking fire cider daily—not in a sudden, harsh laxative way, but in a gentle, subtle shift.
With brain fog clearing, less achiness, and easier elimination, people move more and sleep better. Little by little, over time, that general malaise and sense of being unwell lift, and many of the odd symptoms that seemingly have no cause just fade away. At this point, any symptoms remaining get individual attention. But the subtle changes, the daily ritual of taking homemade medicine, and the tonic, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting herbs in the menstruum of raw apple cider vinegar with its liver-protective and blood sugar–modulating properties—all of this can have a profound effect on people who are wildly out of balance.
I have also found fire cider very useful as a delivery system for bitter herbs, at least until a person’s palate adjusts to the taste of bitter. Digestive bitters must actually be tasted in order to work. Without that bitter taste to signal salivation to start, a digestive bitter just doesn’t work on the liver, although the herb’s other properties may still work. The sour, pungent, and spicy flavors of fire cider do not mask the bitter taste, but it makes the bitter taste far easier to tolerate.
SUGAR AND SICKNESS
If there is one culinary culprit more responsible for illness than sugar, I don’t know what it is. High sugar consumption is responsible for most obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, hypoglycemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), elevated cholesterol, and lower immune response. One of the single best things you can do for your health is cut back on sugar.
Sugar isn’t just the obvious white crystals. It is in our grains, alcohol, and starchy vegetables. Marketing magicians have been hard at work for decades convincing us that whole grains are good for us. There really isn’t much difference between a slice of white bread with 1 gram of dietary fiber and a slice of whole wheat bread with 2 grams of dietary fiber. The reality is that whole grains have only a small amount more nutrition, just a little more fiber, and about the same impact on blood glucose as processed white rice, white wheat, and other white grains. When the body breaks down the grains, processed or whole, there is very little fiber to slow down the impact on blood sugar.
This doesn’t mean you should never eat grains. I have a lot of oatmeal in my food storage. Just be aware that high sugar consumption is at the root of cardiovascular disease,17 hypoglycemia, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, candida, and obesity. If you have any of these issues, you may be better served by replacing grain with vegetables as your primary source of carbohydrates, at least for a while. Vegetables really do have a lot of fiber. You might want to take that one step further and go with fermented veggies to promote healthy gut flora. Lacto-fermentation also makes the nutrients in foods more bioavailable and helps to extend their shelf life.
CHRONIC MALNUTRITION = CHRONIC ILLNESS
I’m convinced that our lack of proper nutrition is at the heart of the chronic illness epidemic in the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website:
•1 in every 2 Americans has a chronic disease.
•75% of medical expenses are due to chronic disease.
•70% of all deaths are attributable to chronic disease.
Those three statistics are enough to tell you that something is dreadfully wrong with our standard approach to health. This is in every way an indictment of our highly politicized health care system, which is more rightly called a “sick care system,” and our industrialized food system. Maintenance drugs are gold mines for pharmaceutical companies, which provide a way to stay well enough not to complain, but not well enough to feel truly healthy.
Judging by the CDC’s statistics, most of us are in some way sick. We have been sick for so long that I don’t think many people really know what “well” feels like anymore. “Well” is something we may vaguely remember from childhood, before aches and pains, excess weight, and high blood pressure set in.
What we can do is to begin intensely feeding our cells with nutrient-dense herbs and seaweeds, reduce sugars, replace table salt with unadulterated sea salt, and add plenty of lacto-fermented foods, such as homemade yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and beet kvass. We can begin to loosen our joints and force the tissues to use the glucose in blood for energy with a simple walk, perhaps in an aromatic evergreen forest, where the essential oils we sniff from pines can help support our immune function. And where our bodies require a little extra help, we can work with herbs to support the body’s natural healing processes. This sounds like an actual “health care plan” to me.
If you have a chronic illness, it is imperative to do what you can to improve your health. Any effort is well worthwhile. Chronic illness raises your risks of catching an infectious disease and suffering a serious complication from that infectious disease, and it slows recovery time and keeps wounds from healing. As the outbreak of MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia demonstrated quite clearly, chronic illness is a major risk. When the MERS outbreak began in 2012, it had a fatality rate of 60%. Of those who died, 96% had underlying, chronic illnesses. Topping the list was diabetes at 68%, followed by chronic renal disease (49%), hypertension (34%), and chronic cardiac disease (28%).18
Some of the most common chronic illnesses in the United States are obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis. Let’s take a look at each of these individually.
Reducing body fat lowers the risks of developing a number of chronic illnesses. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30% or more. It is linked to metabolic syndrome, which is also associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and PCOS. If you are obese, you will ultimately put more stress and strain on your joints, aggravating any arthritis that may develop.
The causes of obesity are many. While overeating and lack of movement are the main causes, they are not the only causes. Has there been an overuse of antibiotics that changed the bacteria in the gut, allowing candida to thrive? Candida can drive a person to eat more sugar. Its not a question of willpower, it’s a compulsion. One of the bifidobacteria, part of the healthy bacteria populations which antibiotics can kill, has been shown to cause the body to use calories at a faster rate. Berberine can be a massive help as it holds candida at bay while not harming the beneficial helpful bacteria in the gut. This allows the gut flora to return to a healthy balance. Berberine can play a pivotal role in combatting insulin resistance, a well-known risk factor for obesity. If you need some help fighting the battle of the bulge, try any of the berberine herbs taken in tincture form, 30 to 60 drops, 3 times per day, 30 minutes before each meal.
Lack of movement seems built into our days. Hours at a desk, working at a computer, and relaxation at home on a couch watching television do not add up to post-disaster, survival fitness. If you identify with the couch potato I just described, I encourage you to reconsider how you spend your relaxation time. Could you walk to your bug out location? Could you haul water if you had to? Could you carry a spouse or a child who was injured to a safe place? Maybe an easy hike this weekend is in order to get the blood pumping again.
I suggest eliminating excess sugar; adding some healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, and cold water fish; eating more whole foods and less processed foods; moving more; drinking more water; and getting more rest. If that doesn’t encourage the body to release excess weight, then I suggest a hybrid of Nutritional Syrup and Traditional Fire Cider. This will cut way down on any sugar from the syrup, and should load the body with missing nutrients. The ingredients are mostly available in dried form, but use fresh whenever possible.
Cat’s Fitness Tonic
5 parts nettle leaves
5 parts hibiscus flowers
4 parts horsetail
4 parts ginger root (as fresh as possible)
3 parts turmeric root (if fresh, otherwise 3 heaping tablespoons, dried)
3 parts cayenne (as red pepper flakes)
2 parts parsley
2 parts rose hips
2 parts Gymnema sylvestre (only available for sale as dried herb in the U.S.)
2 parts Siberian ginseng
1 part onion
1 part garlic
1 part horseradish
Apple cider vinegar
1Using protective gloves (for the red pepper flakes), mix all herbs (nettles leaves through horseradish) thoroughly in a really big bowl.
2Because of the fresh ginger root, you won’t be able to store this remedy. Instead, get as many quart mason jars as you need, or a pickle jar, to contain all the herbs. Cover with apple cider vinegar. Allow to steep for 2 to 4 weeks.
3Strain the herbs, and measure the volume of herbal vinegar recovered. Add one-quarter the volume of the apple cider vinegar in lemon juice, and one-quarter the volume of the apple cider vinegar in yacon syrup.
This is fine to take as is, but adding bitter herbs (dandelion and burdock) will help the liver, especially in anyone suffering from fatty liver disease. The addition of coptis helps to keep candida and the “bad” bacteria at bay while not harming any of the beneficial bacteria. This will give the beneficial bacteria a chance to recolonize the colon.
Take 2 ounces of this remedy in 2 ounces of apple juice, and add 60 drops of the blended tincture.
Take 3 times daily, 30 minutes before each meal, for 6 weeks, then evaluate how this remedy impacted your other weight-loss efforts.
It can take at least 6 weeks for a body that has been negatively impacted by fluctuating insulin levels for years to show weight loss. A relatively healthy person can lose weight in a short period of time, but a hormonal component may come into play, making weight loss more difficult.
SEAWEED, SALT, AND HYPERTENSION
A natural source of minerals, seaweeds provide excellent nutrition. They are nutrient dense and mineral rich, and contain natural iodine. Just like natural, unadulterated sea salt (which is gray or light pink, unlike white salt, which is refined and had its minerals stripped), sea vegetables work with natural iodine to keep our bodies healthy.
A public relations war against sodium has been raging for years. The FDA, the medical industry, and various associations (American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, and the rest) have all been banging on about sodium, and promoting low-sodium foods as healthy.
As is all too common, the science fails to translate into the political arena of health policy. There is no evidence that unadulterated salt with all of its minerals intact raises blood pressure. Research going all the way back to the 1980s shows no clear link between eating a low-sodium diet and lowering blood pressure.19, 20 Even worse, evidence shows that a low-sodium diet not only fails to lower elevated blood pressure, but it is associated with higher mortality,21 worse outcomes for individuals with congestive heart failure because of detrimental effects on the kidneys,22 increased risk of fractures in the elderly not associated with falls,23 and a higher risk of death from heart disease.24
This is not to suggest that consuming large amounts of table salt is healthy. The takeaway is that lowering sodium intake does not provide the benefits we have been led to believe. There is surely too much sodium in processed foods. There is little difference between the salt used in commercially prepared foods and table salt, other than that table salt has added iodine, although a surprisingly low amount of it. What we are left with is a nutritionally bereft, processed white salt, lacking any of the minerals that would actually help maintain healthy blood pressure levels, with a tiny amount of iodine added in.
Iodine can be a help or a harm. Some people are allergic to iodine and should not consume it. If you consumed too much iodine on a regular basis, you could develop hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland). If you ever tasted the full flavor of seaweeds and true sea salt, however, you know the intense flavors make it unlikely that you would overeat these foods.
If you happen to live close to the shore, you’re in luck as you can harvest your own seaweed. If not, you can order dried seaweed in larger amounts and stock them in your pantry. They can be used like salt, to flavor soups and sauces, and to add to seasoning blends. If you do not like the oceanic taste of seaweed, then you can powder and encapsulate them. A single size 0 capsule daily should suffice.
Hypertension is nothing to mess around with. You can have it and not know it. There may not be any warning signs unless you actively check your blood pressure—a great reason to have a blood pressure cuff, and to include some type of routine health evaluation as part of your preps. Resist the urge to take, retake, and retake your blood pressure. Taking a reading from the same arm twice in a row can create an artificially high reading.
My concern for people with hypertension during a disaster is that the only measure of control they have over their blood pressure is a pill. Pharmacies will be one of the very first places to be raided after a crisis. Most instances of hypertension are directly related to lifestyle (diet, exercise, smoking). It is well worth the effort to take control of your blood pressure now while times are still good.
Hypertension is not normal. It’s not a part of normal aging. Something is causing it. Is it diet? Stress? A kidney problem? It’s impossible for me to give a single remedy for hypertension because there are many causes. However, if you switch your source of carbohydrates from breads and grains to vegetables, feed your cells with deep nutrition, and ditch the table salt in favor of sea salt, you may find that your body begins to correct itself. Many of Traditional Fire Cider’s ingredients make the tonic a good choice but a few additions will improve the remedy for hypertension.
Heart Helper Tonic
Red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza)
Celery seed (Apium graveolens, v. dulce)
Apple cider vinegar
1Layer the ingredients in a quart or larger mason jar as desired, and cover with apple cider vinegar.
2Allow to steep for 2 to 4 weeks
3Strain the herbs, and reserve the liquid.
4To the liquid, add lemon juice and honey to taste.
Take 1 ounce straight or diluted in apple juice 2 or 3 times daily.
None of these herbs will artificially lower blood pressure. If you have normal blood pressure, it won’t drop if you take this remedy. These ingredients only encourage cardiovascular health. Be sure to check your blood pressure regularly, preferably at the same time every day.
You may also wish to speak to your doctor about different blood pressure–lowering prescriptions. Certain prescriptions can be stopped cold turkey (not advisable), as will happen if we suddenly find ourselves in TEOTWAWKI. Others cannot, and stopping them suddenly poses a significant risk.
One thing I often encounter in preparedness forums is the assertion that nothing can be done for type 1 diabetics post-disaster. Yes, type 2 diabetes can be addressed through diet and herbs, but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done for type 1 diabetics.
I have not had the opportunity to work with many type 1 diabetics. My sample size is limited to what I can count on one hand. However, what I have been fortunate to observe mirrors what was shown through a study done in India on Gymnema sylvestre. In India’s traditional healing system, Ayurveda, gymnema is known as the “destroyer of sugar.” It has been used to reverse both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and there is a growing body of literature to support this, easily searchable on PubMed.gov.
I have observed the use of gymnema leaves extracted with grain alcohol and also with vinegar. The alcohol extraction seems to work better, but the vinegar extraction is more pleasing to the palate. What I have observed in those who continued with the remedy, using either extraction, is that the need for insulin lessened, but the change was exceptionally gradual. And in our world of fast food and quick fixes, some people stop taking it because it simply doesn’t work fast enough.
The study in India resulted in 60% of people being able to completely reverse their type 1 diabetes after 18 months. The remaining 40% were able to reduce their amount of insulin, and some came off insulin completely. However, they had to remain on gymnema. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if they would be able to come off gymnema if given more time.
It’s true. Gymnema takes a long time to work, and may not work for everyone. However, it has been shown to regenerate the beta cells in the pancreas to allow a person to start making insulin. It also seems to help the body use the insulin more efficiently.25 It has been used with even greater success in type 2 diabetes and in addressing obesity. Unfortunately, only the dried herb and not the plant itself is available in the United States.
Fenugreek is another herb that has shown a similar but an even slower action in regenerating the beta cells of the pancreas. However, it is easy to get fenugreek seeds here. Berberine can also be a significant help in diabetes care. As documented in Kerry Bone’s book, Practices and Principals of Phytotherapy, berberine was shown to work as well as metformin at controlling post-meal rises in blood sugar. Plus a study done in China showed that berberine can prevent pancreatic beta cell apoptosis,26 which may preventing the disease from worsening.
Arthritis is a very painful irritation of the joints. The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the latter being an autoimmune disease. The most immediately effective remedy I’ve found is Pain Relief Salve (page 104) containing cayenne. Other arthritis remedies include:
Nettle tea. Nettle relieves swelling around joints and moves excess fluids. I’ve found it useful in reducing symptoms in autoimmune diseases.
White willow tea. The bark (see page 87) has a similar effect on pain as aspirin.
Cayenne. Use topically or ingest to lower inflammation because cayenne contains capsaicin in abundance. If too strong a flavor, take via capsules.
Arnica. This effective pain relief herb can easily be made into a salve.
Comfrey. It works well to relieve pain, especially when combined with arnica.
Birch bark tea. Birch bark works similarly to white willow bark.
Ginger-turmeric milk. Gently simmer two pieces of ginger root, each the size of your thumb, in a pot with 4 cups of any milk you wish (dairy, almond, coconut) for 10 minutes. Make sure not to let it bubble over. Add 1 heaping teaspoon of turmeric, and allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain using a fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or muslin—or use a French press, as I do. Add honey to taste, and drink throughout the day.
For some, asthma is a lifelong condition that can occasionally be improved, but it’s never going to go away. For others, it comes on later in life and may be related to food allergies. Eliminating the allergen should solve the problem. In either case, herbs may be able to help reduce the effects of asthma. Two of the herbs used for acute attacks are lobelia and ma huang, also known as ephedra. Each of these herbs comes with cautions about its use.
Lobelia was widely used by Native Americans and has a long history of safe use. However, this highly effective antispasmodic herb is given only as a low-dose tincture and is not for people with a weak or compromised heart. See page 69 for more information on lobelia.
Ephedra was taken off the market, not for being unsafe, but because it was misused. It was exploited as a weight-loss supplement in doses that would not occur in nature, and people took more than the recommended dosage of that already unnaturally high dose.
While the sale of ephedra was banned, growing it is still legal. Check out the Resource section for seeds (page 152). Ephedra can elevate blood pressure, so take it slow in getting to know this herb. Related plants that are somewhat less potent, such as Mormon tea, can be used instead.
Keep in mind that every person is different. Not every remedy works for everyone. This is true even of pharmaceuticals. If it were me and I were concerned about asthma, I wouldn’t wait until a crisis to see what works for me and what doesn’t. I would try the herbs now, while life is relatively calm. I also recommend working with a skilled herbalist. Always use common sense and keep your safety in mind when getting to know asthma herbs.
Hot coffee. Hot coffee taken at the start of an asthma attack can sometimes stop the bout from developing into a full-blown attack. (I also find coffee useful with bronchitis.) Both the caffeine and the heat have a beneficial effect.
Hot herbal tea. Hot herbal tea made from 2 parts elecampagne, 2 parts mullein, and 1 part ma huang.
Steam inhalation. A steam inhalation of rosemary, thyme, and sage. Be safe: Remove the mixture from the heat source, as steam can burn.
Cramp bark tincture. Take 30 drops either under the tongue (faster effect) or diluted in water or juice, taken every 30 minutes until the attack subsides.
Lobelia tincture. Use 2 parts lobelia tincture combined with 1 part cayenne tincture, 20 drops taken every 30 minutes. Do not exceed 4 doses at the 30-minute intervals. If this does not work, you will have to move on to another remedy. It is not recommended to take too much lobelia.
PREVENTION/REDUCTION OF ATTACKS
Tincture blend of 3 parts Grindelia robusta, 2 parts mullein, and 1 part dong quai (Angelica sinensis) taken in water or added to Herbal Tussin Tea (page 107). Start with 30 drops once daily. Slowly increase either the dose or frequency (but not both at the same time) until you notice a difference.
As miserable as a bad cold is, seasonal allergies are worse. They come at the most inconvenient times. Imagine trying to plant your vegetable garden in the spring—or harvest your garden, pick apples, or prep the garden beds for a winter crop—while dealing with allergies. For some, allergies are mild, annoying symptoms. For others, allergy season is pure misery.
For allergies, I suggest a two-fold approach: First, treat the liver and, second, take an anti-allergy tea blend. The liver produces antihistamines and needs plenty of support when you are experiencing allergies. Add digestive bitter herbs to your allergy plan—such as dandelion, burdock, milk thistle, gentian, wood betony, and berberine—to support proper liver function.
The anti-allergy tea includes butterbur, which contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA), just as comfrey does. But for occasional use, such as seasonal allergies, which tend to last for a week or two at a time, I wouldn’t worry about the alkaloids. Butterbur has a long history of treating both allergy and asthma symptoms. However, anyone with liver disease should avoid using butterbur.
The tea also includes nettle leaves, another source of antihistamines, which are a great help for seasonal allergies as well as for tamping down many inflammatory responses. The surprise to many is the inclusion of goldenrod. Goldenrod does not cause hayfever, and it isn’t even related to the plant that does. Instead, it is a powerful remedy against hayfever and other seasonal allergies.
To make the tea, combine the following herbs in the proportions below. If you are uncomfortable with including butterbur, just leave it out. If you will be using this tea for other allergies on an ongoing basis, like pet or dust allergies, definitely leave out the butterbur.
4 parts nettle leaves
3 parts butterbur
3 parts goldenrod
2 parts peppermint
1 part eyebright
1Blend the dried herbs in a large batch to have on hand when needed.
2To brew a cup of the tea, steep 1 teaspoon of the mixed, dried herbs in 6 to 8 ounces of hot water. Allow to steep, covered, for at least 15 minutes.
3Sweeten with honey, and drink as needed for allergy relief.
For severe allergic reactions, such an anaphylaxis, see page 91.
Sometimes it is impossible to tell a cold from the flu at the onset. My strategy is to combine both elderberry and two herbs that are effective against rhinovirus, echinacea and ginger. This way, no matter if it is a cold or a flu, treatment can start immediately. The following elixir can be a big help during cold and flu season. However, for the echinacea to work, it has to be taken immediately when symptoms begin, and taken frequently. I have sometimes swapped out the echinacea for rose hips. You could make this into a syrup for the kids, but I want to give at least one recipe as an elixir—so keep this remedy for the adults.
Elderberry and Echinacea Elixir
1/2 cup dried elderberries
1/2 cup Echinacea angustifolia root
1/2 cup ginger root, peeled and chopped
Approximately 2 cups brandy
3 to 6 lemon slices
4 to 5 cinnamon sticks
Approximately 2 cups raw honey
1Place the elderberries, echinacea, and ginger in a pint mason jar.
2Fill the jar to the top with your favorite brandy, and allow to steep for 4 to 6 weeks.
3Put the lemon and cinnamon in another pint jar, and fill the jar with honey. Allow to steep for 4 to 6 weeks.
4Strain the herbs from both the brandy and the honey.
5Combine the strained brandy and honey. Bottle the mixture, and label it.
6Take 1 teaspoon every hour for the first day. Stay at home and relax. From the second day on, back down to 1 teaspoon every 3 to 4 hours.
Natural Flu Syrup
Nothing is more effective for the flu than elderberry syrup, another of my staple remedies. Star anise comes in a close second, but more people will have access to elderberry bushes than star anise in a post-disaster situation. The blogosphere is loaded with recipes for elderberry syrup these days. I’ve been making this remedy for years and have developed many versions of it. It makes a tasty syrup that even kids enjoy taking. You can use the syrup to make homemade gummy candies and as a topping for homemade yogurt.
1/2 cup dried elderberries
1 piece of ginger (the size of your thumb), peeled and sliced
4 to 5 garlic cloves
⅛ cup cinnamon bark chips
9 whole cloves
2 cups water
1-1/2 cups honey
1Make a double decoction of the elderberries, ginger, garlic, cinnamon chips, and cloves.
2Strain the herbs, squeezing out all the liquid you can.
3While the liquid is still warm, add honey to equal 16 ounces (2 cups).
Take every hour at the onset of symptoms, and then every 3 to 4 hours the next day. Continue taking as needed until symptoms are gone, or just because you like the taste.
My son never had a single case of diaper rash. My daughter, however, seemed prone to rashes. Thankfully, they never got out of hand, and I credit calendula for that. First, infuse calendula flowers in coconut oil (both of these substances are fungus-fighting skin healers). I would do this in a slow cooker on warm for 2 full weeks (shutting down the slow cooker at night) because I prefer a good, strong infusion for my infused oils, although a weak, but usable, oil would be ready in 2 hours. Rather than just calendula flowers, you could also use a 50/50 blend of calendula and chamomile flowers. And instead of using only coconut oil, you could use combination of coconut and rose hip seed oil, which is a bit pricey but an excellent skin healer. Diaper rash can easily lead to broken skin, and rose hip seed oil is very helpful in wound healing.
Also in this recipe is mango butter and a powder, either corn starch or arrowroot powder. The blending of the solid fat of the mango butter (which has a higher melting point than the coconut oil) with the liquid oils produces a more solid, buttery product which is spreadable, not dripping. The powder reduces the oily feeling. I included mango butter because that is what I used to make this when my daughter was in diapers. If you did not have access to mango butter post-disaster, substitute lard or tallow. These are probably in your storage pantry anyway, along with the corn starch.
Antifungal Baby Balm
4 ounces calendula infused coconut oil
1 ounce rose hip seed oil (or another ounce of calendula infused coconut oil, if you don’t have rose hip seed oil
3 ounces mango butter
1 teaspoon corn starch or arrowroot powder (more if needed)
1Gently melt the oils and the butter in a double boiler.
2Once they have completely melted and incorporated, remove from the heat.
3As the oils begin to cool, the balm will start to solidify. Add either corn starch or arrowroot powder.
4Using an immersion blender, incorporate the powder into the balm. If the balm seems too greasy or feels too loose, add another teaspoon of powder. Fully incorporate the powder into the balm.
5Scoop the balm into a container and label it. Make sure hands are clean when touching the balm.
6Gently clean baby’s bottom. Apply a thick coat to the rash, and expect some to end up soaking into the diaper.
7Change diapers frequently.
Don’t discount the value of just letting a baby have some diaper-free time. Getting air to a rash can do wonders to clear it quickly.
If you wanted a remedy to treat or prevent fungal skin infections in adults, especially on feet, you could adjust this formula by adding peppermint and tea tree oils (in 1% of total volume each) to the basic formula. This will add to the antifungal properties of the balm, as well as bring cooling relief to itchy feet.
NAUSEA AND INTESTINAL INFECTIONS
Ginger infused honey might sound like a tasty treat. And it really is. In fact, you could use it to make a glaze for chicken, but that’s not why I’ve included it here. Ginger is excellent for nausea and calms the intense intestinal cramping associated with various intestinal infections. With the addition of a few more ingredients, this syrup is warming, tasty, sweet, and intended to make the sick person more comfortable.
2 pieces of ginger (each the size of your thumbs)
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/4 cup cinnamon bark chips
1/4 cup chamomile flowers
15 whole cloves
10 cardamom pods
Approximately 2 cups honey
1Fill a pint mason jar with the ginger, lemon, cinnamon chips, chamomile, cloves, and cardamom.
2Cover with honey, and fill to equal 16 ounces (2 cups).
3Allow to steep for 6 weeks.
4To strain, gently warm the jar by placing it in an inch or two of water in a slow cooker set to warm. Warming the honey makes it runny and easier to strain.
5Strain the herbs, and bottle the honey.
6Take by the teaspoon as needed.
CHRONIC INTESTINAL DISCOMFORTS
Your choice of an anti-diarrhea remedy will depend on what’s causing the diarrhea. A flare-up of colitis and a salmonella infection aren’t handled in the same way. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome are miserable and absolutely need an effective remedy.
In general, oak bark tea can help stop the symptoms, but peppermint tea can also be a big help in calming the cramps. Peppermint is also much gentler (and better tasting) for children. Ginger helps to calm cramping too, while ginger’s cousin turmeric helps reduce inflammation. Ginger is most effective when juiced, but the taste is quite intense. Making a decoction flavored with honey and lemon is often more palatable. If you want the juice, you could add another juice, such as carrot or apple, to dilute the heat somewhat.
Ultimately, the remedy for these chronic intestinal conditions lies in healing the gut. It isn’t a quick fix, but a long-term commitment. The best way I have found for healing the gut is the GAPS protocol. GAPS stands for both Gut and Psychology Syndrome, as well as Gut and Physiology Syndrome. Both titles refer to the same protocol. The idea behind GAPS is to remove any potential irritant to the intestine from the diet, supplement with fermented foods and probiotics, and soothe the gut with plenty of bone broth. All grains are eliminated, and then slowly brought back over time, to see if they can be tolerated. This provides the gut with an opportunity to heal.
The nice thing about fermented foods, besides the fact that they are loaded with beneficial bacteria, is that lacto-fermentation extends the shelf life of your produce. If you keep these items in a cool location away from sunlight, you should be able to consume fresh, lacto-fermented foods throughout winter. Of course, you can make them throughout summer as well, but having fresh food in winter without importing it is quite special. And by fermenting food, not only are you getting an inexpensive probiotic supplement, but the nutrients are made more bioavailable.
WOMEN’S NATURAL MEDICINE
Women have unique health concerns that have to be taken into consideration when preparing for long-term emergencies. Thankfully, natural remedies can help relieve many of the common complaints women experience throughout the various stages of life. This section covers common complaints in each phase of a woman’s life, as well as remedies to assist pregnancy and options for birth control. Because of the specialized nature of this section, I have included more herbs than I did in Chapter 4, Materia Medica.
For a better understanding of birth and complications, as well as how to support a woman through this process and how to assess the health of a newborn, see the books listed in Resources (page 150).
PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME (PMS)
PMS is often marked by mood swings, crying, anger, depression, abdominal cramping, and swelling. It is not restricted to just the week prior to menstruation. For many, PMS symptoms may begin a week or so before menstruation starts but almost always continues into the cycle itself.
Stress, poor nutrition, and lack of sanitary conditions are some of the common concerns to expect post-collapse. These situations can cause or exacerbate delayed menstruation, acne, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections.
Pay attention to the quality of your food storage. When good nutrition, such as plenty of B6, B12, and healthy fats, are not enough to keep PMS at bay, consider the following herbs:
Nettle leaves. Take this nutritive, mild diuretic as a tea to help with excess water weight.
Dandelion leaves. Use this diuretic in a salad or cook it as you would spinach.
Ginger root. Use fresh in a decoction to relieve smooth muscle tissue from spasms.
Cramp bark. Take as a tincture to relieve cramps.
Motherwort. Take as a tincture to relieve moodiness.
Black cohosh. Take as a tincture to encourage ovulation and for its antispasmodic properties, which alleviate cramping.
Codonopsis. Take as a tincture in case of a hormone-triggered migraine.
Finally, a comfort measure worth mentioning for menstrual cramping is to hold a hot water bottle to the abdomen.
Birth control during and after a major disaster is problematic. Options from the mainstream medical world include long-term hormonal birth control implanted into the arm, an inserted IUD, or a stockpile of months’ worth of consumables (birth control pills, spermicidal films, spermicidal foams, and condoms).
Each has positive and negative points. Hormonal-based birth control is effective, but for many women it only exacerbates underlying hormone imbalances. Hormone-based birth control can also raise the risk or serious side effects, such as heart attack, stroke, and cancer. Implanted devices, hormonal or otherwise, at some point must be removed. In an uncertain future, I am not positive that is the wisest choice. I have a friend whose IUD has perforated her uterus twice. Personally, I wouldn’t risk that in a post-collapse situation.
Another drawback of hormone-based contraception is that it offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Only condoms offer that, and they are not 100% reliable. This is a worrisome thought as gonorrhea increasingly becomes more antibiotic resistant.
Birth control, no matter your opinion of it, serves a vital function after a disaster. When your circumstances are dire, and you are having trouble keeping yourself alive, it’s probably not the opportune time to get pregnant. This may be especially true if you previously had a birth with complications. While pregnancy and labor are not illnesses, and both are normal processes, a disaster is not a normal circumstance.
Two options for natural birth control are the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) and wild carrot seeds (Daucus carota). First, let me state that FAM is not the rhythm method. Yes, it involves charts, but it is far more accurate, and well worth your time and effort.
FAM uses consistent, ongoing observation of three key ovulation indicators: basal body temperature, cervical fluids, and cervical position. It is a dynamic assessment of what is going on in your body at any given time, as opposed to merely an estimate of what might be going on in your body, and far more accurate then subtracting 2 weeks as is done in the rhythm method.
Beyond just knowing when you are fertile to avoid pregnancy, or perhaps in order to become pregnant, understanding your cycle is understanding your body. Having a period is not evidence of ovulation. By using the FAM method, you can determine if ovulation is even happening. This is very important in understanding your reproductive health and being alert to a potential hormonal imbalance, fertility issue, or menopause. For more information on FAM, see Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
Herbalist Robin Rose Bennett has done some small-scale studies on the use of wild carrot seeds as birth control. She has posted much of her findings on her website, RobinRoseBennett.com, and I strongly encourage any woman who is looking for a natural birth control option to read all of the information she has put together on the subject.
According to Robin, wild carrot seeds have an extremely long history in birth control, as far back as the 4th or 5th century BCE. Hippocrates compiled the first written record. Wild carrot seeds also have a long history right here in the United States. In Appalachia, the seeds have been used for generations to prevent pregnancy by preventing implantation.
Over the years, Robin has adjusted her recommendations. Currently, she recommends making a tincture of the wild carrot seeds and flowers. The resulting tincture should smell strongly of carrots. Taking the tincture daily may actually weaken the effect. The best results occur when the tincture is taken within 8 hours after intercourse. Take a dose of 30 to 60 drops, 3 times daily, every 8 hours.
Caution: Wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne’s lace, looks similar to another plant, poison hemlock. However, plant identification should be fairly straightforward. A very easy way to tell the two plants apart is by the stem. Queen Anne’s lace has hairy stems, and wild carrot does not. One of my herbal teachers, Linda Patterson, told our class to remember “The queen has hairy legs.”
Although the timing may not be opportune, doubtless there will still be pregnancies and births post-disaster. It is your job to help make a woman more comfortable during pregnancy with some herbal remedies, when and if she needs them. Again, this section deals only with normal birth. Please seek out the midwifery books in Resources (page 151) to get an idea of all the variations of “normal birth” and how to handle the unexpected during a pregnancy or labor.
As important as nutrition is during pregnancy, it is also important prior to pregnancy. In fact, the benefits from folate are largely based on the folate stores prior to conception. If you believe that there a chance you could become pregnant, start taking Nutritional Syrup (page 117) or try this simple, nourishing tea. Note that the measurements of herbs is by weight.
Healthy Momma Tea
1/2 ounce red raspberry leaves
1/4 ounce nettle leaves
1/4 ounce milky oat tops or oatstraw
1Put all herbs into a quart mason jar, and pour boiling water over them.
2Allow to steep for 2 hours, strain, and take up to 4 cups daily.
Red raspberry leaf is an important herb for women, especially pregnant women. Some people, however, mistakenly think that it can induce labor. It does not cause the onset of labor. However, it can increase Braxton Hicks contractions, or as I prefer to call them, “practice contractions,” if a woman starts taking red raspberry leaf late in pregnancy. If she has been taking it since the beginning of the pregnancy, there are no noticeable differences in the intensity or frequency of the practice contractions.
Nausea is one of the most common complaints during the first trimester. It can be caused by the surge of estrogen at this time, but nausea or morning sickness can happen at any time of the day, during any trimester, because of excess estrogen, low vitamin B6 levels, and low blood sugar.
Try more protein-based snacks, as long as there is no allergy to nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and cheese. Munching these snacks first thing in the morning can help mitigate low blood sugar and the need for extra B6.
Ginger is a time-tested remedy for nausea. Candied ginger is a very convenient way to carry and consume ginger on the go. Ginger and peppermint tea with lemon, or either ginger or peppermint on its own, does a good job of calming morning sickness.
Always try to stay hydrated, as dehydration can cause nausea. Dandelion and yellow dock added to the Nutritional Syrup can help the liver process the excess estrogen that causes nausea in early pregnancy.
Anemia is a common problem during pregnancy. If you notice signs of anemia, such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness, paleness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or headaches, it might be time for Yellow Dock and Molasses Syrup, a common remedy to supplement iron levels. But unlike most iron supplements, it doesn’t cause constipation. In fact, yellow dock is a gentle, self-regulating laxative. Considering how pregnancy can constipate a woman, this is a welcome change. Yellow dock is a wonderful digestive herb providing not only iron, but relief from indigestion, gas, and jaundice.
To make the syrup, follow these direction or simply just add yellow dock to the Nutritional Syrup recipe. Note that the measurement of yellow dock is by weight, and the measurement of liquids by volume.
Yellow Dock and Molasses Syrup
1 ounce yellow dock root
1 quart water
⅔ cup molasses
1Make a decoction of the yellow dock and the water.
2Strain the herbs, reserving the liquid.
3Add the molasses to the strained liquid, and stir to incorporate.
4Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
5Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon 2 times per day.
Miscarriage is a difficult subject, but considering that approximately 10% to 20% of pregnancies result in miscarriage, it is important to be prepared for such an event. Miscarriage is a loss of a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks. Often, there is nothing that can be done to prevent a miscarriage. There was something wrong: The fetus was not viable, and the mother’s body recognized this fact and rejected the fetus. Occasionally, however, miscarriage can be linked to chemicals in the environment or an underlying hormonal imbalance.
If you suspect the possibility of miscarriage or loss of the pregnancy during any trimester, proceed as follows:
•Get plenty of bed rest.
•Increase protein intake.
•Supplement with 2,000 IUs of vitamin E, once daily.
•Supplement with 500 mg of vitamin C, once daily.
•Wait to see if uterine contractions slow down or cease.
Dehydration is a very common trigger for miscarriage. Vitamins E and C are known for helping to encourage fetal attachment to the uterine wall. While there is no solid evidence that bed rest is effective at preventing miscarriage, movement is known to encourage labor. So I would play it safe, and limit movement.
If contractions do not slow down or cease, choose ONE of the following:
•Cramp bark decoction, 2 to 5 times per day.
•Lobelia tincture, 1 to 5 drops in 8 ounces of water, every 30 to 60 minutes until cramping slows down.
How you prepare cramp bark determines the kind of effect it has. When taken as a tincture, it makes contractions more productive. This is perfect for cramps associated with menstruation, but less so for preventing miscarriage. For a miscarriage, a decoction brings out cramp bark’s antispasmodic properties instead.
Lobelia is the supreme antispasmodic. However, this also makes it a low-dose herb. Hopefully, relaxing the uterus will stop the miscarriage. Unfortunately, neither herbs nor pharmaceuticals can make any guarantee about preventing a miscarriage.
Assuming a normal, healthy birth has occurred, stay around to help clean up, as mom will have enough to do. When mom is ready, breastfeeding with skin to skin contact helps the bonding process, and it also helps mom’s uterus properly expel the placenta. Further nursing helps prevent postpartum hemorrhage.
If mom wants it, motherwort is a helpful herb at this point. It helps the uterus contract and the placenta separate from the uterus. Motherwort helps with afterpains, preventing postpartum hemorrhage and establishing the milk supply. Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) is another herb that can increase the milk supply.
Although not popular in our culture, eating the placenta is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. While not everyone wants to dine on a placenta sandwich, the placenta can be dehydrated and encapsulated. This is supposed to increase milk production and lower the risks of postpartum depression as well as uterine hemorrhage.
In case of uterine hemorrhage, shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) or yarrow tincture is a good option. I prefer shepherd’s purse tincture.
Menopause can be a difficult transition. The nights sweats, hot flashes, and waves of intense emotions can continue for a few months or last for years.
For night sweats, herbs such as nettle and sage help reduce the sweats, which translates into better sleep. Take the herbs individually as infusions, or in combination. It is up to you.
Chaste tree, ever the woman’s ally, can help ease hot flashes when the tincture is taken daily. Codonopsis can help with both hot flashes and riding out the intense, emotional waves.
However, my favorite herb for menopausal symptom relief is dong quai (Angelica sinensis). It helps with hot flashes, palpitations, and spotting, and also relieves thinning and drying of the vaginal tissues. This helps prevent those small tears during intercourse that lead to infections. Not only are the infections absolute misery, but you don’t want to have to deal with them when the grid is down or in the midst of civil unrest.
Peppermint tea has a refrigerant, cooling effect. So does peppermint essential oil, which makes a nice, cooling mist when a few drops are added to an atomizer bottle with water. Spritzing a little peppermint mist on the face and neck whenever a hot flash comes on provides instant relief.
Another cooling herb that is wonderful for the skin is rose. You can make your own rose hydrosol much more easily than you can distill rose essential oil. Rose hydrosol has a lovely, light rose scent, and is an excellent toner for the face. Spray it on the face and neck, and let the Queen of Flowers cool hot flashes, care for the skin, and instill a sense of peace.
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