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Herbal Medicine: How Knowing Medicinal Plants Can Save Your Life in an Emergency
The Top Medicinal Plants of North America
Found Everywhere -- Medicinal plants may be right under your feet. They may be in your backyard and all around at a local park. North America has a variety of medicinal plants that can help relieve illness, and even cure illness.
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In a world without clinics, emergency rooms or even doctors, how would you take care of yourself or a loved one who had a chronic illness like diabetes? Or deal with an injury that started to become infected?
How to Treat People in a Land Without Hospitals or Clinics: Plant MedicineThere is another reason for this renewed interest in plant medicine however, and that reason is that plant medicine works. It works as well as it always has worked for thousands of year. In many cases herbal medicine works better than allopathic or pharmaceutical medicine.
I started my journey into medicine as a U.S. Special Forces Medic (a.k.a. Green Beret Medic) and have been using plant medicine for over 20 years for myself, clients and family, for many health issues that people normally go to an emergency room or go to a clinic for. I have also had several doctors approach me over the years wanting to work more with herbs because they are tired of dealing with a pharmaceutical-driven health care system that is broken in many ways.
Herbal Medicine as a Post-Disaster Medicine PlanMy point is that you can absolutely use herbal medicine as a very successful part of your post-disaster medicine plan. Not only can you use it post-disaster, you can use it starting right now. In fact, I highly recommend that if you are serious about herbal medicine as a post-disaster medical option, you need to start using it now.
To not do so is the equivalent of packing a bug-out bag or a first-aid kit and storing it away, to never even look at it again until an emergency happens and you actually need it. At that point you can no longer remember what's in your bag or kit, or how to use it, and half the items are likely too old to use.
Herbal medicine is a skill, not an object. To learn a skill you must both study and work with that skill constantly. Studying, learning and using herbal medicine for your own personal health needs is the fastest way to become slowly acquainted with medicinal plants and how they work.
Let's talk specifically about different types of herbal medicine in a post-disaster, remote or even post-apocalyptic environment. To organize the discussion, let's start with acute medical emergencies and then move into health conditions that are usually considered chronic. Please note that this article is in no way meant to be a substitution for care from a licensed doctor or health care professional.
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Medicinal HerbsThis article is an overview, so as an overview, here is a table of some very useful medicinal herbs and their uses throughout the healing of acute, traumatic injury. For the purposes of this article, I will only use common names rather than scientific names of the plants, however if you are interested in plant medicine, you will want to also start learning scientific names (it's a lot easier than you might think) in order to always be certain of what plant you are learning about. Common names can be very ambiguous sometimes:
Acute Trauma Phase
|Coagulation - Herbs to help stop the bleeding.||Shepherd's Purse leaves and flowers, Oak bark, Wild Geranium root, Bilberry, Yarrow leaf and flower, Raspberry/Blackberry leaf, Chaparral leaf|
|Inflammation - Herbs to help the tissue recover from inflammation, swelling and pain||Willow, Meadowsweet, Chaparral, Aloe, Lobelia, Self-heal, Comfrey, Devil's Claw, Birch, Alder, Aspen, Poplar, Plantain|
|Proliferative - Herbs to help the tissue regrow. If this is an open wound, take care that you are not helping the tissue regrow on top of infection, or you will end up with a very dangerous infection under the skin.||Chaparral, Comfrey, Horsetail (connective tissue and bone), Plantain, Calendula, Aloe Vera|
|Remodeling - Herbs to help get rid of scar tissue after the wound has healed||Comfrey, Vitamin E, Horsetail, Calendula, Aloe Vera|
|Anti-pathogenic - Herbs to help fight wound infection||Chaparral, Acacia, Raw Honey, Aloe Vera, Echinacea, Baptisia, Goldenseal, Sida|
|Lymph and Immunity - Herbs to help stimulate the immune system during an infection||Poke root, Blue Flag, Echinacea, Red Root, Boneset, Cleavers|
Acute IllnessMoving from acute trauma into acute illness, we know that when people get sick all of a sudden, there is often some type of infectious agent involved. Illness is caused by more than just pathogens, but a combination of a weakened immune system (from things like exhaustion, poor sanitation, poor nutrition, chemical toxins, stress and sleep deprivation) combined with an exposure to some type of pathogen, is quite often what causes an acute illness to take place.
Even when we're using herbs, it can be very important to identify the pathogen. For example: Is it a viral infection? Or a bacterial one?
In general, we classify pathogens as follows:
- Virus (Cold, flu, hepatitis, etc.)
- Bacteria (E. coli, staphylococcus, streptococcus, etc.)
- Protozoan (cryptosporidium, giardiasis, etc.)
- Parasitic worms or "helminths"(tape worm, flat worm, etc.) As a general rule, here is a table of some herbs that are effective for certain types of pathogens.
|Virus -||Boneset: muscle aches and pains, "sweating out" the virus, immune & lymph stimulant|
Butterbur: Cold and Flu bugs, runny nose, sinus congestion
Echinacea: Immune and lymph stimulant and support
Elder Flower: Cold and Flu, "sweating out" the virus
Chaparral: Herpes family viruses (HSV 1 & 2, Chickenpox, Shingles, etc.)
Yarrow: Cold and Flu, muscle aches, "sweating out" the virus
|Bacteria -||Elecampane: Staph, Strep, TB|
Oak: Staph, Strep (Esp. External)
Sida: Broad spectrum antibacterial
Goldenseal or Algerita: E.Coli, Typhus, Salmonella, Cholera
Usnea (Old Man's Beard): Staph, Strep, Tuberculosis
Boneset: Similar immune and lymph stimulant to Echinacea
Echinacea: Immune and Lymph stimulant
Green chirayta: Spirochete forms
Spilanthes: Immune and Lymph stimulant, mild broad spectrum anti-bacterial
Myrrh: Broad spectrum anti-bacterial
|Protozoans -||Goldenseal, Algerita, Oregon Grape, Green chirayta, Sida, Black Walnut, Valerian|
|Helminthes -||Wormwood, Black Walnut, Areca palm, Ginger, Elecampane, Garlic|
Common Medicinal Plant Uses for Organ SystemsThere is another useful way to think about medicinal plants and their use for our health. This is shown in their use for a specific organ system or part of the body. This often makes the herbs for that area very useful on different levels for whatever disease processes we find in that region of the body. This is not always a matter of anti-pathogenic herbs.
There are other ways of helping the body heal through tissue and nutritive support. For instance if you have strep throat, while you would want to take certain anti-microbial herbs, your body would also obtain great assistance from herbs that support the mucosal and sub-mucosal layers of the throat that are being attacked.
There are certain herbs that have more of an affinity for this type of tissue than other herbs do.
Here is a chart showing several medicinal plants that are very useful for different organ systems and areas of the body, as well as the disease processes that we commonly find in those respective areas:
Organ System/ Disease Process
|Lower Respiratory System (bronchitis, pleuritis, COPD, coughs, irritation)||Pleurisy root, Antelope Horns, Elecampane, Horehound, Mullein, Juniper, Garlic|
|Urinary Tract (Urinary Tract Infections and discomfort)||Uva Ursi, Pipsissewa, Juniper, Horsetail, Cornsilk, Joe Pye Weed|
|Liver (Protein and fat digestive issues, viral infections, food poisoning)||Milk Thistle, Burdock, Dandelion root, Oregon Grape root|
|Throat and Upper Respiratory (Sinus infections - viral and bacterial, throat infections)||Sage, Beebalm, Spilanthes, Prickly Ash, Echinacea, Elecampane, Marshmallow root|
|GI Tract (Infections)||Goldenseal root, Algerita root, Coptis, Sida|
|Stomach (Ulcers, GERD, Dyspepsia, Nausea)||Oregon Grape, Marshmallow root, Licorice root, Ginger root, Algerita leaf|
Chronic IllnessesChronic illness is a huge concern to a lot of people focused on disaster preparedness who may have a chronic condition that requires pharmaceutical medication. People with diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension, heart conditions and multitudes of other chronic illnesses that people in the USA take medications for every day.
While there is obviously no way to address full herbal and natural treatment of a chronic condition within the limitations of an article this size, or even any article (as opposed to in-person consultation), I can at least point you in the right direction in regards to some of the most chronic and problematic illnesses in a post-disaster situation.
In the chart below, there are a list of general chronic conditions and the herbs that may be effective in helping your body deal with those conditions. Please bear in mind that there is a lot more to treatment of a chronic disease than just taking one or more of the herbs in the table. This list is a general list, and the manner in which herbs are taken, as well as the use of other herbs, exercise and nutrition not stated in the list, will likely apply to any chronic condition.
Again, herbalism is not western pharmaceutical medicine. We don't just eat a plant in the same way that pharmaceutical medicine has conditioned us to "pop a pill" and forget about any and all other aspects of our health. Especially in the realm of chronic conditions, there often has to be a complete lifestyle change and a change in your own level of awareness and responsibility toward your own body and understanding what it needs to slowly balance itself into better health.
All chronic conditions have underlying causes that are often not addressed by pharmaceutical medicine, and have to be addressed when using herbal or natural medicine. This also includes many energetic concepts that need to be taken into account, dosage concerns over a long period of time, etc. However, this list is at least a very basic starting point.
|Type 2 Diabetes||Gymnema, Esperanza, Prickly Pear Cactus or any plant high in inulin such as Burdock root, etc.|
|Epilepsy||European Mistletoe, Passionflower, White Peony, Black Cohosh|
|High Blood Pressure||For anxiety-related hypertension, nerviness like Skullcap, Passionflower and Wood Betony can be helpful. Otherwise Bugleweed (also for hyperthyroidism, so use caution if there is hypothyroidism present), European Mistletoe, Hawthorne Berry, Motherwort|
|Heart Disease||Garlic, Hawthorne Berry, Gingko, Motherwort, Angelica, White Horehound, Cayenne, Astragalus|
|Asthma and COPD||Again, asthma and COPD can stem from so many possible causes that it is not possible to begin to address here in any kind of depth. However as a general direction to look for herbs that help with broncho dilation and respiratory issues: White Horehound, Grindelia, Pleurisy root, Lobelia, Mullein leaf|
|Depression and Anxiety||Gotu Kola, St. John's Wort (use with caution in cases of severe depression), Bacopa, Ashwaghanda, Skullcap, Siberian Ginseng|
Some Quick Answers to Common Questions About Herbs
How do you prepare and take herbs?Herbs have a few advantages over conventional medicine. One of them is that the route of ingestion or absorption by your body can have a lot of different variations. This means that we can put the herb into or onto a region of the body where it is much more effective. Taking an herb only orally means that the herb has to pass through the body's digestive system before being absorbed into the bloodstream. During this process, it is filtered (to a large extent) through the liver before finally ending up in the bloodstream and having its effect in that manner. There are many herbs, however, that will not work effectively through the bloodstream in this manner.
At The Human Path herbal medic courses, we learn how to make a huge variety of herbal preparations in hands-on classes. Preparations like tinctures, glycerites, salves, oils, liniments, cough syrups, capsules, baths, poultices, plasters, suppositories, steam inhalations, eye washes, throat sprays, teas (infusions), decoctions, and more. We also have an online herbology course that covers the same fundamental material and skills.
Knowing how to make and use all of the various preparation methods of herbs is as important as knowing the herb itself. Usually, direct application of the herb (or solution containing as much of the herb as possible) to the part of the body that needs it, means a much more effective pathway to help the body heal.
How do herbs heal the body?As mentioned earlier in the article, one of the common misunderstandings about herbs is that an herb is like pharmaceutical. For instance, you just take the plant orally like a pill and it directly kills all bacteria (good and bad). However, this is not an effective way to use herbs at all. Although many herbs have very anti-pathogenic properties and do work in this way against pathogens, the real goal when using herbs is to let the plant medicine help the body's own natural immunity move back into balance so that it can heal itself.
Can herbs be dangerous?Just like any potent medicine, medicinal herbs range in effectiveness and toxicity between "power food" (example: nettles leaves) and "poison" (example: foxglove). In the list of herbs that are in this article, the following herbs should, to varying degrees, be taken internally only with care - especially for children or during pregnancy: Chaparral, Poke, Blue Flag, Comfrey, Horsetail, and Lobelia.
ConclusionHopefully this article has given you a short introduction to the usefulness of botanical medicine not just as a preventative, or for minor illness and injury, but as a skill that could save your life in a time of great need. A few possible examples of this would be when there simply is no other type of medical care available, or a time when antibiotics are no longer effective against resistant bacteria because of the way in which antibiotics have been overused for agriculture and medicine. It is important to understand that this kind of information could easily take lifetimes of learning. This short article should by no means be your only reference to acute (or chronic) botanical therapy. If you like this, get involved in learning more through books, courses, etc.
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