Is it just me or are 70% of TV shows about the apocalypse right now? And did you know that 68 million Americans have purchased survival gear to prepare for doomsday?!
Whether you are a serious “prepper” or just someone who occasionally wonders how you might cope in a survival situation, the subject of using plants for food and medicine is quite an interesting one.
This isn’t intended as an in-depth guide to herbal medicine (you might want a more academic article like this one for that). But I thought it would be fun to share a handful of relatively common plants that have hidden powers and maybe, just maybe, could help you out in a tight spot!
Plantago is no relation to bananas. This is a different type of plantain that is commonly found growing on lawns around the world and is considered by many to be a weed.
The genus includes about 200 species of small plants. With different varieties found on almost every continent, plantain is usually found in wet areas like bogs. People have used plantain since prehistoric times. It has powerful anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and antimicrobial effects.
Although it isn’t strong enough to neutralize the venom of a snake bite, it can be used to relieve the venom in stings from wasps, bees, scorpions, poison ivy, and nettles. It can help heal other kinds of injuries, like skinned knees and bruises, too. You can make a poultice by chewing the leaves into a pulp and placing the mulch on the affected area.
Silverweed, or Potentilla anserina, is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. A low-growing plant in the rose family, it is easy to spot and can serve as a good source of nutrients in a survival situation.
This plant produces small, starchy roots. Eaten raw, they are crunchy, but when cooked, they taste not unlike a sweet potato or parsnip. This plant was actually a historic staple food for coastal people in what is now British Columbia, primarily because it has plenty of calories and carbohydrates for energy.
Oregon Grape is really quite special because it has powerful antimicrobial properties and can help you purify unclean water.
Known scientifically as Mahonia aquifolium, the inner part of the Oregon Grape plant contains berberine. This antimicrobial alkaloid can be extracted by soaking the plant in water inside a sealed bag.
The berries from the Oregon Grape plant can also be eaten and serve as a good natural treatment for dyspepsia.
You probably already know that pine, or any conifer in the genus Pinus, doesn’t taste that great and therefore is not a great source of food in a survival situation.
However, it can be used for many other applications, including as a fire starter and (if you don’t have a tent) as a building material for a shelter. Because pine trees hang on to their dense needles during the winter, they can provide you with coverage no matter what time of year it is.
You can also use the gum of the plant if you’re in a pinch. Pine gum, or resin, can be used to stop bleeding in a wound. It can also help waterproof your clothing and deter insects.
If you find yourself in a wet area, like a swamp or wetland, cattail, or Typha, may be able to help you out. This plant produces edible rhizomes that are high in starch and incredibly nutritious. You can also eat the outer portions of young plants, as they offer flavor and texture similar to asparagus.
Cattail has seeds with high linoleic acid content. The plants are high in fiber and can be eaten raw or boiled. Some Native Americans used the juice from immature cattail shoots to heal a toothache, too, because the juice that leaks from the stem is a powerful antiseptic.
Of course, this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of foraging and herbalism! But perhaps there are a couple of surprises in there which mean the next time you come across these plants you’ll look at them in a different light…
Bertie Cowen is a writer and avid outdoorsman. He’s on a mission to make it easier for folk to spend more time outside. You can check out his blog (EffortlessOutdoors.com) or find him on Twitter @BertieOutdoors.
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