As any survivalist will tell you, being able to identify wild plants is imperative. However, one mistake that is commonly made is focusing on being able to identify only those plants that represent a possible food source. While this is one of the most important aspects of survival, it isn’t the only one. If you find yourself in a survival situation, you won’t be able to run out to the local Urgent Care if you are injured or ill. If you don’t have a first aid kit to use, taking the time to familiarize yourself with the many medicinal plants that grow wild could not only save your life, but the lives of those in your care.
Using plants for medicine isn’t something new. For thousands of years, people have been using herbal medicines to treat any number of illnesses. The Native Americans knew the value of many of the plants that were native to their areas and now modern medicine is conducting research on some of the medicinal plants that they used. Some of the plants that can be found in the wilderness rival prescription medications that are being sold by drug companies today, and often without the negative side effects. When studying medicinal plants, caution should be used because even potentially helpful plants can be toxic if used incorrectly or in excessive amounts.
Yarrow is one of nature’s most diverse medicinal plants. It can be found growing wild in open woodlands and field from coast to coast in North America, as well as in many ornamental gardens. Yarrow can grow to be 3 feet tall and has feathery, fern-like leaves that are covered with fine, white hairs. Flower stalks grow from the center of the leaf cluster and produce umbrella style flowers that can be white, yellow, or various shades of pink.
Yarrow leaves and flowers can be crushed to form a paste and applied to cuts and scratches to staunch flow of blood and disinfect the wound. When made into a tea, yarrow can be used to break a fever and as cold relief. Some Native American tribes dropped an infusion of yarrow into the ears to treat earaches.
Violets are Native to Asia and Europe, but they have been widely cultivated and grow wild throughout the world. The colors may vary, but the dark green, heart shaped leaves and delicate flowers are easily identifiable. Often referred to as the wood violet, common violet, or garden violet, the leaves and flowers can be dried and used to make a tea that is helpful as an expectorant, a laxative, and a natural emetic. While this may not seem like a particularly useful property, if you are in a situation where someone has eaten a questionable plant or berry, it could potentially save a life.
Plantain (not to be confused with the banana- like fruit) is one of the many medicinal plants that are widely considered to be a noxious weed in North America. Not true at all! Plantain is one of those wonderful plants that can be used both medicinally and as food. The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and are very high in riboflavin and B1.
It can be found growing in backyards and fields throughout North America and its oval shaped leaves are easy to identify. The leaves may appear to grow directly from the ground, but actually attach to a center root much like dandelions. Seed stalks grow from the center of the leaves and look like a tiny, green cattail.
Plantain has many uses and in fact can be used in the treatment of anything from fevers to skin diseases. The leaves can be heated and used for preparing a wet dressing for wounds. It is also useful to stop bleeding and promote the healing of damaged tissues. A poultice made from the leaves can be applied to draw out foreign objects such as thorns or splinters as well as soothing inflammation. The root is said to be useful as an anti-venom for snakebites. Whether or not this is true, if you get bitten and no help is nearby, it can’t hurt to give it a try.
Orange jewelweed is a very common sight in the moist, shady soils of ditches and creeks of most parts of North America. Commonly called touch me not for its seedpods that pop when touched. The orange (or sometimes yellow) flowers hang from the plant on small stems. This plant is an age-old remedy for many forms of skin irritation including poison ivy and poison oak. The stems are succulent and filled with a clear, viscous sap that will act as a soothing agent and prevent the spread of poison ivy rash. The sap can also be used in the treatment of insect bites and stings as well as stinging nettles.
Sometimes called sour clover or Indian lemonade, wood sorrel is something that many of us are familiar with. This native herb can be found growing in many open grasslands, woodlands, and on shaded slopes throughout the eastern part of North America. With its three, heart shaped leaflets on each stalk and flowers that range from pink to yellow, many children have picked and eaten these tangy little plants.
Its medicinal uses are varied and the entire plant may be used. A concoction made from the tart leaves is given as a fever reducer as well as to treat urinary ailments and to stop vomiting. It can be used as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers and cloths soaked in its juices can be used to treat inflammation and swelling. Crushed leaves applied to a wound will help to reduce bleeding.
Coltsfoot is a perennial flower that can be found throughout North and South America, as well as Asia and Europe, where it originated. The plant itself looks much like a very small dandelion without the characteristic leaves that accompany dandelions. Coltsfoot also appears in bloom much earlier than dandelions.
The dried leaves and flowers have been used in the past to treat bronchial congestion and cough in the form of a tea. In some countries, it has been used to treat fevers and viral infection. There have been documented cases of this plant causing liver problems so caution should be exercised in its use.
Also called wild bergamot, Oswego tea, and horsemint, bee balm can be found almost anywhere in North America. The plant can grow to 3 feet in height and spiky flowers bloom at the top of the stalk. Most wild bee balm is either red or pink and has slim, serrated leaves that grow opposite each other along the stem.
Native Americans used bee balm in poultices for the treatment of minor injuries and skin infections. As a member of the mint family, it has also been used in teas for soothing stomach ailments and as a gargle to treat infections of the mouth and throat. When boiled and used in an infusion it is useful in the treatment of headaches and low-grade fevers.
This herb is sometimes called alehoof, hedge maids, creeping Charlie, and because of its strong aroma when crushed, headache flowers. Found in shady, moist areas from Canada to the deep- south and almost everywhere in between, this purple flowered plant is easy to find. It has dark green, heart shaped, serrated leaves and grows quite close to the ground.
It is edible as well as medicinal and can be used in salads. Made into a tea it can be useful in the treatment of congestion and other inflammations of the mucous membranes that occur with colds and flu. It has antibacterial properties as well as antiseptic and is used as an expectorant, and immune-stimulant, and as a sedative. It is currently being studied for use in the prevention and treatment of many diseases.
Dandelions probably need no description as they grow everywhere, especially on your perfectly manicured lawn. These golden yellow flowers along with their sharp-toothed leaves have been the source of much frustration to homeowners around the world. What most people don’t know is that they are medicinally useful as well as well as being quite tasty.
The entire plant can be used both internally and externally. Fresh dandelion juice can be applies to wounds to fight bacteria and promote healing, and the milky sap can be used to remove warts and corns. It is also used to treat skin issues such as acne and eczema. Infusions of the plant can be used to eliminate toxins from the body. It is also a strong diuretic but will not cause a loss of potassium. This plant can also help with urinary and kidney ailments as well as the edema that is sometimes experienced by those with high blood pressure.
Growing prolifically everywhere in North America, mullein can be found growing by roadsides, in vacant lots, and especially on gravelly areas. The leaves can be up to 15 inches long and 5 inches across with dense hairs on both sides of the leaf. This has led to the plant sometimes being called the flannel plant. The flower stalk can be up to 8 feet tall and is densely covered with bright yellow flowers.
This herb has been used for centuries in alternative medicine as an analgesic, an anti-viral, and a fungicide. Taken internally as an infusion, it will treat diarrhea, bleeding of the bowels, as well as numerous complaints of the chest. The leaves and the flowers are both used in infusions. The entire plant can be harvested and dried for later use.
While there are many more medicinal plants to be found in the wilderness, this is just a few of those that can help you in a survival situation. As with any plant you find in the wild, make absolutely sure you have identified it correctly before using it.