One of the perks of Ready Nutrition is to read books on prepping and natural living and share which ones I like with all of you. Like many of you, I have a natural curiosity about natural medicine and practiced using essential oils and herbs to make my own salves and teas. I am by no means a master herbalist but love learning about the subject.
Cat Ellis, blogger at Herbal Prepper and author has a long-time background in herbal medicine and is something that I believe will serve her well during a time when there is no doctor. I was so excited when she decided to do a book on the subject and she was kind enough to let me interview her about her book, the Prepper’s Natural Medicine: Life-Saving Herbs, Essential Oils and Natural Remedies for When There is No Doctor.
1. Tell us a little bit about your book, Prepper’s Natural Medicine.
Prepper’s Natural Medicine is the book I wish I had when I first started learning about herbal medicine. It is written for the total beginner, with no assumptions of prior experience with herbs. However, I have a few tips and tricks that even experienced herbalists would find interesting.This book covers all of the basic skills necessary to make herbal medicine, the therapeutic properties of 50 herbs that will grow almost anywhere in the United States, plus provides formulas for how to create your own medicine. Instructions are provided in an easy to read, conversational style, much as I would speak if the reader were taking one of my classes in person. While this book would be of use to any budding herbalist, it specifically addresses concerns that preppers have, especially long term disasters where the option of getting professional medical care is off the table. For example, how would you treat a snake or spider bite? What about anaphylaxis? Hypothermia?There’s a trend to sanitize herbal medicine with claims that “herbs work gently”. And to a point that’s true. Chamomile is a gentle herb that helps with stress and winding down at the end of the day. On the other hand, some herbs are potent analgesics, antispasmodics, and antimicrobials. Some herbs can help stop bleeding both internally and externally. Others help with seizures.This book is primarily a medicine-making book using herbs for one’s primary source of medicine. It is not a gardening, foraging, or a plant ID book. If your survival plan is to stay mobile, this may not be for you. I do have thoughts for a future book to address those needs, though. If you are stocking up on food, water, ammo, silver, and other supplies, then this is the herbal book for you.
In your book, Prepper’s Natural Medicine, you emphasize the importance of having herbs as part of your preparedness plan. What would you recommend as a starting point for beginners?
I would start off with easy to grow herbs, such as comfrey and peppermint- just try getting either of those two not to grow, and herbs that do dual duty as culinary and medicinal herbs, such as cayenne, garlic, ginger, thyme, and sage. These are familiar to most people, which makes learning how to make herbal medicines less intimidating.
In the book, you mentioned that ingesting essential oils has its place. When is that?
Very rarely, and almost never. There are oils which have GRAS status, which means, “General Recognized As Safe” by the FDA as a food additive. The most common use of this is as a flavoring, whether that be in food or in cosmetics, such as lip balm or lip stick. What this normally means is a drop or two of, say, lemon essential oil in a batch of lemon squares. It is diluted across the entire recipe, and most people don’t sit down to eat the entire batch in one sitting.
However, from a therapeutic standpoint, essential oils are best inhaled or applied topically in some type of carrier, like a salve or lotion, as many are irritating to the skin to apply directly. Regular ingestion of essential oils over time leads to complications, like liver damage, and really misses the mark on how essential oil work best.
That being said, a drop of clove oil applied to a painful tooth, or peppermint oil in an enteric coated capsule for intestinal infections and cramping, or a drop of cinnamon oil added to herbal cough drops or an herbal sore throat spray, are good examples of when ingestion has its place. And, of course, in that batch of lemon squares.
My favorite chapter in the book is the herbal first aid kit. What herbs would you consider the most important and why?
It was tough to narrow it down to just the 50 herbs in the book! But, if I had to pick just 10, my choices would be:
- Peppermint: This one herb does so many things. Peppermint can settle the stomach, relieve congestion, soothe away a headache, help cool a person’s temperature, it has a pleasant taste, and kids readily take it.
- Comfrey: Two of this herb’s folknames are “knitbone” and “bruisewort”. Comfrey helps to knit tissues back together. This goes in my burn care salve, is excellent in a poultice for a sprained ankle, helps the skin to heal quickly and with minimal (if any) scarring. It works so well, that it should not be used on deep wounds, healing the upper tissue layers and trapping bacteria inside. Short term use only as a tea, though. But could be very useful for someone healing from a serious sprain or broken limb.
- Thyme: This is your respiratory system’s best friend. Use in teas, syrups, and most importantly, in herbal steams for any respiratory infection, either bacterial or viral. Add to bath water when you feel sick, to benefit from the steam and sooth the entire body, or use thyme’s antimicrobial properties in herbal cleaning products. Blends well with lavender for the same purposes. Thyme can be taken as a tea or syrup for sore throats and general respiratory relief.
- Yarrow: Easy to find growing wild, yarrow is known for its ability to stop bleeding. It is taken both internally and applied externally for this purpose. It can also help reduce fever through sweating, and is an anti-inflammatory, making it a wonderful flu herb, chasing away the aches and pains and fever associated with the flu.
- White willow: This tree’s bark contains a chemical called salicin. Salicin is metabolized into salicylic acid, which is the origin of aspirin. The active ingredient in aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, a synthesized version of salicylic acid. White willow is much less irritating to the stomach than aspirin, and in my experience, is more effective and lasts longer. If you don’t have a white willow nearby, meadowsweet is a good alternative for your herbal garden.
- Cayenne: Cayenne contains capsaicin, which is well known for pain relief by blocking the signaling of pain from the source to the brain. Cayenne is a vasodilator, primarily of the small blood vessels and improves circulation. This is really important for people who are sedentary or diabetic. Cayenne is also anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. It is a primary ingredient in one of my oxymel (herbal vinegar sweetened with honey) recipes, which I use as an herbal decongestant.
- Berberine: This is actually a chemical found in various herbs, not an herb itself. Berberine has more uses than can be listed here. It’s top uses are as a local antibiotic, for blood glucose management, to strengthen the gut wall, lowering liver inflammation, and promoting healthy cholesterol and triglycerides levels. A berberine-containing herb can be used for wound powders. Berberine is excellent for throat infections as a spray, though it does have a very bitter taste. It must come in contact with the infected tissue to have an effect, so sweeten it up with honey or glycerin, then thin with water to work in a spray bottle. Some people taking berberine for its blood glucose and metabolic benefits prefer to take theirs encapsulated. Wherever you live in the United States, there is at least one herb that contains berberine that grows in your area naturally. These might include the Amur cork tree (an invasive on the east coast), Oregon grape root (Northwest), chaparral (Southwest), algerita (Texas and southwest), barberry (not a native plant, but can be grown almost anywhere), and goldenseal (endangered, but was native to east coast and midwest).
- Echinacea: This herb has been pigeonholed as a cold and flu herb, but it offers so much more. Echinacea is excellent for wound care, and makes a great addition to wound powders. The tincture is slightly warming and numbing, making it perfect in a spray for sore throat spray, or dental infection or wound. Echinacea is an immuno-stimulant, and it can act as a systemic antibiotic at the right dosage. Dosage is usually far more frequent than people expect, all the way up to once every hour. My preference is for Echincea angustafolia root.
- Garlic: Everyone needs lots and lots of garlic. This is the posterchild herb for food being medicine. Have your garlic raw, fermented in honey, or cooked, it’s all beneficial. Garlic supports immune function, is antibacterial, antifungal, and is well known for it’s heart health benefits. If you want to stay healthy, eat a lot of garlic.
- Valerian: In about 10% of the population, it can have the opposite effect, but valerian helps almost everyone sleep. Valerian also helps with pain, spasms, coughing, and can be used topically for sore muscles. Something to be aware of with valerian is that the dose is really dependent upon the individual. A very small dose may be fine for one person, and the next may need three times that amount.
- Mullein: This list needs a good expectorant to round out the list, and mullein is one of the best. The soft leaves from the first year plant are excellent for helping break up stuck phlegm. In the second year, the plant sends up a large stalk with yellow flowers. Pick the flowers and infuse them in olive oil for earaches.
What three points of the book do you want readers to walk away with? What tools would you recommend?
First, herbal medicine works, and works very well, even in serious cases. Herbs aren’t just for gently falling asleep after a stressful day. They can help . Second, while there is a lot to learn in order to use herbal medicine safely and effectively, it is fun learning. This process is enjoyable and empowering, and my book gets you started off on the right foot. And thirdly, the time to learn how to use herbal medicine is right now, while things are still relatively good.
In a long-term emergency, what natural medicines do you think will be needed most?
In a long term emergency without access to a doctor, pharmacy, or a hospital, we will still need to have the ability to treat both acute and chronic conditions. Acute injuries and infections are obvious, and require antimicrobials and analgesics. According to the CDC, however, 1 out of every 2 adults in the United States have a chronic illness, and that’s just based on people who actually go to the doctor for a proper diagnosis.While a lot of preppers are concerned with how to treat a bullet wound, and that’s a valid concern, far more people will require a sustainable source of medicine for heart conditions, diabetes, arthritis, mood disorders, and so on.
We will need:
Antimicrobial herbs: wounds, respiratory infections, and intestinal infections. Several I mentioned above, but I would add clove, black walnut hull, and artemesia for parasitical infections. I would also put special attention toward herbal antibiotics in the face of every-increasing antibiotic resistance. We would need both local and systemic herbal antibiotic alternatives to drugs. Herbs that come to mind as local antibiotics would be berberine herbs, garlic, juniper, burdock, and sage. Systemics are a little more scarce, but sida, bidens, and artemesias such as sweet Annie, cover a lot of ground.
Cardiovascular herbs: In addition to the cayenne, garlic, and berberine, I mentioned above, as well as the yarrow to stop bleeding, I would also add bilberry, hawthorne, and motherwort.
Analgesics: In addition to the pain-relieving white willow bark, we will need additional pain relievers. Arnica is great for join pain, especially from arthritis, sprains, and repetitive motion injuries. Corydalis, California poppy, and Jamaican dogwood is a combination used for severe pain. Black cohosh and lobelia can be infused into an oil and a salve or lotion made from it for muscle spasms.
Anti-diabetics: Diabetes is one of our most common chronic illnesses in the United States. For type two, goat’s rue is the origin of the active ingredients for metformin. A three month study found berberine as effective as metformin. There is some hope for type one diabetics with Gymnema sylvestre and fenugreek, as both help to regenerate the beta cells in the pancreas to help the body start to make its own insulin again. Gymnema is not available in plant or seed form in the United States, so one would have to stock up on the dried herb, and tincture it for both dosage and longer term storage.
You have a new book coming out. Can you tell us about it?
My new book is called Prepping for a Pandemic: Life-Saving Supplies, Skills, and Plans for Surviving an Outbreak, and is available for preorder on Amazon. This book covers a whole range of issues related to pandemics, and is in direct response to emails I received from readers of my blog and my live internet radio show audience.We have had this unique opportunity to observe and learn from the Ebola crisis in West Africa. We have been witness to individuals attack clinics, what happens when medical facilities reach surge capacity, curfews and quarantines, martial law leaving people without food, had the specter of bio-terrorism lingering, and how our government and media control what the public know. The goals of individuals, staying healthy and not dying, are not the same as government concerns, which are maintaining order and suppressing panic. And, of course, we had the tragic case of Thomas Eric Duncan who brought Ebola to the United States by plane, and spread the disease to hospital staff. There is so much to learn from all this that helps us make better plans in case of an outbreak. If there is any positive side to the horrific loss of life in this unprecedented Ebola outbreak, it would be how to better prepare for pandemic threats.
In the book, I cover seven illnesses I believe are the most significant threats to trigger the next great pandemic. This includes drug-resistant bacteria, viruses which have a demonstrated history of causing pandemics, the human involvement of both terrorism and human error, and the conventional and herbal treatment approaches, if any, are provided. The book wraps up with a pro-active section on how to establish a Self Imposed Reverse Quarantine (SIRQ), with resources to learn more about pandemic preparedness.
Have you ever wondered what you would do if there were no pharmacy? In the early onset of my prepping endeavors this question plagued me. Dying from illness or infection is one of the most likely ways one can die in a long-term emergency and without the knowledge of medicinal herbs and natural medicine, you could be a world of trouble. This very question was the first sentence that Cat wrote in her book and what I loved so much about the book. From the very beginning, she cuts to the chase and gets to the heart of topic. Throughout the book (and something she mentioned in her interview with me) she listed fifty of the most useful herbs, medicinal uses and recipes to practice. She holds nothing back in this book and uses a layered medical approach to assembling a natural medicine kit.
This book teaches you the how’s, what’s and why’s about creating a natural medicinal pantry. Because Cat comes from a prepping background she uses a common sense approach to emphasize the vulnerabilities of solely storing western medicine supplies including how supplies will expire, run out and the ever-looming antibiotic resistance bacteria in the near future.
The book is easy to read, written in a friendly manner and is packed with information. If I could give this book 10 stars, I would. From start to finish, I absolutely loved it! Cat is a wealth of knowledge and I will recommend this book for years to come. As well, Cat has an equally informative website, Herbal Prepper that all of you should check out!
Tess Pennington is the editor for ReadyNutrition.com. After joining the Dallas chapter of the American Red Cross in 1999, Tess worked as an Armed Forces Emergency Services Center specialist and is well versed in emergency and disaster management and response. Tess is the author of The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. When a catastrophic collapse cripples society, grocery store shelves will empty within days. But by following Tess’s tips for stocking, organizing, and maintaining a proper emergency food supply, your family will have plenty to eat for weeks, months, or even years.