Mother Nature will provide us with everything we need in order to survive and thrive outside the concrete jungle.
There are quite a few wild healing plants that are commonly used as first aid, and their healing properties and knowledge on how to use them have been passed down from one generation to another. The wilderness explorers and those living off the grid have been using wild healing plants for centuries.
If you enjoy spending time in the great outdoors or if you choose to live a more secluded life, it would be smart to learn about herbal medicine. There are certain plants that can be used successfully to alleviate pain or mitigate the effects of various health issues until professional medical help arrives.
Since the dawn of time, all walking forms of life have sought after medicinal uses from the earth’s greenery. As you will see in the following lines, my favorite wild healing plants are already available in your garden or living area. Unfortunately, most folks see them only as invasive weeds, without having a clue about their healing benefits.
My favorite five wild healing plants
This wonderful plant grows wild all across the United States and Canada. It was one of the main wild healing plants used by the Native American tribes. It was known and appreciated for its high antimicrobial and anti-infectious properties. In Native American herbalism Yarrow, was much more appreciated than dandelions and chicory. Although botany books suggest that the common yarrow we encounter today has a slightly genetic difference than the plants of the Old World, the healing properties were not lost, and yarrow is still being used today.
Yarrow plants were first used by ancient Greeks over 3,000 years ago for healing external wounds and to successfully slow down bleeding. In the old days, flowers and leaves of yarrow were eaten but also made into a tea-like drink. Indian tribes throughout North America particularly used yarrow as a poultice for wounds and a treatment for headaches, toothaches, and gastrointestinal problems. The plant is considered one of the sacred plants of the Navajo tribe.
Besides being a useful medicinal plant, you can also eat Yarrow leaves raw or cooked. Even though they have a bitter flavor, you can use them in mixed salads. I recommend using mainly the young leaves since they are less bitter. The entire plant can be used, both dried and fresh and it is recommended to gather it while in flower.
Fresh leaves can be used to treat gastrointestinal problems, fight fevers, lessen menstrual bleeding, and improve blood circulation. Yarrow can also be used to make a tincture or poultice to treat rashes and broken skin.
Even though preppers and survivalists manage to put Plantain in the spotlight, the plant is still considered a garden weed in many parts of North America. In my opinion, Plantain is one of the most powerful survival plants since it can be used both as a wild healing plant and an edible.
The best part about plantain is that you can encounter it in both wild and urban environments. If you pay attention, with a bit of luck, you can even spot it in your local park. In my journeys, I’ve seen plantain growing out of the cracks of sidewalks and roads, waste grounds, and even in places where there is little sun. Most times it remains undisturbed since only a few people know that it’s nutritionally similar to dandelion. The plant is full of iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, and B vitamins.
Although originally native to Europe, today, Plantain can be found in many parts of North America. It is believed that Puritans were the first to introduce the plant into the Americas. Native Americans were calling it the “white man’s footprint” since the plant was thriving in the disturbed areas surrounding European settlements.
Plantain was often used by the first pioneers due to its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is of great use in the wilderness when it comes to speeding recovery of wounds, but also for itching or pain associated with skin problems.
Externally, Plantain can be used for insect and snake bites, and as a remedy for rashes and cuts. I often use it to make a healing salve or poultice, which I exploit as a natural antibiotic ointment on cuts and bruises. As a survival tip, remember that strong fibers within the leaves can be used for making thread, fishing line, and even cloth.
I recommend harvesting raw young leaves in spring when they are young and tender. In the summertime, you can harvest seeds and older leaves for cooking. I prefer to eat the young leaves raw or cooked. Older leaves are fibrous, and it is best to cook them only after removing the fiber. I must warn you that seeds are small and tedious to collect. However, they are edible and can be used in certain cases as a flour extender. I’ve often used steamed, young Plantain leaves as a spinach substitute although they are slightly bitter and it takes a few tries to get used to the taste.
3. Stinging Nettle
Stinging Nettle has been used for centuries across North American and Europe, and it is widely spread across our country. The plant is easily recognizable, and if you don’t manage to spot it on time, you will certainly feel it on your exposed skin.
Nettles are known to treat: allergies, anemia, arthritis, bronchitis, burns and scalds, fatigue, internal bleeding, kidney stones, parasites, poor circulation, pre-menstrual syndrome, urinary tract infections, and more.
Because of its many nutrients, the plant is traditionally used as a spring tonic, and it’s very popular in Europe. It is a slow-acting nourishing herb that easily cleanses the body of metabolic residue.
As a diuretic, stinging nettle increases the secretion and flow of urine. This makes it invaluable in cases of fluid retention and bladder infections. It is also anti-lithic, breaking down stones in the kidneys and gravel in the bladder. When it comes to wild healing plants, stinging nettle stands out due to its rich history and many survival uses.
Besides being a good edible, nettles can also be used to make cordage and bring feeling back to frozen hands and feet. In the old days, Europeans and Native Americans used the fibers from stinging nettle to make sailcloth, sacking, cordage, and fishing nets.
When using Stinging nettle as food or for making tea, I recommend harvesting the plant before it flowers. Otherwise, you can harvest stinging nettles from the time the new leaves emerge until late fall when the flowers have gone to seed. If you plan to make cordage, allow the plants to go to seed to ensure good propagation.
A decoction of the plant has been used for centuries to produce a green dye for clothing, and during WWII the British government used this green dye for camouflage. Homesteaders were using stinging throughout history as animal fodder when crops were failing, but also as a vegetarian rennet in cheese making.
This garden weed has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, thanks to the vegan communities. However, it was a popular wild healing plant and edible way before this current trend put it in the spotlight.
As a matter of fact, dandelion was first mentioned by Arabian physicians in the tenth century. The plant is native to Eurasia and North America, and it’s wildly spread in our country.
Since the plant is entirely edible, it was used as an abundant natural food source in times of famine. Europeans settlers grew dandelion and used it as a supplement to food as well as for medicine. Dandelion roots are often roasted and used in teas or consumed whole. I often mix grounded, roasted dandelion roots with my coffee to have a good supply during my trips, but I also feel it gives my coffee a stronger taste.
Collect dandelion roots in spring, just before flowering, when they are most tender. The leaves and flowers are a great addition to salads or other dishes requiring greens, and nowadays you can find an abundance of recipes online using dandelion as the main star.
You can eat yellow dandelion flowers raw, cooked or my favorite, made into wine. The leaves are known to act as a diuretic, increasing the amount of urine your body makes. I’ve often used the leaves to stimulate the appetite and help digestion when I go camping with my nephews. They are picky eaters, and after a few days, they end up with an upset stomach. Dandelion leaves have saved me a lot of trouble when taking them camping with us.
Dandelion flowers have antioxidant properties, and overall, dandelion may also help improve the immune system. Herbalists use dandelion roots to detoxify the liver and gallbladder, and the leaves are often made into a tea to help kidney function.
5. Aloe Vera
Although Aloe Vera is native to Mexico and the Southwestern U.S., the plant can be found in most people’s gardens and homes due to its abilities to quickly soothe burns, scrapes, cuts, rashes and all sorts of skin irritations. Aloe Vera plants have attractive, thick, variegated leaves that grow out in a fan formation from the plant’s main stem. Please take note that neither humans nor pets should eat the leaves themselves since they have toxic properties. Only the juicy leaf pulp can be eaten since the leaves have toxic properties.
Being a skin-friendly plant, Aloe Vera is a great moisturizer with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, and the plant is the main ingredient in many beauty products.
A lot of hikers and outdoors enthusiasts use the internal gel of the wide (bladed) leaves to protect their skin and repairing it from long exposure to the sun and wind.
The juicy leaf pulp it can soothe all digestive system issues. Just to name a few, it can help you with constipation, ulcer, diarrhea, colitis, and acid reflux. Regular use can help improve blood circulation in the arteries, leading to lower cholesterol levels. In the old days, the pulp of the leaves was used to ease inflammation of joints and modern science has shown us that glycosides and indoleacetic acid in Aloe Vera makes it a good anti-inflammatory agent that can be used both internally and externally.
And if you have to be an outdoor enthusiast, you should know that itchy scalp and/or dry hair can become a problem for the lady in your life if she’s not used to the camping lifestyle. No worries, because the antibacterial and antifungal properties of Aloe Vera, as well as its abundance of vitamins and minerals, can support and promote strong, healthy hair. As an added bonus, it can also help eliminate dandruff.
A word of advice
When I talk to people about herbal medicine, I also encourage them to look into ways to use the plants they manage to harvest. History showed us that our ancestors managed to survive by using all sorts of herbs as medicine substitute. However, their main advantage was the ability to use such plants in a multitude of ways. There are many ways of using medicinal herbs that have been improved over the years, and if you are the type of person that believes there’s no difference between tea and plant infusion, I recommend doing a little bit of research.
The main methods of preparing wild medicinal herbs are infusion, effleurage, decoction, and maceration. Besides these ones, there are a variety of ways to apply herbal preparations such as poultices, salves, liniments, and even soaps.