A well-equipped backpack is a must have for any sportsman or woman such as hikers, backpackers, hunters and survivalists. However, everyone can benefit by giving some forethought and preparation to some herbal basics for emergency situations.
A bug-out bag or “BOB” as it is sometimes called, is prepared in anticipation of a disaster event to last a minimum of 72 hours. It is self-contained with the basic components necessary for survival. In other words, one’s BOB should be a complete set up for the individual. Every individual ought to know how to proficiently use the components of their BOB and not be dependent upon another person in the event of separation or injury.
Additionally, each BOB should contain thoughtfully-considered items to provide for short-term necessities such as a basic shelter/sleep system and cordage, navigation, fire-starters, emergency food, utensils for cooking and eating, extra essential clothing, water purification supplies, a first-aid kit, emergency food, a knife, etc.
While this blog will only consider four valuable herbs that should be included, there are a host of videos and articles available on the internet that can easily be located to instruct one on the art of survival and identifying the bare necessities for a bug-out bag.
Here we will begin with the first essential “herb” one should carry.
Essential for life as our bodies cannot produce it, salt is a catalyst in many important functions within the body. It is crucial in that it assists the body in retaining water. Sweating, fever, vomiting and diarrhea deplete the body of fluids and can cause a medical emergency.
Heavy perspiration can cause a rapid loss of essential salt thereby throwing off the body’s electrolyte balance causing cramps and spasms, change in the regular beating of the heart, brain fog and the like. Salt also aids in activating salivary enzymes and producing hydrochloric acid, both of which are necessary for the proper digestion and absorption of food.
How much salt do we need each day? The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) recommends consuming one and one-half teaspoons of unrefined salt each day. Be sure to remember that with exertion and perspiration more salt is lost through the skin and must be replaced beyond the recommended daily dose.
Hilda Labrada Gore of the WAPF writes, “Low salt consumption has been linked to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, poor digestion, parasites, and even depression. Salt is critical for proper brain and body functionality.”1
It is best to select an unrefined sea salt such as Celtic or pink Himalayan salt. The grind you choose is up to you. For myself, I prefer a course grind of salt in this application for ease in handling (fine ground salt is a bit easier to lose out of a zip-lock baggie. Plus, I like the idea of tossing a few grains of salt in my mouth to suck on as I walk along.
Additionally, the daily allotment can be used to boost the flavor of foraged foods.
Perhaps it could be argued that “technically” salt is a mineral and not an herb. However, there are herbs that contain mineral “salts” including sodium chloride. For those who live in areas without access to salt reserves, foraging for herbs like hickory roots, coltsfoot and lambsquarters (among others) can provide a source of salt and were used by our ancestors.
In those first few days of a disaster scenario, it may just prove simpler to have already packed a salt source, saving the necessity of foraging for later.
Every year roughly half a million people in the United States end up in the hospital, primarily due to dehydration. Intravenous (IV) rehydration (saline) is used to treat moderate to severe cases of dehydration. Children are more likely than adults to become dangerously dehydrated when they become ill.
Awareness is key to maintaining health and avoiding additional challenges when dealing with emergency situations.
The solution to the health problems of the world today is to be found in natural remedies, not in poisoning the system with chemicals. Although they may appear to bring temporary relief, they add a debt of debilitating poison which will later result in serious problems.”John Harvey Kellogg, MD 1852-1943
(Founder – Kellogg’s Corn Flakes)
Chia Seed (Salvia Hispanica L.)
As a food, Chia is a veritable nutrition explosion! The following are some nutrition facts would garner appreciation from any health food aficionado.
Chia has been an ancient source of food for well over 5,000 years. Highly esteemed by the Mayan and Inca peoples, the seeds of the Chia plant were likely the most important part of their dietary staples. It was once called “warrior’s food” and only one tablespoon of this nutritious seed was said to provide a whole day’s worth of energy.
Chia is one of the highest sources of plant-based protein that includes all nine of the essential amino acids we need. It is high in the vitamins B-1, B-2 and B-3; the minerals calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron; and it is high in antioxidants! Chia also contains phosphorus, potassium, boron, and copper and zinc.
What a Mighty Little Seed!
To learn more about the benefits of chia seed read our blog entitled: Chia ~ Salvia Hispanica
It is recommended to rehydrate chia by mixing it in water and allowing it to set for 15-20 minutes prior to eating or drinking. It is also suggested that an adult not consume more than two tablespoons of chia seed in one day.
Activated charcoal (AC) powder is pure carbon created by burning substances like hardwood, coconut shells, bamboo, etc. (yes, these substances are herbs!) at high temperature in an oxygen-deprived environment. The result is regular charcoal.
It is important to note that activated charcoal is NOT the same as those “charcoal briquettes” folks purchase by the bag from the grocer or the home store for grilling food. This type of charcoal is saturated with toxic chemicals and is detrimental to one’s health. It should never be used medicinally.
However, regular charcoal can be ground to a powder and used in the same manner as AC, however, a significantly greater quantity must be used.
Activated charcoal, unlike regular charcoal has undergone additional processing with chloride salts that increase its surface area by developing a network of pores. In fact, so much additional surface area is created by this process that a single teaspoon of charcoal powder that has been “activated” has a surface area equivalent to that of a football field.2 Now that’s something!
Charcoal has a remarkable capacity to ‘adsorb’, whereby atoms or molecules from certain substances are attracted to and collect upon its surface. “This function is not to be confused with “absorb”, as when a towel soaks up water. …As the charcoal travels through the stomach and bowels, it will capture and neutralize poisons. Charcoal is not absorbed by the body and does not pass into the bloodstream.”2
The uses of activated charcoal are bountiful. It is commonly used in air and water purification, odor reduction, beauty products, and in gardening. In fact, AC can be used to make a primitive water filtration system in an emergency situation. Activated charcoal’s unique adsorptive qualities make it a dynamic emergency herbal that can be used both internally and topically.
Internally, one of activated charcoal’s outstanding characteristics is its ability to neutralize toxins through adsorption thereby assisting the body’s ability to eliminate toxins. Activated charcoal is a “well-known detoxification agent, it is used daily in hospitals and recommended by Poison Control Centers to treat poisoning emergencies.”3 So on the trail, should diarrhea, gastrointestinal distress, stomach bug, or food or chemical poisoning occur, don’t delay – reach for the AC.
Using Activated Charcoal Internally
Caution: There are no absolute contraindications for use in poisoning, however, activated charcoal is not equally effective for all toxins.
It is also important to be aware that ingesting activated charcoal can have a detoxifying effect upon any pharmaceuticals a person may be taking. Therefore, medications may not reach full potency, nor last as long. The following instructions are for emergency situations and not for chronic use of AC.
Ingested acids must be neutralized with baking soda and water. Caustic/corrosive agents must be neutralized with vinegar and water. Additionally, activated charcoal may obscure endoscopic visualization of esophageal and gastric lesions caused by the corrosive agents.4 If possible, call poison control or 911 for advice. (The phone number is in red text below.)
In severe acute poisonings oral activated charcoal should be administered repeatedly, e.g. 20 to 50g at intervals of 4 to 6 hours, until recovery or until plasma drug concentrations have fallen to non-toxic levels.
In addition to increasing the elimination of many drugs and toxins even after their systemic absorption, repeated doses of charcoal also reduce the risk of desorbing from the charcoal-toxin complex as the complex passes through the gastrointestinal tract.
Charcoal will not increase the elimination of all substances taken. However, as the drug history in acute intoxications is often unreliable, repeated doses of oral activated charcoal in severe intoxications seem to be justified unless the toxicological laboratory has identified the causative agent as not being prone to adsorption by charcoal.
The role of repeated doses of oral activated charcoal in chronic intoxication has not been clearly defined.5Neuvonen PJ, Olkkola KT. Oral activated charcoal in the treatment of intoxications. Role of single and repeated doses. Med Toxicol Adverse Drug Exp. 1988 Jan-Dec;3(1):33-58. doi: 10.1007/BF03259930. PMID: 3285126.
While there are discrepancies between the various sources regarding proper amounts for dosing, the following oral dosing recommendations will serve as a guide. There are also dosing instructions on the “Herb Label PDF” available below. You can attach these labels directly to your baggies containing your herbal remedies.
Don’t worry about giving too much activated charcoal in an emergency. AC will not harm a person beyond potentially causing constipation and black stools. Constipation can be avoided by having the person drink an additional two (2) glasses of water after taking each dose.
In an emergency…
Call 911 or the Poison Control Center
Then, while you are waiting, give activated charcoal…
Oral Dosing for Poison Ingestion6
Adult – 50 to 100 grams = 5 to 10 TBSPS
12+ Years – 50 to 100 grams = 5 to 10 TBSPS
1-12 Years – 25 to 50 grams = 2.5 to 5 TBSPS
Under 1 Year – 1 gram = approximately 1 rounded ¼ TSP
Repeat doses in 10 minutes, and again if the dose is
vomited up, and should symptoms begin to worsen.2
Activated charcoal is tasteless but does have a slight powdery/gritty texture. Children who need to be encouraged to drink “black” water can be helped by using a straw, adding the AC to apple juice (if available), and having the grownup ‘enjoy’ a glass of “black” water too.
“Small children will resist and must be held. Laying a child on his back will prompt him to swallow reflexively. Use a spoon or small bulb syringe to give the charcoal mixture.”2
Slurry or Grey Water – Used for babies (colic, digestive) and individuals with digestive sensitivities (ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, IBS, etc.). Stir 2-3 tablespoons AC powder into a quart of warm water, allow the AC to settle, then pour the grey water into a glass or baby bottle. Repeat several times by adding water to the remaining AC, stirring, and settling out again.
Note: Activated charcoal dissolves more easily into warm or hot water.
In addition to taking AC internally, should the liver or kidneys not be functioning properly or in the event of snake or insect bites a poultice should also be applied to the appropriate area(s) topically.
Using Activated Charcoal Topically
Apply a plain poultice or the even more effective ‘jelly poultice’ (wound dressing).
A plain poultice made with only activated charcoal will dry out rapidly making it quickly lose its effectiveness. A jelly poultice holds water much longer and is made by mixing the AC with another substance that “gels” when water is added. Soaking this substance for 15-20 minutes is reasonable. Mucilaginous herbs are best for a jelly poultice. Those such as ground flaxseed, slippery elm, marshmallow root, sassafras – or even that chia seed that you packed (works best if ground). More possibilities are cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca starch, potato starch (basically anything starch-y), lentils, xanthan gum, and the like.
While not the most effective these other herbs (and herbs like them) can be foraged for depending upon the season and used mixed with activated charcoal for a poultice. Note: this list is incomplete – Aloe vera, American ginseng, angelica, asparagus, burdock, chickweed, dandelion, fenugreek, horse chestnut, Irish moss, mullein, osha, plantain, psyllium husk, etc. Plantain and dandelion greens can sometimes be found even underneath snow.
Apply the wet jelly poultice to a cloth or paper towel and apply another cloth or paper towel over the jelly and apply wet-side down on the area to be treated. Cover with plastic and leave in place a minimum of 2-4 hours for a maximum of 12 hours. A poultice needs to be changed a minimum of twice per day.
Did You Know?
Dr. John R. Christopher, American Herbalist, 1909 – 1983 recommended charcoal as one of the useful herbs for healing the condition of gangrene.
A plain poultice (AC and water only) is assembled and applied in the same manner, but will need to be kept moist with filtered, boiled, and then cooled water to remain effective. It is possible to mix with substances that swell with water like soaked oatmeal (especially ground) but this will still dry out and need repeated applications of purified water.
*To deal with circulating venom from bites and stings or toxins from infected wounds, AC must also be given internally to help with the removal of toxins.
Charcoal Bath – For multiple stings, scrapes, or poison ivy/oak, soak the injured limb(s). Add 2 cups of activated charcoal powder to a warm bath. Immerse body or limb for up to 1 hour.
Activated charcoal is not generally found in most first aid kits. You’ll be glad you took time to include this indispensable herb in your bug-out bag.
Keep reading to learn about the last (but not least) indispensable herb you will want to carry in your emergency supplies.
Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens) Powder
Cayenne comes form the dried pods of chili peppers. It is a pungent herb that can add flavor and a heat to food, but is that any reason to carry it around in your survival sack? Well, there’s a lot more to cayenne than its well-known ability to spice up one’s life. It is also a powerful medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years. Read on to learn more.
If you master only one herb in your life, master cayenne pepper. It is more powerful than any other.Dr. Richard Schulze ND, MH
American Herbalist & Natural Healer
Cayenne is what is known in natural medicine as an herbal stimulant. “Stimulants quicken, excite and increase nervous sensibility, thereby stimulating energy in the body and enhancing its function. These herbs stimulate naturally, in contrast with unnatural drugs and alcohol which irritate and debilitate the system, and in the case of alcohol, depresses it. Stimulants increase the power of the pulse and carry blood to all parts of the body equalizing and restoring the circulation in all parts.”7
In addition to adding heat to the pepper, capsaicin acts to reduce platelet stickiness and relieve pain. Other constituents of cayenne are vitamins E, vitamin C and carotenoids. Today cayenne is used worldwide to treat a variety of health conditions, including poor circulation, weak digestion, heart disease, chronic pain, sore throats, headaches and toothache. Cayenne is the greatest herbal aid to circulation and can be used on a regular basis.”8
The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin (the active chemical) it contains, and the more capsaicin the pepper contains, the more potent and effective of a medicinal it will be. There is little medicinal effect in the cayenne spice purchased at the grocery store. As a spice, cayenne generally offers only about 34,000 HUs (heat units). To use medicinally, look for a minimum of 160,000 HUs, preferably 200,000 to 300,000 HUs or more as is found in African Bird cayenne or in Mexican Habanero.
Taken internally, “cayenne influences the heart immediately, then gradually extends its effects to the arteries, capillaries, and nerves. The frequency of the pulse is not increased, but it is given more power. In equalizing the bold circulation, cayenne produces natural warmth, and in stimulating the peristaltic motion of the intestines, it aids in assimilation and elimination. It rebuilds the tissue in the stomach. It also heals stomach and intestinal ulcers.”7
“Due to its high capsaicin and beta-carotene content, cayenne pepper is an excellent decongestant and expectorant. This makes it useful in cystic fibrosis where the transport of mucus is altered. It helps to loosen the sticky mucus and eases elimination. It reduces swelling and inflammation in the respiratory tract, improving breathing.”9 Also, this thinning of mucus will help the mucus membranes throughout the body. It can be useful to open the airways with asthma, to clear the sinuses, nasal passages, lungs and urinary tract.
Using Cayenne Internally
Cold, Stuffed Nose, Headache, Internal Bleeding, Cramps, Circulation, Blood Clots, Digestive Issues, Enzymes, Low or High Blood Pressure, Muscle Pain or Stiffness – Use ½-1 teaspoon to 1 cup hot water, steep 10 min, 2-3x per day.
Sore Throat – (same doses as above) taken as a gargle, repeat as needed.
Epilepsy –1 teaspoon 1x/per day.
In an emergency… Call 911 while you are preparing and giving or taking this remedy. It is not to be sipped it is to be “chugged.”
Cayenne is said to stop a heart attack in under a minute. It acts as a styptic internally as well as externally so it can stop bleeding such as happens in a stroke.
Stroke or Heart Attack, Chest Pain, Issues with Circulation, Shortness of Breath – Put 1 heaping teaspoon cayenne in 1 small cup warm or hot water (2 to 4 ounces water). Have the person “chug” it. It will be HOT/uncomfortable. If they sip it they may not get a sufficient dose. You can follow with extra pure water if desired. Repeat dose as needed.
Heart Attack– Put 1 heaping teaspoon cayenne OR 2 teaspoons of chili powder OR 3 teaspoons of finely ground black pepper (cayenne pepper works best – but use what you have) in 1 small cup warm or hot water (2 to 4 ounces water). Have the person “chug” it. It will be HOT/uncomfortable. If they sip it they may not get a sufficient dose. You can follow with extra pure water if desired. Repeat dose as needed.
Warning: Pregnant or nursing women and those using blood thinners, seizure medications and muscle relaxants should not use cayenne internally.
Using Cayenne Topically
Sprinkle in Socks or on Feet and in Gloves/on Hands – Increases warmth and circulation. Do not touch your eyes if you get cayenne on your hands. Cayenne causes a burning sensation in the eyes, but will not harm them. In fact, cayenne is one of the healing herbs included in Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Eyebright Formula!
Inflammation, Joint/Arthritis Pain, Gout, Musculoskeletal (Acute Back & Neck) Pain, Slipped Disk, Neuropathy, – Mix 1 tablespoon to 4 tablespoons of cayenne powder with butter, oil, or a gel and massage area for 15 minutes 2x per day.
Wounds/Gangrene – Flush wound with clean water mixed with 1 teaspoon cayenne first, THEN pack with cayenne. It is styptic and will stop bleeding fast.
All of these conditions will benefit by taking cayenne both internally and externally. Internal “doses” for chronic conditions can be added to food, if desired.
*Internal or external burning sensations may cause discomfort, but they do not cause harm.
STEP #1 – Print your labels. These labels are formatted for a 10-per page (2″ x 4″) shipping label such as PRES-a-ply #30609 or Avery template #5163.
Do not fill the bags with herbs until steps 2 & 3 are complete!
STEP #2 – Attach each label to a small zip-lock snack bag. The salt and chia seed bags will only require one label each. The activated charcoal and cayenne snack bags will both need two labels. Place an ‘internal’ label on one side and a ‘topical’ label on the opposite side of each bag.
STEP #3 – Place a layer of clear packing tape over each label on the bags. This is to preserve the text from potential water damage.
STEP #4 – NOW add the herbs to the bags. (It is helpful to have an assistant hold each bag open while herbs are being added.)
STEP #5 – For extra protection, use a sandwich-sized zip-lock bag to double-bag the herbs, especially the activated charcoal and cayenne. If either of those two opened inside your bug-out bag that would be terrible.
STEP #6 – Place the herbs (including the double-bagged herbs) together inside a one gallon zip-lock bag within your BOB.
The key to using these herbs is to not have to solely rely upon them. They can be very effective used during the time it takes for emergency personnel to arrive or during transport to medical facilities.
There are literally thousands of herbs. Many are worthy of mention because they are helpful in so many different circumstances. The herbs chosen specifically for this article are those with a broad range of use that cannot quickly or easily be foraged for in a medical emergency.
The student of herbalism benefits by becoming well-acquainted with a number of common herbs. It is important to know how and where to forage for, process, and use these herbs for food and medicine. Here are a few of the most common, multi-use herbs to study: Yarrow (a favorite among herbalists for wounds and as a fever-reducer), plantain “the draw-er” and so much more, pine, burdock leaves and root, white oak bark, boneset, mullein, nettle, dandelion and so much more!
If you are interested in learning about the benefits of dandelion – the whole plant! – read our blog entitled: 3 Reasons to Love Dandelion
We hope you learned something new from this blog today. Do you have a bug-out bag for emergencies? Are there other herbs that you believe should be considered for emergency first-aid use? What herbs do you carry in your BOB? Comment below and tell us about it! We would love to hear from you.