Podcast 187: Herbalism In A Time Of Collapse
Collapse is not a single event that occurs everywhere, once and for all. It occurs in fits and starts, unevenly distributed across communities. When there are floods and fires, when there are supply chain disruptions, when there is war and strife – these are expressions of collapse. Recognizing them is not in any way saying we shouldn’t bother to try and stop them, or reduce their severity! But it is a necessary acknowledgement of reality.
Making plans for collapse in all its manifestations is a solid way to mitigate their effects on you and your family or community. It’s also good for your mental & emotional health in the meantime! Seeing stories of devastation and loss is hard; having plans for how to navigate these things if they come your way makes it easier to bear.
These plans must include community. No one can go it alone for very long, even in the best of circumstances. When there’s disaster, we need each other even more. Stockpiling supplies in a bunker is not a long-term solution. Building skills, and developing a community of people who are enthusiastic about learning these skills, is the best way forward. (Check out makerspaces, skillshares, & mutual aid collectives to find like-minded folks.) And that’s where herbalism comes in!
Start today: build yourself a list of herbs which grow in your ecosystem and can play important roles in a situation where medical care isn’t available. Getting to know your local antiseptic herbs, nutritives, herbs for emotional support, digestives, and respiratory support herbs is a great foundation to begin with – that’s what we’re focusing on in this episode.
We have online video herbalism courses that can help you develop these skills, too!
Our Herbal First Aid course teaches you all the fundamentals of working with herbs for acute care. Wounds, burns, sprains, bites & stings, and emotional first aid eeds can all be addressed with herbs!
The Emergent Responder program is a complete guide to holistic disaster response & preparedness. Learn how herbal first aid, long-term care strategies, and emergency clinic management unfold in austere environments. Get the skills you need to be confident and ready to care for yourself, your family, and your community – even if help never comes.
Our Herbal Community Care Toolkit is chock full of low-cost, abundantly accessible herbs for addressing common health issues. Students in this program learn our most inexpensive strategies for improving health and well-being. This course is available by donation, but if you can’t afford it, email us and we’ll send you a coupon code so you can get it for free!
Once enrolled in any of our courses, your access never expires – and you get any updated material we add in the future, free of cost!
Other resources we mentioned in this episode:
- Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, by Bill McKibben
- The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters, by Juliette Kayyem
- FEMA Training & Education and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Program
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.
Well, the power of this podcast has been, you know, fluctuating.
We had a little impromptu vacation there. Not actually a vacation. We were, or we are still in the middle of a big project to update of our COVID materials across all of our courses. Incorporating lots of really excellent new information about long COVID, and looking at studies that are being done, and all kinds of options that are available.
Yeah. And just recognizing the impacts of COVID across multiple systems of the body. Not only the respiratory system, but certainly in the cardiovascular and neurological and other places as well. Yeah. So, that’s something we’ve been focusing on right now. And if you are a student in any of our online courses, then you’ve probably seen some new material being added.
Yeah. Students enrolled in any of our courses have lifetime access and always receive all updated material that we create for free automatically right in their own accounts. You don’t even have to ask for it. Like every time we update stuff, it just magically comes to you for free.
That’s how we do it.
So, you know, on the podcast feed here we’ve been doing a series on the herb on the shelf in our home apothecary. And don’t worry, we’re going to continue on with that. But not today. Today, we are talking about collapse
Which I am pretty excited about actually. Like I know it sounds like a heavy word, or like a word that isn’t very exciting. But we have three cups of tea here for two people, and we have a whole lot of herbs to get things going. So, what I’m saying is this is going to be an uplifting episode, even though it includes the word collapse. So, get however many cups of tea you need, and let’s do this.
Yeah. But before we jump in, we’re going to give you our reclaimer. That’s where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.
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Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research further.
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether that’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make.
Yes. Okay. So, collapse.
Thinking About Collapse
I have been thinking about the word collapse a lot. I’ve been reading lately Falter by Bill McKibben, and I’ve been reading The Devil Never Sleeps by Juliet Kayyem. And you might know anyway about our work in the Emergent Responder program. That program has been around for a couple of years now. And it is specifically designed around disaster response, back when some really big disasters were a little bit more surprising like Hurricane Sandy. I feel like the time between now and Hurricane Sandy has really been just this enormous snowball. Not that Hurricane Sandy was in any way the beginning. I mean, before that was Katrina, and before that… Like there certainly have been other large events, but they were like spaced out just enough that we could still tell ourselves they were surprises.
Unusual 30 year, 50 year, century events.
Yeah. Maybe there were three or five year events.
That you may experience in your life, but probably not every single year. Probably not multiple times a season. Which is the way these things are feeling more now.
Yeah. I feel like back then, we still could convince ourselves that that wouldn’t happen to me personally. But maybe it’s a good idea to know some stuff. And now I feel like we can no longer kind of keep up that charade. The likelihood that it is going to happen to me personally is extraordinarily high these days.
Yeah. But of course collapse is not only about big storms and disasters, right? It’s also something that we’ve all been experiencing in the course of COVID, when there have been supply chain disruptions. And suddenly it’s hard to find toilet paper, or eggs, or whatever it is.
And also like people. Capitalism looks at people as resources. They look at like a resource chain of labor. And I want that to collapse. But that’s not going to be pretty. The reality is that COVID impacted so many people in a collapsed sort of way, by either making their jobs un-job-able, like undoable, or making their jobs disappear.
Or just making them very dangerous. Where okay, you’re in a service industry. You have to be face to face with hundreds of people every day. And some of them are going to spit at you, or yell at you, or refuse to wear a mask, or whatever else. And, you know, that’s just what you’re going to be doing today. And so there’s an uneven distribution in all of these things. Whether we’re talking about disaster. Whether we’re talking about the effects of late stage capitalism. Whether we’re talking about the effects of war. These things are again, unevenly distributed in the world. But I think it’s past the point now where we can look at it and say well, I’m safe over here. You know, I’m in New England, so I don’t have to worry about tornadoes, or about wildfires, or about invasions, or whatever else. You know, when we look at what’s going on in Ukraine or what’s happening right now in India and Pakistan. It’s breaking through, I think, to more people to say like, oh right. These things happen anywhere. They can happen at any time. And even if I feel safe today, it’s still a good idea to plan for a disrupted future.
Right. And, you know, I mean these things are still happening in Syria and Somalia and lots of other countries. And it’s been real easy to just say well, that’s over there for a lot of people. But I think that more and more people are realizing that we can’t escape all of it. And so it’s not like all of it is going to come to you. But not none of it is going to come to you.
Yeah. And to bring this to herbalism too, I feel like this is connected to people becoming more aware about the extent of the world, and about ecological concerns. And thinking about natural ways to take care of themselves, or ways that they could do that that would be better for the environment, less polluting and so on. And so those kinds of awareness, they go hand in hand. Yeah.
All right. So, that was a little bit of a depressing part. So, but listen. I don’t think that it serves us to treat those things like we can’t talk about them, because they’re too depressing. And they are depressing. And so you have to do what you have to do to keep yourself going. And don’t worry. We’re going to talk about that.
Yeah. They bring many emotions, right? They can bring depression. They can bring fury. They can bring…
Simultaneously, yeah. But I think that the way that we position ourselves towards the concept of collapse affects our mental health. And so if you think about in your kitchen, you’re washing dishes, and you have like a favorite antique plate. And you always wash it very carefully, because you know you don’t want it to break. And then one day accidentally you break it. And now you’re really upset about it. But at some point you have to say well, I have to clean it up. And then you move on to the cleaning it up of it. Like okay, I guess I should get a dust pan. And then I’m going to sweep all this up and put it in the trash. And then maybe I’ll get out the vacuum. And maybe I’ll just make sure that there are no little pieces and, you know, like whatever. And so, we can think that way about our emotional responses to collapse. If we can start acknowledging that it is real, and that it is happening. And that also maybe we can look at it as part of a cycle. You know, like there’s been a lot of expansion, and now there will be some contraction. And that isn’t necessarily going to be fun. But if we can find these ways to say well, it’s coming. And then start to focus on the fact of that, and the well, what are we going to do about it? What is my personal to-do list? I think that makes it a little easier. So, I have a kind of larger analogy here. I think we should talk and think about collapse like we talk about jobs. So, there’s a time in your life, right, when you’re a kid, and you don’t have a job. But you know that you will have one, right? And so when you’re a little kid, you know that you’re going to have a job. And you want to be a ballerina, or a firefighter, or whatever. And then you go through different stages in your life. And then maybe you want to be…
Right. Because then someone tells you listen, Ryn. A firefighter does not actually just walk around in burning buildings with an axe. They have like other parts of the job. And you’re like oh, well, all right. Maybe I’ll do something else. Instead,
There was a large part of my school career where I wanted to be a Blue Angel. I was going to be a Navy fighter pilot, and I was going to be the best. And then finally my dad was like, you wear glasses. And for a while I was like, that’s okay if you’re really good. They grind your cockpit instruments to your prescription. I don’t know where I came up with that, but I was so sold on this. And then finally I was like, that’s not going to be my job.
Yeah. So, you know, as you get older you maybe change your ideas about what your career path is. And you make some plans, some preparations for that. And they look different for different people, but you have some sense of what’s coming. And the whole metaphor hangs together here, right? Like your ideas of what is often the future change as you go along. That’s part of this work
And not everybody prepares for that in the same way, right? For some people it’ll be okay well, I guess I better start saving for college. And I better think about my major. And then I better get a job in that field, ha ha. And then, you know, like whatever. And for other people it is ah, I really want to be a carpenter. And so I will apprentice to a carpenter or go to a school where I can learn carpentry. And there will be lots of different things. And for some people, you know, maybe you’re not really sure. So, you’re like well, I’m just going to do some different jobs for a while and find out what appeals to me. So, maybe you’re a waiter for a while. And then maybe you do some childcare. And then maybe you do whatever. Everybody has different paths, and that’s also great. That holds up in this metaphor, right? We’re all maybe going to do somewhat different things as we prepare for collapse. But we all know that that it’s coming. And so we can all kind of like find what our job is.
Planning for a New Normal
Right. And part of the change in your planning there comes is you start to get a different impression of what collapse even means, or what it looks like. You know, it’s not all Mad Max deserts and like gladiators and all of that.
It’s absolutely not like the last man standing, you know, survival of the fittest.
Exactly. Yeah. But, you know, so as we think and imagine what that looks like, not just on an individual scale, but on a community scale, then that changes the way we plan. So, this is all kind of in the world now. It’s either there near you, or next to you, or possibly coming your way. We’re not sure when, you know.
I mean maybe you live out west, and you’ve been going through wildfire season now in this new, much more intense manner for the last several years. And you’re like oh, it’s here. Yeah.
So, acknowledging that is not at all the same as saying there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We shouldn’t even bother, right? That’s not true at all. We should take some steps. Because we can still have an influence on how fast these things happen, how severe they are when they happen, how they influence, you know, people or ecosystems as they happen. But this level…
I think also to add in there the justice of how they happen, or the planned avoidance of injustice of how they happen. That’s my optimistic take, you know. Or the planned injustice of how they happen, you know.
But this level of disastrous events and big upheavals that we’ve been seeing, this is the beginning. This isn’t even quite the new normal yet. And you know, you can think of that in the context of carbon. And how a new report came out from the IPCC recently about like yeah. If we really do want to not hit some of those target ranges for temperature increase, then we’ve got about four years to do the whole thing. And again, not to look at that and say well, forget it. That’s never going to happen. Throw up our hands. Walk off and give it up forever. But just to say there’s some stuff that’s baked in to our climate now. And it’s going to continue to unfold, change weather patterns, change precipitation patterns, burn patterns, things like that. And we’re not quite to our new normal yet. We’re not really going to be there for a while. It’s a moving target. But each year, right, we do see more fires, more droughts, more floods. So, this summer we’re going to see them. We’re going to see more fires. We’re going to see droughts, floods, whatever else.
And we shouldn’t be surprised about that. Like when it happens, we should be like yep. This is what I expected. So, we need to start making plans. And this is actually where I think we have a lot of agency. And listen, I admit very, very emphatically that I am just a hopeless Pollyanna. I guess I am an extraordinarily hopeful Pollyanna. You can’t be a hopeless Pollyanna. That’s a contradiction in terms. You know, my mom loved that movie. And I watched it a lot when I was a little kid, that Disney movie. And I don’t know, maybe that just stuck for life. Or maybe I just am this kind of person. I’m not sure. But I really am a person who tries to find the positive in things. So, that is my bias when I think even about collapse, is how can I find the positive in this? And I just want to acknowledge that, because I know that not everybody feels a lot of positivity or optimism in thinking about this. And so I understand that my pollyanna-ness can be a little bit like how is she seeing anything good? But I also truly believe it. So, as I move into this, and I say I think we have a lot of agency here. And you might be feeling completely out of control. Like you don’t have any agency. And there are so many places on the large scale, where we look around and it’s like what? So, I’m going to just vote again. Like that feels so powerless. And it does feel so powerless. And please do it anyway. But the agency that I think we have is on a much smaller scale. Or it’s a very large scale, but it’s at a lower level.
And I think that I don’t even just have to think it. We’ve seen it over and over again. We’ve seen enough disasters now of every single kind to know that the agency is in the community. And this is also the way that we can have space to support our emotional health as we go through this. Because once you make a plan and get moving on it, you’re focused on that plan, right? Even if it’s really hard. Even if it’s, you know, the bridge is out or the this or the whatever. Or even we’re seeing it in Ukraine right now. The way that that whole country has pulled together, and as grim as that situation is. But also we see the bonding that is happening at the community level. And I would prefer not to have had had that kind of a situation.
Of course, we would all.
Yeah. Right. Whatever. But the reality is no matter how bad things are, what tends to truly happen is that people pull together. And that once we’re pulling together, once we are working the plan, it doesn’t mean that we’re not feeling the weight of it. But in general humans tend to do better when they have something to work towards, and better still when they’re working in community and for community. And I feel also, you know, that this is probably the time to mention unionizing. Because we’re sort of talking about collapse in the context of climate, in the context also we’ve mentioned different wars a couple of times. But we see it in this post capitalist reality as well. And I think that is part of what is driving this new like wave of unionization that is so exciting. Because it is, you know, like this culture, this country, but also this culture, which is larger than just the United States. It has been a culture of isolation. The way that our jobs are, the way that our families are, the way that our towns are built, like everything is about isolating individuals from one another and sort of breaking down community. And so when I see these big waves of unionization, I feel thrilled. I feel thrilled, because it’s thrilling. But I also feel thrilled, because it’s like we are coming together in spite of a culture that isolates us. And we’re seeing it at the level of workers. We also need to be seeing that at the level of towns and social groups and all different places. And I think that’s really where our work is as we move forward.
Yeah. That cultural push towards individualism and a focus on self sustainability and all of that drives the kind of plans that people tend to make or tend to envision when they’re thinking about collapse. So, if we’ve convinced you to be thinking ahead, you may be saying to yourself well, what kind of plan should I make then? And a lot of times when people are thinking about this, they come up with Rambo plans. This is the idea that you, one individual, can have everything that you need to survive on your own. And you’ll march off into the forest with a knife. And in a few months, or in a week, or whatever you’ll have food and water and shelter and everything you need. And you’ll be able to grow your own calories in a forest garden.
Right. Either that, or you’ll like stockpile everything that you need personally in a location that you’re somehow going to keep secure. And you’re going to like make it alone.
Get to the bunker, you know?
Yeah. Like I don’t know. I didn’t really want watch the Rambo movies. So, maybe this plan worked out for him. I’m not sure. But listen, even if he did survive – which I guess he must have, because he’s the title character – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t exactly what we would call healthy. Like just continuing to breathe is not enough for survival.
Yeah. Rambo plans didn’t work. They’re attractive to our culture, because we place so much emphasis on self sufficiency and independence. But the thing is that we are interdependent. To be successful we need community. And that’s true all the time, but especially in a time of disaster or collapse.
You know, partially because there is just too much work for one person. So, the magic number for sustainable survivability is approximately 25 working people. Not 25 bodies, but 25 working people. And so there are different jobs that need to be done. And some of this work could be done by older children or whatever. But I just want to specify that it’s 25 people who are contributing, not 25 people who are eating. And we need that diversity of people, because there’s just too much work to do by hand. You can’t do all of it by yourself or just like your own individual nuclear family. It’s just not going to happen.
Yeah. And there are different kinds of work too. I think maybe that 25-30 number is like physical work people. But you’re going to need people to talk to about your emotions. You’re going to need people to like take care of someone who’s sick mainly through the nursing of like reading stories and just being around. That’s important as well. And so, you know, don’t read working people to all think about manual labor there. There can be a lot of important emotional labor here.
Right. And of course even with the labor aspect, there are so many different kinds, right? Like somebody has got to be cooking, and somebody has got to be caring if there are children and doing the nursing work and all the different things. So, there are all kinds of people who can do all kinds of jobs. But when we’re doing that count, it doesn’t count babes in arms. Yeah, 25 contributing people.
Yeah. So, just for that kind of like getting all the stuff done in a day. But again, we’re social creatures. We can’t really be healthy alone. Look at any of the many, many studies about solitary confinement, and you see it very extreme in that kind of circumstance. We’re herbalist. We do like to be with plants more than we like to be with many people. Most of them maybe, I don’t know.
We do kind of have that personality,
But, you know, come on. Everybody needs some other humans.
Yeah. Even if you think you like plants and cats better than people, you too still need humans. And so I think it’s really important to emphasize those two things. First off, just keep coming back to that number 25 people. Because I don’t know about you, but I find that simultaneously completely logical, and also completely it breaks my paradigm. Because I grew up in this culture that pretends that Laura Ingalls Wilder somehow made it on her own. Like she didn’t. She had a whole community. Like, I don’t know. That was a book that I read growing up, and it has its flaws. But it also, I think, informed a whole generation of people of what it means to like be self-sufficient and never really talks too much about the reality of community even if you live on the outskirts of it. It still is part of your support system. And so we just have these ideas of like well, it’s fine. I’m just going to go out and do all this stuff myself. And we’re really not. We really need people to survive.
Yeah. You know, people often think well, if I just have all the stuff I need, I’ll be all set, right? That’s like you said, part of those Rambo plans is to stockpile or like build up the bunker. And it is good to have some stuff that you’re going to need. But stuff only gets you so far. Especially because stuff can be taken away. The house can burn down. It can get flooded. It can blow away in the wind, in a tornado. You can’t depend on stuff, but you can depend on skills. So, yes. Have some stuff around, sure. But skills are going to be a little more important. So, as we go through the rest of this episode here, we’re going to talk first about some stuff – because we mentioned it – and then about some critical skills that you can start working on right away. And how you can let the development of these skills keep you emotionally healthier not just in a disaster, but all the way from now until.
Yeah. All right. Well first with regard to stuff, I’m pretty sure this is like a philosophy thing about like pushing something. A thought experiment where you push something all the way to the extreme and see what happens. I’m not making that up, right? That’s a thing philosophers do.
Yeah. All the time.
Start with the Stuff
Yeah, okay. Great. So, I think that it’s helpful, if you’re thinking about stuff, to push your thought experiment to the extreme. And say the most important stuff is what you have on your body. Like assuming that your house burns down or some other ghastly, terrible thing happens, and all you have is what is on your person. Then that’s where you start investing. And so invest in some good clothing that’s appropriate for the weather in your region. For us that’s wool like layers of not too thick wool, so that we can be ready for hot or cold. And also still stay warm if it’s damp, because it’s almost always damp here.
Yeah. The advancements in miracle wool… I’m sort of inclined to say smart wool, but that’s like a brand. But there are all these sort of like wool plus fabrics out there now that are amazing, and really durable, and just fantastic.
Yeah. So for us that is what’s appropriate in our climate, but in your climate it might be different. So, then I would also say get a good small knife. Not a tactical knife or a really fancy knife. Not something really big. Something that has a straight edge so that you can sharpen it yourself, and something that is small enough to be really functional in your own hand. That part is very important. So, I have very small hands. And that influences the size of knife that I I’m comfortable working with. Plus the kind of work you’re going to do with it is going to influence the size of knife. You might be thinking well, I just need the biggest knife that I can handle. Well, can you pare an apple with it? Well, you probably aren’t going to pare an apple, but maybe potatoes. You know, whatever. Can you scale a fish with it? Can you cook with that knife, and also peel bark with that knife, and also dig roots with that knife. And also maybe sterilize that knife and like debride the edges of a wound with that knife. If you have an enormous knife, it’s not going to be manageable. So, just be thinking very practically. Your favorite kitchen knife is a good guide for what you might be looking for.
Yeah, in terms of size, you know? Yeah, and then sharpening it. Learning how to do that is also really important. It’s a skill for your stuff. It’s an important one, yeah. They go together. Another one here would be a fire steel. So fire steel, something that you’ve got to practice with in order to figure out how to work with it at all. And then to keep that skill sharp, it’s good to practice regularly and consistently. If you want to start, you can just practice once you’re twice a week. And with this it’s best to actually practice building a fire. Because getting the spark or even getting a little bed of tinder lit and started is not building a fire.
Yeah. The fire’s not there yet.
And in fact there’s a bunch of stuff you want to do even before you start looking for tinder or striking your fire steel. You’ve got to build a little house where the fire’s going to go. And get that ready, so that you’ve got somewhere to put it.
Listen, when you first get one of these… And I personally like a mag rod or a ferro rod. You can just Google those two words. Light my Fire is a brand from Sweden that I love. I like those two kinds, because they will work even if there’s water actively running on the thing. It will still work. And so I like that about them. You can still work in the rain with them. But in terms of calibration, don’t expect it to work the first hundred times you try it. And if you know that going in, okay. I’m going to have to try this at least a hundred times until I even maybe get my first spark. Then you won’t think I tried this 10 times, why can’t I do this?
Maybe this ferro rod isn’t working right.
Right. Just expect it’s going to take you like a hundred times to get the angle right, and to like really feel comfortable, and the right degree of pressure, and that kind of stuff.
Yeah. And then to be able to point the sparks where you want them to go.
That’s the next hundred times, yeah. Yeah. So, the key here is that this is going to take a while to learn. And you can learn it in a weekend. You know, just be like okay, well this weekend I’m just going to build a fire. Sometime before the end of this weekend, I’m going to get a fire going. But expect it to take the whole weekend. And that way you won’t be discouraged or disappointed or whatever.
Yeah. And if you practice regularly, you know, you’re going to want to practice building a fire in wet conditions. And then also being able to build a fire safely in a contained way in dry conditions. That’s also super important, right?
No matter where you are, because like even here in New England, it’s so damp all the time. Except we’ve had droughts almost every year. And so inherently it’s damp. But then during the drought, it’s not. And so you really do, no matter where you are, you really do need to be prepared both to make fire from wet stuff and to make safe fire in super dry stuff.
Another thing that would be good to have, and that you can carry with you, would be a small waterproof satchel. It could be for important documents. It could also be for things that you really need to keep dry. It might even include a little bit of tinder just in case. Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, we do live in a world that requires documentation. So, you know, you do want to have your passport if you have one, and your driver’s license or whatever kind of document that you have. And also if you do have any kind of property, FEMA has all kinds of training programs that are free and like through the government. And you can just watch them online. And all different levels too, like from just regular I’m just a person with a family, all the way up through I’m a firefighter, and I want to advance my whatever. And one of the things that they help with is understanding what documents you need to keep with you, if you do own any kind of property. Because having those documents does make the process of dealing with insurance and whatever else, for as long as those things are still around, so much easier. And so thinking that through a little bit ahead of time, and either storing those things in a place that is going to be fireproof and waterproof, or having them with you in a way that is going to be waterproof and inside your clothes, is important. Even though it’s not necessarily the first thing we think about. Like we think about a knife, we think about fire. We think about maybe some food. And documents is not necessarily the thing that pops right to mind, but it is actually important.
Yeah. But overall we’re looking for these things to be accessible and to be right there on your body, you know? Because you could lose a bag. But if the stuff is there with you inside your clothes, it’s more likely to stay with you.
Yeah. And so when you’re choosing your knife, choosing one that has a good, safe holder that either goes on a belt, if you’re a person who wears a belt. But I’m not a person who wears a belt ever. So if you’re like me, you need to think of another way that this knife is going to be on your person and not in a bag. And the same with your fire steel. You can just wear that like a necklace.
Yeah. So, you know, if you’ve got all that, that would be like your absolute minimum tool set to be functional. If the worst possible thing happens, you lose all your stuff, right? And you can have more stuff. You can have a go bag in the house that you want to grab. And it’s got a couple of other survivals tools, and maybe some food, maybe something for purifying water. That would be good. So all that stuff is great, and you can go nuts with it. You can have a small one that’s right by the door. You can have a bigger one if there’s some more warning. You can keep one in the car, if you’ve got a car, right.
And it doesn’t make you… Some people feel like well, if I have a go bag by the door, then people will think I’m that kind of person. Other people are like, darn straight I’m that kind of person. Right? Like different people have a different ideas about the coolness or not coolness of having a bag by the door. But you don’t have to announce to everybody that that’s what that is. It can just be a bag that you just keep in your entry way. But the reality is in our own student body we have lots of people who have been through the fires in the last few years, and the floods, and all the things. And they had to go. And it doesn’t matter if it’s cool or not. Or if it makes you think like am I the kind of person that has a bag by the door? Be the person, be the person with a bag by the door.
Invest in Physical Skills
Yeah. Be prepared. So, all that stuff is good. But beyond that we’re mostly interested in investing in skills. Because those, they go with you wherever you go.
And also because the reality is you are not going to be without forever. There will be a period in time where you may have lost things. But the reality is that humans are community. And so as you pull together, you will come to a place that has some resources. And they may not be sufficient. And it might not be everything that you want it to be. But you won’t always have nothing. So, if you have skills, then you can increase the resources you have and make the more sufficient. And skills is what I’m saying.
Yeah. And share them with others. Yeah. Some of these might not be what you expect. A very important skill is walking. So, we don’t all of us walk very much as a culture. We’ve got car culture in the U.S. In particular. But what if suddenly you need to walk a lot each day to get supplies, or water for drinking, or to coordinate with other people, or to evacuate. I mean there have been people taking some very long walks in Ukraine lately.
Right. Or even if you just think about places where water is scarce. And imagine if you had to walk 3, 5, 10 miles to get water, and you had to do that every day. That is happening right now in many places in the world. Water is heavy. You know?
Right. Yeah. So, knowing that your body could do that just to traverse the space. I don’t know. Pull a wagon behind you, put some water bottles in there, or carry stuff if you really had to. Could you do that? Knowing that you can would be very reassuring in a situation like that, you know? And if you’re somebody who is listening to this and like yeah, no problem. I can carry five gallons of water for 20 miles, no problem. Great. That’s cool.
Okay. You’re pretty sporty.
That’s pretty sporty, yeah. You’re doing pretty good, right? But think about some other things. Like can you walk and can you carry a child, or can you carry your dog and for how far. Could you walk and carry one end of a stretcher with somebody on it? How far, right? Could we do that for, okay a hundred yards. Well, how about a mile? How about 10, you know? In a disaster we’re going to need to work together. And so those of us who are abled and have some capacity to exercise and to move weight and everything one of the things that we can offer the community in these circumstances is just that. Just be a beast of burden for a while, right? And especially because there are going to be people with more limited mobility, or people who need help carrying things from here to there. And so if you’ve got that physical capacity, then I think maintaining it and cultivating it is part of this preparation. But especially if you focus on real world capability, right? So being able to move more weight of dumbbells from on the floor to 12 inches off the floor, two feet, whatever, that’s great. And you can compete, and you can get medals, and that’s fine. But that’s not the same thing as picking up two sacks of potatoes or a squirming, human and carrying…
Or a dog who’s not so sure about being carried.
Right. And there’s loud sounds and sirens. And we’re in weird places, and it smells funny, and there’s a lot going on. That’s a really different experience. And it does challenge, not just your mentality, but your physical body, and your tiny muscles, and your supporters, and all that in a really different way. So, when I talk about movenat or about real world training or that kind of thing, this is often in the back of the mind. It’s not just like oh, well, it looks really cool to do a photo shoot, where I’m crawling on a log over a river. But what if I actually had to get over that log on the river. And not just in my shorts and bare hands and feet, but like trying to carry a 50 pound hiking pack.
If you’re lucky. The likelihood is, realistically speaking, in our community or even just in our family, you’re way sportier than me. And yes, I can walk and carry things for a long time. That is my superpower. I can do that. But if we had to get things across a creek, that will be you. I can get myself across the creek probably. But balancing and carrying things, that’s no longer my superpower. And yes, that’s a thing I can work on. But sort of recognizing our own limits, and that there’s no problem with that. Because I can also cook for an entire troop of people just on a fire, right? It’s okay if I’m not the most sporty person in the group or the most mobile person in the group. I have other skills that are really, really important. But if you are the person who is the most mobile one in the group, then think about getting a big sack of rice across a creek. And if you drop it, that is maybe no longer rice for your community.
Herbal Skills & Antiseptic Action
Yeah. Right. All right. Well, let’s get to some more herbalism oriented skills. Although I think movement skills are part of herbalism, honestly. But let’s talk about some, right? So a critical skill here would be plant identification, gardening, working with wild plants.
Wild plants in particular.
Right. Knowing how to work with them medicinally. Wild plants and also weedy plants, things that are going to grow fast. Even if we were like putting a garden together somewhere that there hadn’t been one previously, you’re going to have to wait a long time for a pumpkin. But you know, some dandelion leaves, you’re going to be able to go and harvest those every day.
Yeah. Granted, there’s more calories in a pumpkin.
Well, yeah, by far, right.
But it’s not all about calories. Especially after a disaster you may be able to get calories from some sort of stash of non-perishable dried things. They may not be fantastic. They may not have a lot of nutrients. And the dandelion greens are going to make up that lack.
Yeah. So, this is probably more of why you’re listening to this particular podcast feed. But really this is where again, like weeds are going to be your best friend. They grow back fast after a flood or a fire. They’re super abundant. They have that mineral content to them. You don’t have to like baby them every single day. So they’re really good. And again, you don’t have to be waiting until after the problem. You can start now, and have part of your garden set aside for weeds or for ooh, invasive plants. But whether you’re gardening them or just recognizing where they grow around you and in your community, getting to know them as foods, as medicinal herbs, that’s really awesome. Even if they’re not like your favorite or the one you’re most enchanted with. But look, like organic sustainably harvested chaga is probably not going to be really available in these contexts, right?
Yeah. All your favorite whatever, I mean it might be available. Goldenrod is one of my favorite whatevers. And that will be available, because it does grow very weedily here. But chamomile, my love affair with chamomile in a post-disaster kind of situation. Well, okay, I can grow it. But I probably will not have as much of it as I would really like. So, it’s important to take some time to step away from your every day favorites. And really get to know the plants who are super weedy around you, and get to know them in ways that you might not have previously thought about them.
Yeah. And thinking about wound care is a good place to start. You know, actually let’s look at wild plants in terms of actions that we can focus on. And we’re going to mention a couple of herbs for each of these actions or these areas of concern, that are wild and weedy around us. But as we talk about this, think about plants that could fill the job that grow where you live. So, we could start with antiseptic herbs or like… yeah.
Herbs that have an antiseptic action.
So, first off any plant that has a lot of volatile oil content is going to be able to accomplish that, you know. Around here if we think about weeds that can help for cleaning wounds or preventing infection, I might think first about like yarrow. And well, this isn’t aromatic, but plantain comes to mind as well.
Yeah. Not aromatic, but biofilm busting and really effective in that way.
Yeah. And also helpful to the underlying tissue that was damaged. So, that’s a really good one.
Plus both of those in our area are very abundant.
Yeah. Lots of yarrow around. And yarrow and wound care go way back. So, that’s kind of baked right in. And maybe that came to mind for you as well. But I wonder if you thought about mugwort as well, because mugwort is a really good antiseptic. It’s got a ton of volatile oil content. That’s the smelly part, you know. It’s contributing a lot to the antimicrobial effects of the herb. The fact that actually it’s an aromatic and a bitter, that also kind of speaks to a good effect as an antimicrobial. I mean, look at yarrow, right? Aromatic and bitter.
Yeah. And yarrow grows a lot here, but it’s a small plant. Mugwort grows a lot here – actually more than yarrow even – and it’s a large plant. So you can have more of it, you know? Yeah.
You know, so we’re in the Northeast. If we go to the other corner, and you’re in the Southwest, you might be thinking more about plants like sagebrush. A lot of that around, you know. Again, aromatic, powerfully antiseptic topically. You might be thinking about chaparral. Really strong antiseptic activity there. Good spread of effect against a lot of different microbes. So again, these are going to be different wherever you go or wherever you find yourself. But start where you are. Think about who’s near you. Go outside, look at the plants. But if you’ve got like a materia medica for your region, look at those plants. And again, focus on who’s super abundant and antimicrobial. And you can even make yourself a little like local stars list.
Yeah. And this isn’t even the end of the list here for New England.
Right. I mean, purple loosestrife has good antimicrobial effects.
Goldenrod, all the different roses, yeah. And sumac would fall into this category as well. And so you also, if you want to get really fancy, you can start to organize it by season. And then you can also really challenge yourself. And if you are in a place that has a not growing season, like if you’re in a place that has a winter. Or maybe if you’re in the very south, it’s the height of summer for you when things don’t really grow. And so really challenge yourself to think about what would I do during that season. So, here in the coldest part of the winter, we’d be looking at trees for that antiseptic action.
Yeah. Pine resin.
Yeah. All the different pines. Not yew, but Y E W not. Yeah.
Lots of other evergreens, yeah.
Yeah. But other evergreens. And wintergreen, we could get that effect.
Nutritive & Emotional Support Herbs
Cool. All right. Another action or category we’d be looking for would be nutritive herbs. And this is primarily plants that have high vitamin and mineral content. If you’re low on calories, but at least you can get the vitamins and minerals that you need, then that will make a big difference. And that will help you to sustain longer. And if you do have sufficient calories, but they’re all like bland carbs, big sack of white rice, whatever, that’s super helpful. That’s good to have around, right, especially if there’s lots of people. But again, you’ve got to be able to supplement that, and not counting on the supplement makers of the world to get them to you. But to be able to look out and say all right, well, we’ve got dandelion. We’ve got lambs quarters. We’ve got Plantago leaves. We’ve got lots of stuff out here.
Right. Because you can subsist on rice for a good long time. But you need the nutrients that you’re going to get from the plants to help actually keep you healthy. Like you can stay alive with just those calories, but without the nutrients… Like the plants are not necessarily providing you with a lot of calories, but they’re providing you with nutrients that are critically, critically important to your survival.
Right. So, this could be pretty much any edible green weed that’s around. Here for us in New England we’re thinking about nettles. Wow, yeah, absolutely. Plantain also, chickweed, violet, especially early in the year violets. And then like later in the year we’d be looking at sumac and autumn olive. Wow, if you’ve got autumn olive, you have berries for everyone.
Yes you do, yeah.
That’s really good news.
Yeah. A lot of people say that autumn olive is invasive, although it doesn’t tend to have an invasive pattern here. But honestly, even if it did, I think maybe it’s worth it, because it is such an abundant food supply. Listen, the environment is changing. And I know that I have pretty unorthodox ideas around invasive plants. But autumn olive is in service. And I think we should just feel happy about it when it shows up. There are some plants that I too am like I’m not happy about that phragmites or whatever. But autumn, olive, I think we should remove it from the invasive category and just be grateful whenever it shows up, because of its abundant high quality food production. We should just say thanks.
Yeah. And then any other wild berries that are around, those are super fantastic. Of course edible berries. Know your berries. Do not go randomly eating an entire bucket full of poke berries. That won’t feel good for you.
Please don’t do that.
Or bittersweet night shade berries or whatever. So, know what it is that you’re chewing on. Okay. We could also look at some roots later in the season, Chicory root, dandelion root, burdock root. They’re not carrots, but they are nutritive for sure. You can cook them in ways that you can eat them. And that’ll feed you really well. And your gut flora.
Yeah, for sure. And you know, even those leaves too. Like burdock leaf is not currently very fashionable as an herb. But it once was. And you definitely can work with burdock leaf, and you can eat it too. You can wrap things up in it to cook. Yeah, it’s actually a very serviceable leaf.
Yeah. Right on. So remember, we’re not trying to get all of our calories from wild forged food here. This is good, because that’s extremely difficult. But being able to provide significant nutrient content from wild herby weeds is going to really help you and your community stay a lot healthier. Yeah. It’s not all about physical health. Emotional health is super important. And the two are absolutely connected. The more stressed out and anxious you are, the less well you digest your food, the less nutrients you absorb. All your other problems can get exacerbated, right? That’s the super short version, but you can spin that story out in lots and lots of different individualized ways. When there’s disasters, people really need emotional support. And it’s often hard to get it because everyone’s just trying to survive, or figure out where they’re going to sleep, or where did my dog end up. So, we’re going to need that in thinking ahead about ways that you can help someone calm down. That you can help someone release fear, anger, anxiety, all the different emotions that flare up. So again, here in New England some herbs we think about here, I think about yarrow a lot for that. Because again, there’s a lot of it. St John’s wort is great. Sometimes we can find wild St. John’s wort patches and cultivate our own and everything. That’s cool. But yarrow and St. John’s wort are two herbs that I often do think about as being quite similar in a number of different levels. I mean, they’re both bitter and somewhat aromatic. They both stimulate liver activity. That is part of your emotional processing, you know, so there’s some of it going on there. But both of them also give a feeling of like protection or shielding from threat and from things that are causing fear. So, yarrow both on a physical and an emotional level can be really, really helpful.
You know, the way that you said that I want to move forward to rose. We have a little list here that we’re thinking about. But I want to bump ahead to rose, because rose also can give you a feeling of protection, but they are different. You know, I think about yarrow when you need to put on your armor and go back out to the fight, whatever the fight is. If it is that you are shoveling out mud, or if it is that you are on a search party or whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be like a militaristic fight. Although if it is, there’s that too. And so I think about yarrow when it is girding up and getting back out there. And I think about rose when it is like okay, that has stopped. And now I can sleep for the night. Except it’s so hard to sleep, because you feel unprotected, and you feel exposed. And so rose also gives you that feeling of protection, but it is more like protection so that you can…
Yes. It is a nesting kind of protection. It is like now you’re ready to be still and rest. And you need someone to watch over you while you sleep.
Yeah. Well then there’s goldenrod.
And this one, this was one of your particular favorites for like heavy, stagnant, and burdened emotional patterns.
Yeah. Especially when the immediate shock of whatever it is has passed. And now it is the day in day out trudge of what has to be done. And that is an endurance sport. You know, like just doing the same darn thing again and again tomorrow. And doing it in uncomfortable situations. And maybe you don’t have a stable place to be and maybe a lot of things. And you just need something to carry you through that. Yeah. That’s when I really think about goldenrod.
Yeah. We also have pine here. And pine can give an emotional boost. Especially a feeling of like all right, I can straighten up. I can stand strong. I can keep on going.
I can shovel a little longer, yeah.
Yeah. That’s very like pine energy there. And then, you know, we’ve also got a decent amount of motherwort around here. And mother wort is really great for when you feel like you need your boundaries a little firmer.
Right. And in a disaster kind of the very reality of a disaster is that your boundaries have been pretty trampled on. You know, like maybe you’re lucky enough to still have your home, but other things that you have depended on are not there. And things that were reliable in your life are not there. And so you kind of need a little boost around that.
Yeah. Sometimes you don’t need help going up, but down. And so a plant like wild lettuce can be really, really helpful. You have to sleep. It is more or less safe to do it. And you’re just pretty amped up and anxious, and it’s hard to settle in. So, some wild lettuce or California poppy if that was around, then that would be really helpful to allow the rest and the recovery time to happen.
Even mimosa if that grows near you could be right. Like really try to just push yourself to think about all the different plants that grow near you, and how could you work with them if that was all you had. And so that isn’t necessarily the way that we normally think about mimosa. We normally think about mimosa in a sort of more delightful kind of way, or a more bringing in joy kind of way. But there is still that relaxing reality to mimosa. And if that’s what you have around you, and you need to be able to help people sleep, then that’s what you’re making. Yeah.
Yeah. All right. We’ve got two more categories here. Because so like working with wound care, antiseptic herbs, nutritive herbs, emotional support plants, that’s going to apply to anything, any kind of problem, any kind of disaster collapse or whatever we run into. These next two are almost guaranteed to happen. So, these are about digestive support and respiratory support. You’re very likely to have to deal with both of these again, regardless of what kind of problem it was. Not only if it’s wildfires or mold from flooding or whatever, but in so many cases this is going to come up.
Yeah. When we think about digestive support especially, we’re thinking about what if your water supply has been contaminated or is sort of only marginal safe. Or what if you are no longer able to refrigerate food. And so people are maybe eating food right kind of on the edge of where it’s really safe anymore. Or you’re not able to wash things very well or whatever else. That there are so many vectors even before we talk about like sickness. There are so many vectors for gut distress, because of lack of the sanitation infrastructure that we are accustomed to on a daily basis.
Yeah. I mean if you just go on vacation, and you’re not eating your normal food. And you get some gut problems going on, like amplify that for a disaster situation. That’s definitely going to happen. And it can be a really serious problem, especially if you’re talking about something like diarrhea. Because now people can get dehydrated. It can happen pretty quick. They can get really weakened by that. And again, not likely to have individual care coming around to check on every single person. So, having a plan to deal with diarrhea in particular is really critical And for that you can look for astringent herbs in your area. For us sumac leaves are really, really abundant and extremely effective for this purpose. Once again, yarrow can do the job here. It has a good astringency to it. Blackberry and raspberry, the roots and the leaf both are some of our favorites for dealing with diarrhea. You’ve got rose petals and rose leaves. You can do those.
Yeah. Even rose root. And listen, if you’re in an emergency situation, ornamental gardens are not off limits necessarily, right? And so somebody’s beautiful rose bush, whatever, maybe we do dig up the roots to work with. Because that is a very potent astringent. You don’t need a lot to do the job.
Yeah. And then invasive plants or abundant plants, like purple loosestrife, fleabane, Erigeron species. Those are extremely good for this as well. There are a lot of astringents out there.
So, I guarantee you that if you poke around in your environment, you can find some astringent herbs that could help out here. But you’re also going to need something to heal the gut after damage, after irritation, or after diarrhea. So, some vulnerary herbs for the gut. Plantain is probably the most abundant one, and it’s so effective. That if you don’t know Plantago species, then definitely get to know that one. It’s an extremely amazing herb, and really, really abundant, and good to know. So, plantain is a key there. We also around Boston have a ton of wild chamomile, or people call it pineapple weed. And that’s a really… I mean, it’s chamomile. It is a wild version, but it is chamomile. So, it heals the gut the same way.
And then violet is a really great one. You may also find common mallow growing. It’s not usually like a lot of it. But if you can find a bit, or if you do just find a great big patch, that’s really valuable.
And listen, any of the mallows can be helpful here. So, if you can’t find common mallow or marshmallow or whatever, again think about your ornamentals. Listen, many ornamentals are not going to be helpful at all. But in this case around here, like in this region, there are so many rose of Sharon plants. And that’s a mallow. I feel like that was a very popular thing to plant, like maybe in the sixties and seventies, because there are tons of them. Like almost everybody’s yard has one. And they’re huge. They’re like all taller than me. And those leaves are mallow leaves. And if you ever just nibble on one, you will feel that same action. Even maybe just a slight bit more mucilaginous than marshmallow leaf.
Yeah. They’re pretty slimy when you’re chewing on them especially. And you know what else? Linden. And there’s a lot of linden trees in cities. Yeah. Cool. You’re also going to need some support for nausea. So, these are the antiemetic herbs. And that can be a little trickier, you know, because maybe you leapt right to ginger. Okay, hang on, right? We are trying to be in the real world. So, it’s not only stuff growing out of the ground. But yeah, if there’s some ginger at the grocery store, maybe we can get to that.
That’s only going to last for a while, but yeah.
Right, okay. So, that could be around. But there might also be peach trees or pear trees around. And leaves off of those are very good for nausea.
Another thing that might make you think like really when I first say it, but think about all of the relaxing mints, any relaxing mint. And for us around here, the most abundant wild, relaxing mint is motherwort probably. And you might be thinking, I would never think about motherwort for nausea. But part of nausea is that spasmy action. And so we need to relax just a little bit. Now motherwort tea might not be the best way to do this. Maybe we just take one leaf of motherwort and sort of like suck on it. You know, sort of chew it a little bit, but maybe don’t swallow it. Sort of pretend like it’s a cough drop.
Just a little bit of bitter juice coming down, yeah. Not too much.
Yeah, but with that relaxant action. And so thinking this way, and kind of getting creative of well, what do I need to counter nausea? Well, I need ginger. All right, well why do I need ginger? Well ginger is relaxing, and ginger is heating. Motherwort doesn’t give you that heating action, but it gives you the relaxing action. And being able to think that way and figure out who else has the type of action that I require, because I can’t get ginger right now. It will point you in some conventional directions sometimes, but that’s how we have to think in an emergency situation.
Yeah. Right on. You might also find wintergreen or spicebush, if you’re in a foresty area. And those can be really soothing as well for these feelings of nausea. So again, think about your area. Think about plants that have some relaxant effects, have some nice gentle carminative qualities to them. And keep those in mind. All right then, respiratory?
Yeah. So, respiratory herbs, because it kind of doesn’t even matter where you live. You’re going to need a plan to deal with fire and flood. Because both of these things are happening more and more, and the range where they happening is really expanding exponentially. But also in terms of fire like here in New England last year we were getting the smoke from the Western wildfires. Not as bad as being in them, but very significantly, kind of shockingly significantly, and absolutely enough to make life pretty tough for folks with existing respiratory issues like asthma or COPD. So, making a plan for dealing with respiratory issues, especially around smoke inhalation and the things that come along with floods – so like mold inhalation, stuff like that – it’s going to be important. Because it is one factor of so many different types of disasters or bad things.
Yeah. One place to start is focusing on herbs that you can do a steam with, because that will help to kill off pathogens and molds and deliver that action directly into your respiratory system and your sinuses as well. Because you don’t want mold living in your sinuses either. So, aromatic mint family plants are going to be really helpful here. And again, we can call on friends like mugwort, and yarrow, and really anything with a good, strong smell to it. Because those volatile oils are really what we’re looking for.
Yeah. We don’t have a ton of smelly mints that just grow wild here, although lots of people’s gardens have mints. And so you could get some that way. But in terms of what really grows abundantly, I think we’d be really looking at the evergreens and at mugwort.
Yeah. Don’t neglect your evergreens, if you if you’re in a foresty environment like we are. You know looking around on the ground like oh, there’s got to be some lavenders in this wood somewhere. No, there are pine trees all around you. There’s spruce. And you can also steam with some plants that you may not drink. So, there’s some varieties of spruce that you don’t really want to drink a tea from. But you could steam with it, and that would be great. So, those strong evergreens are a good place to turn your focus.
Also you can, when you’re doing a steam, you can work with the small branches, like the twiggy branches, keeping in mind that they have those volatile oils as well. Incidentally, even though we’re talking about respiratory stuff, and this isn’t a respiratory thing, but very helpful as a toothbrush as well. But the twiggy branches, as you’re making your steam, you don’t want to just take every single pine needle, right? Because well, at some point you can’t reach them anymore. But also you need to leave some for the tree. But the twigs are going to be effective for a steam.
All right. So, we also want to plan for something moistening, some demulcent herbs. So if you’ve got mallows, if you’ve got violets, if you have linden, those are going to be fantastic options. You might also have access to seaweeds, if you are by the coast. Or there might be some other edible or herbal aquatic plants that you can go with. Those are generally going to be in the moistening direction. If you live in the south then hey, don’t forget okra. That’s a fantastic moistening plant. And hibiscus as well. And especially, you know, think about the leaves of hibiscus plants. Those are particularly moistening. So, all of those are going to be helpful. These are general purpose demulcents. They’re going to be helping to prove moisture balance in the body at large. And they tend to direct a lot of that moisture toward the mucus membranes, including the ones that are in the respiratory tracts. You know, if you’ve got mullein, that’s an herb that specifically moistens the respiratory tract. And of course there are places where there’s lots and lots of mullein available to work with for that purpose. But if you don’t have one of those herbs that’s specifically targeting that one part of the body, then just look for your general moistening herbs and go with those.
Yeah. And especially like in a smoke inhalation situation, honestly it’s not just your lungs that are being affected. So, those general purpose moistening plants are also helping the mucous membranes in your eyes, and in your nasal passages, and whatever else that’s getting all dried out by this.
Yeah. All right. And then some expectorants.
Right. So, I don’t think it’s entirely likely that you’ll find elecampane or pulmonaria or pleurisy root growing in much abundance in most of the places. Those are easy to cultivate, but they don’t grow wild in large quantities really very much. But mullein grows in lots of places. And that is a good, handy expectorant that kind of can serve as an all-purpose expectorant when you need it to. When it’s a wet cough, you could also go with sumac leaves or purple loosestrife. And listen, garlic mustard is basically custom made for this situation. This is another invasive. But this time of year I’m always feeling really excited about garlic mustard. It’s not really a plant that is great to just let it take over an area. But because it is so assertive about growing, you can just go out and pick on all of it. You can pick literally everyone that you see, because you will not see all of them. And so some of them still will grow back. But you don’t have to be worried about how much you’re harvesting. And garlic mustard has that heating action that you would want from elecampane and the expectorant action as well. So, even though it’s not elecampane, it’s really got that bonus of that heat to it.
Nice, nice. So those are for the wet cough, right? Where there’s a lot of moisture and phlegm and everything. If the cough is really dry, go back to those moistening plants, right? All the ones we were mentioning, the mallows, the seaweeds, okra, all of these friends. Those are really going to help out a lot if you have that dry cough.
And you know, we didn’t mention Japanese knotweed.
But again listen, in these kind of situations we’re looking specifically for these invasives. Because they are the ones who are more likely to survive. They are the ones who are more likely to grow back fast. And they are herbs that typically do grow fast anyway. And so Japanese knotweed, especially the flowers, are really, really moistening and have a really lovely lung support action. So, if your disaster happens to happen at the right time that you can grab those, that’s very excellent. And like maybe it doesn’t. But it’s good to know all the different things in all the different seasons.
Yeah. So once again, we’ve been focusing here on plants growing in New England, because that’s where we are. Those are the ones we know the best. But you know, most of the ones we mentioned do grow in lots of places across the country. Plantain you’re going to find basically everywhere. Mugwort everywhere, you know? So, get to know those first. And then if the ones we talked about today don’t grow where you live, that’s fine. Remember to focus on the actions. Focus on the actions that you need in the plants that you have around you. And this is just a starter list, right? If you can do these things with plants that grow abundantly in the wild around you or in places you’ve got access to, then that can really make you a valuable asset to your community. You were already for lots of reasons, but this will just add some green leaves on to that.
Yes. So, you know, you can even do like a little survey, like a census of the wild plants that grow where you are. You can make a list of the types of actions that you think you’re going to need. And then you can find out like okay, who in this list of all the plants that grow around here abundantly, wildly, has the actions that I would need. And that can help you to get ready.
Find Your Community
Yeah. So, none of us has to have all of the plants for every single problem, right? We did not talk today about MacGyver engineering to generate electricity, to run something important for… I don’t know, whatever.
Well, and there are people who already know how to do that. And so make friends with them.
This is why we have community, right? You’re here. You’re listening to this, because you like plants, and that’s really valuable. You can develop that into an actionable skill. You can share that with others. You can support people and take care of them. You don’t at the same time have to be learning how to build a house and hot wire a car. And I don’t know, whatever else
Right. You don’t have to do all of it. You just have to be able to be a contributing member of a community. And that leads right into hey, do you have that community yet?
I want to acknowledge that that part could also feel like daunting, you know? Especially because you’re like all right, well, I’m a single person. I live in a city. I have my apartment. I mostly don’t know my neighbors, because everyone’s a little anxious. And we’re sort of all on top of each other here. We don’t want to feel like we’re prying.
Or I live in a suburb. And I don’t know my neighbors, and I don’t know where to… Yeah.
So, where do you start? You can start with other plant people.
Yes. That’s a good place to start.
There are lots of kinds of plant people, you know. You can see folks who are interested in herbalism locally, but also gardening and wild plant cultivation, identification, or the mushroom folks. You know, they’re out there.
You know, also a thing that is becoming more and more popular across the country is maker spaces. And if that is a phrase you’re not familiar with, then it’s a really exciting thing to check into. A maker space is like a physical location, usually some sort of old industrial building or something like that. And they typically have a whole collection of different kinds of tools. Maybe they have a ceramics kiln. Maybe they have like a laser cutter, laser printer. Yeah, you know, the thing that cuts into wood. And maybe they have a 3-D printer. And maybe they have like a supply of power tools and whatever. And it’s a place where people learn how to use these tools. Sometimes they even have like sewing and all different kinds of things. And so you’ll find people in these spaces who want to be learning things. You don’t have to find people who have all these skills. You just need to find people who are friendly. And then you go learn all these skills. But in maker spaces people tend to be pretty friendly. They tend to be open-minded and thinking about hey, I want to learn how to do this cool thing. Yeah. And so it might be a place that you feel very comfortable.
Yeah. And then there can also be events like a skill share. And often these are oriented in a direction or an arena or something. But you could find a skill share that’s about like DIY stuff and how to grow your own veggies. How to can your own veggies, you know, like all that kind of stuff. Bicycle maintenance, a bunch of different things. And those are just spaces that are, like you say, full of people who are just interested in learning things, and sharing skills, and getting that around. So, that’s a really good spot to go and meet the kind of people who are going to be interested in this.
Yeah. A couple other ideas. Your public library. Libraries are amazing resources. They are just amazing places. So, go get to know your librarian, if you haven’t yet. And talk to them. They know so many people in the community. And just say like hey, I’m looking for some new friends. And I’d really like to meet people who are interested in learning cool things. And you could even host at the library, or at your local farmer’s market perhaps, some sort of discussion about community preparedness. Again, the FEMA website has training even on how to start community programs. And the CERT program also might exist in your town. And CERT is citizen emergency response teams. And you can get training for that online too through government websites.
It’s a place to start. We’re not saying these are perfect. They don’t have all the answers, but yeah. It’s also good to be informed about what the governments are going to be doing, what FEMA, or MEMA, or whatever your local acronym is going to be up to. So, you can have some sense of what they may have covered and also what they don’t.
Yeah. And some of their systems are really effective. They have spent a long time creating systems, and then troubleshooting them, and then fixing them, and then, you know, trying it again. And a lot of those systems you can work with too. So, like systems aren’t always about walkie talkies or whatever. Sometimes it’s process. Sometimes it is this is how we do it. This is when we do it or whatever. So, that kind of information, you know, they’re very low key, online trainings that you can just sort of watch for half an hour, and think about it, and then go about your business. It isn’t like a huge commitment. And it’s just out there for free. But they do have even specific ones about how to start to build sustainability groups in your communities. So, if that’s something that you’re looking for.
Practice Your Skills
Yeah. And then you could also think about connecting with street medic collectives, or just more generally mutual aid collective groups in your neighborhood or in your city. Because this is going to be relevant to their interests too, for sure. So, if you feel yourself getting heavy about the world. You know, you hear about another terrible event or whatever, and it starts to weigh you down. Try to convert that feeling into action. Turn that into some practice. Go out, take a long walk. Maybe carry something with you, you know. But go out there, identify a lot of plants. Think about okay, not just I’m naming off actions that this herb has or constituents that I remember. But what could I do with this in a real world situation. And what could I do with it with the least amount of stuff possible, right? Can I just like with what I’m carrying with me right now, can I prepare a poultice out of this herb? Could I make it into a soup? Could I prepare tea with it? Where would I go to find a container that I can boil water? What would I start with to make a fire here? And you can allow yourself certain things as well to make this not always the hardest option. You can be like okay, I have everything that’s in my house and my yard. What can I do for someone who shows up.
Or even okay, well I know that our community is preparing a meal for everyone. What could I be putting into that meal to increase the nutritive value? So like okay, you don’t have to have a pot. Somebody’s got a pot that we’re all cooking with. You just have to be thinking about what would I be adding to make this more nutritive.
So, every time you do this kind of thing, you are building your skills up, you know? So every chance you get, you can practice. Even if it’s just in your head. If a friend gets an injury or if they get sick, you can practice. Maybe they want to hear what you have to say. Maybe they’re like down for you to do some poultices on them and whatever. But maybe you’re just thinking it through, and imagining what would be required.
Yeah. You’re allowed to think through what you would do to help somebody without ever telling them. If you know that they’re not into it, and they don’t want to hear it, that’s okay. You can still do the exercise in your mind based on what you see them going through. And think okay, well how would I support this? Because they’re not the only person that’s ever going to go through that. And in a different situation where that person maybe doesn’t have access to a type of conventional treatment that they might prefer right now, then you’ll be ready if you spend the time to really sort of think through what would I do.
Yeah. Game it out. Take a quiet minute. Write down some details about what happened and work out what your plan would be. And give yourself those restrictions as well. Like only what what’s in my house, only what’s in my neighborhood, only what’s like available out side in the wild right now at this time of year. So, you can play the game in different ways, but this does help you to build that habit of thinking and that habit of troubleshooting. And then in the moment it’ll be there for you.
And listen, as you’re playing this game with yourself, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. If it takes you a week to come up with a plan, that’s fine. If it takes you a whole month to come up with a plan that’s really good, that’s not a problem either. Right now nobody’s calling on you to be fast. Right now you’re developing your skills. And every time that you do this exercise with whatever comes along… Because you were out walking, and you saw a mugwort plant. And so you’re thinking okay, how could I work with this plant? Or because you saw a news report about somebody getting hurt in a certain way. And you think okay, well how would I help them in that situation. Every time that you go through this process… Even if it takes a long time and like four pages in your notebook to write down all the things and try to make decisions about your plan. Every time you do it, you’re building your skills. And that way when you need it, when it really comes down to you to help, you’re going to have those skills. And trust me, you will be faster and confident, because you did all these exercises along the way,
Right on. So, if you want to keep going with this, and you want to develop these skills further and get some more detail, we can help you with that.
We’d be so excited to do that.
Yeah. A couple ways. One is our Herbal First Aid course. First aid is always a really great place to start. Because if you can help someone with a bleeding injury or a burn, then that’s very immediate and very rewarding in that way. Also you’ll have opportunities to practice this in the kitchen, and with your family, or your pets, or whatever else. So, these are really great skills to develop.
And then there’s also the Emergent Responder program, which is a long program broken into two courses. And one is sort of the administrative side of how to set up a mobile clinic. How to canvas your neighborhood for survivors. How to interface with government agencies or relief groups should they appear. Listen, sometimes it takes them a really long time to get there. So, it’s good to know how to do your own stuff. But it’s also good to be able to interface with them when that happens. How to triage. How to organize teams to get work done. Just basically every kind of administrative thing. And then the other course that’s part of that program is all of the skill set. Like okay, what are we going to do with the population of our community that has chronic illnesses? What are we going to do with the elderly in our community? How are we going to serve them? What’s going to happen if somebody goes into labor during. There’s all that kind of stuff covered in there too.
It’s kind of like first aid material, but it’s like first, second, and third aid. It’s like we may not have all of the resources of primary care, hospital, or whatever else. But we may also need to be taking care of people for quite a while. And so dealing with that, including like you say triage and sorting out what needs to happen right now, and what can wait a moment. Yeah. So, this is a very unique program. Really excellent material in there. And it’s great stuff. So, you should really check it out. You can find this and all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com.
You know, I also want to call out one other course, and that is the herbal community care tool kit. And that course is available by donation. Or if you need it, then just send us an email at info.commonwealthherbs.com. And we can… Wait.
Yeah, you got it.
Yeah. Info@commonwealthherbs.com. There we go. And we can give you a coupon code to have that course for free as well. And that is really focused on dealing with very common illnesses – sort of more on the chronic side, because that is so prevalent in so many communities right now – with very abundant, accessible, cheap herbs, most of which you can find at the grocery store. So, that’s another place to get started in terms of thinking about supporting your community.
Yeah. All right. Well, you have some homework to do, don’t you.
This turned out to be a really long episode. Yeah. I’m sorry, or not sorry, depending on…
We could go on about this material for a really long time. And that’s pretty much what the emergent responder course is. It’s a lot. So, we’re super interested in this. And we would love to hear from you, if you are as well. You can always reach out to us. Find us on social media, Commonwealth herbs, pretty much everywhere. And we’ll be back soon.
Soon. Not as long as the last break.
Yeah. We’ll be back soon with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves, take care of each other. And take care of your communities. And everybody drink some tea.
Drink some tea, everybody. Drink a lot of tea. Go get the mugwort. Go get the motherwort, the rose, the yarrow. Just have it all.
Yeah. All right. We’ll see you soon.
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