Editor’s Introductory Note and Proviso: This is the first installment of a three-part article series.
The following is for informational purposes only and is not be taken as medical advice. Consult your local physician before taking any herb or supplements, being mindful of interactions with either prescribed drugs or any other herbs or supplements.
Most SurvivalBlog readers already know about brewing pine needles for vitamin C, crushing egg shells for calcium, using willow for aspirin, and making an elderberry tincture for influenza. It’s important to know about these remedies and be able to use them to care for our loved ones.
But there is a whole lot more to learn about, and it goes far beyond honey for coughs or peppermint tea for calming an upset stomach. Skeptics aren’t too sure of herbal remedies, and indeed it can be hard to distinguish hope from hype. I this three part article I will describe some potent natural treatments that can be obtained from items we have on hand or that are commonly found in the great outdoors. Many of these treatments not only work, but actually outperform conventional treatments. So why don’t we know about them? Why aren’t these treatments researched? Because there is no money in it for Big Pharma. Big Pharma can’t patent a naturally occurring plant.
These alternative treatments use common plants and items that are everywhere around us. They are potent when prepared properly, but mostly unknown. There are a lot of situations where you may wish to be able to use alternative medicine:
- when your supplies of antibiotics are exhausted;
- when you want to save your medicines for your family and more worthy individuals, but still want to help others;
- when the bacteria you are fighting have developed resistance to your antibiotics and need potentiating;
- when someone’s got a condition like tuberculosis and needs very long term therapy, which would totally wipe out everyone’s supplies in the community.
Nothing discussed in this article here is difficult to make or requires any special equipment beyond what’s found in even a sparsely equipped kitchen. The herbs covered herein treat many more conditions than what will be listed below. However, the focus of this article is the antibacterial and anti-viral uses of these plants and substances in treating oftentimes life-threatening conditions.
Note: I’ll be the first to admit that having pictures for accurate plant identification is critical. But providing pictures for this article wouldn’t be all that helpful, because you need to identify the specific species that grow in your area. Usnea has over six hundred species that vary greatly in color and size. Lomatium has dozens of species that vary in color, size, and range. Search online for images of the species that grow in your area.)
Let’s start off with some top natural, easily produced antibiotics.
Why you want it: With actions similar to penicillin and ciprofloxacin, Usnea is used to treat upper respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia and tuberculosis; urinary tract infections; gastrointestinal infections, including H. pylori; skin infections, including MRSA; and vaginal infections.
Unless you live in the city, you should have at least one of the six hundred species of Usneagrowing somewhere nearby. It’s got a lot of common names—old man’s beard, beard lichen, beard moss, tree moss—though it is not a moss. It is yellow-green or gray-green, depending on the species, and can be small tufts or long strands. It especially favors conifer trees and grows better in moister environments. And it grows mostly on diseased trees.
To be sure you have found the right stuff, conduct a little test first, because Usnea can look very similar to Spanish Moss. Begin your test by soaking some Usnea in a little warm water for 10-15 minutes. After soaking, separate out one strand and hold each end between your thumb and forefinger. Now slowly stretch out the strand. It should be a bit like elastic, and it should go back into shape when you release it. If you stretch it so much that it snaps, you’ll be able to see the inner white cortex, like a very fine white thread (put your reading glasses on, if necessary). Usnea does this; Spanish moss does not. Also, Spanish moss has a black cortex.
Usnea is prepared and used a few different ways, depending on what you are treating.
To make a wound powder, place an ounce or so of Usnea (after removing other plant matter and debris) in a blender or coffee grinder and process until it is a powder. If you look closely, you will see that you have a very fine green powder (the outer sheath) and fine white threads (the inner cortex). Put the Usnea through a fine strainer to separate the powder from the cortex. This fine green powder is what you want for treating wounds.
You can either apply the powder directly to the wound and then cover it with a bandage, or you can put a layer of gauze down first. (In rare instances, Usnea may cause contact dermatitis. If you experience any irritation, discontinue use immediately.) The dressing should be changed daily. Within twenty-four hours you should see substantial improvement in the wound.
Also, Usnea does not have to be made into a powder before applying it to a wound; the whole lichen can be applied directly. It does, however, take up a lot more space in your medical kit that way.
Usnea tincture can be used to treat skin infections and abscesses, including MRSA; vaginal bacterial and fungal infections; upper respiratory infections, including pneumonia and tuberculosis; gastric ulcers, especially those due to Helicobacter pylori; and urinary tract infections. Most of these conditions are or can become very serious and a qualified health practitioner should be consulted before beginning any therapy.
The instructions for making Usnea tincture come from Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics book, which I very highly recommend.
- To extract the immune-stimulating polysaccharides, heat the powdered herb (both the green powder and the white cortex threads) first in the water you are going to use for tincturing. The best way is in a slow cooker (or, failing that, on low heat, covered, overnight in the oven).
- Use the standard tincture ratio of 1:5 (1 part dry herb to 5 parts liquid). The liquid should be composed of half water and half pure grain alcohol. So if you have 5 ounces of herb, you will use 25 ounces of liquid—12.5 of water, 12.5 of alcohol.
- Put the powdered herb in the slow cooker, add the 12.5 ounces of water, and stir well. It will turn into a kind of mush. Cover and then cook on low heat for 48 hours. Let cool enough to work with it without burning yourself, then pour into a heat-tolerant jar (Mason or equivalent), add the alcohol when the mix is still warm but not hot, and then put on the lid and shake well. Let macerate for 2 weeks, then decant and strain out the herb. Bottle and store out of the light.The tincture dosage for acute conditions is 1/2 to 1 teaspoon, three to six times daily.
While Usnea has been traditionally used in China to treat tuberculosis, there is precious little in the way of scientific research in using the whole herb to treat disease. Most studies focus on usnic acid or sodium usnate, the active constituents that pharmaceutical companies want to extract and patent. The Chinese have conducted a few clinical studies. In one trial of thirty patients with tuberculosis, twenty-four were cured and six exhibited varying degrees of improvement. Treatment lasted just over seven weeks, as opposed to the many months required using conventional pharmaceuticals. Chronic bronchitis in over two hundred patients was also effectively treated with sodium usnate or usnic acid.
- Sinus infections: Put ten drops into one ounce of water in a nasal spray bottle. Use as needed.
- Vaginal infections: Dilute one tablespoon of tincture in one pint of water. Douche morning and night for three days.
- Impetigo (strep and staph infections of the skin), ringworm, athlete’s foot, mastitis, boils, burns, skin wounds: Put the undiluted tincture (impetigo) or a 1:1 (everything else) dilution of the tincture on a cotton ball and wash the affected area morning and night until resolved and another day or two beyond.
- Sore or strep throat put a dropperful of tincture in a glass of water and gargle several times each day.
Usnea can also be prepared as a tea. Because it is only partially soluble in water, the active constituents are best extracted in alcohol. For each six-ounce cup of tea, put 1 teaspoon of herb (whole herb) in a bowl and wet it with alcohol and cover. Let sit for 30-60 minutes. Then add hot water and let steep, covered, for 15-30 minutes. (The hot water will also help evaporate the alcohol.) Drink five to six cups per day for acute illness.
Studies demonstrate that Usnea is better than penicillin for treating many bacterial infections. And it doesn’t harm beneficial intestinal bacteria. It often performs better than metronidazole as well. Usnea is not effective against cholera, typhoid, or salmonella.
Usnea also displays great anti-viral activity against herpes simplex and Epstein-Barr infections.
Contraindications: Do not use internally during pregnancy. May cause skin irritation.
Interactions: Usnea is synergistic with clarithromycin (Biaxin).
Stephen Harrod Buhner, Herbal Antibiotics, pp 196-206.
Why you want it: With actions similar to penicillin, juniper is used to treat skin infections, including smallpox and measles; upper respiratory tract infections, including tuberculosis; gastrointestinal infections; tetanus; and animal bites.
As is often the case with herbs, juniper has numerous medicinal uses, far beyond antibacterial and antiviral properties. However, the scope of this article focuses only on those properties. If you’re interested in exploring other medicinal uses, Stephen Buhner’s books are probably the best place to start.
Juniper is a perennial landscaping favorite in residential and commercial developments, so city dwellers shouldn’t have any problem locating some. And grows in forests throughout the US as well. The whole tree is medicinal; however, it is the berries and needles that are most commonly employed.
Berries. Harvest juniper berries in the fall, after the first frost has turned the berries blue to purple and before they start to shrivel. Do not use green berries. Harvest the ripe berries and dry them for two to three days before storing.
- Wound powder. Powder the berries (and needles, if desired) in a blender or coffee grinder and use alone or add to other wound powders to cure or prevent infection in wounds.
- Essential oil. The FDA has approved juniper essential oil for limited internal use.
o Upper respiratory infections and sinus infections. Put ten drops of the essential oil in one ounce of water in a nasal spray bottle. Shake well before each use and administer 4-6 times per day. OR add juniper berry oil to a diffuser to prevent and manage URIs and other airborne illnesses.
o Ear infections. Fifteen drops of essential oil in one ounce of olive oil. Apply to ear with cotton swab three times per day until pain resolves, plus two more days.
o Periodontal disease. Dilute three drops in one cup warm water and use as a rinse or gargle. Alternative to chlorhexidine, without the side effects.
- Tincture. One ounce of juniper berries (by weight) to five ounces of 150-proof alcohol (by volume). Store the tincture in the dark and shake for 30 seconds each day. After five days, run the tincture through a blender, put it back in the jar, and store it in a cool, dark cabinet for one month. After one month, strain the tincture through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and pour it into a dark glass bottle. Store in a cool, dark place. The usual dosage is five to twenty drops, up to three times per day, for four to six weeks. Begin with a lower dosage and increase if needed.
Needles. The juniper needles may be harvested at any time; new spring growth will have a much higher vitamin C content.
- Tincture: Exact same procedure as for the juniper berries.
- Dosage: exact same dosage as for the berries.
There has been very little modern clinical research into the medicinal uses of juniper, so exact treatment protocols cannot be provided. Juniper was traditionally used by Eastern Indians, Chinese, Native Americans, and Europeans to treat the following conditions:
- Urinary tract infections, including urethritis, cystitis, pyelitis, and pyelonephritis;
- Gastrointestinal infections;
- Upper respiratory infections, including tuberculosis;
- Skin infections and sores, including smallpox and measles;
- Bites from snakes, dogs, and insects.
With the tincture, the active constituents of the plant are extracted and concentrated and ready to use at a moment’s notice. There’s no need to go out and find the plant immediately before preparing the remedy to manage the condition. However, a tincture isn’t necessarily the only way to use juniper. The following are also options.
Infusion: Pour one cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of crushed needles and steep for fifteen minutes. Use in the morning and in the evening for lower urinary tract infections. Do not use more than two weeks unless directed otherwise by a physician.
Decoction: Use one ounce of needles per quart of boiling water. After boiling for half an hour, turn off the heat, and steep 12-24 hours. A juniper decoction has historically been used as an antiseptic wash for sores, wounds, measles, smallpox, snake bites, insect bites, and dog bites.
Steam: Boil four ounces of needles in one gallon of water. Inhale the steam as it boils for relieving upper respiratory infections.
Laboratory research has shown that juniper is effective against twenty-four bacterial species, including Acinetobacter, Bacillus, Escherichia, Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus.
Contraindications: Juniper is a common allergen for hay fever. It also affects blood glucose levels in diabetics. Avoid juniper during pregnancy and while nursing.
Cautions: Large doses of juniper, like six cups of strong tea in a day, may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urine flow. Use juniper only for a month or so; then abstain for a week or more before using the herb again.
Stephen Harrod Buhner, Herbal Antibiotics, pp 179-187.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)