Herbal First Aid for the Family: Every day and Post-Disaster

As the founder and director of a survival and herbalism school, I combine the two worlds very often into practical plant medicine for households in the case of disaster. Much like my own entry into the world of medicine as a U.S. Special Forces (aka Green Beret) medic, I have always felt that if you can learn to take care of the worst-case scenarios first, the rest is a piece of cake.

For this reason, my “niche” in herbalism has been largely focused on dealing with medical situations that would be largely encountered after a disaster or social breakdown.  This is herbalism that is highly practical and works very well at home in everyday situations as well – for the home or even neighborhood clinic.

This attitude applies for the family that is serious about being prepared for disaster, in the sense that medicine (much like food and water) is one of the first luxuries of the 1st world society we live in, that will likely vanish as a resource following a major disaster of local (e.g. Hurricane Katrina) or certainly any disaster event of regional, national or global proportions.  Looking at the history both in the USA and around the world, during any extended disaster, we see that hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices and even veterinarian clinics become open-season supply sources for people to loot and raid.  Hospitals often become killing zones in fact, in more ways than one.

No matter how much you store orthodox, pharmaceutical medicine (antibiotics, steroids, etc.) you will still be in “ration mode” any time you want to use these types of medicine.  Should you break open a vial of antibiotics or not?  Is this someone you planned on having to help medically when you were storing these medications?  Are they expired?  If so, do you know how much to use or are you going to potentiate a super-infection? Were they stored in the correct temperature?

Do you have the proper medical training to use these pharmaceuticals and more importantly recognize if an illness or infection is not responding the way it should to the use of this kind of medicine? Do you know how to deal with a severe allergic reaction and how to differentiate between that and the severity of the illness or infection you are trying to treat? These are just a few of the issues and questions you have to face with pharmaceutical medicine in a post-disaster situation.

So in a nutshell, not only are you forced to ration and affect every medical decision you make (assuming you have the training and experience to use it), but you also are using tools that you don’t have the training and experience to use competently, unless you are a doctor, PA, nurse practitioner, nurse, etc.  Medical professionals in our current orthodox, pharmaceutical medical world spend 1000’s of hours working, studying, interning and learning about the conditions they are faced with and the proper use of the pharmaceuticals they are using.

Add to this the massive increase of infection and illness from lack of sanitation, open sewage, corpses, water borne diseases, vector-borne diseases, etc. and you have an environment that even trained medical professionals are going to have difficulty coping with, using the tools and drugs they are used to – assuming they have enough of either, and they never will.  There are rarely enough pharmaceuticals available for everyone in a post-disaster situation.

So what are the reasons to turn toward plant medicine for yourself, your family and even your neighborhood or community?  There are many.  Here are a few:

  • Plant medicine works, and works quite well when used correctly.  While more difficult to work with severe bacterial infections than the correct dosage of the correct antibiotic (assuming it is on hand and you are aware of what that is), herbal medicine is still highly (and completely) effective in most cases of chronic and acute illness, to include parasitic infections (e.g. flatworm, roundworm), protozoal infections (e.g. giardia, cryptosporidium), many bacterial infections – especially of the gut, viral infections (e.g. dengue fever, influenza) and other acute conditions that could be common in a post-disaster situation.
  • Plant medicine is something that you can begin learning and working with immediately in your own home.  You do not have to be a medical professional.  You have to only be willing to learn, study and understand your limitations as you slowly expand beyond them.
  • Plant medicine is generally speaking more gentle in its effect, yet is every bit as effective because it assists your body at doing what it does best:  Healing and finding balance.  Every plant contains thousands of constituent as opposed to a single constituent in a pharmaceutical.  These constituents have combined effects and work in a different manner than we are accustomed to with the single-constituent or single-chemical model of modern pharmaceuticals.
  • Plant medicine is a sustainable resource – potentially never-ending.  There is no need to ration – at least not to the same extent as you must ration pharmaceuticals post-disaster.  You can grow very effective medicinal herbs (and should grow it) in your garden, your greenhouse, your kitchen and more.  You can wildcraft medicinal herbs from your local ecosystem.  For now (although not in a post-disaster) you can buy medicinal herbs online and then prepare and store them.
  • Plant medicine can store for longer than most pharmaceutical medicines if prepared correctly.
  • Learning plant medicine is a skill.  Unlike a resources, once you have started learning herbalism, you can’t lose it, and the resources for it are all around you.  There is no limitation to how much you can learn (believe me, you will never even come close to learning all there is to know even if you did nothing else for an entire lifetime), and your skill lives and grows everywhere you live and breathe as well.

Bear in mind that this is a skill you must continue to learn and practice.  This isn’t something you can read one time and think you have all that you need.  You must learn to identify, prepare and use a specific plant, and along with that, you must change (slightly) how you think about medicine.  You can’t just substitute a plant for a pharmaceutical.  It is necessary to change the way in which you understand how our physiology responds to disease and health – as represented by the bio-medicine that a plant offers.

By Sam Coffman 

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