The goal of anyone contemplating homesteading is ultimately geared toward achieving a level of self-sufficiency. Whether that goal is realized through growing one’s own food through various gardening strategies or raising backyard poultry or cultivating a homegrown source of power, the motivation is rooted in providing for the family.
Providing for the family’s basic needs means ensuring they can eat when they are hungry, that they have safe water for when they are thirsty and power to deliver heat and light when needed. It also means providing for their health and welfare when hurt or ill. Homesteading, living off the grid on far-flung tracts of land, in relative isolation, makes a quick trip to the doctor’s office anything but. Traditional medicinal herbs can provide the care and treatment for a range of moderate illnesses and injuries or give comfort until more advanced care can be reached.
This article presents some of the most useful herbal medicines to treat a wide range of ailments. While their effectiveness can vary depending on preparation, concentration and form of application, it is advisable to be aware of any drug interactions and consult a physician if pregnant or nursing before using.
Sage is a gray-green, soft leafed, hardy perennial with flowers ranging in color from purple to blues, pinks, and white. Its leaves are the useful parts either clipped fresh off the plant, dried or prepared as creams or added to essential oils. Sage is used to alleviate gas, bloating and stomach cramps. The herb can reduce coughing and phlegm and gargling with sage tea can help fight throat infections. The tea has also been shown to improve memory and alertness. Oil infused with sage is good for muscle aches and chapped skin. Coupled with rhubarb in a cream it is an effective treatment for cold sores.
St John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a shrub-like perennial with five-petalled, yellow flowers which are the useful portions. This pant has a reputation as a wonder herb that serves a catch all treatment for a full range of ailments. Unfortunately, there is not always enough evidence to verify some of the claims. St. John’s wort has been shown to work as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia associated with mild to moderate depression. Combined with black cohosh, St. John’s can help with menopausal hot flashes. And it will help reduce psoriasis. Used topically, the herb is effective in wound healing. Remember, when taking any herbal treatments, be aware of any drug interactions.
A hearty, stemmed shrub growing about two feet tall, Lavender’s stems are leafy with gray-green shoots topped by a spiral of violet to blue flowers which carry an aromatic scent and the oils that are put to various uses.
Used in aromatherapy treatment, lavender helps with anxiety, insomnia and headaches.
In the form of oil, lavender can treat skin problems like eczema, acne and canker sores, fungal infections and wound treatment. Infused in a bath, it aids with muscle aches.
Aloe, medicine plant for preppers. While most of us are familiar with aloe as an ingredient in hand and body creams many may not necessarily know much of its source. The aloe vera plant itself is a green, thick-skinned, stemless plant of the succulent variety, as opposed to the traditional herbs mentioned so far in this article. Unless you live in one of the warmer climates consider growing aloe plants indoors, in pots. As a succulent, they are 95% water making them intolerant to freezing temperatures and frost.
Aloe’s uses are predominantly topical. The gel it produces is used to reduce pain and itching of minor burns, rashes, psoriasis, sunburns, dry skin and some evidence shows positive healing and soothing effects for cold and canker sores. The plant also has a history of treating constipation but may cause diarrhea and severe cramping. For this reason, it is no longer recommended for this internal use.
Related to mint, Lemon Balm is a green stemmed plant with wrinkled, spade-shaped leaves that typically grow up to two feet high. Rubbing these leaves releases the scented oils that give the plant its name. In its various forms (tea, essential oil, topical cream) it is useful in treating insomnia, reducing stress and anxiety, agitation associated with dementia and mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Lemon balm also helps with upset stomachs and colic in nursing infants. Topically, it has been shown to treat cold sores and prevent their spread. For many of these uses it is combined with other herbs like German chamomile. Additionally, some studies have revealed lemon balm’s antibacterial properties displaying “adequate activity against” listeria and staphylococcus bacteria.