The wilderness offers far more than a pantry—it’s a toolkit and medicine cabinet as well. If you find yourself in a survival situation, you’ll want to be able to exploit every resource available.
Many of today’s pharmaceuticals are derived from plants, and, of course, our ancestors had a keen understanding of nature’s remedies. Whether it be an infection, upset stomach, or laceration, the following flora can help keep you moving.
Nettles. The stalks of these leafy green weeds are covered in tiny “stinging” hairs—they don’t really sting, but may cause discomfort if not handled properly. Nettle-stalk tea helps calm digestive problems or an upset stomach; and, the leaves can be used to clean wounds.
Yarrow. Brewing a yarrow flower tea can help relieve symptoms of respiratory infections such as a cold, or the flu. The plant’s leaves, when applied to a wound, promote clotting and help prevent infection.
Willow trees. Boiling willow bark for 15 minutes creates an aspirin-like drink useful in reducing fevers, inflammation, and headache relief.
Pine. Sap from pine trees not only smells amazing, but it can also be used to help stop a cut from bleeding. In addition, pine needles are excellent for starting fires, and pine branches are useful shelter material.
The wilderness is your toolkit
Surviving in the wilderness is a creative challenge. If you don’t know what you’ve got, you’re likely to miss opportunities.
Cattail. These highly edible, easily recognizable freshwater plants have a variety of uses. Their leaves can be woven into a blanket, roof, basket, etc.; and, their signature “heads” are useful fire starters, or they can be stuffed under your shirt for insulation.
Sage. Burning sagebrush leaves, or rubbing them on your skin every couple hours, is thought to repel mosquitoes.
Cedar trees. Cedar bark can be stripped off the tree to make rope, and the wood burns great. Cedar’s musky scent also helps keep ants and moths away from your camp.
Juniper. The dry inner layer of juniper tree bark is highly flammable—briefly rubbing it between your palms (until it’s almost powder-fine) increases its combustibility.
Grass. Long blades of grass can be used as bedding, to weave rope, and build a hut.
Mint. Placing wild mint leaves around your shelter can help prevent rodents from invading your camp.
Always use caution
The point is to survive, don’t work against yourself. If you have any doubt about identifying any of the above medicinal plants—don’t do it. And, when it comes to building fires, only do so out of necessity – and at least 20 feet from bushes, trees, or grass.
If you have a chance—practice. A botanical guidebook can help you learn to identify each of these plants and grant your next outdoor excursion a greater sense of purpose.