A well-prepared apocalypse survivor should be thoroughly educated and experienced in herbalism. The healing properties of plants are not only myriad and potentially strong, but they also may be the only form of medicine available once every pharmacy and medicine cabinet has been looted (by violent gangs of thugs who stockpile all drugs in a region and trade them at ruthlessly high rates to those who are unfortunate enough to fall ill after the bombs have fallen).
Ingesting some herbs can be just as dangerous as thugs, however, so the Survivor should be careful. Plants can have multiple, sometimes conflicting, properties when used or prepared in different ways.
For example, Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) purportedly has dozens of effects on people: It has historically been used in a poultice to staunch the flow of blood from wounds (the scientific name Achillea is derived from mythical Achilles, who supposedly carried the plant with him for his soldiers’ wounds (1)), but it can also stimulate circulation and encourage bleeding if ingested. Those are opposite effects, so the Survivor should make sure not to have anything backwards!
Another example: Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), although also very useful as a poultice for flesh wounds and as replacement for toilet paper, has been known to cause kidney or liver failure when ingested (2).
The Survivor should therefore be sure to have positively identified a plant and try it first in small, diluted quantities. Reading as much about these plants as possible before the apocalypse, especially sources by true experts who have personally foraged more than I, would be extremely beneficial.
Plants that will be useful in the future are generally plants that have a knack to spread and survive. We often classify many of these types of aggressive, sturdy plants as weeds. (Perhaps after the apocalypse, we will call them valuable resources or gems).
White and Yellow Sweet Clover are examples of plants classified as “noxious weeds” by the MN DNR but which are actually both edible and medicinally useful. The seed pods can be cooked in a stew (as if they were beans), and are high in protein. The leaves are edible, and the flowers taste something like vanilla. Many parts of the plant are used as flavoring or seasoning in various recipes.
Like many edible plants, the survivor will want to harvest them fresh and young. Sweet clover contains coumarin (along with other plants like mullein), which adds effects to leaves when they are dried. Coumarin has an anti-clotting effect on one’s blood, but it can also be toxic. Consume carefully and in much moderation.
While flowering, the plant can be used to soothe and soften skin conditions and external ulcers, so the survivor should add it to his or her list of wound-alleviating ointments like plantain.
Where to Find and How to Identify
Sweet clover is valuable to the survivor in part because it is so common. It grows in disturbed areas and along edges, often lining roadways, ditches and abandoned fields. Which is essentially the landscape of the post-apocalyptic future.
Sweet clover is a biennial plant, flowering in the second year. When flowering, they grow erect, 3-5 feet tall. Leaves are small, split into three leaflets with sharp teeth, and the flowers line the top of the stem. The flowers have a strong aroma.
Hops! These will be just as awesome in the post-apocalyptic future as they are now. Hops are both edible and medicinal. A dye can also be made from the female fruit, and the leaves can be made into a hemp-like fiber. Can also be planted simply as a decorative shrub. The young leaves and shoots of the hop plant can be eaten, and tea made from the leaves and fruits of hops is said to have positive effects on the digestive system and help alleviate insomnia.
The calming effect of hops may provide a well-deserved reprieve from the stress and anxiety of being one of the last humans alive on the planet.
Hops are also one of the main ingredients required to brew many types of beer, one of pre-apocalyptic civilization’s finest inventions. This plant should be protected and propagated if any future civilization of humans values happiness and contentedness. I would argue that propagating hops in the future would be more important than at least 75% of other edible plants. I mean, have you ever had a Surly Furious?
Important Notes on Keeping Happiness Alive:
Hops are perennial herbaceous climbing plants. Leaves have three lobes with serrated edges and alternate veins. The fruit is about 1/2 -1 inch long, cone-shaped and green, flowering from July to August. Found near water bodies, in river beds, ditches, canals, runoff areas, and other wet or disturbed areas. They like full to partial sun. Can grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils as well as a range of pH’s. Prefers moist soil but can grow in drier environments. Can tolerate flooding.
Plant seeds in early spring in a cold frame, move to pots in late spring, then plant in summer.
Jewelweed will be useful to the reader if he or she has previously encountered Poison Ivy or Stinging Nettle, also to be featured later on this blog. The sap of Jewelweed can soothe the irritation caused to the skin by touching these plants. The sap can also ease the suffering caused by bug bites or Athlete’s Foot.
As a side note, and perhaps even more importantly, the Jewelweed is also sometimes commonly called “touch-me-not” because the flowers can eject their seedpods somewhat enthusiastically when disturbed. This mechanism can be quite entertaining for children, and may also provide a depressingly brief yet rare moment of glee for the survivor whose life has become a nightmarish torrent of fear, anxiety and hopelessness.
ID and Other Notes:
2-5 foot tall annual herbacious plant. The stems are somewhat translucent and fragile. Leaves are serrated, hairless, ovate, and smooth. Orange jewelweed has a bright orange flower, usually clustered in groups of 2 or 3 off the upper leaves. They have 5 petals forming upper and lower ‘lips’.
Found in openings in moist woodlands, floodplains, or at the edges of paths, ditches, or swamps. Prefers partial shade/sun and fertile soil full of organic materials. Prefers wet or moist conditions; can tolerate flooding. The orange flowers can glitter in sunlight and have positive aesthetic effects. Can be planted by cuttings or by seed.