"Health care" in America - while having "evolved" - leaves much to be desired i.e. cost, effectiveness, government restrictions of natural medicines, deaths caused form "modern" medicine, control and pharmaceutical greed to name just a few. in the blaring light of reality of today's coming collapse even simple health care will be challenging to say the lease.
While I am not formally trained in herbal medicine, I do have some medical background and twenty plus years of growing and using herbs and more recently delving into wild herbs. TEOTWAWKI will change the availability of "home health care" from government regulated pharmaceutical based approached to real home health care where individuals - especially those in remote areas - will need to rely on what is at hand.
I hesitate to even approach this subject, as it is vast, involved, time consuming and can be very overwhelming. On the other hand, knowledge of hers is powerful and very useful in survival situations.
History show that American Indians were knowledgeable in plant medicines, including a spiritual link. That, backed up by the medicine woman or man with extensive training passed on from one generation to the next.
The colonists - especially housewives - were responsible for their family's health and well being. Many medicines were grown in the kitchen gardens. The medicines that couldn't be grown were purchased at apothecaries that carried items imported by ship. This entailed a dangerous and lengthy trip to the nearest outpost. When doctors made house calls he expected basic herbs to be on hand provided by the household.
When the SHTF many will be on their own. Medication supplies - any and all - will most likely be disrupted along with everything else. While I have a small supply of basic meds (over-the-counter pain/.fever medication, cold, and diarrhea etc) I've chosen to focus on what I can use from nature in my local area: wild herbs, plants, trees as well as growing my own. As mentioned above limited supply and what I have on hand will eventually expire or will run out. Also important besides growing my own medicine is the knowledge of what grows wild in my zone will allow me to wild harvest a variety of medicinal plants in the event of evacuating my home. I consider it my mental G.O.O.D. kit. Knowledge literally weighs nothing on my back but can mean everything in survival situations.
So, having said all that, What to do? Medicinal plant knowledge IS overwhelming! But don't let fear take up valuable energy. Start with the basics. There are a number of excellent resource books out there (a list will follow). Build a library of your own. Create your own resource book: three ring binder or notebook. If (as is the case with most of us) money is tight, go to the library and take out books on home remedies, wild herbs in your areas as well as medicinal plants (trees, shrubs, berries etc.) and take lots and lots of notes. Search the internet for free articles, videos, and any other information to be found on medicinal plants. There is a wealth of information out there. Talk to those knowledgeable in herbs - most local fairs have booths of homemade herbal products - talk with these people - have specific questions to ask as usually they are very busy with ten more people waiting to do the same thing. Do you know family,friends, relatives, neighbors who grow and/or use their own herbs? Visit nurseries that sell herbs and speak with staff there, this is what they do for a living.
Join together with friends who share this interest and take turns attending different workshops. Share the information. This works well in regards to books, CDs,and so on to keep the cost down. Take a botany class, join the Audubon or Sierra Clubs, subscribe to herbal magazines, check out your local extension office - there is a vast amount of resources for little or no cost, look for fliers ( I am notorious for picking up these at fairs, farmers markets, nurseries, health food stores, agricultural shows and on and on). Newspaper articles, magazines, television shows, and documentaries are also information sources. The point is there is information everywhere if you pay attention!
Start your own herb garden. I've grown/started many over the years due to multiple moves. Last year after unearthing an incredibly beautiful rock pile I transformed it into an herb center. It is relatively small but individual "pockets" allowed me to plant all kinds of different herbs! (Side note: many herbs are invasive so be mindful where and how these are planted - know growing information for each plant you want to grow). Some herbs can take years to become established and usable for medicine, so start now.
Nature walks. Begin now educating yourself on what grows in your area; learn the habitat and growing cycle. Throughout the year I'm constantly looking at plants that grow in my area - what it looks like in the spring all the way to maturity and harvesting. Even in the winter as some plants are still visible above the snow and I take note of its location so that I can return during the growing season. Understand how these plants grow and spread, so as not to annihilate its growth cycle when harvesting. Many wild plants are extinct or on the verge due to over harvesting. Take note of the location of the plants you find and its abundance. One of the biggest challenges is plant identification! Be absolutely certain you know the plant before harvesting!
All inclusive books with good pictures, drawings, uses, preparation etc. is hard to come by. That is not to say there aren't good ones out there you just may need more than one reference guide. Again talk with knowledgeable people. I personally learn better from being shown than reading. When I discover or am shown a new plant I do extensive research to make sure it is exactly what I think it is. The Google image search is great in this area because numerous pictures are available all in one place.
Once you are confident of what a plant looks like, where it grows, how it grows (wild/cultivated/both), its uses, administration (teas, tinctures, poultices etc), side effects, interactions with other herbs and/or pharmaceutical medications and any allergies associated with the plant move on to the next one. (You do not have memorize this information but have it available for reference either in your resource book or library.) For example, one of my favorite herbs is Echinacea (boost your immune system). I have used it for years but last year was the first time I've tried growing it. Another favorite is chamomile (helps with digestion and sleep) - easy to grow and use.
This past summer I studied my lawn! There are many "weeds" that grow naturally and have multiple uses. For example common plantain: rub the leaf on bug bites to relieve the itch, apply to burns and can be used a a diuretic just to name a few of its uses. If you are looking for a specific remedy, see if the plant(s) grow in your area and start looking! Last year my son got into poison ivy which resulted in quite a rash. A local man was selling an once of sweet fern for $12.00! It grows naturally in my area. Being a tightwad I researched what it looked like and its habitat and set out hunting for it. I finally located it, harvested some, prepared it and it worked wonderfully with no side effects.[JWR Adds: It goes without saying, but for liability reasons, I must remind readers that using your lawn as a source for medicinal herbs or salad greens is an option only if you use no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or weed killers.]
This can and is time intensive but well worth the effort. The best way to approach it that I have found is to incorporate it into my daily life. No matter where I was or what I was doing outside I constantly scoped0ed out the surrounding plants. At night I would search the internet and/or my books to identify the plants. The sweet fern for example, and wild blueberries, both of which grow in the wild locally. Knowing what sweet fern looks like and the type of area where it grows allowed me to locate it easily which happened to be in the same vicinity as the blueberries! Can you say multitasking? I also discovered this winter while reading a "weed" book that one of the "weeds" that all but consumed my garden, one that we tirelessly ripped up, is a wild edible plant! Another popular "wee" of our garden turned out to have medicinal properties.
I by no means have extensive leisure time to devote to medicinal plants. Last year we had a huge garden with over twenty-five different varieties growing which I canned, froze, ate and gave away, picked wild and cultivated blueberries, strawberries, apples, (making jellies, applesauce, and freezing) and what my garden didn't produce, I purchased form local farmers markets. My significant other built a sizable three room addition that was completed in about tow and half months. We picked, cleaned, froze and pickled fiddleheads. I mention this only to help others be aware of what can be accomplished when you set your mind to it. As survival focused individuals, we are all busy! Things are going to be busier as the economic crisis gathers speed and we tirelessly work to prepare. I did sit down and endlessly study I plug away at it whenever time allows - even during the winter months. It does not matter how much you know or don't know. Start where you are at, keep it simple, be consistent (even if it means consistently inconsistent!). If you learn only one plant a month that is twelve in a year's time and that is significant! BTW, if you have specific health issues tailor your research to plants that address them. Often insurance companies do not allow you to refill prescriptions before your supply is down to less than a one week supply. So get going, good luck, and God bless!
PS: If you have insurance, now is the time to take care of your ignored health issues, as it will be much more difficult and expensive after the SHTF.
Starter list of books: (These are just a few suggestions to start with. You can design your library to fit your needs)
A Field Guide To Medicinal Plants and Herbs - (for your region) from the Peterson Field Guide Series
Tom Brown's Field Guide - Wilderness Survival by Tom Brown
Back To Eden by Jethro Kloss
The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines by Charles W. Fetrow and Juan R. Avila
The Herb Book by John B. Lust
A field guide to weeds in your area. [Ask your USDA Agricultural Extension Office Agent. They often have free reprints and fact sheets on weeds available]
Herbs you can start with: (The information that follows the herbs is very brief and general. Be sure to do your own detailed research)
Aloe: Vera -- Easy to grow/maintain houseplant; a must for every household - burns
Cayenne: powder -- Gel cap or spice bottle; bleeding (internally and externally), shock
Comfrey -- plant/salve for wounds, cuts, scrapes
Goldenseal -- Supplement/salve, fighting infection
Echinacea purpea (Purple Cone Flower) -- Boosts immune system
Peppermint -- Stomach ailments
White Willow Bark -- Same active ingredient as aspirin