Medicinal Plants Backpackers Should Know




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© 2015 Shanna Lea

Do you know what medicinal plants are growing along the trails you will be hiking?  It’s always good to know what plants are healing for simple aches and pains, in case you need them.  You should still bring along a first aid kit from home, but it’s always good to know your plants.

There are many medicinal plants that are effective remedies.  Some plants are dangerous, of course, so make sure to know both types.  This is just a quick guide to a few safe plant medicines.  Be sure to study through a good medicinal plant book to know how to identify plants you don’t know.

Plants For Pain Relief

Fill the bottom of a cup with shredded willow bark, and make a cup of tea with it. Let it steep for a few minutes before you drink it. The active ingredient is salicin, closely related to salacylic acid, which is used to make aspirin. You can also try chewing on a few balsam poplar buds.

Antiseptic Plants

Sap from “blisters” on balsam firs is a strong antiseptic. Pop the blisters on the trunks of young trees, and the sap will ooze out. You can spread it over cuts and small wounds to prevent infection. It is very sticky, however, and it will be difficult to wash off (at least it smells nice).

The crushed leaves of Saint John’s Wort can be used as an antiseptic dressing as well. My friend once put a wad of the mashed leaves on a nasty gash in her foot, replacing it occasionally, and the cut healed very quickly. St. Johns Wort has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.

Medicinal Plants For Diarrhea

You can drink tea made from the roots of blackberries and their relatives to stop diarrhea. Just fill the bottom of the cup with the cleaned and shredded roots and pour boiling water over them. Let the mix steep for five minutes before drinking.

Oak bark and other barks containing tannin are also effective. You can also use the twigs to stop diarrhea. Make tea with a spoonful of the bark or chopped-up twigs. Tannins can be hard on the kidneys, so drink just one cup of tea, or use oak only if you don’t have other options.

Skin Medications

You can relieve the itch from insect bites, sunburn, or plant poisoning rashes by applying a poultice of jewelweed (Impatiens biflora). I have seen a poison ivy rash cleared up overnight using the juice from jewelweed. It is also said to work on sunburn as well as aloe vera.

Make a tea of witch hazel leaves (Hamamelis virginiana), and you can use it for relief from insect bites, and sunburn. Witch Hazel used to be a common astringent that women used as a “tightening” face wash.

There are hundreds of wild medicinal plants that could be useful to hikers and backpackers. You don’t need to become an expert to benefit from them. Just learn to identify and use a few of the most widespread and safest ones.  You can also order the dried herbs through Mountain Rose Herbs to keep in your backpack with you at all times.


Mountain Rose Herbs

A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America

A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs



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