Being constantly surrounded by your own filth in the wilderness should not only raise concern for your physical health but also for your self-esteem wellbeing. You should learn how to unlock the hygienic properties of plants when you get stranded in the wilderness. Learn how to use wilderness plants for your personal hygiene.
The need to stay clean
If we think about it, more people have been killed by their own waste and the tiny microbes they harbor than all the world’s wars put together. When a community’s infrastructure is destroyed, diseases and illness run rampant, claiming more lives than the event that caused the destruction.
Personal hygiene items are taken for granted, and survivalists and preppers often overlook them. They fail to understand that any time you are away from civilization, a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo and some toothpaste, and perhaps an antibacterial lotion can make the difference between life and death.
Staying clean not only protects you from diseases and helps you maintain a healthy look, but it also provides confidence and normalcy feeling that is much needed in a, perhaps, abnormal scenario.
Understand that any bacteria build up on your skin will make your body stale, and once it gives out a bad odor, well, that’s when you know a potential illness may lurk around the corner. Washing your hands, face and feet will prevent spreading bacteria from one part of your body to another, and it will also prevent you from “sharing” your germs with others. Brushing your teeth and flossing will help you reduce the possibility of oral ailments.
To some folks, personal hygiene may be a somewhat modern concept, but our ancestors were also keen on keeping proper hygiene. In fact, the Neanderthals used to groom each other using seashell tweezers to remove parasites, and combs were some of the earliest discovered artifacts. Soap, this common item we can find everywhere nowadays, was first invented by the Phoenicians by boiling animal fat and diluting it with ashes. Even so, the ancient Greeks and Romans used to scrape their skin of dirt and sweat using oil and an improvised scraper.
As humanity evolved, thanks to scientists such as Kock and Pasteur, we learned about the existence of microbes and about their role in causing various diseases. We finally had proof that personal hygiene helps us kill these disease-causing microbes, and with reason and logic, people changed our society into one that reassures cleanliness.
Nature’s personal hygiene
How will you protect yourself from illnesses if there is no more medicine tomorrow and you will get stuck in the wilderness? The answer is simple, you need to find a wide variety of natural alternatives to replace the products you use every day to stay clean.
Maybe you packed a bar of soap to clean your hands and prevent food and open wounds from getting infected, or perhaps you run out of soap. You’ve been gone so long that soap has become a memory, and you dream of having a bar of soap and taking a hot shower.
If that would be the case, you shouldn’t despair, and you’ll be better off if you put all your energy into finding plants that contain saponin. Saponin is a steroid with a foaming characteristic that, once mixed with water, will provide you with that needed froth to clean yourself. Pair your new “soap” with an improvised loofah, and you will be able to remove dead skin cells, oil and dirt efficiently. There are plants with a high saponin content such as Yucca, mountain lilac, amole, soaproot, bouncing bet, and buffalo gourd you can use with great results. To find out more about these plants, I recommend reading this article:
Alternatively, you can make your own soap with ash and fat, just like the earliest humans did.
Rubbing ash from burned hardwood such as beech, alder, maple, oak, teak, mahogany, hickory, and walnut on the skin than rinsing with water is an effective way to stay clean.
If you boil that ash in water for at least 30 minutes, you will notice liquid lye starting to float to the top.
Now, if you lack both water and soap, how about a sun and air bath? Merely spending time in the sun will help you kill germs. Even more, sun exposure increases lymphocyte (white blood cell that is part of the immune system) production that will help you fight off infections. Further rendering the lye thickens it and adding some clean grease from animal fat. If you lack animal fat, you can use butter or oil. Once it reaches a thick and mushy consistency, you will have obtained a very crude soap. Use it as it or let it harden for later use. To learn more about making soap with fat and ashes, check out this article:
After a week or two of not brushing your teeth, your teeth and tongue will be covered with a thick film that tastes unpleasant, and your breath will smell bad. You will need to brush your teeth and tongue to get rid of bacteria that cause bad breath and various oral issues.
If you find yourself in a pine forest, you can find a small twig with pine needles on it and use it to improvise a toothbrush. First, cut the needles to the length of toothbrush bristles and use them to scrape away any debris on your teeth.
Alternatively, you can cut a small juniper twig at an angle and use it to scrape up and down on each tooth. Although it may take longer to clean your teeth, it is just as effective as the fir twig toothbrush.
In general, you can use sticks from any tree to scrub your teeth, but some trees are better suited for this job than others. If you have the option to pick, go with fruit trees, bamboo, fig, neem, silver birch, hazelnut, and licorice root.
How about trying some old-fashioned chewing gum, just like the Native Americans and the early pioneers? Back in the day, people collected sap from various trees and plants and used it as chewing gum or as a sugary delight. People were going into forests of Fir trees, gathering the gum, and taking it to market. Here are some sugar and gum plants you can try for improvised chewing gum:
To get rid of that bad breath, you can make tea with pine needles and use it as a daily rinse. Oak leaves and acorns contain tannin, and if you boil them, you will obtain a breath freshener with the same results as the pine needles tea.
There are other plants you could use to keep your breath fresh. Parsley, dill, cardamom, anise seeds, cinnamon, basil, cloves, fennel, and cilantro are great for this purpose.
Cleaning your hair
Keeping your hair clean is mandatory in the wilderness because fleas, lice, and other parasites will infest your hair in no time if left unchecked. These parasites will spread a myriad of diseases and if you don’t want to provide a permanent home for them, make sure you keep your hair clean and combed.
You can use any of the plants listed in the article recommended above for your cleaning hair needs. My favorite plants to use (when I can find them, of curse) are mountain lilac and amole (or soaproot) because, besides their excellent cleaning properties, they also leave my hair smelling good.
The Ceanothus genus, also known as soap bush by many foragers, has a dozen species (shrubs and trees) in North America, and Mountain lilac is the best one because, besides its flowers, the berries can also be used to make soap. Even more, you can pick the berries and store them for later use when soap is needed.
As for the amole, to make soap, you will need to dig out the large taproot and chop it into fine pieces. Then, add water to the finely chopped root and rub it in your hands to obtain a frothy soap. The problem with soaproot is that finding it and harvesting the root may be difficult since it’s typically a couple of feet underground. On the bright side, besides using the root to make soap, you can also cook the edible leaves as you would cook spinach and supplement your wilderness diet.
How about that toilet paper?
When you got to go, you got to go! And everybody has to go at some point. Lacking toilet paper can become a problem in the wilderness, but you shouldn’t sacrifice clothes or random paper because, once again, nature has your back. It will provide you with alternative toilet paper products, leaves. You can try the following improvised toilet paper:
Mullein leaves are ideal because the plat has large, soft, and pliant leaves covered in downy fur. They were called cowboy toilet paper because they served this purpose well, and you can find them in almost every state.
Thimbleberry, with its pillowy-soft leaves, can get you out of a dirty situation. The plant can be found in the Northwest but also all across the Great Basin to the Great Lakes. As a bonus, you can eat its delicious berries if you find them in season.
Lamb’s Ear has soft and thick leaves that are large enough and absorbent to provide good coverage for your needs. The plant can be found all across the open meadows in the US.
Bigleaf Aster or the lumberjack toilet paper can be found covering the floor of forests in the upper Midwest region. Its heart-shaped leaves have provided countless indigenous peoples with a regenerable source of toilet paper since the leaves can be used all year long.
In a survival situation, the danger of contracting diseases greatly increases. You might be existing outside the comfort of your cleaning products, hygiene products, and normal practices. I hope this article provided you with tips to be followed in order to maintain a proper level of health for you and your loved ones if you get stranded in the wilderness.
Useful resources to check out: