Natural remedies for when there is no doctor

nat-medNatural medicine is everywhere, even growing up through the cracks of sidewalks and occupying vacant lots. The addition of a medicinal herb garden at home and some simple stored items can provide you and your family with a wealth of effective remedies to build your self-sufficiency.

Among the top reasons to learn about natural medicine:

  • It works, and has been working for thousands of years.
  • It belongs to everyone. There is no licensing board, certification courses are voluntary, you can be self-taught or take a herbalism course.
  • Learning the foundational techniques is easy and enjoyable, with the promise of lifelong benefit.
  • It’s sustainable over the long term, offering the ability to reproduce or wildcraft herbs, foods, fats, waxes, mushrooms, and lichens year after year.

In the West, natural medicine is often referred to as alternative medicine or, sometimes, complementary medicine. Alternative medicine implies ‘instead of’ orthodox medicine. Complementary medicine conveys a sense of ‘in support of’ or ‘in conjunction with’ orthodox medicine.

The inverse of ‘alternative’ or ‘natural’ medicine is anything created in a lab, anything synthetic, or any ingredient that has been through such processing that it cannot be duplicated at home. A perfect example to illustrate this point is white willow bark versus aspirin. White willow bark has a long, well-documented, traditional use as an analgesic (pain reliever). It contains a chemical constituent known as salicin, which the body converts to salicylic acid. Aspirin’s active ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid, is a synthesized version of salicylic acid. Laboratory-produced acetylsalicylic acid is then administered in a quantity far greater than is available from natural salicin.

Alone, the amount of salicylic acid in white willow bark is not sufficient for pain relief. However, salicin is not the only chemical constituent in white willow bark; it is part of a complex and synergistic combination of chemicals including flavonoids and polyphenols, resulting in a substance whose sum is greater than its parts.

The unique composition of the bark provides the analgesic properties. In other words, you can’t simply strip out one chemical, like salicin, and expect it to work the same on its own as it did when it was part of a complex synergy. When taken as a whole remedy – for example, in tea or as a tincture – you feel less pain in much the same way as if you had taken aspirin, even though the actual amount of salicin in the bark is significantly less.

But what happens when you take a substance like salicin and synthesize it? Will such a concentrated amount, which is not found in nature and arguably not what our bodies have evolved to process, have any ill effects? Or will it be an analog, an easy swap between pharmaceutical and herbal medicines? How do they compare against each other?

Aspirin may be faster acting, but white willow bark has a reputation for being longer lasting. White willow bark offers a level of pain relief comparable to that of aspirin, and does so without distressing the inner layer of the gastrointestinal tract, called the mucosa.

Every form of medicine has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, biomedicine excels in lifesaving, heroic interventions and advanced, detailed diagnostics. However, our medical system is unprepared for drug-resistant bacteria, viral respiratory illnesses, and post-disaster sustainability.

A better medical system would allow for all options to remain available: natural, pharmaceutical, holistic, biomedical, and so on. However, when those options are limited by crisis or disaster, it will be natural medicine that is still available for those who know how to use it.

Fire cider is a popular immune-boosting remedy. (Photo Credit: Lana Purcell)

Fire cider is a popular immune-boosting remedy. (Photo Credit: Lana Purcell)

How to make fire cider

Fire cider is an oxymel, a herbal vinegar mixed with honey. As its name implies, fire cider is spicy. Its kick comes from plenty of cayenne and horseradish, with a warming sensation from fresh ginger. The garlic tends to mellow as it steeps in the vinegar, as does the onion. The flavor is just a bit different every time, depending on how hot the cayenne and horseradish are, how fresh the ginger is, and how much of each ingredient ends up steeping in the vinegar. Making this remedy is more like cooking, where you are free to adjust amounts, than it is like baking, where you must carefully measure ingredients.

Fire cider isn’t just hot. It’s also pungent, sour, and intense. That might not sound tempting at first, but once you start taking it, it’s hard to stop.

Raw apple cider vinegar
Ginger root
Raw honey

  1. There are no specified amounts of each ingredient. Experiment until you arrive at a blend you like.
  2. Layer the onion, garlic, horseradish, cayenne, and ginger in a quart or larger mason jar. Fill the jar three-quarters full. The herbs will expand as they absorb some of the vinegar.
  3. Pour enough apple cider vinegar to cover all the ingredients. Wait a few minutes to let the vinegar work its way down and into the jar, filling all the nooks and crannies where air bubbles are hiding. Run a butter knife down the sides to release any trapped air and get the vinegar into all the spaces.
  4. Top off with more apple cider vinegar, and cap.
  5. Allow to steep for 2 to 4 weeks.
  6. Strain out all the ingredients, and reserve the liquid.
  7. Measure the liquid, and add one-half the volume in honey. For example, add 1 cup of honey to 2 cups of infused vinegar. However, feel free to adjust the amount of honey to your taste.

Many people take fire cider as an immune tonic and to ward off colds and flu. Sometimes, the full extent of a remedy’s benefits cannot be understood if the person taking the remedy is already in a good state of health. Give the same remedy to someone who is in a state of  ill health, and suddenly the remedy is a miracle potion.

Cat Ellis is a practicing herbalist and dedicated prepper. Because of economic uncertainty and a desire for wider freedom, Cat became interested in survivalism and homesteading in 2008. She describes prepping as having “hundreds of practical hobbies,” like gardening, canning and self-defense. Cat’s love of herbal medicine merged with her love of prepping, resulting in her website,, and her latest book, ‘Prepper’s Natural Medicine’, from which this article is excerpted.

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