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The benefits of natural medicine

Natural 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:

  1. It works, and has been working for thousands of years.
  2. It belongs to everyone. There is no licensing board; certification courses are voluntary; you can be self-taught or take a herbalism course.
  3. Learning the foundational techniques is easy and enjoyable, with the promise of lifelong benefit.
  4. 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.

White willow bark vs. aspirin

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.

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 book, ‘Prepper’s Natural Medicine’, from which this article is excerpted.

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