Our readers often ask us to comment on various natural remedies. Face it, medics can stockpile all the drugs they can, but if a disaster event lasts long enough, medicine and supplies will be expended. Unless society restabilizes pretty darn quickly, commercial medical items and drugs will be hard to find unless your retreat is the local hospital.
That leaves you with whatever’s in your back yard that might have medicinal benefits. Therefore, you’d be smart to start planting an herb garden in normal times. Once you get over the learning curve, you’ll figure out what plants do well in your grow zone. These plants will comprise your survival medicine cabinet. Once you get through a good season, you can experiment a little with teas, tinctures, or other ways that plants are processed into medicines. Your ancestors did just that, and had this plant or that plant in the garden not because it was food necessarily, but to treat illnesses and injuries.
Many medicinal plants are herbs that are mostly used in cooking, but also have uses for the medic. Today, let’s talk about cloves.
Cloves, (syzygium aromaticum) are one of the spices native to Asia. You can find them in places like the Maluku islands in Indonesia, where it might have originated, but also in India, Pakistan, and even areas of East Africa. They are a popular spice used in a variety of ways in Asian cuisine. In fact, cloves form the basis of a lot of the food in a number of different nations.
Cloves have an interesting history. During the 13th and 14th centuries, they were transported all the way from Indonesia to pretty much all over the known world. I would think Marco Polo shipped some cloves to Italy and other European nations. During this time, cloves were very expensive, so much so that they were the subject of wars for monopoly over their production, distribution, and the islands where they came from. Dutch traders emerged victorious and held the Maluku islands for some time.
When we talk about natural plants, we usually talk about using leaves, roots or flowers, but with cloves, it’s the flower buds that are used as a spice and for most of its medicinal purposes. These look like miniature nails from your tool box. They are processed in a number of ways; for example, we use the essential oil in some of our kits.
Cloves are antioxidant powerhouses. Minerals in cloves include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, and zinc. The vitamins found in them include vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, and vitamin K. They are also a source of Omega-3 fatty acids (the good kind).
Cloves are reported to have many health benefits, some of which include providing aid in digestion, having antimicrobial properties, fighting against cancer, protecting the liver, boosting the immune system, controlling diabetes, preserving bone quality, as well as fighting against oral diseases and headaches, while also, at least the Chinese say, displaying aphrodisiac properties. Which takes me to, how do I know if cloves are effective against this problem or that problem? I’ll admit that hard scientific data is hard to come by, so you have to understand that the reports aren’t always proof, and effects may be very individual, some may receive these health benefits in full, others, not so much.
What makes Clove buds a useful part of your off-grid medicine cabinet? The health benefits include beneficial effects on pain and inflammation, but also a negative effect on bacterial, viruses, fungi, and more. Like many herbs, Clove have a number of different compounds that may have medical uses, but the most well-known is called “Eugenol”.
Here are eight benefits that cloves may impart to your off-grid patients:
Pain relief: We supply clove oil in all our dental kits because of its anesthetic and antiseptic effect in damaged teeth. Mixing 2 drops of clove oil with some zinc oxide powder can produce improvised temporary cement, useful for lost fillings and other oral issues. It may also relieve gum discomfort, but beware of using too much or too often; it can cause irritation.
Breath issues: It may be hard to distill oil, but teas are easy to make right from the garden (and after drying in many cases). Gargling some tea made with cloves is thought to be a great way to eliminate bad breath.
Respiratory ailments: Clove in its various forms is reported to be helpful for respiratory system complaints due to antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and expectorant effects. It’s been used for colds, sore throat, bronchitis, sinusitis, and more. Warm tea is a good way to access these benefits but better, perhaps, is adding clove oil to hot water and inhale steam.
GI problems: Nausea and vomiting might be improved with direct inhalation of clove oil in a cloth. Mix some powdered clove buds with honey to decrease gas. It’s possible that cloves improve the production of digestive enzymes and help relax irritated intestinal lining, which might help stomach ache, diarrhea, and other GI discomforts.
Ear infections: Clove has anesthetic and antimicrobial oral properties, but these also pertain to the ear canal. A combination of clove oil and sesame oil soaked in a cotton ball (best if warm) can relieve earache and treat infection. Alternatively, make an infusion with crushed cloves and olive oil, let sit for an hour, strain well, and put a few warm drops in the affected ear.
Skin blemishes: Acne may be improved with Cloves due to its antibacterial effect. Mix clove oil with coconut oil (ratio 1:10) and apply to affected skin with a Q-tip two or three times daily until improved.
Headaches: Due to it pain-relieving properties, massaging Clove oil mixed with coconut oil into the forehead or other area can relieve headache discomfort. Alternatively, place a few drops of clove oil on a warm cloth and apply to where the pain is.
Joint Pain: Massaging aching joints with the above mixtures may work the same way on joint pain. Alternatively, a warm clove compress to the joints may be helpful.
It should be noted that clove oil is pretty strong stuff, and must be used sparingly. It can cause irritation, as mentioned above, but also has ill effects on the body’s cells when used excessively. It may also slow blood clotting, and, hence, not used prior to surgery. Having said that, used correctly in small amounts by diluting with carrier oils or liquids, clove oil is generally considered to be safe. You can expect whole dried clove buds to last 3-4 years if stored properly.
With clove oil and other natural plant oils, teas, tinctures, infusions, and balms, the quality of the product and medicinal benefits may vary due to a number of reasons. Soil conditions, seasonal temperatures, rainfall, and time of harvest are just some of the factors involved in determining the end product when it comes to herbal products. Many of these remedies also vary from individual to individual.
The off-grid or homestead medic should have a stockpile of commercial medicines, but also a sustainable supply of plants with medicinal properties for use in good times or bad. Use all the tools in the woodshed and you’ll be a more effective caregiver in austere settings.