Primitive Skills: Herbal Medicine Foraging & Uses


herbal medicine chest

One of the most important things to stock in your home and pack in your bug out bag is your first aid kit. One way to keep your first aid kit full when bugging out is to learn herbal medicine foraging skills so you can identify and harvest useful natural remedies as you move.  A person’s health is, after all, essential to survival and should always be a top priority no matter what the situation is.

In this article we are going to teach you how to find and use 12 life saving herbs that can be used to treat illnesses, alleviate pain, and give you energy. The best part is that ALL of them can be grown at home of found in the wild at little to no cost!

Learning From Our Grandparents

Way before our reliance on pharmaceutical products to help improve our health, our ancestors relied on herbs and other natural products to alleviate their illnesses.

Many people are already starting to build and grow their herbal medicine chests to create an at-home pharmacy. In addition to making sure that only ‘organic and chemical-free’ elements enter your body, another advantage to creating an at-home herbal medicine chest is that it ensures a constant supply of alternative medicine during emergencies.



How do you start herbal medicine foraging?

It will take years for one to master the science of medicinal herbs, so the best thing that one can do is just figure out what the are the most needed items (check out our list below to see what you may need).  

Once you have done this it is time to start putting that knowledge into action!  Go out and try and find some of the herbs you think you may need in the future.  It is never too early to start building up a stockpile.

12 Basic Medicinal Herbs

To help you get started, here is a list of the most basic medicinal herbs including what they are used for and where they are found:

  1. Echinacea – A popular herb, also called as the coneflower, is the best in the list when it comes to fighting colds. What is even better is that aside from being a great plant for boosting one’s immune system, it is also a beautiful plant that can prettify your garden. These flowers naturally grow in Eastern and central North America, in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas.


    herbal medicine chest

    Echinacea, also known as Coneflower

  2. Astragalus – When it comes to the Echinacea’s best partner in boosting the immune system, the Astragalus is on top of the list. Also, the herb also comes with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties essential in getting back to good health. For conditions related to colds and flu, diabetes, heart diseases and even side effects of chemotherapy, the root of the Astragalus can be used. It grows in the wild along the edges of woodlands, in thickets, open woods and grasslands and is hardy enough to survive a North American Winter, should you decide to plant it in your garden.


    herbal medicine chest

    Astragalus can help boost the immune system

  3. Licorice – Although it is super sweet, chewing on licorice root is the best remedy for a sore throat. You can create a tincture or decoction for this, or you can keep licorice ‘sticks’ handy in your herbal medicine chest. Licorice grows best warm climates in deep, rich sandy soil near a stream in full sun.


    herbal medicine chest

    Licorice is great for a sore throat

  4. Chamomile – Chamomile is the go-to herb for those with belly aches. It is also best made into tea and drank in the evenings, along with honey, because of its calming effects. Chamomile grows along fence lines, roadsides, and in sunny fields from Southern Canada to Northern U.S., the plant does not tolerate hot, dry climates.


    herbal medicine chest

    My Mother used to make me Chamomile when I had a stomach ache and I still use it!

  5. Wood Betony – This plant belongs to the mint family and is best used against stress and headaches. It is also great for covering up wounds to relieve it from soreness and inflammation. As you start growing your wood betony, make sure to protect them from harsh conditions and the wind and transfer it only to a herb garden once it has been established. Wood Betony typically grows in woodlands and in copses of trees, although it can occasionally be found in more open areas.


    herbal medicine chest

    Wood Betony can be used to cover a wound or treat a headache

  6. Calendula – This pretty little flower can be eaten and mixed with muffins. Yum! But, aside from filling your tummies, the Calendula is also used to soothe one’s skin. They are used to help heal and soothe rashes. You can make a salve out of it so you can easily grab it to use regularly. Calendula is also very mild even for kids to use. It can be found growing in the wild in open fields and prairies.


    herbal medicine foraging

    Calendula can help make a rash go away

  7. Feverfew – Just like the wood betony, feverfew is also great for headaches and can help dilate the blood vessels. You can take this one as a tincture or tea. Feverfew is commonly found along roadsides and along the borders of wooded areas.


    herbal medicine foraging

    Feverfew is great for headaches

  8. Elecampane – As a member of the sunflower and ragweed family, the Elecampane can grow as tall as five feet. Aside from stimulating the digestive system, it is also used to relieve congestion. Elecampane grows abundantly in pastures and along roadsides, preferring wet, rocky ground.


    herbal medicine foraging

    Elecampane can help with indigestion

  9. Horehound – Although horehound is among the best herbs for coughs, they are extremely bitter and will require lots of sugar – or honey – to make it easier to one’s taste. Horehound is a hardy plant that thrives in full sun and needs little moisture, it usually grows along roadsides, in disturbed areas, and in fields.


    herbal medicine foraging

    Horehound tastes bitter but is great for treating coughs

  10. Valerian – The root of this herb may not smell its best, but it works very well in a tincture or decoction for relaxation due to its sedative properties. Valerian likes moist soil and its native habitat is marshes and river banks.


    herbal medicine foraging

    Valerian has been used as a sedative for thousands of years

  11. Marshmallow – Nope, this is not the sugary stuff that we all love to roast in the campfire. In fact, this herb works as a mucilage to coat both the throat and stomach. It is also used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Marshmallow plants grow in sunny but cool climates on the edges of marshland and on grassy banks along lakes and rivers.


    herbal medicine foraging

    Marshmallow can help with a sore throat or stomach

  12. Comfrey – This herb, which is also known as bone knit, is great only for external wounds. It should never be taken in as it can be toxic to the liver. Simply mash the leaves and soak them in hot water for a few minutes then wrap the soaked leaves around the wounded area.

    Aside from this, comfrey is also recommended to be planted around fruit trees as it aids in pulling up calcium and minerals from the soil. Comfrey most commonly grows in in damp, grassy places. Although it likes damp soil it’s root is hardy enough to survive a minor drought.


herbal medicine foraging

Comfrey is great for healing wounds but should NEVER be ingested

How are these herbal medicines used?

Any of the medicinal plants listed above can be used to cure ailments in different ways, except for comfrey which should only be applied externally.

Method 1: Making A Tea

Among the most popular ways to use herbal medicines is to make them into a tea. To do this, one simply needs to create an infusion by boiling water and adding the leaves into it. Steep it for about 10 minutes (but going longer is okay as well), strain the herbs and use it as your drink all throughout the day.

Method 2: Making A Decoction

As for the roots and bark, one can create a decoction by adding a handful of the dried or fresh herb into a pot of water. Let it simmer after boiling then strain the herbs out. The decoction can be kept for a day inside the fridge but is best used within the day.

Method 3: Making A Tincture

To create tinctures, you can use alcohol to get the oils out from the herbs and preserve them. It is recommended to use dried herbs and enough vodka or brandy to soak it to about a quarter inch. Shake it every day for one month to eight weeks then strain and bottle. The regular dose of a tincture is about 30 drops for three times each day.

Herbal Medicine Foraging Conclusion

Growing, creating and using medicinal herbs can be a lot to take in but it can get easier once you get used to it. In time, your garden will not only make your house beautiful but will keep your family healthy as well.

If you don’t have a garden try going out in the woods and identifying (or even harvesting!) some of these herbs.  Herbal medicine foraging is a skill that pays dividends for the rest of your life once you learn it!​

Further Reading


Your Thoughts?

Do you have a natural or herbal medicine that you use? Do you think this is a good skill to add to our survival knowledge?  Do you have a herbal medicine foraging tip to share?  Let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

Author Bio

Lisa Farland is a writer at Happy to Survive – a blog that will help you thrive and survive, and offers articles about preparedness, and off-the-grid, self-reliant living. Lisa is an avid minimalist camper, prepper and survivalist.

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