Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Herbal First Aid Kit

**This is not medical advice and should not be used as such! This post is intended for educational purposes only, and if you are experiencing severe symptoms of any kind, you should immediately leave the backcountry and seek medical help. Some of this information may be useful for interim care, but should not replace professional care.**

For the last several years, I have been diving into the wisdom of plants and learning from them how to heal things naturally. I find so much richness in making my own herbal remedies and it is such an empowering feeling to be able to use something I've made to heal myself and my friends. There are a few things I swear by, and I'm beginning to build an herbal first aid kit to carry in the backcountry with my favorite remedies. Here are some of the things I like to use:

Cuts, Scrapes, and Bruises

  • Herbal salve - with ingredients like comfrey, St. John's Wort, plantain, calendula, and yarrow. There are a lot of great options for buying a salve, or if you'd like to make your own, find directions here
  • Yarrow poultice - My favorite remedy to stop bleeding! I've used this multiple times on pretty deep cuts, and it's almost magical how quickly it stops bleeding. If there is fresh yarrow (Achillea millefolium) where you are, you can chew up some fresh yarrow leaf and stick it on the open wound. You can also carry yarrow tea bags (buy them or make your own), and to make a poultice, soak one in water and apply it to the wound. 

Bug Bites and Stings

Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata) is a great drawing agent, which is good for removing venom from bites and stings. It is such a powerful medicine that some people have even used it to successfully treat black widow and brown recluse spider bites, as well as snake bites.

This is Plantago major (Broadleaf Plantain). You can recognize both plantains (P. major and P. lanceolata, which are long, thin leaves) by the parallel veins of the leaves.
  • Plantain poultice - Find some plantain, chew it up until it's pulpy, and stick it on the bite or sting. Swallow whatever juices you extracted while chewing it (it's medicine on the inside and the outside!) Most effective if used immediately after bite or sting occurs. 
  • Plantain salve - If you're traveling in an area without plantain, you can carry a small tin of plantain salve for bites and stings
  • Plantain tincture - Taking plantain internally as well as externally can help with bites and stings, too. 


  • Plantain poultice - Plantain is also a great drawing agent for infections. 


  • Pure Aloe Vera gel - this is by far my favorite option for sunburns - plain old aloe vera gel. I buy mine from Mountain Rose Herbs. Just make sure it's as pure as you can get it. Mountain Roses's has preservatives in it, but I don't think you can get around that because truly pure aloe gel would probably spoil quickly. A lot of other products have other fillers in them, including parabens (even if they're labeled "99.9%" aloe gel).

Bug Repellent

Sore or Injured Muscle and Joints

  • Arnica salve

Upset Stomach

  • Activated charcoal capsules - I swear by this for food poisoning-like symptoms (super gurgly stomach, diarrhea, etc.) and have also used it for acid reflux before with success. I have even seen references to it being used for giardia, although I've never had giardia so I haven't been able to experiment personally. 
  • Smooth Move Tea - for constipation.

Cold and Flu

  • Gypsy Cold Care Tea - This one truly makes me feel better when I'm sick.
  • Throat Coat - Indispensable for sore throats. 
  • Usnea tincture - Usnea (Usnea barbata) or "Old Man's Beard" is another one of my favorite remedies. It is specific for respiratory and urinary issues, and is very good for sinus infections, bronchitis, strep throat, staph infections, colds, flu, pneumonia, and urinary tract or bladder infections. I make a double-extracted tincture and at the first signs of symptoms, start taking a small dose (5-10 drops) in warm water every half hour or so. Instructions to make your own here
  • Herbal cough drops - My favorite right now are Ricola's Natural Herb cough drops. They have some interesting ingredients like "color (caramel)"...what does that mean?!...and starch syrup and sugar. But even still, I love them, and they really seem to work for me. I love their herb mix they use (elder, horehound, hyssop, lemon balm, linden flowers, mallow, peppermint, sage, thyme, and wild thyme) and I'm thinking about trying to make my own, but with honey, and without the "color." 


So I can't verify these claims, but I recently found a website about 101 Uses for Coconut Oil, and a lot of them were first-aid related. I haven't tested any of them out, but I thought I would pass along the information, because if you're looking to go super lightweight, it would probably be handy to have just one bottle that is a cure-all. If you want to see the whole article, I linked to it above, but here are the first-aid related uses:
  • skin moisturizer
  • SPF 4 sunscreen
  • topically to speed healing of skin after injury or infection
  • topically to kill yeast infections - soak a tampon in it and insert for a few hours
  • topically to athlete's foot
  • rub on inside of nose to alleviate allergies
  • can help speed healing of sunburn, after initial heat is gone
  • antibacterial skin cream
  • reduce itchiness of mosquito bites

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Elkhorn Crest Trail: 3-Day Menu

Twin Lakes from the Elkhorn Crest Trail

Two of our friends got married recently and for a wedding gift, Max and I decided to plan a backpacking trip with them and make all the food. I love chances to try new recipes and especially for other people to test them! We had planned to take them to the Wild Rogue Loop in Southwest Oregon, which I've been wanting to do for a year now, but that area was smothered with smoke and also pretty close to a couple of fires. We spent several nights looking at maps of the fires and smoke, and looking at predictions for the weekend, but nothing looked clear except Eastern Oregon. We finally chose the Elkhorn Crest Trail in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. A little further than we wanted to drive, but it looked like our best option.
The long drive was made a bit longer and bit more exciting because we drove right past one of the active fires burning along Highway 126. This was the first wildfire I'd seen this close and it was hauntingly beautiful. We hit the burn right as night fell, and in the growing darkness we started to see small fires here and there on the ground, looking eerily like campfires that had been abandoned, or perhaps tended by ghosts. As the line of cars crawled deeper into the heart of it, more and more firelight appeared, now on the trunks of charred trees which crackled with criss-crossed lines of glowing embers. Most of the damage had been done by now and the smoldering forest was now reminiscent of a fire pit in its last hour. A snag burned in the distance. A small stand of baby cedars crackled as they went up in flames. And then we were past it. The road wound up the hillside and we watched from above as the lights disappeared in the darkness, winking away like so many Christmas lights hung from ghosted trees.

It was amazing to see in all that destruction that many of the larger trees remained standing with green needles held high above the danger zone, and knowing that this patch of forest has a good chance of regenerating. I used to be uniformly saddened by burned forests, but after years of hiking through burned patches, have come to realize that these "damaged" areas are able to host so much life afterwards. In fact, one of the best feastings of thimbleberry I've ever had came from a previously burned patch of forest. However, when so much area burns for so long, one has to this part of "healthy" regeneration for a forest? Or catastrophe brought on by climate change, and poor caretending of our lands? Here's an interesting article from Oregon Wild about it: 9 Things Oregonians Should Know About Forest Fires.

I think this map from 9-8-2017 speaks for itself. 
We started at the south end at the Marble Pass trailhead and hiked the 4-6 miles (signs conflicting) on the gradually inclined trail. The weather was hot enough to make us excited for a swim at Twin Lakes, our destination. We made bets on how cold the water was going to be. "I think colder than the McKenzie, but warmer than Blue Pool." "I think closer to the Willamette." It ended up being a perfect temperature and we swam several times in the aqua mountain water.
Tenkara fishing
 The water was also filled with many of them! It only took me about five minutes of casting before I caught my first fish ever (well...the first one I could legally take) using our new Tenkara rod. Tenkara is a Japanese style of fly fishing that uses only a rod, a line, and a fly. When I first heard about it, I was becoming more interested in fishing as a way of gathering my own food, and I was drawn to it's simplicity. The fish I caught was a small rainbow trout with beautiful markings on its sides. Since I fish only for sustenance and not sport, I now faced the death part. All food comes with a price, and death is a natural and necessary part of life. Feeling full of gratitude for this fish, and for the part of me it will become, I killed it, gutted it, and cooked it to eat with dinner.
My first catch
At our campsite, we were graced with the company of a herd of 20 mountain goats that we could see climbing the hills, drinking water out of the stream flowing from the lake, and grazing in the green meadows.

Day 1:

Breakfast - Morning Glory muffins & bacon (where we car camped)

Morning Glory muffins

Cooking up the Salmon Curry
Lunch - Smoked salmon, Almond Flour Dill crackers, creamy Toscano cheese soaked in Syrah

Dinner - Easy Salmon Curry w/ collagen powder

Dessert - Key Lime Packaroons (from Heather's Choice Let's Go On An Adventure dehydrating e-book)

This was my best pot of Salmon Curry to date!

Day 2:

Breakfast - Banana Nut & Maple Cinnamon Sprouted Buckwheat cereals (mixed together!) with coconut milk and collagen

Lunch - Salami Bowls, plantain chips

The salami bowls were a hit!
Dinner - Chile Verde w/ collagen powder and Jackson's Honest Sweet Potato Chips
Chile Verde. No that's not butter....good guess, though. It's raw cheese!

Day 3:

Breakfast - Banana Nut & Maple Cinnamon Sprouted Buckwheat cereals (mixed together!) with coconut milk and collagen

Lunch - Salami slices, goat gouda cheese, more sweet potato chips, Larabars

Snacks -
  • homemade beef jerky 
  • Sea Salt Rosemary Sprouted Almonds (also from Heather's Choice e-book)
  • trail mix
  • dried pineapple
  • plantain chips

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Taco Surprise

This was named by Max's cousin when I described it to her as "beef taco stuff." She then dubbed it "Taco Surprise" because...surprise! There's no tacos! No grains means no tortillas, but that doesn't mean we can't have taco filling! It was a hit at Max's annual family Cape Alava backpacking trip. Also, I have a lead on some cassava flour tortillas that I think would do well in backpacks...coming soon!

Makes 4 servings

1 TB cooking fat
2 red or green bell peppers, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 large crimini mushrooms, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1.5 lb ground beef
1/2 TB salt
pepper to taste
1 TB chili powder of choice (chipotle, ancho, etc)
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste (about half a small can)

Cook vegetables in a large pot over medium heat until soft.
Stir in the ground beef, spices, tomatoes, and tomato paste.
Cook until meat is cooked through.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Spread on parchment paper on dehydrator trays and dehydrate 8-12 hours at 150F.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sprouted Buckwheat Cereals

No. It's not Paleo. BUT...sometimes Paleo granola is just too many nuts at once for me. Buckwheat is gluten free which is a strict rule I follow in my diet life, and sprouting makes them more digestible. I've used Living Intentions' Superfood Cereals before on trips which use buckwheat sprouts as the main base, and I really like those. It's just one of those compromises I make sometimes for the backcountry. Living Intentions is somewhat expensive, though, so I decided to try making my own. I found a couple recipes, and they worked out nicely! They did turn out super crunchy, though, which tired my mouth out after a while, so I started soaking my bowl of cereal in coconut milk and water (I always water down my coconut milk in my cereal, otherwise it makes me feel sick) before adding about a tablespoon of collagen to it, and that worked well. Here are the two recipes I used. I followed them pretty exactly, with the exception of the cooking method for the Maple Cinnamon which says to cook in the oven at 400F. It started to get pretty burned around the edges, so part way through I took it out and finished it in the dehydrator. It would probably do fine to do it in the dehydrator entirely, and probably better to preserve the "liveness" of the sprouts...I don't know if that's true, but it sounds like it could be. Eventually I would like to make one more along the lines of Living Intentions' that uses things like reishi and maca and stuff like that just for more nutritional benefits.

Banana Nut Buckwheat Granola

Maple Cinnamon Buckwheat Granola

Friday, September 8, 2017

Chile Verde

I adapted this recipe from one I found using beef chuck roast. I changed it to ground beef for better dehydrating, and added some plantains and green bell pepper for more substance. I knew it was going to be good, but it actually turned out way better than I thought. And more filling. I looked at the quantity after dehydrating it and it didn't seem like enough for 4 people, so we brought cheese and sweet potato chips to go with it, but I think it would have been fine on its own.

Makes 4 servings

2 large anaheim peppers
2 large poblano peppers
1 jalapeño
1.5 lb ground beef or pork
1 onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 large green plantains, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tomatillos, diced
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1/2 TB ground cumin
1/2 TB dried oregano
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup cilantro
1 TB freshly squeezed lime juice

Place all the peppers on a large baking sheet. Roast under the broiler until skin is black and charred, about 5 minutes per side. Remove peppers from oven and put in a paper bag. Let them sweat for about 20 minutes, then remove from the bag, peel and discard skins, cut out seeds, and dice peppers. Put peppers in a crock pot or dutch oven.
Sprinkle beef or pork with salt and pepper. Brown meat in a frying pan over medium heat.
Once meat is browned, use a wooden spoon to break large chunks into smaller pieces (this will help it rehydrate faster later), then transfer it to slow cooker or dutch oven.
Adding more fat to the meat pan (only if needed), sauté the onion, green bell peppers, and plantain until onion is translucent and plantain is starting to change color to a brighter yellow. Plantain may start to stick to pan, if this happens, you can add water or broth to the pan.
Add garlic to the pan and continue cooking another 30 seconds to release the garlic's flavor.
Transfer onion, green bell peppers, plantain, and garlic to the slow cooker.
Add diced tomatillos, broth, cumin, oregano, allspice, salt, and half of the cilantro.
If using a crockpot, cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 6 hours. Add remaining cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste and adjust spices.
If using a dutch oven, or other large pot, bring contents to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3 hours. Add remaining cilantro, and the lime juice. Taste and adjust spices.
Spread on dehydrator trays and dehydrate 8-12 hours at 150 F.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Almond Flour Dill Crackers

These crackers are delightfully salty, and the dill goes really well with smoked salmon. They're a little more on the cakey side of texture rather than crunchy, but don't let that put you off! They make a great addition to any lunch.

2 cups almond flour
1 egg
1 TB olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dried dill

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it has taken on a doughy texture.
Use your hands to form crackers into a long log, about 1-2 inches in diameter. You can make it a circular log or square.
Using a knife, cut the log into thin slices (about 1/8 inch) and lay them flat on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350F. If crackers are thick, they may take longer.
Remove and let cool before packing in a Ziplock bag.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Last Minute Meal Prep

View of the Three Sisters from Morgul Vale (5.9+) at Wolf Rock, Oregon
A couple days ago I got a text at 6pm that a friend of a friend's climbing partner had backed out of a trip, and could I go? It sounded like too much fun to pass up, but I had no food, no car (Max had our truck on a weekend trip), and basically no time. I racked my brain as I stared at my somewhat empty pantry shelves and refrigerator loaded with fresh food I had planned to cook into delicious meals this weekend. I've pretty much stopped snacking between meals lately so I had no emergency snacks to bring along. I dropped a can of salmon, two avocados, a carrot, 2 packages of Heather's Choice Packaroons, and a travel bottle of olive oil into a paper bag. Definitely not enough for a full day's climb. This was a problem. But I wanted to go on the trip badly enough that I decided I would just grab some energy bars at the store before heading out. The store we went to didn't really have any paleo energy bars, so I settled for some Cliff whey protein bars (which were actually pretty good, even though the chocolate coating melted in the blazing sun), a Kate's Grizzly Bar (also very good but not paleo), and a Picky Bar (also good, and also not paleo). I had the can of salmon mixed with avocado and drizzled with olive oil and half of the carrot with some peanut butter for breakfast. That kept me going really well for half of the climb. And the energy bars did a good job of keeping me going for the second half, but I hate feeling like I'm compromising my body by just feeding it a lot of brown rice syrup in different flavors. So the lesson of this post is...I wish I'd had several things at home that I could have grabbed instead of settling. Here's a list of things I would like to prep and/or buy to always have around in the event of other last-minute trips:

In the freezer:
Grass-fed jerky
Morning Glory Muffins (these freeze really well)
One or two dehydrated dinners

In the pantry:
Plantain chips
A jar of trail mix
Tanka bars
Grass-fed pepperoni sticks
Sardines or other canned fish
RX Bars
Packets of nut butters (like Justin's or Wilderness Poets)
Heather's Choice dehydrated meals and packaroons

The only problem is, now I'll just have to make sure not to snack on it before any more trips come up!