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17 medicinal plants that can also be used for toilet paper

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

We've all been there. You're stuck in the woods on a camping trip or a hike when suddenly you hear the call of the wild...or rather you feel the call deep in your guts. You have to go #2! But you didn't bring any toilet paper! Now what!?

Never fear because your friends here at Roots Down always have your back. We've put together this handy list of plants that not only have medicinal qualities (and in some cases are even tasty treats) but whose leaves can be used for some backwoods "toilet paper." Huge shout out to Toby Hemenway and his book Gaia's Garden for compiling this list.

Now onto the list!

Alum root

Medicinal qualities: antiseptic

From Wikipedia: Native American peoples used some Heuchera species medicinally. The Tlingit used H. glabra as an herbal remedy for inflammation of the testicles caused by syphilis. To the Navajo, H. novamexicana was a panacea and a pain reliever. The roots of H. cylindrica had a variety of medicinal uses among the Blackfoot, Flathead, Kutenai, Okanagan, Colville, and Shuswap.


Medicinal qualities: anti-rheumatic, diuretic

From Wikipedia: Native Americans used the sticky sap of this plant as a topical antiseptic for minor wounds. The entire plant is edible and nutritious, but not necessarily enjoyable because it contains a bitter, strongly pine-scented sap. The large taproots produced by Balsamorhiza sagittata are edible and were harvested, dried, and ground into a starchy flour by Native Americans when other food plants were scarce. The plants' large taproots are reported to be very palatable and far less bitter than the above-ground parts of the plant.


Medicinal qualities: analgesic, emetic

From Wikipedia: This plant is grown in shade gardens for its attractive berries and upright clump forming habit. Native Americans have traditionally used the juice from the fruits of various baneberry species to poison arrows, and used the root as a herbal remedy for menstrual problems. The root of this species has been used as a strong alternative to black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) for menstrual cramping and menopausal discomfort.

WARNING: The berries of Red Baneberry (and White Baneberry) are very poisonous if ingested and may affect the nervous system. European species have fatally poisoned children, but baneberries are not reported to have caused death to humans or livestock in the United States. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil. POISONOUS PARTS: All parts, mainly showy berries and roots. Toxic if eaten in large quantities. Symptoms include burning of mouth and throat, salivation, severe stomach cramps, headache, diarrhea, dizziness and hallucinations. Toxic Principle: Unknown, glycoside or essential oil, protoanemonin.

Black cohosh

Medicinal qualities: Birthing and menstrual aid

From Wikipedia: Native Americans used black cohosh to treat gynecological and other disorders. Following the arrival of European settlers in the U.S. who continued the use of black cohosh, the plant appeared in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia under the name "black snakeroot". In the 19th century, the root was used to treat snakebite, inflamed lungs, and pain from childbirth. Black cohosh is used as a dietary supplement marketed mainly to women for treating gynecological problems, but there is no high-quality scientific evidence to support such uses.


Medicinal qualities: Demulcent, expectorant

From Wikipedia: Coltsfoot has been used in herbal medicine and has been consumed as a food product with some confectionery products, such as Coltsfoot Rock. Tussilago farfara leaves have been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally (as tea or syrup) or externally (directly applied) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, locomotor system, viral infections, flu, colds, fever, rheumatism and gout. An extract of the fresh leaves has also been used to make cough drops and hard candy. Coltsfoot is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including the Gothic and small angle shades. It is also visited by honeybees, providing pollen and nectar.


Medicinal qualities: Anodyne, hemostatic

From Wikipedia: In folklore, Symphytum officinale roots were used in traditional medicine internally (as an herbal tea or tincture) or externally (as ointment, compresses, or alcoholic digestion) for treatment of various disorders, including commonly as a treatment for reducing the pain of osteoarthritis. A 2013 review of clinical studies assessing the possible effect of comfrey on osteoarthritis found the research quality was too low to allow conclusions about its efficacy and safety. In Europe as of 2015, there were no comfrey products for oral use, and those for topical uses to treat bruises or joint pain were evaluated as having risk of liver toxicity.

WARNING: Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are toxic compounds readily absorbed via the stomach or skin, and have potential to increase the risk of fatal liver toxicity. In 2001, the US Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission banned the sale of comfrey products from the market due to its potential toxicities. A 2018 review on pyrrolizidine alkaloids present in comfrey indicated widespread potential toxicity to humans and livestock, and the opportunity for drug development from these compounds.


Medicinal qualities: diuretic, hypoglycemic

From RXList: The long shiny fibers at the top of an ear of corn are called corn silk. Corn silk is used as a medicine. Corn silk is used for bladder infections, inflammation of the urinary system, inflammation of the prostate, kidney stones, and bedwetting. It is also used to treat congestive heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure, fatigue, and high cholesterol levels.


Scrophularia californica

Medicinal qualities: detoxification

From The Nature Collective: Native Americans in northern Baja California (La Huerta Diegueno, or Tipai) made a tea from the root of California bee plant; this was taken to relieve a fever. The Pomo of northwestern California and the Ohlone of north and central coastal California used it as a poultice or wash for infections and boils.

Large-leaved avens

Medicinal qualities: astringent, poultice

From Wikipedia: Geum japonicum, known as Asian herb bennet, is a yellow-flowering perennial plant native to North America and East Asia, especially Japan. It may be synonymous with Geum macrophyllum, the North American flower. As a traditional herbal remedy it is known as an astringent and used in poultices. However, in recent years, the Thunberg variant has received attention for other possible medical uses. With regard to muscular recovery, an extract has been found to help muscles recover following "severe injury", to reduce myocardial infarct size by 35–45% when administered following a heart attack, and to inhibit apoptosis. It also has possible anti-viral properties, including action against HIV and HSV. Action against tumors has also been noted.


Medicinal qualities: demulcent, laxative

From Wikipedia: In traditional medicine, M. sylvestris has been used in herbalism. Mucilage is present in many of the family Malvaceae including M. sylvestris, especially the fruit. The seeds are used internally in a decoction or herbal tea as a demulcent, and the leaves may be used in poultices as an emollient for external applications.


Medicinal qualities: demulcent, expectorant

From Wikipedia: Although long used in herbal medicine, no high-quality clinical research has been conducted on Verbascum thapsus as of 2018, and there are no drugs manufactured from its components. Dioscorides first recommended the plant 2000 years ago, believing it useful as a folk medicine for pulmonary diseases. Leaves were smoked to attempt to treat lung ailments, a tradition that in America was rapidly transmitted to Native American peoples. The Zuni people, however, use the plant in poultices of powdered root applied to sores, rashes and skin infections. An infusion of the root is also used to treat athlete's foot. All preparations meant to be drunk have to be finely filtered to eliminate the irritating hairs. Oil from the flowers was used against catarrhs, colics, earaches, frostbite, eczema and other external conditions. Topical application of various V. thapsus-based preparations was recommended for the treatment of warts, boils, carbuncles, hemorrhoids, and chilblains, amongst others. Glycyrrhizin compounds with bactericide effects in vitro were isolated from flowers. The German Commission E describes uses of the plant for respiratory infections. It was also part of the National Formulary in the United States and United Kingdom.


Medicinal qualities: antibiotic, expectorant

From Wikipedia: T. majus has been used in herbal medicine for respiratory and urinary tract infections. In Germany, licensed physicians are allowed to prescribe the herbal antibiotic, Angocin Anti-Infekt N, made from only nasturtium and horseradish root.

Skunk cabbage

Medicinal qualities: blood purifier, poultice

From Wikipedia: The plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and for food in times of famine, when the leaves were heated and eaten. The leaves have a somewhat spicy or peppery taste. The plant contains calcium oxalate crystals, which result in a prickling sensation on the tongue and throat and can result in intestinal irritation and even death if consumed in large quantities. Although the plant was not typically part of the diet under normal conditions, its large, waxy leaves were important to food preparation and storage. They were commonly used to line berry baskets and to wrap around whole salmon and other foods when baked under a fire. It is also used to cure sores and swelling.


Medicinal qualities: Tonic, stomachic

From Wikipedia: Many parts of the plant were used in folk medicine by Native Americans. A tea made from its leaves or roots was thought to be a treatment for wounds, burns, acne, or digestive problems. As of 2019, there is no evidence from modern clinical research or practice that Rubus parviflorus is effective for treating any disease. Thimbleberry leaves can be used as "toilet paper" when in the wilderness.


Medicinal qualities: birthing aid, opthalmic

From A decoction of the fresh or dried powdered root is used as a treatment for sore eyes. The fresh root juice can be dripped into an afflicted eye. The juice of the plant can be applied externally as a treatment for boils. A poultice of the root can be used as a treatment for boils. The thick underground root stalks were used by some native North American Indian tribes during childbirth.

Vanilla leaf

Medicinal qualities: emetic

From Wikipedia: Multiple Pacific Northwest tribes use the leaves in an infusion drink for tuberculosis. One Lummi informant said the whole plant was mashed and soaked in water, which was drunk as an emetic.

Yellow dock

Medicinal qualities: laxative, poultice

From Wikipedia: Dock leaves are an excellent source of both vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as a source of iron and potassium. Curly Dock leaves are somewhat tart due to the presence of high levels of oxalic acid, and although quite palatable, this plant should only be consumed in moderation as it can irritate the urinary tract and increase the risk of developing kidney stones. It should be used with care during lactation, as it may cause a laxative effect in the infant.

The seeds of the yellow dock, once dried thoroughly, are edible as well. The dark-brown to black seed pods remain on the stalk until the spring when leaves start growing again. While many wild foraged grains must be winnowed, the pods of Rumex crispus are small enough that it is more efficient to grind them with the grain. The resulting flour is much like buckwheat in flavor, and while some may find it too bitter, many prefer the seeds over the tartness of the leaves.

In Western herbalism, the root is often used for treating anemia, due to its high level of iron. It can be powdered and given in capsules, often in combination with stinging nettle – Urtica dioica. This is a classic combination with the plant. Both the leaves and root may be laxative in some individuals, though not in all, and generally it is mild. This is due to the presence of anthroquinone glycosides, and is not an action that should be relied upon, but seen as a possible effect of the plant when taken. The plant may also cause intestinal discomfort to some people. The plant will help with skin conditions if taken internally or applied externally to things like itching, scrofula, and sores. Some studies show that certain anthroquinones can help stop or slow cancer growth, but this may or may not apply to the ones in yellow dock.

Yellow dock is part of the homeopathic pharmacopoeia. It is used mainly for respiratory conditions, specifically those with a tickling cough that is worse when exposed to cold air. It mentions also passing pains, excessive itching, and that it helps enlarged lymphs. The Zuni people apply a poultice of the powdered root to sores, rashes and skin infections, and use infusion of the root for athlete's foot.

And there you have it, folks! If you're ever stuck in the woods and need to go, you can grab one of these 17 plants and use them as TP without worrying about a rash a few hours later!

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