I have a confession: I don’t use coupons. I know, I know. They can be a great way to help stock up on extra personal hygiene products to round out your preparedness kits. But my main focus has always been having a back up plan for the backup plan.
Rather than keep ten years’ worth of deodorant and toothpaste on hand, I’d rather just keep one or two extras in the medicine cabinet and know what I can use from my garden instead. Part of this is because space is at a premium in my living quarters, partly because I’m a stubborn minimalist, and partly because I’m a kooky herbalist. Take your pick.
So, let’s take a look at the three most basic components for personal hygiene: something to wash skin, hair, and clothes; something for oral health; and something to keep the arm pits from getting quite so stinky. Three easy to grow, perennial herbs that fit these functions perfectly are soapwort, licorice, and sage. Being able to use these three herbs in a pinch can be handy, or they can supplement an existing daily routine as a more natural option.
Soapwort- Saponaria officinalis
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Soapwort is a beautiful perennial plant that is hardy in US zones 3-9. It grows to be about three feet tall, and prefers rich, compost-heavy soil. It can be a little finicky about light requirements, as it likes sun but not too much afternoon sun. If it likes its growing location it can become invasive, but if that happens, just harvest more of it. Soapwort leaves and roots can be dried for later and still lather when used.
To make a soap solution with soapwort, use 1 tablespoon of dried leaves or roots (three tablespoons if the herb is fresh) per cup of water. Bring the water to a boil, add the herb, and allow to simmer for ten to fifteen minutes. Strain and cool before use.
Soapwort solution can be used for hair, skin, and clothing. It is very gentle, and is often found in high end organic facial care products and used to clean antique textiles. So by all means, don’t wait for SHTF!
Soapwort is toxic to fish, so don’t wash with or dump soapwort solution directly into a pond or stream where live fish are present.
Licorice Root- Glycyrrhiza glabra
Another perennial in the three to four foot tall range, licorice is hardy in USDA gardening zones 7-9. It prefers full sun and moist soil but doesn’t appreciate clay.
The plant will need to grow for two or three years before the roots are large enough to harvest. Once they have matured, they should be harvested in the fall, when the plant has focused all of its resources down into the roots before winter. The flavor and chemistry of the roots will be at their peak during this time.
Not only does licorice root contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory components, it’s also shaped perfectly for turning into a simple toothbrush substitute. I use them in addition to a regular toothbrush/toothpaste routine, but some people successfully use licorice root alone.
Licorice root typically grows in a long, thin shape. Once it has been dried (this technique won’t work on a fresh root), choose one end of the root and soften it by standing in a glass with a half inch of water or by sucking on it until the root softens (usually about sixty seconds either way). Peel back the outer root bark (the brown looking skin on the root), and gently chew the root until there is a quarter inch or so of “brush” at the end. Gently rub along the gumline and over each tooth to clean the mouth.
Licorice has a sweet taste, so there’s no need to fear that your brush will taste like pencil shavings. After each use, trim away the used “brush” with a knife or scissors and store in a clean place until next use.
Sage- Salvia officinalis
Sage is a small to medium perennial herb that prefers a very sunny location with dry, well drained soil. It will grow from zones 4-8 in the US. Many people are familiar with sage as a culinary herb, but it also has more medicinal uses.
Make a strong infusion of the fresh or dried herb to spritz or splash the underarms and help control body odor. For best results, make the infusion in the evening and allow to sit overnight before straining. It will need to be applied more frequently than a store bought deodorant, because it will not be as strong. It is not an antiperspirant, either, so it won’t keep you dry.
Fresh sage leaves can also be added to an oral hygiene routine with licorice root. Simply rub a fresh sage leaf over the gums and each tooth. Sage has a stronger flavor than licorice, but the leaves can be harvested more often and more easily than licorice roots, so it’s a good option to know.
Soapwort, licorice, and sage have many other herbal uses, but they are definitely botanical all stars when it comes to personal hygiene. Knowing how to grow and use them will mean you always have a back up plan for soap, toothpaste, and deodorant.