Hygiene in the Wilderness

September 18th, 2015 by

Over the years of teaching outdoor skills people have been concerned about all manner of outdoor challenges they might have to face.

  • Making fire
  • finding and purifying water
  • making a suitable shelter
  • finding food
  • staying warm or dry
  • telling direction
  • finding and using medicines
  • defending themselves against aggressor
  • and things along those lines

While those are all very solid areas to study and practice up on, there is one subject that interestingly enough seems to stand out as more of an issue in certain people’s minds than others. Personal hygiene.

Some people seem to be more concerned with trying to stay clean than just about any other skill! Well I am not sure it is at the top of the list for survival, but it certainly is something we all need to understand and practice to remain in better health.

Here are a very few natural methods of natural hygiene that I have taught over the years in classes. I will keep them basic for the purpose of the article and really just giving you a bit of a practical introduction.

Soap is one of the most sought after of the personal hygiene products when people think about camping, living or surviving in an outdoor situation. Soap is actually quite easy to manufacture in the wilderness. In my last article called Primitive Oil Refinement I discussed how to make an essential oil from the needles of evergreen trees. This oil from any evergreen tree is powerfully potent as a cleaner. Trees such as pines, spruces, firs, cedars, tamaracks, hemlock trees and larches make a great cleaning essential oil.

The inner bark, boiled and steeped for around 15 minutes, of the following example trees make excellent soap liquid due to the high tannin content. They do not create suds, but clean nonetheless.

  • Evergreens
  • Oaks
  • Willows
  • Sage (not a tree but makes great non-sudsing soap)

Just make sure to remove the bark from the water once 15 minutes is up if you are going to use it on your skin because the tannin content can get so strong it will burn your skin. It will stain clothing, but can be used to clean just about anything. Simply adjust the water to bark ratio to get the strength you desire and clean away! The solution kills pretty much anything.

Some plants can also be used to make soaps because they contain saponin. Typically the plant is gathered and then mashed up with a little water to create the frothy soap. Plant leaves such as chickweed, meadow sweet and phlox work very well. The flowers and roots of buffalo berry can also be mashed into soap. The roots of yucca can be mashed with water to create a very pleasant and frothy soap as well.

Those are some very easy to make natural soaps that can be used to wash skin, hair, dishes, clothing, utensils, whatever. Rinsing the hair with sage tea or tea made from the black stems of maidenhair fern after washing can make for nice smelling and smooth hair. The sage adds both purification as well as a pleasing scent. The maidenhair fern stem tea adds a brilliant shine to the hair. While most hair care and body care products of today attract biting insects because of their perfumes, all of the above things help to keep insects away as they are natural repellents!

The next thing many people are concerned about when it comes to hygiene in the wilderness is their teeth. The biggest thing is keeping the gums healthy. If the gums are healthy and the bacteria that grow between the teeth and on the gums are killed, the teeth can take quite a bit. With this in mind we start with mouthwashes. They are easy to make and use and do not cause gum recession as many natural toothbrushes can.

Mouthwashes are as easy to make as tannic acid soap or tea. The same techniques are used. Gather the material, put it in a container of water, boil it and then let it steep for 10-15 minutes, strain, cool and use. He following materials can be used for mouthwashes and gargles:

  • Oak – inner bark
  • Cedar – inner bark
  • Willow – inner bark or outer bark
  • Pine – needles or inner bark
  • Sage leaves

If you want toothpaste to scrub on your teeth with your finger, wads of twisted grasses, the dense ends of cattail stalks, wads of buffed up dry inner bark of cedar and willow trees, you can pound up the inner bark of trees such as:

  • Willows
  • Aspen
  • Cottonwood
  • Birch
  • Spicebush
  • Sassafras
  • Alder

Once you pound up those inner barks you get a paste that can be used as toothpaste. Other examples of plants that can be mashed up for toothpaste are:

  • Alder buds
  • Plantain leaves
  • Oak leaves

Feel free to add any flavoring to the toothpastes you wish. Essential oils of pine, peppermint, spearmint and other edible and fragrant plants work very well. You do not want to forget one of the easiest, but perhaps not the most flavorful toothpaste material – smashed charcoal or white/gray wood ash from your fire. These make exceptional toothpastes when mixed with water!

All of those toothpastes listed above contain natural chemicals that kill bacteria and other mouth germs and help to keep the gums and teeth healthy.

There you have it, some basic and practical examples of natural hygiene products you can use in the outdoors, or in your own home if you so desire.


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