Treating Diarrhea in the Field

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Diarrhea is one of the most common issues faced in the wilderness. Depending on the cause will depend on the treatment. Giardiasis, dysentery, and molds and fungus just to name a few, are very common and can be transmitted through contact with fecal matter, poor hygiene, untreated water, or even mold in a filter. Giardia and dysentery (two main types’ bacillary dysentery and Amoebic dysentery) are widely found in water supplies throughout the world. This can happen with the run off from sewer plants or even septic systems. People and wildlife can also be carriers of these infections depositing it with their feces. Molds and fungus can grow on and in filters and water bottles that are not properly taken care of. I will cover the treatment and symptoms of each one of these in this article as well as cleaning your hands after going to the bathroom. I will also be discussing a few desert plants that will not only treat but will cure a few of the infections I have mentioned. Understand that I can not take any responsibility for the misuse or misidentification of these plants. It is entirely up to you to do your own research and studying of any plants mentioned in this article.     

   Think about the ability to treat water by boiling, pasteurization, or by some other means. In a survival situation this is one of the most important things one has to do to ensure health and hydration. Disinfecting your drinking water is the first line in preventing illnesses caused by microorganisms. Keeping your hands clean is also equally important. While I have in the past I have done the old maneuver of “gritting your teeth to strain out the big stuff” this is dangerous. Realizing that a lot of survival situations will only last from 24 to 72 hrs on average, drinking water in this manner is asking for trouble. Of course once rescued medical personnel can take steps to stop any adverse effects from drinking unpurified water. Starting with Giardiasis, one of the most commonly talked about cases of diarrhea, we can start to understand how to treat ourselves in the field. What happens if you feel the effects of Giardiasis? First and foremost stay hydrated. Secondly treat the symptoms.

   Before we go any further with the treatment of diarrhea understand that this is the body’s natural defense against a lot of microorganisms like amoeba, viruses, protozoa, and even bacteria. It is the body’s way of “trying” to flush itself out. I have read a lot of opinions on the subject of treating diarrhea, one of which was the fact of keeping the bad stuff in. This is one of he reasons I am writing this article, to give some ideas on actually killing the pathogens as well as treating the symptoms. I am not a Dr. I am only providing information based on my experiences with these issues. Each one of these remedies I am writing about I have personally used. Extreme care must be taken on doses and collecting the plants for use.       

   Giardia also known as beaver fever is a protozoan infection of the small intestine. When the symptoms Giardia appear there is abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, low-grade fever, nausea, vomiting, and the abdomen can become swollen. Keep in mind once you have this infection it does not mean you are done for. In the field there are a few ways I will treat this waterborne pathogen. In some cases to ease the onset of diarrhea and the stomach upset I will use charcoal. This substance has micro pores on its surface that will adsorb several times its own mass in toxins. This will allow them to pass safely through the body. To make charcoal is a little more complex than you may actually think. I prefer to take several large coals from the fire and bury them in a hole. The reason I will do this is simply to keep the excess oxygen away allowing the pores to open wider. This increases the surface area allowing more toxins to adhere to each granule. This can also be made using two cans fit snugly together with a hole poked into the top. This is them packed with soft woods like pine, aspen, or even cottonwood. Place this in a fire and allow the wood to burn inside he container. What this does is converts the wood into pure carbon in an atmosphere void of oxygen. This is important for making medicinal charcoal. Keep in mind this is not activated charcoal used in hospitals but in the field it is the closest thing you will have to it.

   Once the smoke has stopped coming out of the hole in the top of the container simply remove it from the fire and bury it top down in the dirt or sand. This will keep the oxygen from entering the can and aid in cooling. Once it is cooled I will remove the charcoal from the container and place it on a large flat rock. I then begin to grind it into a fine powder with another stone. This fine powder is mixed with water and drank. In some cases people will vomit after drinking this mixture, keep mixing and drinking. From my experience I have not vomited from this mixture but I can tell you it tastes horrible. This stuff can easily trigger your gag reflex.

Powdered Charcoal   This photo shows some pulverized charcoal in a clay bowl that I made. This charcoal is ready to be mixed with water and used.

   Another way I have achieved making a decent charcoal in the field is to start a fire in a hole of depression in the ground and burn a lot of soft woods like aspen, cottonwood, pine, and the like. Once the coals are glowing I will bury them in a hole and cover them up. Granted the process allows oxygen to reach the coals but it is excluded in the final step. However this can affect the quality of the finished product. I have found that even gathering cold charcoal from the fire pit will help. It will take a lot more to be effective but it still works.

Fire Hole 1 Coals Being Buried 1

These photos show the depression or hole that was dug for a fire pit. This is actually one of my favorite ways to safely have a fire in the desert. Once the wood is burnt and turned to embers I will remove them and bury them in the ground.

 This is a good treatment for diarrhea in the wilderness. You must keep in mind that you will still need to seek medical attention to properly diagnose the cause. From there proper steps can be taken for full recovery. A few natural methods for killing Giardia have been discussed in the medical and scientific community. One well known cure is Golden Seal or Hydrastis canadensis. One of the places to find this herbal supplement is in your local pharmacy or grocery store. This will come in a capsule form with a premeasured amount in each capsule. This makes it very easy to pack with you into the field. Some of the other benefits of this plant have been noted as an anti fungal and has also been known to kill certain strains of Staph, Strep, and E. coli. This is due the natural chemical compound Berberine.

   When looking at the  desert regions like those of Arizona, I look to the Berberis family of plants for this compound. Algerita also known as Fremont barberry or Berberis fremontii as well as creeping barberry or Mahonia repens are loaded with this chemical. The entire plant has traces of berberine but is more concentrated in the root and bark. In the past I have taken a hand full of the bark and placed it in warm water to make an infusion. The water will turn a yellowish color and can be quite bitter. This can be taken in 2 to 4 oz doses twice a day for up to two weeks. Another way I have prepared this is by allowing it to steep in cold water to make a cold infusion, this works the same way as the warm infusion. Another added benefit of this is for infections. This makes a very good wound wash in the field. This is one of the best natural antiseptics I have found for killing bacteria in a wound.

Barberry, Mahonia trifoliolata

   This is a photo of the Algerita plant. It is also known as Barberry, Mahonia trifoliolata, or Berberis fremontii.

   Another natural killer of Giardia in the field is Crucifixion thorn also known as Chaparro Amargosa or Castela emeri and Canotia holacantha. This one is noted to work against dysentery as well. I personally have one of these growing in my yard. It is not recommended to harvest from this tree or shrub in the wild because it is highly protected. If you happen to find yourself in a survival situation a few twigs are not going to hurt. There are a few ways I will use this particular plant. First is a tincture of 50% alcohol usually“good” vodka will do. I will prepare this in a 1:5 ratio for best results. Once bottled let it sit for a few weeks in a cool dark place. The dose of this method is 20 to 50 drops every several hours. This stuff is really bitter and can gag a maggot! Another way I will use this tree is by making into a cold infusion or a decoction by simply taking a handful of the twigs and let them steep for a few hours. This will turn into a yellowish green liquid and again it is bitter. You will however want to take it easy on this stuff. Too much and it will cause weakness, nausea, and a cold sweaty lethargic like state. This should not be used during pregnancy.

 This plant will also aid in some forms of food poisoning. I can personally tell you it does work. We all have had food in the refrigerator for too long or from a restaurant. One day I had just returned from taking photos of rattlesnakes in the field. I was pretty hungry from having not eaten for sometime. I opened the refrigerator and grabbed some chicken. I completely overlooked the date on the container and chowed down anyway. Needless to say a few minutes later my guts were churning. I new this was not going to have a good outcome. First thing I had thought of was to go outside and cut a handful of twigs from the Crucifixion Thorn in the front yard. In this particular case I heated some water and placed in the twigs. After I let them steep for a while I drank up. No more than fifteen minutes later the grumbling, churning, and cramping were gone. I have also done the same treatment for severe issues from eating at restaurants.

CrucifictionThorn Holacantha emoryi or Canotia holacantha 1   This is a photo of the Crucifixion thorn or Holacantha emoryi or Canotia holacantha. There are a few scientific names for a lot of these types of plants. They do differ slightly but still have the same uses.

CrucifictionThorn Holacantha emoryi  seed pods 1

 These are the seed pods of the Crucifixion Thorn

A very common plant in the desert that will aid with the treatment of diarrhea from a number of causes including dysentery is the cat claw acacia or Acacia greggii. These shrubs grow at altitudes of less than 5,000 feet and have a pretty wide range. This was used with great success by a variety of Southwest tribes. The leaves, fruit, and even the bark were gathered and made in to a tea. This was drunk to ease the symptoms of dysentery.  

Acacia greggii – Catclaw Acacia 1

  This is an example of Acacia greggii also known as Catclaw Acacia. These are referred to as wait-a-minute bushes. Do not mistake this for the cat claw mimosa also known as a wait- a- minute bush. If not properly understood and identified the catclaw mimosa can cause serious issues. The leaves, twigs, and fruit of the Acacia greggii are able to treat and minimize the affects of dysentery. These can be done by allowing it to sit in the water for a several hours or by gently heating and allowing to steep.

Juniperus pinchotii, Red Berry Juniper 1

This is an example of the Juniperus pinchotii, or Red Berry Juniper. There are several types of Juniperus in Arizona. Caution must be taken with these plants as well; they can be easily mistaken for cypress and tamarisk. Both of which can be very dangerous.

  Molds and fungus are also common in the field. One way I have come in contact with a mold is from a backpackers filter that I had used, forgotten about, and put away wet. This allowed mildew and mold to grow on the inside of the filter. I had set out to do a water purification video for YouTube and used the forgotten filter in the video. The water was clear and smelled fine but as I drank it the water burned all the way down to the pit of my stomach. Symptoms started within ten minutes. I was experiencing almost instantaneous diarrhea, cramping and severe nausea. I immediately took the filter apart to look inside. This is where I found the mold growing. From my studies in local plants and their properties, I new the benefits of using the Juniper tree for this issue. This being a strong anti fungal and an anti bacterial I knew this would help me out in this situation. In this case I picked a handful of the needle like leaves and chewed them up. Once they were chewed up a sucked out the juice and swallowed it. As the juice hit my stomach It felt like bubbles were popping, a very strange sensation to say the least. Once the juice was gone I spit out the leaves. With in literally minutes I felt 100% better.

  When situations like this arise not only are they uncomfortable but also embarrassing. The real reward comes from knowing how to treat yourself should these issues arise, and trust me they do. In some cases you can have this issue and not have much in the way of water or toilet paper to clean your hands or your backside. There are a lot of methods for cleaning but I wanted to give some pointers on using plants and their compounds. In so many parts of the desert that I travel I find a shortage of large enough leaves to be able to clean afterwards. In the case of this I have begun to look at the Creosote bush also known as greasewood or Larrea tridentata. This plant has so many wonderful topical uses, for one it is an amazing antibacterial. I have used this for cleaning wounds as well as fighting infections of wounds. This plant however is not to be taken internally. Severe liver damage can occur from eating the leaves or drinking the tea. For this reason let’s stay on the topical side of the discussion. The leaves of this plant are very sticky with resinous oil. For using this plant to wipe with, simply grab several handfuls of the leaves and roll them in your hand. These will stick together and hold together while you are doing your business. The anti bacterial and anti fungal properties of this plant will destroy any type of bacteria. Afterwards you can essentially “wash” your hands with this same plant. By taking a hand full of leaves and vigorously rubbing them onto your palms and fingers, this will cleanse your hands. The smell is even astringent. This will also kill any viruses you may transmit as well.

greasewood or Larrea tridentata 1

Greasewood or Larrea tridentata

  Although I did not mention using these to kill viruses they have been known to aid with the destruction and break down of many kinds of waterborne viruses. Canotia holacantha as well as the plant compound berberine has been known to treat viruses like Hepatitis a along with a few others in this range. Pretreatment by these compounds is recommended before hand to kill any type of waterborne viruses. Untreated water however can allow viruses to “take hold” making these methods significantly less effective. These plants have also been known to treat these types of viral symptoms but are not cures after infection. 

  I hope I was able to shed a little light on the field treatment of diarrhea. Please read this carefully and understand that some of these plant compounds have been know to be toxic and if misused can cause serious issues. It is highly recommended that you do your own research as far as the use of these plants to better understand the particulars on their uses. It is very important to fallow dosing instructions to the “T” and understand that we hold no responsibility for any misuse of the information in this article. The only real way to learn and understand how to properly use this information is to learn from someone that has the knowledge. Never take it upon yourself to try to use any plant medicines with out proper guidance or training. This is serious subject matter that should not be taken lightly. The information given was for information purposes only. We are not responsible for any use or misuse of information.

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