The Prepping City Herbalist

Pickled Jars
Pickled Jars (Photo credit: ZakVTA)

As one of my clients was expressing anxiety about the news I flashed on how I deal with it:  I prep.  Yes,I am a lefty, liberal non-apocalyptic herbalist prepper who thinks guns in cities are more likely to harm innocents than defend families and I think the government wants to help but will be stretched too thin.  But my scouting years suggest being prepared pays.

I live in a city with a target on its back.  We had two successful terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the most dangerous of which happened on 9-11.  Terrorist attacks on the subways and Times Square have been stopped with good police work.  Last year’s hurricane  wiped out the coastal areas of not only this city but most of the East Coast.  We had two tornadoes in the last two years.  We live in a time of economic recession with few governmental economic resources. I think it makes sense to be prepared and it relieves potential stress.

There is a lot of fear-laden information on the web on how to prepare for disaster. The basic issue is that you need security, food, water, medicine and a roof over your head. Some things are more important than others.  If you live on a coastal flood plain, you might be better off concentrating on amphibious transportation than food that will be flooded with your home.  By all means have some food and water but concentrate on planning to get yourself to safety and have a go bag with waterproof containers of your vital papers and photographs.  If you  live in a city apartment you will want to focus on prepared food rather than seeds for farming and you might want to keep a bicycle in order.  If your apartment is in a highrise which requires electricity for water, you will want to store water along with food.  If you are in the country you might need to store fuel or horse feed.

First assess your risks and assets

NYC is a target, but Brooklyn less so. The likely assaults are explosives, a dirty bomb, poisoning the reservoirs, blowing up the water tunnels or the subways.  We could have excess rain, snow and winds or a prolonged heat wave without air conditioning. The subways and low areas could flood again.  Damage could be partial or total, could make life and transportation difficult or could wipe out a city of 8 million.

My children live in the city within an hour or two by bike. We don’t have other properties to retreat to. We all have some social capital and would be unlikely to leave unless something major happened.  None of us lives on the coastal flats. My husband and I are near retirement age so not easily employable, but as an acupuncturist, herbalist and trained EMT I have useful skills. We have no car and I won’t tell you how to save gas or make biodiesel because others are better able to.  We live in an apartment which is located on a hill that is unlikely to flood, in a low building that does not require electricity to pump water. The basement floods occasionally so isn’t great for storage.  Our windows have bars. We have lost cooking gas once in 30 years, electricity several times, but never water.  There is no defensible land for gardening but I do have potted plants and a taste for unusual foods that might not be recognized by others.  There is no solar power and while possible, we would need to get the entire coop board behind the investment. We live near a park with edible plants and near a commercial strip. Guns are illegal. Neither of us has the eyesight to bring down pigeons, squirrels or rats for food.

Our space for storage is somewhat limited but not completely.  We have a decent kitchen and one bathroom so the tub can only store water for a while.  I have raw or prepared herbs that could provide medicine for many people. My pantry is full but not necessarily balanced or well-rotated. I can get rid of extra clothes or purses to make room for supplies.  We lose things because we are not as well organized as we might be.  We have a cat who needs food, water and litter.

My conclusion is that absent destruction of the water system we would shelter in place. We might need to reinforce a few windows or door locks and need to organize what we have.  Desirable luxuries would include  a solar recharger for the computers and a solar stove.  We need to identify somewhere to go if the City were destroyed and we survived.

Non-electric water cooler
Non-electric water dispenser


Water is more important than food, but you can get your  needs met from many liquids or even water-rich fruits and vegetables like watermelon or cucumbers or canned soup.  In my case I expect to have water unless I have to evacuate the city, so I will store less water than if sources were likely to be compromised. I do expect that water quality might be a problem so I have chlorine bleach, iodine crystals, water filter straws and non-electric Brita filters. I plan to boil water if necessary.  When severe storms are announced I store water in pots and pans and fill the bathtub.

Water will last longer if stored in glass, but glass takes up lots of space and water-cooler bottles are heavy.  I do think it would be useful to have a non-electric water dispenser and some back up bottles.  But I also keep a lot of small jars and bottles for herbs and could store them with water from the tap instead of empty.  I am unlikely to store flats of small plastic water bottles since they offend my sense of ecology. If I had a extra bathroom I might use an aqua pod which stores a 14 day supply of water for a family of four in a bathtub.  If I lived up in a highrise I would probably get water boxes which are compact and allow for significant storage.

I don’t live where  I could drill a well.  I could collect rainwater in a makeshift rain barrel since I live on the  first floor.  I know how to make a solar water still and think everyone ought to just in case.  One could adapt it for rooftop use.

Keep a bottle of trace mineral concentrate around to add to water and other beverages.  Filters often remove minerals.  It will taste better and help keep you nourished.

Solar still

Water isn’t the only beverage.  I do not recommend stocking up on many aseptic packaged milks or nutmilks because in my opinion they go bad too fast.  My storage milk is powdered. You might want to store glass bottles of juice (preferably to dilute), juice concentrate or even soda if you really want it as a treat (but you are dealing with empty calories that can hurt your health.)  Alcoholic beverages might be better retained for trade than consumed, especially since a disaster could trigger over-consumption.  But several flasks of Johnny Walker might radically increase in value in a long term emergency,as an important barter. And an occasional bottle of wine could be very enjoyable.  Both wine and beer can be made at home.


If your space is limited and you don’t want to eat canned foods unless you have to,  you might want to look at a good non-GMO 25-year shelf life dried food that only needs boiling water to make.  Amazon has many brands and the comments can help you choose brands. You need to look for the following characteristics:

  • 25 year shelf life- many meals only last 5 years because they have air exposure or cheap packaging.
  • Rodent resistant tubs for storage.
  • Sufficient calories and enough protein, fat and minerals to eat.  Many give tiny servings or are mostly dry potatoes and rice.
  • A reasonably low cooking time since fuel might be in low supply.  Soaking food overnight can reduce cooking time.
  • Durable packaging that doesn’t take up too much space.
  • Packed in reasonable serving sizes.  If you are single you don’t want serving sizes of 6 or 12.
  • Reasonable taste.  Look for comments by people who actually tasted it.  Buy small amounts to taste.
  • Have some food that can be eaten out of the jar or can if water and fuel are out.  Diversify your stores.
  • Don’t be frightened into buying too much right away.  FEMA doesn’t seem in a hurry to prevent you from doing so  and they are doing their job in identifying food sources before the next emergency. Don’t get paranoid. Many of these foods go on sale from time to time. Compare prices with similar items in your grocery store.
Granola (Photo credit: Average Jane)

You can supplement meals for taste, nutrition and texture:

  • Spices and herbs are both delicious and nutritional.  Curry twice a week gives you the adaptogen, turmeric. Italian herbs are anti-microbial. Tulsi (holy basil) is an adaptogen that can be used in pesto or salsa.
  • Dried nettles, kale, spirulina, chlorella, seaweeds or other “green stuff” can add vegetable nutrition to cereal , soups or casseroles, especially mineral nutrition.  Frontier Herbs (which you can join as a buying club), Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest carry these.
  • Sea vegetables expand to a huge extent when rehydrated in soup.  A good supplement.
  • Hydrolyzed gelatin helps repair connective tissue and is a good substitute for bone broth.  Add it to soups, stews or smoothies. It is adaptogenic.
  • Dried red stuff- fruits, tomatoes, berries and such in oatmeal or rice dishes brings flavonoids which keep you healthy and are not destroyed by cooking or dehydration.
  • Keep dry bilberries, blueberries, raisins, goji berries, almonds, figs, organic strawberries, apples, pears and other nuts and dried fruits separately to add to oatmeal, granola or rice.
  • Canned meats  and fish, tomato paste, soups, sauces, and seasonings can transform basic foods and increase nutrition.
  • Pickle vegetables as a way of preserving fresh produce without refrigeration.  Keep the brine to seed new batches.  Vinegar or kombucha mothers can be used to transform old fruit juice or tea (add sugar!) into sparkling probiotic beverages.  I always have some pickled veggies or sauerkraut around and even my cleaning vinegar seems to grow mothers.
  • Eat the perishable food in your refrigerator first if you lose power.  Then your freezer-bringing it to the fridge in groups, stuffing towels or other insulation into the emptying freezer to reduce air space. Last use canned foods and then dry meals.  Take food out of the refrigerator only once or twice to prevent losing cooling.
  • Rehydrate milk from powder a little at a time so it doesn’t need refrigeration.  Make yogurt, kefir or buttermilk.
  • Canned butter and cheese can be stored for 3 years:  Australian Bega cheese and New Zealand Red Feather butter  are available and provide necessary nutrients.
  • Don’t open all your sauces at once if you are without refrigeration.  Open two and use them up before opening more.
  • Dole out your chocolate, coffee or other special treats on an agreed-upon schedule.  Intersperse coffee with teas from local plants.
  • If you expect radiation keep fermented miso and dry seaweed around as well as anti-radioactive iodine and consume them regularly.
  • Supplement with all those bottles of vitamins you have lying around since your food is probably a bit less nutritious.  Vitamins and minerals should be taken with meals and herbs and amino acids between meals.
  • Save gallons of vinegar for cleaning, chlorine bleach for water treatment and boxes of baking soda for scrubbing and teeth.

Supplement canned or dried foods with local weeds and grown herbs:

Aquaponic greenhouse
Aquaponic greenhouse (Photo credit: audiovisualjunkie)
  • Common weeds can be eaten as pot herbs cooked like spinach- learn those around you.  I learned on camping trips that a weed salad can make freeze-dried meals much more desirable.  Dandelion greens, sedum, portulaca, violet leaves (not too many), violet flowers, dandelion flowers, yam leaves, nettles, Japanese knotweed shoots, gallinsoga leaves, cattail shoots or pollen, grape leaves, shiso and many other weeds are edible.  Many others like raspberry leaf or alfalfa make nutritious teas.
  • I keep sprouting beans around which can be used as fresh vegetables.
  • If you have a back yard or secure rooftop, plant a victory garden.  A 6 foot by 10 foot garden can provide most of what a family of four needs.  Hydroponic or aquaponic systems can work in a greenhouse.
  • Look for heritage, non GMO seeds which set seeds that you can replant.  Several prepper sites have heritage seed vaults designed for long term planting.  Don’t forget to let a few plants of each type go to seed.
  • Chickens will lay for two years after which time they can be cooked.  But you need to learn how to butcher and pluck them.  Eggs btw can go without refrigeration so long as they are intact.
  • Even if you have an indefensible area like a concrete city front yard, you can still grow food, especially foods that don’t look edible.  People will steal your red tomatoes but may leave your sedum oak leaf lettuce and portulaca alone.  No one has touched my yellow eggplant, decorative yam leaves or headless cabbage. I have a pot of nettles by the gate which acts as a deterrent and is edible and it is not clear how to walk through the plants.  So far I have only lost a few cherry tomatoes. But limit your investment in apparent edibles because they may disappear along with the  pots and soil.
  • Save space for medicinals.  So someone with Parkinson’s might raise fava beans because L-doppa might not be around.  Someone who suffers from depression might plant St. John’s wort and lemon balm.  For anxiety, scullcap and vervain.  Yarrow, tulsi, peppermint, oregano, ginger (as an annual unless you take it in), turmeric (ditto), echinacea and selfheal are also helpful for a variety of conditions.

A good first aid kit is important and healing skills make allies

  • First of all you need to learn how to help yourself and others.  Take a first aid and CPR course from  your local Red Cross, NOLS or other group.  For herbal first aid information look at Sevensong’s web page or take classes from him,
  • I wrote an extensive post on putting together a natural first aid kit.  Mine was oriented to a group, but you can customize it to your family and skills.  Look up the post.
  • You will need a community for survival.  Use healing as a means of helping others so they can help you.
  • It would be safer to find a treatment area outside of your home in a long-term emergency.




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