Ten gardening ideas for survival

by Spiderwolf

Studying permaculture allows you to think about gardening and resources in a different way. I’ve also been fortunate to read about the wonderful uses of some plants that you may not know about and I’d love to share this information with you.

  1. Bamboo – OK so it can spread like wildfire if it is not a clumping species and contained. That could be a good thing, if you want a fence or privacy screen or have a large block of land. Otherwise get the clumping kind and pot it up. It’s a hardy and extremely fast growing plant. It produces mulch and sticks for trellising plants, as well as many other uses in the garden.
  2. Plant a toilet paper bush – According to Isabell Shipard’s “How can I prepare with Self-sufficiency and Survival Foods?” there are two bushes that can substitute as toilet paper with their large soft leaves. The Arla bush (Tihonia) which grows 1 to 3 metres high and has white daisy flowers, and Blossom bouquet bush (Dombeya burgessiae).
  3. Loofah (Luffa siceraria – smooth and Luffa acutangula – angled) – is also known as a dish-cloth gourd and you may know it for scrubbing your back. They can be eaten when they are small, young and still green – similar to zucchini. However, when you leave them on the vine to dry up they become spongy. Remove the outer skin and keep some seeds for yourself and pass the extra seeds around to your family. Clean out the inside and you have a sponge ready to use.
  4. Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) – is a clumping perennial, half a metre high. Its leaves and roots have soaping properties that provide a cleansing action when crushed in water. You can make a mild liquid soap or shampoo by chopping up two handfuls, cover with 3 cups of water and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave to cool, strain and bottle. It will keep for several weeks in a refrigerator.
  5. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) – has deep roots to access nutrients in the soil and spreads easily in the garden making it an ideal source of mulch. You can make a liquid fertilizer by soaking the leaves in a bucket or bin of water, covered for about three weeks. This smelly brew is known as comfrey tea. Comfrey can also be used as a compost activator – ideal if you do not have any animal manure. The leaves can be eaten in salads or cooked. It is high in protein, rich in potassium and nitrogen and a source of vitamin B12. The plant also has many uses as an herb, and can be made into a poultice.
  6. A horta patch – is common in Greece. It is simply leafy greens. These can be your common everyday weeds, or you can plant a patch where you cut off only the leaves you need and let them continue growing. Think beyond just lettuce, there are plenty of other delicious greens you can try – amaranth, chicory, cress, endive, purslane, garden cress, kale, lamb’s lettuce, mibuna, mizuna, mustard greens, rocket, spinach, sorrel, tatsoi, and shungiku. Some of these will self-seed and others are perennial so fingers crossed this will be a low maintenance thriving area.
  7. Herbs as a replacement for prescription medication – grab an herbal book and do some research. There are plenty of beneficial herbs that can be planted as backup. Start with peppermint in a pot – and you’ll have a supply of calming tea (crush up a couple of leaves in the bottom of a mug and add hot water). I’ve added chamomile, gota kolu, herb robert, and calendula to my garden.
  8. Aloe vera (Aloe vera berbadensis) – is known as the living first-aid plant. It has many great healing properties, but is fantastic for burns and sunburn. Plant a couple in your garden.
  9. Keep a stockpile of heirloom seeds and a book or two on seed saving. Heirloom seeds are more likely to be fertile so you can keep saving your seeds from them. If you buy them from a local seller, then your seeds will be more likely to be well adapted to your climate. You may like to join your local Seed Savers organization.
  10. Guerrilla gardens as a cache. I came across a guerrilla garden along the train line the other day. I could see a passionfruit vine growing over the fence from the train, and it was the only thing that gave it away. On closer inspection there was also sunflowers and lemon grass. Otherwise the rest of the plants were edible natives and unusual plants that were not easily recognizable. Plant a couple of guerrilla patches along key points of your escape route. http://www.guerrillagardening.org/


  1. BamaBecca says:

    Great article with some info I’d not thought about. My FIRST question is: where do I get the toilet paper plants? lol

  2. JP in MT says:

    This is the year we are going to try to start our “porch” garden. We have a South facing glassed in porch and are going to go a little farther than the 2 hanging baskets of last year. This should get interesting.

    • Encourager says:

      JP, We have grown spinach and loose leaf lettuce all winter inside. It was great to go harvest a salad for dinner! One thing I discovered, make sure you water it at least 4 hours before you harvest it. No limp leaves that way. We did have it under florescent lights but many days did not need them as they were in front of a large window facing south. Good luck!

      • You can also put your greens into a bowl of water for an hour or so before eating, it helps rehydrate them.

  3. MindyinDS says:

    Neat ideas, Spiderwolf! I used to grow comfrey in TN and drank comfrey tea often – didn’t know about using it on my plants, so will start some to see how well it grows in Central TX. Hadn’t thought about bamboo as a source of mulch or poles (duh!), but that does grow around here. We have started building a keyhole garden (lots of Youtube videos on this); weather and recent back injuries have interrupted progress, but looks to be great for any area that suffers drought.

  4. Having a ‘guerilla/stealth garden’ is a very smart idea as far as I’m concerned- though I may have a different concept of what constitutes a ‘guerilla garden’. To me, they’re purposely planted areas, whether from previous garden plots, or planted by someone for stealth reasons- as you noted. And keeping an eye out for them is nearly as good an idea. I’ve found a couple in my AO, the first found accidentally when I recognized some plants growing where they wouldn’t normally be. Since then, I’ve kept a ‘weather eye’ out for them.
    There are a few tricks to finding them, though. One reason many people may be walking right over them without knowing is because the plants are not familiar to them outside the can or freezer bag. So, first off, we have to learn what a plant looks like in its growing state- from young leaves to adult plant, including the flower. Finding ‘wild’ gardens around old homesteads is often a good place to start a search for them. Once we know what the plant looks like, we will keep looking for them on our walks. Knowing what animals are in your AO will also help you find them, especially if you’re ‘into’ tracking. often the game trails will lead right to small plots of tilled or dug up and planted areas.
    Remember- when you plant your stealth garden, secrecy is your friend, as is the ignorance of others.

  5. JeffintheWest says:

    This is a great article — well thought out, articulate, and containing some excellent advice. “Toilet paper bush!” 🙂 That one led to one of those; “Geez, that was obvious. Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. And bamboo is usable for everything from rigging water lines to personal defense. Brilliant!

  6. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Aloe vera can be potted and brought inside if your region gets too cold for outside growth. It is extremely drought hardy, and pretty prolific in seeding itself – in fact can over run some areas where planted on ground. Great for cuts or sunburn – thanks for mentioning it.

    • JeanneS says:

      I live near Portland, Oregon — where it is definitely too cold most of the year for aloe vera to survive! — but spent part of my childhood in Hawaii, so aloe vera has been used by my family for my entire life. My indoor aloe vera plant has tripled in size in the last 3 years — despite the dual challenges of me forgetting to water it more than a few times a year, and having several cats who love to chew on it. (It’s bitter but non-toxic; in some parts of the world, a tea of aloe vera pulp is drunk as a cleansing tonic.) Just set it on a sunny windowsill and (try to) remember to water it about once a month.

  7. Bamboo. Got me thinking. How to hollow out the dividers to make pipe. http://www.bamboocraft.net/forums/showthread.php?t=2639
    Bamboo forum, how about that?

  8. Lantana says:

    MD, did the article get cut off somehow? The headline mentions 10 gardening ideas, but the list only goes through #8.

    Spiderwolf, this is a very creative and useful article–thank you for your contribution!

  9. Lantana says:

    I was very interested to see comfrey on the list, and to learn of its horticultural uses.

    After dental surgery some (mumble-mumble) years ago, I used steeped bags of comfrey tea as a compress, as recommended at the time by Prevention magazine. My friends who had similar surgery all had swellling/pain for 4-5 days, but my swelling was gone the next morning with only a little bit of residual soreness.

    Some time later, however, comfrey tea seemed to no longer be commonly sold; apparently, some serious potential side effects had been linked to using comfrey internally. (Don’t remember what they were.)

    So even though I had a very positive experience with it years ago, I think it’d be prudent to research/consult your doctor etc. before assessing the potential risks/benefits of comfrey for any particular situation.

    • Ingesting too much Comfrey tea has been linked to health concerns – I think it was liver. A small amount occasionally is fine though.
      Aside from the benefits of Comfrey in the garden it is also an amazing wound healer. In fact, it closes wounds so fast that you need to make sure the wound is clean and free of infection before applying a poultice. It can close up over an infection and give you problems. It was also once known as ‘knitbone’. Yes it speeds along broken bones. Again, you should not apply it over a bone that is not set as it will rapidly start fusing the bones together (rapidly compared to how long it usually takes but there have been cases of needing to rebreak the bone to set it properly).
      I’m not suprised you had such success with your gums.

  10. momengineer says:

    Any suggestions on the best place to purchase some of these?

  11. Wellrounded says:

    We have a little book published each year in Australia, called the ‘Plant finders guide’, you look up the botanical name of a plant and it will list nurseries throughout the country that sell them. I know they have a UK version, must be one in the US…… I find it so handy when searching for hard to get medicinal or edible plants.

  12. CountryGirl says:

    Root vegetables. Beets, carrots, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, etc. They grow out of sight and can be stored in the ground. You can put many root vegetables in a root cellar or a “clamp” and you will still have edible food in the spring.

    • MtWoman (N Central Texas) says:

      CountryGirl…what is a “clamp”?

      • CountryGirl says:

        A clamp is placing the vegetables on hay on the ground, then covering them with hay and finally dirt at least a foot or more. I think the name relates to the process of “clamping” the vegetables to the ground and thus keeping them from freezing. The farmers in Europe do this with beets they use for feeding their cattle and they use some of the beets for their table as well. I actually tried this two years ago when potatoes were on sale and I bought 40 lbs and “clamped” them in my backyard. It worked but where I lived at the time frezzing temperatures were unusual so it was not a good test of protecting them from zub-freezing temperatures.

    • You can also leave them in the garden covered by heavy compost or mulch (to keep them from freezing) and harvest them as needed all winter.

  13. Some of the concerns over Comfrey are that the main active compound Allatonin is heptatoxic [liver] and must be used spareingly with other heptatoxic substances. i.e. acetamnophen, or alcohol. As with anything learn what you are takeing and what does not agree with it. That being said it is also one that I keep about.

  14. Crrrock says:

    Comfrey was also known as “knitbone” for its ability, when applied as a poultice, to assist in mending broken bones.
    Then it wasn’t fashionable any more because the doctors said it couldn’t/wouldn’t work.
    We grow comfrey.
    I have a book titled “Herbal remedies for farm and stable” (I think) by Juliete de Baracly Levy. A very worthwhile read, IMHO.
    just sayin’
    in Oz.

  15. Uncle Charlie says:

    Apparently something in comfrey does hurt your liver. You have to take lots of the herb in order to get veno-occlusive liver disease. Best to do more research before consuming.

  16. Thank you, Spiderwolf, for a good list of useful plants. I think I will be making some more orders from my seed and nursery catalogues.
    My grandparents were Greek immigrants (they came here in the 20’s) and we had horta almost every dinner from March till November. But they did not grow it… my grandmother would take us grandchildren with her on her morning walks and we picked edible greens to be soaked (to leech the bitterness and clean them) and then cooked for dinner. Growing up with my grandparents was my first exposure to prepping, and I learned most of what I know about it from one or the other of my immigrant grandparents. We also picked young grapevine leaves (for dolmathakia, stuffed with either rice, herbs, or some kind of ground beef or a combination of the three) and wild berries in season, and canned/made jams from them for use the rest of the year.
    The gardens were my grandfather’s domain, and though he despised girl-children, I followed him doggedly around the garden, fetching whatever he asked me to get him and bringing in produce and eggs to my grandmother for preparation for dinner. There was always something interesting going on at their house for me to help with! Being a child in a home where prepping was the norm is a lot of fun… much more so than in modern day-homes, where the only thing a kid has to do is play video games. There is a lot more satisfaction to a child’s life when the meal that they sit down to eat is something they had a hand in preparing.

    • DOLMAS!!! Love them!! Did you have lemon soup much? Another of my favorites. LOVE Greek food.

      • alikaat says:

        Hi Mt Woman-
        Yep. It is called avgolemono soup, and my kids love it. Any time we have roast chicken, the bones go into the soup pot, and I make stock with it. Then carrots, celery, and onion goes in along with any meat I’ve managed to pick off the carcass. About 20 minutes before dinner, I add in noodles or orzo and take out about 1/4 of the volume of the soup and put it into a bowl. I add lemon to the soup remaining in the pot (to taste) and whip eggs into the 1/4 soup in the bowl. Then, I combine the two together, whipping rapidly. If you don’t keep mixing rapidly, the eggs will curdle upon meeting the lemony soup, and you will get a rather unappetizing mess rather than yummy soup.
        Try it on a night when you definitely have other options, or you might just find you have no dinner!

    • Cat,
      I concur about growing up in a prepping home, although my parents wouldn’t have labeled themselves as preppers. From the time I was a kid of perhaps 6 or 7 years old, my mother would tell me that we needed a can of green beans and a can of peaches for supper, and I would go fetch them from the basement pantry shelves, either commercial cans or home canned jars, depending on the product and time of year. Grocery shopping was done every few weeks, and things like bread were purchased in bulk at the bakery outlet (the “day old” product at a 60-80% discount), double bagged, and kept in the freezer. We had a garden, cherry trees and grape arbor even though we technically lived in the city (at the extreme edge). Not only were there no video games, but we had only 1 TV channel, and it was only on the air from noon to midnight. Playing outside and using your imagination was just a part of growing up, and unfortunately, one that seems to be lacking in our current Nintendo generation.

      • alikaat says:

        ‘Prepper’ is a modern term for what our rather near-ancestors did routinely. None of our parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles would have called themselves preppers – it is just the way things were done back before electricity was consistently available, natural gas was piped directly to our kitchens, and oil trucks regularly visited our back yards (add in coal/propane here, too). Most of these conveniences came about to the entire country within the last 50 or 60 years, though some regions can say they have had these things 75 years or more, while to other regions, these modern conveniences came perhaps only in the last 25 or 30 years. But with the advent of all of these modernizing events, the majority of inhabitants quickly adapted their lifestyles and habits to the modern grocery stores and superbox stores like Costco and Wal-mart, losing their self-sufficiency for the ease and relatively low cost of the items there. There are a fortunate few who never lost those skills, and others who have managed to maintain a few, if not all of the necessary skills necessary to survive comfortably in the absence of these more recent inventions. I suspect most of us here fall into this second category, but we are lucky to have a few Wolf Pack members who seem to be in the first, most self-sufficient group, and are willing to share their knowledge with the rest of us!
        I am hopeful that by sharing what little bits of knowledge I’ve managed to gain from my grandparents and history and by picking up more from this great group, that we will all benefit and be able to pass on what we know to our own families in the future.
        This place is better than a gold mine.
        Sorry for the soap box, folks.

        • I grew up with natural gas (heating, cooking, and hot water), and electric, but both of my parents had grown up as kids during the depression, and realized that self reliance and frugality were good attributes. My dad also did nearly any auto repairs, and both of my folks did everything from sewing and upholstery, to carpentry, plumbing and electrical.
          I think the best thing they taught me was that there wasn’t anything that I could not do if I put my mind to it, and that has been a great way to look at life.

  17. Encourager says:

    Great post, Spiderwolf! Now I am going to look for some clumping bamboo for northern states. No one mentioned using bamboo for making fishing poles! A bamboo fishing pole was always my grandpa’s favorite pole.
    Good friends lost their home because of a foreclosure. She had huge areas in her yard full of Comfrey. I should have gotten some from her but it may not be too late. The new folks may let me dig some up.

    We always have a pot of Aloe growing in the house. The only problem I have had with it is scale. If I catch it quick enough, I just cut off the spear it is on. If it is all over, I find a baby plant at the base of the mother plant that is clean, and start all over, tossing the mother plant. You can also wipe the scale off with an alcohol saturated gauze pad. If you have teens with acne, aloe gel, scraped from the inside of the spear, is great to help acne go away.

  18. Always love to see ideas outside the norm. Keep up the good work.

  19. James Thompson says:

    Comfrey is not a source of B-12. As far as I have been able to determine there no reliable plant sources of B12 and almost all doctors advocating a vegan diet advise taking b12 supplements — which are very cheap. Many people on the Standard American Diet are also low in B12, so B12 supplements may be a good thing to have on hand even if you are not eating a vegan diet.
    Wikipedia article on B12: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_B12

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