Thursday, 20 October 2011

Hermitcraft: Busting Dysentery

While on ango last summer, I got a visit from the Dysentery Fairy. I still haven't determined precisely what sort it was; we have a lot of Giardia around here, but it would be a true hail-mary for that to get into a rain barrel. On the other hand, the symptoms were pretty giardesque, for a bacterial infection. I'm not even certain it came from the drinking water; hygiene is a constant battle in the outback, and you live surrounded by faeces and wild water.

Anyway, I suffered an anxious week or two, dodging into the dark forest at 0300 and fearing the thing would drive me off the mountain. In the end I kicked its butt, thanks to the support of friends and family and, I believe, this tea. So I'm passing it on.

It's truly terrifying to find yourself alone and sick; once it's happened (and this wasn't a first for me, by any means), you'll never trivialise someone else's misfortune again. In this case, I spent about a day fretting and trying to hide from it. Then I got mad. The fact is, I've got a lifetime of relevant experience. Hell, I wrote a freakin' book on wild herbs, for Christ sake! I decided if I was going to be forced off the mountain, I was really going to be forced. Surrender would only become an option if every last gun had been fired.

And I had several. To begin with, the Hundred Acre Wood, where I lived, was busting with herbs, and in their best season. And I had other possibles in my cache. So I got up and raked together a tea calculated to firm things up and rain displeasure on unwanted guests. I put myself on a regimen of 3 rice bowls of this per day, minimum; most days I had more. I drank down each bowl, then sucked, chewed, and spit out the leaves. (The tea itself was actually delicious, but the cud-chewing part was abominable.) And I got better. Very quickly, in fact.

Here's how I brewed it up:

Put a double measure of strong green tea leaves in the bottom of your rice bowl.


Oxalis and/or sheep sorrel
New Douglas fir tips (see note below)
Blackberry rhizome
Blackberry leaf

Chop all ingredients well; I used a pair of scissors.

Fill the bowl with boiling water, cover, and steep for fifteen minutes, minimum. Then drink and enjoy.

The tart components (oxalis and sorrel; lemon or cider vinegar if you've got it) provide acid, which gut-bugs hate, and coincidentally taste good, which gets you to drink more of it. Young Douglas fir needles taste pleasant too (though the old ones are disgusting), and are the most effective at halting diarrhœa. Other conifers are also good if you don't have it. I've used spruce and hemlock to good effect. Finally, I also just plain ate oxalis and Douglas fir, often, during these days.

Later, a friend and fellow hermit who came out to check on me said to add Prunella to my dose. Did it help? It didn't hurt. It's dreadful stuff, but the oxalis and Douglas fir got it past my tongue. Similarly, I held willow in reserve, should tougher measures be necessary. Willow bark is an excellent medicinal, the original source of aspirin, and highly acidic in its own right. It's also the most God-awful revolting bile on the planet, like chewing an aspirin tablet, so I didn't jump right into it. And fortunately, I never needed to, this time.

What's clear is that this concoction put an immediate end to pyrotechnic dumps and secured the all-important restful night. Of course, it wasn't the only measure I took; I also went in for draconian hygiene, fastidious handling of water, mindful hydration habits, and careful monitoring of the quality and quantity of everything that came back out of me. I also ordered up some dietary adjustments, chiefly, a well-curried bowl, boiled up with bullion (for the salt), and served with a sadistic squirt of sriracha. Intestinal microbes trend to fairly Caucasian tastes; I made sure things got nice and "ethnic" on Mr. Leave It To Beaver Fever.

Whatever the reason, and whatever it was, it eventually pulled up stakes and left. (You might say, it just didn't have the guts.) Whether I beat it, or it just wasn't that scary to begin with, I'll never know. But the tea worked. One day I had dramatic digestion, then I drank the tea and it went away. Then I stopped drinking it (thinking I was "cured") and it came right back. So I drank the tea again, and it went away again.

Therefore I offer the recipe here, in loving support for anyone who may fall into that place and need it. Brother, sister: drop this on your trouble. And smile while you sit.

For if you listen very closely, you can hear the little bastards scream.

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountaincopyright RK Henderson.)


  1. We have a lot of free ranging cattle in the mountains here so the water is never safe. I carry both a small filter and some tablets. I even filter the water if I will be boiling it. So far, so good.

  2. Not so many cattle upstream where I was, but there were horses on the 100 Acre Wood when I arrived (removed four days later). The big Giardia vector in the Willapa Hills is the famous elk. Swarms of them; I lived among a resident herd all summer. Throw in the beavers, and you've got a good reason to be conscientious with river water. On the other hand, the streams at that elevation are all tidal, flowing backward twice a day; I've never been able to find information on Giardia in brackish water.

    All things considered, I don't go nuts about it when I'm in the rough, but I do filter stream water. What got me this time was drinking out of a single rain bucket for months on end, without treating or filtering. Plain dumb; no excuse.

    Thanks for the comment, Will!

  3. I remember a few years ago camping on the Northern California coast. Woke up in the tent one morning to several elk right outside. What I remember most from seeing them just a couple of feet away was how BIG they were!

  4. Indeed they are, the size of poneys. (At least our Roosevelt elk are; other species are even larger.) I almost got trampled by a herd of them while on ango this summer. It'll definitely be in my book, and some version of it may appear here, too.


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