Living with water contaminated with microbes

Unfortunately, for about a week now and still counting, the municipal water for most of the state of Hessen has been deemed contaminated with E. coli [Hessenschau].  The cause is unknown, but there was an outbreak of pathogenic E. coli in 2011 [Eurosurveillance].  To combat this problem, the state is further contaminating the water with chlorine bleach.

Fortunately, this situation forced me to think about when and how much water we use carelessly or unnecessarily.  It also inspired me to think of solutions for people who have similar water contamination problems, temporarily or chronically.

My advice for action after finding out that your water is contaminated with dangerous microbes:

  1. Don’t panic!  The body has many lines of defense, including the skin, mucous-lined airways, stomach acid, pancreatic and bile secretions and inflammatory responses, against pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and viruses [Merck Manual].  Support your body with healthy thoughts and a sufficient amount of nutrients.
  2. Get clean drinking water.  Germany has an abundance of natural springs, so bottled spring water is very cheap (literally cheaper than dirt), possibly more so than tap water, and all bottled water is highly regulated [EFBW].  If you have use for clean tap water, it needs to be freshly sanitized through boiling at a rolling boil for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on elevation/boiling point, to kill bacteria [CDC].  I’ve been using tap water boiled in an electric kettle to make tea, cook grains (for couscous – just add boiling water), blanche vegetables and (after cooling) water houseplants.  Distilled water is also an option but may not be necessary for a microbial contamination.  Caution:  Drinking too much DW too fast can cause bodily distress and even death [How Stuff Works].
  3. Use coldest setting of tap water.  Since tap water can only reach up to 60 deg C (for skin safety and material protection), and since microbes only start to be killed at 70 deg C, using hot tap water to ‘sanitize’ is not justified.  Hot water can remove protective oils and denature structural and functional proteins in your skin, leaving you open to infection.  Hot water also causes pores in the skin to open.  Cold water is astringent, meaning it causes your pores to close.  You can feel this as your skin tightening.  This is good for preventing microbes and toxins from entering your body through your skin.
  4. Shower wisely.  Take a short, cold shower if needed.  Avoid getting water on cuts and body openings.  Consider a sponge bath.  I actually enjoy an oatmeal sponge bath and hair wash:  1)  Fill sock with oats and knot it.  2)  Soak it in warm sanitized water until the oats are softened.  3)  Rub over skin.  4)  Rinse hair with resulting oat-water (looks milky).  5)  Dry/Rub off residue with a towel and apply moisturizer.  This is very soothing for itchy skin.
  5. Use probiotics.  Your gut lining needs microbes, including non-pathogenic E. coli, to properly function.  Antibiotics, synthetic or natural, destroy microbes and open up real estate, which  should then be populated with beneficial microbes.  Good sources of probiotics are easy to make yourself, such as fermented fruit juice (ex: hard cider), kombucha, unpasteurized vinegar (super easy), sauerkraut and kefir (sour, not spoiled, milk).  You can also clean broken skin, fruits/vegetables and surfaces with strong vinegar.
  6. Go medieval on your food.  Wash your food down with mead, wine or (real) beer.  These are probiotic detoxifying digestive aids.  Load raw or difficult-to-sanitize foods (fish, meats, especially chicken) with antibiotic digestive aids, like citrus zest and herbs [learn about medieval herbs on gardeningknowhow].  Traditional Medicine, both Western and Eastern, focuses a lot more on increasing bile secretions and moving fluids through the body than Modern Medicine.  Stretching and exercise are also needed to keep the lymphatic (infection-fighting) system working properly.

My dried herbal First Aid kit: Stinging nettle leaves

Disclaimer:  This post and blog fall under the heading ‘Personal Experiences’ and is meant to interest, educate and inspire.  All information and instruction is given without the intent to harm or control the reader in any way.

Stinging Nettles in local forest

It may seem strange to be healing with a plant that can hurt you, but the #1 dried herbal in my First Aid kit is stinging/burning nettle (Urtica dioica).  Stinging nettle tea is in my medicine cabinet and portable First Aid kit.  Even though the well-known weed grows everywhere, I use commercially made ready-to-go stinging nettle tea bags (which also contain fennel and blackberry leaves) wrapped in paper envelopes [Lord Nelson].  If you factor in the work involved in (carefully) collecting, drying, wrapping, labeling and packaging the raw herb, commercial tea bags are a good deal.  Commercial tea bags are also travel friendly, since they are less likely to attract suspicion than loose herbs.

I use stinging nettle tea for:

  • Cuts & Scrapes:  Moisten and press against wound (or let moisture from wound activate tea) as a compress.  Dried stinging nettle leaves are astringent/promote wound closing (due to tannins), antiseptic/prevent infection (tannins/phenols, organic acids, zinc ions) and promote skin healing (tannins, vitamins A, C & E, zinc ions).
  • Insect Bites:  Moisten and hold against bite.  For me, it was relieving while pressed against the skin, but the itch quickly came back after removing the ‘poultice‘.  Spraying a tincture of fresh nettle leaves in grain alcohol (vodka) or vinegar might be more effective, since ethanol and acetic acid extract both water-soluble (ex: vitamin C, ions) and water-insoluble (ex: vitamin A) compounds from herbs and helps them penetrate deeper into the skin, which is mainly water-impermeable.  This can also help relieve the pain and raised bumps due to stings from stinging nettle.
  • Nosebleeds:  Moisten and gently plug up nostril.  I sometimes have long-duration nosebleeds that need to be stopped before I lose a lot of blood.  I tried other teas (chamomile, pomegranate), but stinging nettle  was the most effective.  Since fruit and flower teas are also astringent, this difference is probably due to the high vitamin and mineral content of stinging nettles.  For external wound healing, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc ions are commonly applied, as well as the amino acid lysine, and these are all found in stinging nettle leaves (less vitamin C in dried leaves).  I also drink nettle tea to promote blood clotting (see below).
  • Excessive Blood Loss:  Drink tea from leaves steeped in (preferably) hot or carbonated water.  The tea has a very mild, uncharacteristic (green?) taste, and it is very diuretic.  Stinging nettles have a high vitamin K1 content.  Vitamin K1 (Phylloquinone, Koagulationsvitamin) is an essential vitamin found in leafy greens (chlorophyll) that is used by the body to create coagulation factors.  The leaves also have a considerable amount of iron (14% DV/100 g), so stinging nettle tea is used for blood building.  In fact, stinging nettles can and have been used as food, basically as a substitute for spinach, since they provide many nutrients.  For example, 100 grams can supply 90%–100% of the daily value of vitamin A and significant amounts of calcium, iron, and protein [Int. J. of Food Science, Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 857120].  Vitamin A works with iron to prevent anemia [Mayo Clinic].  *Warfarin (Coumadin(R)), dicoumarol (sweet clover) and related anticoagulants competitively inhibit vitamin K activity, so stinging nettle may interfere with these medications.  Other possible interactions of stinging nettle are those with blood pressure medications and water pills [University of Maryland Medical Center].

Since I try to use stinging nettle every day for detox and blood building, I also want to make my own dried leaves and infusions with fresh leaves for the greatest benefits (some vitamins are destroyed with excessive heating, drying, sunlight and time).  The stinging hairs are deactivated through drying, heating or soaking.

A very helpful resource on stinging nettle chemical composition and usage was provided in Dr. Christopher’s Legacy:  Stinging Nettle by K. Vance.