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The number 1 thing about going number 2 is to have a cleanup plan. Unfortunately, toilet paper (TP) may not always be by your side. Be it because you are camping, a country-wide TP shortage, or that things have gone sideways and you didn’t store nearly enough. Don’t fret and do the penguin waddle to the neighbors to borrow a few squares. Here are 15 TP plant substitutes that nature has provided for us!
Why Natural Substitutes
TP is one of the greatest inventions and hygiene improvements. However, we haven’t always had this pleasure. More importantly, it may not be with us for ever. Even as recently as the Covid-19 pandemic, several rumors plunged us deep into a TP panic. Manufacturers were running overtime. Store shelves were empty. The few stores that had stock, limited purchases to only a few rolls. Even worse, some people went without.
Events don’t need to be as dramatic. It only takes a walk in the woods when nature calls to show the need for a little foraging knowledge. Finding the right plant may mean the difference between a comfortable and very uncomfortable walk home.
Finally, as we prepare for harsher times, the focus usually lands on food, firearms, medical supplies, or other sexier topics than TP. The reality is we need it and should have it as a part of our long-term stores. One roll per person per week is the average use. That being said, funds and storage space aren’t unlimited. Eventually, you will need TP plant substitutes.
Read ahead for 15 of the best that you can start identifying around your home now.
Garden TP Plant Substitutes
The first, and easiest, TP plant substitutes to source can come from your own garden. It may be easiest for you, from an identification standpoint, to grow your own. Not surprisingly, there are several TP plant substitutes you can plan as a part of your annual harvest.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)
Who knew you could use cabbage outside of the kitchen? Cabbage makes one of the best homegrown TP plant substitutes as it has large sturdy leaves. In fact, many of the leaves get harvested as waste material as you trim to expose the inner head. Use these leaves as TP if you reserve them. To aid in their longevity, dry them. Just not too much or they will get brittle.
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea)
Cauliflower is very similar to cabbage. In fact, they are different cultivars of the same species. The leaves may not be as numerous or large, but they are still just as viable for TP use.
As cauliflower grows, the inner leaves are usually pinned over the head to keep it white. The outer leaves are trimmed off while the plant grows. This guarantees a ready supply of TP plant substitutes!
Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina)
I know that Lamb’s ears are normally considered a wild plant, but there is no reason not to include them in your garden or with your ornamental plantings. From food to medicine, to bathroom needs, there are many reasons to move Lamb’s Ears from the wilds to the garden.
Lamb’s Ears grow easily and spread, providing an abundance of leaves. The softness of the leaves is unparalleled (hence, the name) and the leaves are naturally antibiotic. What more could you ask?
Grape Leaves (Vinis vitifera)
Grapes aren’t just for wine. Use these leaves for both cooking and to support your hygiene. Each leave is about the size of a normal TP square and is hardy enough to stand up to the job.
Start a trellis near your outhouse and within a year or two you’ll have enough natural TP to meet your family’s needs.
Foraged TP Plant Substitutes
Never limit TP plant substitutes to cultivated spaces around your house. Nature abounds with tools to manage all our needs. You just need to arm yourself with the proper knowledge.
Remember, always make sure you have 100% positively identified your plant. You don’t want a poison ivy leaf to slip in. When using a newly identified plant, rub a small piece on your forearm or wrist, then wait 15 minutes to ensure that you don’t have a negative reaction to the new plant.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is a wildflower that is distributed throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and rarely in the United States. While Europeans primarily use Borage as a food (leaves and extracted seed oils) the youngest leaves can also be used as TP plant substitutes.
While small, the young leaves are soft and sturdy. The older leaves develop harsh hairs that make use less pleasant.
Blue Spur Flower (Plectranthus ciliatus)
Tall, fragrant, and beautifully flowered, Blue Spur Flower, has been used for generations for bathroom duty. The leaves are exceptionally soft and large, which makes it an efficient flower to plant for TP use. A natural spreader, it will often take over any area that it is planted. You can often find it growing wild in hot climates.
Corn Lily (Clintonia borealis)
Corn Lily is a low growing plant with petite yellow flowers and blue berries. The leaves, while being editable, are long and broad and perfectly suited for bottom cleanup detail. The smooth leaves may not be as comfortable as some of the others on this list, but they are stout enough to hold up to the biggest jobs.
Large Leaf Aster (Eurybia macrophylla)
Another plant filling multiple rolls, including as a TP plant substitute, is Large Leaf Aster. The leaves can be eaten, used medicinally, and their size, texture, and durability make them perfect to use in the bathroom. The leaf shape and daisy-like flower make them unmistakable and easy to identify.
Ranked near the top for backend hygiene is Mullen. Second only to Lamb’s Ears, the large soft leaves, as well as the spike-like shape of the plant and brilliant yellow flowers, make Mullen easy to find and easy to use.
Usually found in transition spaces between fields and trees, as well as rougher soils, Mullen’s height and flowers make it stick out like a beacon.
Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)
Common Mallow is at home in the woods just as much as it is at home in a flower garden. It, or one of its many variants, can be found throughout the world. The irregular shaped leaves may require a little creativity, however they are soft and will get the job done.
Old Man’s Beard (Tillandsia usneoides)
Old Man’s Beard is unlike any other plant on the list. Also called Spanish Moss, it can be found hanging from trees often in great numbers in warmer climates. Ignoring the appearance, it can be soft, however you need to gather a fair amount to make sure you have sufficient density (therefore avoiding any accidents).
H2: Plantain (Plantago major)
Is there anything Plantain can’t do? It’s a food. It’s a medicine. And now it provides bathroom coverage. Left to grow, the leaves can become sizeable. As an added bonus, the leaves, when used as a poultice, heal the skin with remarkable speed. Just in case you have a rash in this sensitive area.
Pink Wild Pear (Dombeya burgessiae)
Pink Wild Pear is also known as the Tropical Hydrangea. Cultivated outside of its native Africa, these plants can reach over 15 feet in height. The leaves are broad and tough, with a softness to them that will be a benefit to the backside.
Tamarisk Moss (Thuidium tamariscinum)
Blessed is the backside that has a field of moss. The ultimate lush TP plant substitute, moss is thick, soft, and very capable of cleanup duty. Even better, moss is nearly universal throughout the world.
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
Thimbleberry is found abundantly in the wooded areas of the United States and other countries. They can grow in large colonies that provide copious amounts of leaves. When fully mature, the leaves are large and surprisingly soft. You can identify these plants by their fruit which resembles raspberries.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
Yellow Dock, Curley Dock, and the other members of this family are a blessing to any forager. Like many on this list, they are edible, medicinal, and aid in the bathroom. While the young tender leaves are best for a salad, wait until they mature and toughen up to use them in the bathroom.
Before you go running off into the woods, eager to try out your newfound knowledge of finding your own TP plant substitutes, you need to be armed with a few precautions.
First, as with all plant and wild foraging practices, always be 100% positive of your identification before using any wild foraged plant. It’s best to seek expert guidance on learning plant identification. If this is not possible, then I highly recommend purchasing several field guides. Peterson has a complete library of plant identification, guides. I’ve listed the medicinal guide here. However, there are edible plant guides, as well as other generic guides. Pick one that best covers this topic and others that you may look at.
Flacon Press is another provider of nature-based books. Again, find one that covers your interest areas.
Honestly, you can’t have enough plant identification books. Each one caters to a different audience, and its style, while the content may be excellent, may not mix with you. Likewise, each will have its own pictures and drawings. You may pick up a critical identification feature in one that you missed in another.
While you won’t be eating any of these plants (at least in this application), adverse reactions to TP plant substitutes are still possible. Rashes, blisters, and a host of nasties can happen if you use the wrong plant. “Down There” is one of those places that you don’t need an itch, let alone blisters, be it from the wrong plant or from an allergic reaction.
In the western world, we attache ourselves to the “paperwork” approach to cleanup. However, much of the world relies on water to do the job. In the wilderness, if you have access to a clean source of water, then you can cup and splash to get the job done. Just make sure you have a cloth to dry off afterwards. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s very effective. During winter, a fist full of snow is even more effective.
Wrapping Up TP Plant Substitutes
Bears do it and someday you might too. Out. In the wood. You have “that” urge. There’s no need to fret if you find yourself unprepared. With a little knowledge, a field guide or two, and a positive plant identification, you are all set to answer nature’s call.
From scrap leaves in your garden to common weeds, nature abounds with options to feed us, heal us, and to clean up the less savory aspects of our daily lives. Look up these plants and find a few that grow in your area. Then take 2 or 3 and really study up. Get to know where they grow around you and what they look like through the seasons. Then take the ultimate step and enjoy the freedom of “going” outdoors!