Surviving in the wild: How to transform campfire charcoal into a teeth-cleaning powder should you need to
Plus, wilderness expert Zach Gault shows how to create your very own mouthwash from foraged mint
With all the packing and gear needed for a big camping trip, sometimes the simplest essentials, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, can completely slip our minds. In this wilderness skills video, expert Zach Gault shows how to create an all-natural oral hygiene kit when you're in a pinch while out in the woods. He demonstrates how to transform charcoal* from a campfire into a teeth-cleaning powder, use a live-wood branch as a chew stick and create a homemade mouthwash from foraged** wild mint. These natural remedies have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and they'll leave you with fresh minty breath, too. Check out the video below to see how it's done, then scroll down for full instructions.
*Ontario Dental Association President Dr. David Stevenson cautions: "Charcoal can be quite abrasive to your teeth and if taken from a fire pit could also contain sand or dirt that can crack teeth. In a survival situation, a toothbrush is far more important than toothpaste so we suggest using the frayed twig alone (as seen in the video), without charcoal. It makes an excellent toothbrush and has been used for centuries by people on every continent."
**When harvesting and foraging for wild edibles and leaves it is crucial to make sure you have a complete understanding of what you are putting into your body. If you cannot identify the plant, species or resource 100% positively, do not consume it.
Here's what you'll need:
- Charcoal* from a safe timber or fire source
- Wild peppermint, mint or spearmint
- 2 fist-sized rocks
- 1 thin hardwood branch
- Knife, or another cutting tool
- Canteen or similar container
Here's how to do it:
Locate and collect hardwood charcoal* from an old fire or create fresh charcoal from a safe timber source (oak, aspen, white pine, birch and coconut husks will all work well). Be sure to use clean sources and never use charcoal from a fire you did not make or know what was burned.
Locate and collect wild peppermint, mint or spearmint from around your campsite (**positive identification of wild plants is crucial).
Locate and collect two fist-sized rocks, one flat and one round. These will act as a mortar and pestle to help aid in the processing of materials.
Locate a thin hardwood branch. Twist and separate the fibres at the base of the branch so they begin to fray. Using a cutting tool, safely trim the fibres on the branch to create a clean line of bristles on one end and a toothpick on the other, similar to the look of a store-bought toothbrush. Soften the fibres by soaking in saliva or water and chewing lightly. The processed branch will now act as your chew stick.
Using the two rocks in a mortar and pestle fashion, process the charcoal into a very fine powder. All impurities and non-charred pieces must be removed as they are extremely abrasive to teeth and enamel.
Wet the end of your chew stick and apply desired amounts of processed charcoal to it, beginning to clean each tooth individually. Tread slowly using a downward and upward motion to avoid causing damage to your gums or enamel.
Using extra charcoal and water, mix to create a slurry that can sit on your teeth to help whiten and remove bacteria and plaque without the use of the chew stick. Doing this may allow trace amounts of charcoal to temporarily stain your teeth or gum-line — the following steps will help remove them.
Using the rocks as a mortar and pestle, begin to process the wild peppermint into a fine paste, breaking it down and releasing the essential oils.
Place the processed wild peppermint into a canteen or similar container, with desired amounts of water. Use the toothpick end of your chew stick to stir the mint and water, creating a fresh, wild mouthwash.
Rinse your mouth with the wild peppermint mouthwash — this will help remove the majority of the stain and excess charcoal in your gum-line, as well as leave you with fresh breath. The mint can also be chewed with water and gurgled. Rinse again with fresh water if necessary.
With your teeth clean and breath minty fresh, package up any remaining materials for later use. Refrain from using the charcoal method everyday — the charcoal and chew stick can be abrasive and potentially wear on enamel or gums.
Zachary Gault, owner and instructor at Primitive Living Wilderness-Skills School, is a nature enthusiast who specializes in the traditional skills of bushcraft, survival and sustainable wilderness-living. For more info, checkout his website, Instagram and YouTube channel.