What happens when nature calls and you’re out of toilet paper? Go back to nature and use leaves, of course! With toilet paper substitutes growing in your yard, you’ll never have to beat everyone else to the grocery store to stock up. But not every leaf is bum-friendly. So, make sure to read on and learn which plants are safe to use as toilet paper and how to make them thrive in your garden.
Safe Plants to Use as Toilet Paper Substitutes
When a pack of Kleenex or Sorbent rolls is not yet available, our ancestors were using natural alternatives to clean up after themselves. The Romans used sea sponge on a stick, while the Vikings preferred smooth pottery shards or sheep wool. The Eskimos had tundra moss or custom-shaped snow. The fear of living without toilet paper is unfounded when you think about how early people were able to live without it.
A little gardening know-how is what you need to solve your toilet paper woes. Using plants as toilet paper has several benefits. They’re softer, sustainable and compostable. The best leaves to use as toilet paper substitutes are large and tough ones, so they do not tear easily. Plants with smooth and fuzzy leaves with no hairs, spikes or thorns are also best. Here are a few potential candidates to start your toilet paper garden.
Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina)
Aptly named for its soft, oval and felt-like leaves, the lamb’s ear plant is non-toxic and safe to use as a toilet paper alternative. Some varieties have narrower leaves, so you may need a few handfuls if you are using it for cleaning or wiping. It’s best planted during springtime and even blooms light purple flowers in the summer.
Lamb’s ear is a hardy perennial from the Middle East and grows almost anywhere, even in dry locations with poor soil. Plant it in a sunny or partially shaded area. When transplanting it to your garden, plant it in soil with the same depth as the pot it was growing in. Make sure to allow at least a foot of space in between plants. If preferred, you may add a bit of compost to the planting hole, too. Then thoroughly water your plant but not too much as it hates standing water.
The best thing about lamb’s ear plants is that they are easy to grow. You only need to water them when the soil is quite dry. They are, however, prone to rotting, so it might help to spread mulch underneath to protect them during high rainfall season. They can be quite invasive, too, so trim the plants and prune out spent blooms when necessary. Also, you can divide them during spring or fall to propagate.
Gardeners like using lamb’s ear as a border plant or ground cover. Its silver leaves blend in well with other foliage and attract beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. And, aside from being a good toilet paper substitute, it also has medicinal properties. It works as a band-aid to heal small cuts, while dried leaf infusions can treat colds, throat infections or asthma. You can even simmer the leaves to make a wash for sties.
Mallow (Malva neglecta)
The common mallow is often treated as a garden nuisance when its wavy leaves make excellent toilet paper substitutes. Its leaves are broad and don’t tear easily. Crumpling them also create a softer, film-like texture that feels soothing on the skin. The plant also blooms white or pink flowers in early spring or fall.
Mallow is a biennial with a robust and long taproot, making it able to withstand dry soil and harsh conditions. This plant prefers sandy soil, which is why they can grow along roadsides or neglected areas. Plant them in a sunny to partially shaded location.
Like lamb’s ear, mallow is low maintenance. But the plants can propagate through self-seeding and become quite invasive. To control their growth and spreading, make sure to deadhead their spent blooms before they have a chance to reseed.
Pollinators will love visiting your garden with common mallows around. On top of being an excellent toilet paper alternative, these plants can treat several ailments like bruises, sore throat, toothaches, insect bites, coughs and urinary infections. The leaves are also a good source of vitamins A and C and other minerals. You can use them as a spinach substitute or soup and stew thickener.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein, also known as the cowboy toilet paper, is indigenous to Asia, Europe and some parts of Africa. These plants are hard to miss as they grow tall and even display eye-catching yellow blooms in the spring. Its soft, velvety leaves make it a popular toilet paper substitute for many years. Make sure to use fresh ones though as you don’t want to use dry, crumbly leaves for wiping.
If you want to grow your toilet paper through mullein planting, look for the hybrid varieties. These new cultivars are mostly short-lived perennials or biennials. Ornamental mullein plants grow best in sunny gardens with good drainage and dry or sandy soil. They can grow up to 150cm, so make sure to allow ample spaces in between plants. If you plan to use wild mullein for your garden, look for plants with straight stalks. Crooked mullein stalks indicate soil with high chemical contamination.
Hybrid mullein is not as invasive as the common variety. If you don’t want it to spread too much, make sure to remove the fuzzy flower stalk to avoid dispersing the seeds.
The tall mullein is an excellent landscaping addition, as every part of this plant has a purpose. For instance, you can make tea using its leaves to clear congested lungs. Its flowers, on the other hand, attract bees and birds. They can also treat minor scrapes or relieve diaper rash. You can even cure some urinary tract problems with its roots.
Tips on Using Plants as Toilet Paper
While these leaves are generally safe to use as toilet paper, make sure to follow these tips before plucking one.
- Do a skin test before using the leaves by wiping them on your hand or wrist first. Wait for at least 24 hours. If no reaction ensues, then the leaves are safe to use.
- Make sure the leaves are free from insects or debris!
- Use fresh leaves. Dried ones can tear or crumble easily.
- Leaves that grow in groups of three or in alternating positions may be poisonous.
- Any waxy leaf can smear rather than absorb, so avoid those, too.
- Finally, when in doubt, don’t use it. Do some research first before picking any random leaf for wiping.
Ready to grow your toilet paper? Save some space and build an organic vegetable garden, too.