Horticulture isn’t just a career, it’s a post-apocalypse survival skill. Horticulture is essential for food, fiber, medicine, therapy and, yes, toilet paper.
The United States is the largest consumer of toilet paper, with about 7 billion rolls sold annually. A single tree provides enough pulp for 200 rolls of toilet paper. Alternatives to toilet paper do exist.
Alchemilla mollis, commonly referred to as "lady’s mantle" or "dew cup," is a clumping perennial reaching 6 to 12 inches tall. Tiny apetalous chartreuse flowers appear above the foliage clump in June. The round, scalloped leaves are cupped, holding beads of water after a rain or heavy dew.
Not only is this unique plant attractive in the landscape, but the soft, pliable leaves are a durable substitute for toilet paper.
Lady’s mantle is a low-maintenance perennial tolerant of deer and rabbit browse. Provide plants with morning sun, but shade them from hot afternoon sun. Use as a ground cover, edging for a path or cut flower.
Verbascum thapsus, commonly called "mullein," can grow 7 feet tall. The plant has a single large stem with large, velvety leaves. Pale-yellow flowers appear during the summer months. Although considered a weed by most gardeners, mullein has a long history of use in herbal medicine.
Greek physician Dioscorides recommended the herb for lung diseases. Mullein has been used for skin, throat, lung and ear ailments. The leaves and flowers have been used to brew a throat-soothing tea and flavor alcoholic beverages. Oil from the leaves has been used as a disinfectant, and the yellow flowers have been used to make a yellow dye.
The leaves of mullein are soft, thick and very absorbent. They’ve been used for torches and Band-Aids or gauze because of their absorbent properties. The leaves are a soft, durable substitute for toilet paper.
Stachys byzantina is often used in a sensory garden. The soft, fuzzy leaves feel like a lamb’s ear, hence its common name, "lamb’s ear." While most Stachys species are grown for their soft, fuzzy foliage, a few species are grown for their prolific blooms. The 2019 Perennial Plant of the Year, Stachys "Hummelo," is one example.
The dense, white hairs prevent water loss, making this plant drought tolerant. The hairs discourage deer and rabbits from browsing on the foliage. The absorbent leaves are a silky-soft, luxurious substitute for toilet paper. Lamb’s-ear leaves are my go-to Band-Aid when working in the garden.
Lamb’s ear is a low-maintenance perennial, performing best in full sun. The plant tolerates shade, but the hairs will be less dense. The fuzzy flower stems reach 12 to 18 inches tall, with pink to purple petals. The plant is vigorous, creating a dense mat of foliage. It’s great for a groundcover in difficult soils.
The next time there is an irrational consumer hoarding of toilet paper or there is an actual shortage of pulp paper, take a walk in your backyard. Alchemilla, Verbascum and Stachys aren’t the only toilet-paper substitutes.