Toilet paper in history
Leaves have been used for thousands of years in place of the modern invention of toilet paper. The first mention of using paper for cleaning oneself after defecation was in 6th Century China, however the familiar rolls we have now were introduced by the Scott Paper Company in 1890. Before that, humans utilized a number of things, leaves, sticks, smooth stones, dry corncobs, pieces of pottery or even their own hands. Several of these items seem quite bizarre, however when faced with the end of the last roll in the house, some start to look much more appealing. Outdoors folks have known about safe leaves to use in place of paper and hikers and campers in the back country rely on them instead of packing a roll, so pay attention. A bit of knowledge may get you out of a tight spot.
Great mullein is an excellent toilet paper alternative
One of the best toilet paper alternatives is great mullein (Verbascum thapsus). It has been used for this purpose for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The leaves are soft, large and have no toxic properties. The fuzzy leaves beg folks to touch them and will rival the most premium and expensive toilet paper offerings. Great mullein is a native plant to Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. It was introduced to North America where the native peoples embraced it and utilized it in a number of ways. They used the soft leaves not only for toilet paper, but comfy linings for their moccasins, insulation in their homes and even medicine. Just remember that if your are substituting them for toilet paper, dried leaves are crumbly and can make the situation even worse. Fresh leaves are what you need.
Broadleaf plantain has multiple uses
Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is another plant that has been used for toilet paper and the wide, smooth leaves are strong and supple. Unlike the large leaves of the mullein, you'll need several to accomplish the task at hand (pun intended.) It is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but has naturalized worldwide. It is quite common in vacant lots, gravel driveways and along the edges of fields. The plant grows in a low rosette and sends up slender bloom stalks in mid summer. The good thing about broadleaf plantain is that it has astringent and antiseptic properties and so would be ideal for someone suffering from hemorrhoids. Again, while not quite as crumbly as the mullein, fresh leaves are preferable to dry.
Curly dock can be toilet paper or food
Curly dock (Rumex crispus) makes great toilet paper. The leaves are large, have a nice texture suitable for wiping and are plentiful in many parts of the world. Again, this native of Europe and Asia has naturalized in just about everywhere and is a common weed. It is also edible and contains a number of nutrients. Personally, I would use several leaves at one time. They are more narrow than the mullein, so the more material between your hands and the area to be cleaned is always a good idea. You will find curly dock along roadsides and at the edges of agricultural fields. It likes disturbed ground and seems plentiful in those areas.
Lamb's ear, toilet paper in your perennial garden
Instead of a weed that grows wild, a good toilet paper alternative might be growing in your own garden. Lambs ear (Stachys byzantina) is a common perennial that millions of gardeners grow. It has soft, fuzzy leaves that are very strong. They are non-toxic and safe to use and there are even cultivars that have larger leaves. Use several of the smaller leaves or maybe just a couple of the larger ones. Lamb's ears are hardy perennials and have the added feature of attractive blooms in the summer. They can be grown from seed and there are a number of commercial sources that sell both seeds and plants.
Cottonwood, shade tree and toilet paper all in one
Cottonwood leaves (Populus deltoides) make wonderful alternative toilet paper. The trees are native to North America and they are large with a soft underside. Cottonwoods are a species of poplar, so it is probably safe to assume that poplars with large enough leaves would be suitable. They make excellent trees for folks who have a larger yard, since they can grow over 100 feet tall over a number of decades. The only down side of this tree is that the cottony fluff that is attached to the seeds can accumulate on patios and on porches when the tree is in bloom. The up side is that you have an unlimited amount of excellent toilet paper material just outside the door and the leaves are conveniently the size of an adult's hand.
Make a 100% identification of any leaf you use
While this article was written for a bit of fun, it contains information that can be useful in certain situations. Never, EVER, use any leaf to wipe your behind that you are not 100% sure of its identity. Some leaves even have thorns, besides being toxic and there's some innocent appearing plants that can cause untold grief if they come in contact with sensitive areas. Fresh is best. Dried leaves crumble and leave behind even more material on your behind. Pay attention to both sides of the leaves and make sure there's no insects or dirt on them. There are also other plants that are suitable and moss is nice as well, however these are the best ones that I've been able to research. If you catch yourself in need while on a hike, or your local store has been stripped clean by the hoarders, these are options that you can explore. Personally, I think a bidet would be a wise choice instead.