How Urine Can Be Used to Make Gunpowder (and Other Interesting Pee Facts)
It turns out that something that is (usually) flushed down the toilet can actually be recycled into a number of useful products. Comprised of water, calcium, chloride, potassium, sodium, magnesium, urea, creatinine, nitrogen, uric acid, ammonium, sulphates and phosphates, urine’s beneficial ingredients can be separated from its waste, and used to make fertilizer, medicine, brain cells and, yes, gunpowder.
Why Do We Pee?
Fundamentally, the function of peeing is to remove waste from our bodies. As blood travels through your various organs, systems and structures, each cell deposits the waste from its metabolism of nutrients back into the bloodstream. In a well-functioning human, about 20% of the blood flows through the kidneys every minute; within the kidneys, millions of nephrons (tiny filters) clean the blood.
During this filtering process, a number of beneficial ingredients in the blood, like glucose, water and sodium that were filtered through the kidneys, are put back into the bloodstream. The rest is secreted out of the body in the form of urine; this pee, however, still contains some handy chemical elements like potassium and magnesium, as well as urea and nitrogen.
Throughout history, some smart and adventurous people with strong stomachs have devised a number of ingenious uses for their pee.
Gunpowder is comprised of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal and 10% sulfur. While charcoal (historically made with wood) and sulfur (historically dug from the ground around volcanoes) have been relatively easy to obtain, potassium nitrate is not commonly found in nature. Early sources were found in caves where guano (bat poo) had combined with minerals from the cave walls; soaking and filtering the guano was an effective method, but there are only so many caves, and so much bat poo.
With an increasing need as gun warfare became more common, by the time of the U.S. Civil War, men were manufacturing potassium nitrate in huge amounts. One process, known as the French method, involved mixing manure with ashes, straw and urine; the mixture would be tended for many months, perhaps even a year, then filtered through more ashes and a bit of water. A second process, called the Swiss method, involved placing a sandpit directly under a stable; only the urine made it into the sand, which would be harvested and filtered in the same manner as the French method. Either way, it had to be a tough job.
Survivalists and gun enthusiasts today enjoy (well, maybe) making their own gunpowder. For the potassium nitrate, one recommended process is to put a lot of manure in a large drum with a drain, valve and filter screen installed at the bottom. Pee into it. Freely. Then add water for a total of about 300 gallons of yuck. Place it in a safe spot (far away from the house, if possible). After 10 months, pour it out onto shallow trays to dry.
Separately with a mortar and pestle or hand-cranked mill, grind charcoal (all natural, no Match Light) to a powder and set aside. Do the same with sulfur, which can be purchased in home and garden stores. Finally, grind the potassium nitrate. Experts warn not to grind the ingredients all together, since that would possibly explode in your hands.
For storage, the best minds suggest mixing the three powders together then adding a little stale urine so the mixture has the consistency of biscuit dough.
High in nitrogen, human urine is an excellent fertilizer. Some sources report that, absent fecal contamination, your pee is sterile; finding this hard to believe, others recommend storing pee for six months prior to use, rather than peeing directly on your garden soil. Of course, do not use the urine of anyone who has a urinary tract infection or is taking a medication. Although some use pee to fertilize fruits and vegetables, it is recommended that it not be used around root vegetables. Experts recommend using your high nitrogen urine only about once or twice a month, as too much nitrogen can reduce yield and hurt the plants, in the extreme case even killing them.
Really? Really. Recycled since ancient times, many cultures have found medicinal uses for pee. Hindus traditionally applied urine to the skin as a dermatological treatment, and the Chinese used it to treat wounds. In ancient Rome, it was used to whiten teeth, and in Auyervedic medicine; it has long been recommended as a cure for cancer. More recently, the French used it as a cure strep, by wrapping pee-soaked socks around their necks.
Alternative medicine fans today are increasingly drinking their own pee. Called urine therapy, it is based on the idea that a number of beneficial nutrients found in pee, like enzymes, vitamins and antibodies, are needlessly lost when you go. Among the many health benefits adherents claim urine helps with are cures for heart and autoimmune diseases, infertility and cancer.
Making an end-run around the embryonic stem cell debate, a few ingenuous scientists have found a way to make neurons out of human pee. Actually transforming a few ordinary cells found in urine into neural progenitor cells. This new pee-technique takes only half of the time of other pluripotent stem cell making methods.
Applying another process, the neural progenitor cells turn into functional neurons in short order. When inserted into baby lab rat brains (express your outrage in comments) ;-), the pee-generated cells operate properly and do not produce tumors. It is anticipated that this new method can be expanded to create other kinds of cells, and that eventually, these pee cells will be used to treat a number of different human conditions.
When you think about, it’s not that weird. You eat healthy food and drink plenty of water, so it makes sense that your pee might have some good things in it. Perhaps the next time you have to go, consider walking out to the garden and returning some of nature’s building blocks back whence they came.
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- Why Bathing was So Uncommon In Medieval Europe
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GREAT ARTICLE MELISSA. THANKS. KEEP THEM COMING. N REGARDING MEDICINAL USES OF PEE, THATS NO SURPRISE FOR US IN INDIA. EVEN TODAY, WE HAVE A WHOLE INDUSTRY GOING ON COW URINE. AND OUR LATE PRIME MINISTER, MORARJI DESAI USED TO DRINK HIS OWN URINE RAW AS PART OF SOME KIND OF THERAPY. RGDS. LOVEPAREEK.
You don’t have to yell.
Or neglect your caps/shift keys.
Why is it that those that are fearful complain about capital letters. There really is an eye sight, hearing malfunction with individuals that read with their ears! Yes, I know some idiot decided that using capitals was yelling etc. As a registered health professional I often write in capitals, the reason is not because I can not write in lower case but how many doctors writing can you understand. Printing in capitals just makes things clearer.
You probably whisper when you speak, did you know softly spoken people do this so that the listener provides the speaker with their undivided attention. Perhaps attention seeking individuals should be YELLED AT, UNDERSTAND!
being a health professional is a weak excuse for being rude when typing or writing!
Pee to cure cancer? Pee to make brain cells? Pee to make gunpowder? Live and learn.
Nice article, though you ironically misspelled the word “ingenious” a few times. You used “ingenuous” instead. I suggest you look up that word. Really a silly error. There were others but that one stood out above…or below the rest.
They are both good words.
You missed another old use for pee and that was that it was collected on sailing ships, let to mature where it converted to ammonia and this was used for washing clothes – at a time when washing powder did not exist. Mythbusters had an episode on this, I think.
I find it really weird that even though urine stained, it was excellent at scrubbing stains, even urine stains.
One of the other uses for urine in the production of gunpowder was in corning. When the ingredients for gunpowder are mixed, what you get is ‘meal’ powder. To increase the power, it would be mixed with water and pressed into cakes, then dried and milled into grains, or ‘corns’. Medieval artillery crews claimed that the urine of a wine drinker was the best liquid to use to wet the meal powder for corning, and would demand a special issue of wine for the purpose, blaming any inadequacy of the resultant corned powder on the poor quality of the wine.
If I may comment, I think this was simply a way that artillery crews use to get more wine.
I have made gunpowder from urine but I find that chicken feces makes better powder.
“not to grind the ingredients all together, since that would possibly explode in your hands.”
Nope. How do you think gunpower is turned to a superfine powdery stuff ???? (yeah, mechanically with lead balls)
No it won’t explode when you grind it, unless you hit it the tools in such case you may create an spark…. and dont make your tools out of steel and flint ….
Thanks for the alibi.
P was and still is used by some in the washing of wool from sheep. It removes the oil from the wool.