Next time you get sick, skip the trip to the drugstore—help may be as close as your kitchen cupboard. Our grandparents often turned to herbs and spices to ward off common ailments, and these time-tested remedies have proven safe and effective. (If you have a health condition or are already using medication or other treatments, consult your practitioner before use.)
Coughs: Thyme contains two constituents (thymol and carvacrol) with expectorant (phlegm-loosening) properties, making it a great choice if you’re suffering from a cough, congestion, sore throat or bronchitis. The herb also has powerful antimicrobial properties. To make thyme tea, steep 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh) in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes; strain and drink up to three cups daily.
Sinus problems: Try this spicy mixture next time your sinuses feel clogged and painful: Combine 1 cup tomato juice, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Warm the mixture and drink slowly.
Digestion: Many culinary herbs have carminitive properties, meaning they help relieve gas and bloating. To relieve gas, try chewing 1/2 teaspoon of fennel, caraway or dill seeds, or drinking a post-meal cup of tea made from their seeds. For general indigestion or upset stomach, try a cup or two of peppermint tea.
Nausea: Keep ginger on hand to safely and effectively relieve nausea. It also helps prevent motion sickness. You can make a tea from 2 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger per cup of boiling water, or drink ginger ale that contains real ginger, such as Reed’s.
Cancer prevention: Many herbs are great sources of cancer-preventive antioxidants and should be added liberally to the diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found cinnamon, cloves and oregano to have especially high antioxidant capacities. Green tea contains a polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may help prevent a wide variety of cancers, especially those of the lung, breast, stomach and skin. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, increased garlic consumption was associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can prevent or kill several types of cancer cells.
Joint pain and arthritis: Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, has been shown to ease arthritis pain and have anti-inflammatory properties. Use the herb liberally in cooking—it’s a great addition to soups, sauces, stir-fries and vegetables.
Bruises: Speed the healing process with this folk remedy: Cut a lemon in half and rub the pulpy side over the bruise once an hour for several hours. Avoid cuts or broken skin.
Urinary tract infections: Cranberry juice—and the dried berries and extract—prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. Drink at least three cups of unsweetened juice (diluted in apple juice for flavor), or eat one or two handfuls of dried cranberries daily.
High cholesterol and heart health: Many garlic studies have shown that the herb reduces cholesterol, heart disease and heart attack risk. Eat approximately one clove a day, raw or lightly cooked. Fenugreek seeds contain substances that help the body excrete cholesterol. The herb also lowers triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
High blood sugar: A 2005 study of Type 2 diabetics found that cinnamon can help reduce blood sugar. Use it liberally in cooking, or make cinnamon tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon in a muslin bag. Steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Drink up to three cups daily.
Boost Your Immunity
Cold and flu season is headed our way. While we can’t entirely avoid the onslaught of bacteria, viruses and other germs capable of wreaking havoc in our bodies, we can rev up our immune systems so we are better equipped to fight off whatever bugs try to invade.
Echinacea contains a number of antioxidant compounds and immune-stimulating constituents that can help the immune system fight off illness. According to a University of Florida study, echinacea stimulates threefold the activity of infection-fighting immune-system cells. For prevention, follow the label directions or use a dropperful of tincture twice daily. Up the dosage at the first sign of illness.
Garlic is a potent antioxidant packed with antimicrobial compounds such as cancer-fighting sulfur and the immune-boosting mineral selenium. Aim to eat one raw or lightly cooked garlic clove daily.
Green tea, Asian ginseng and eleuthero also offer a hefty dose of antioxidants. In studies, green tea has shown the ability to boost immune function. Drink several cups daily. Asian ginseng improved immune response according to one Italian study conducted at the University of Milan, and the results of a German study demonstrated a significant increase in the number of immune cells in healthy volunteers taking eleuthero. (For these supplements, follow label directions.)
Adapted with permission from The Herb Companion.