Learn how to create inexpensive kitchen remedies out of common herbs and spices.
Bursting with ways to downshift, simplify, preserve resources and honor the planet, Lemons and Lavender (Viva Editions, 2012) will give you tools to reclaim a purer, tastier, healthier and less expensive way of life. Billee Sharp shares her "freeconomics" approach to budgeting in this step-by-step guide to the good life. The following excerpt is from chapter 2, “Health Is Wealth.”
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Lemons and Lavender.
It’s great to be able to treat your family’s ailments at home without having to take off for the doctor’s office. Of course, if you feel there is cause for serious concern, a doctor’s visit is a must. However, there are plenty of powerful curative and preventive remedies available that you can stock at home at very little expense. Today, with the cost of health care skyrocketing, healthy home remedies are a smart option to add to your family’s regimen.
I keep a good selection of herbal teas for everyday drinking and for use as remedies. I also keep several teapots and designated mason jars on hand for steeping tea. If you are using an herbal tea as a curative, it’s a good idea to steep it overnight so the tea is stronger—then you can add hot water to dilute to your taste. Nettle tea steeped overnight becomes a brilliant dark green, and subtle flavors like red raspberry leaf teas become more defined.
The basic teas listed below sustain my household, and herbal tea is an easy way into learning herb lore. This introduction may lead you to discover the herbs that are most useful and beneficial to you and your family.
Peppermint (tummy upset, digestive tonic)
Nettle (blood cleansing, antihistamine, great source of iron)
Sage (cleansing, sore throats, night sweats)
Oatstraw (calms nervous energy, great source of calcium)
Red raspberry leaf (reproductive health tonic)
Blackberry (like red raspberry, also good for coughs, colds, and diarrhea)
Thyme (coughs, bronchitis)
Herbal tinctures, which are concentrated reductions of the herbs, are more expensive but last longer and provide a higher dose of the herb. We keep a tincture of Echinacea and goldenseal in the house year round. At the first sign of a cold or cough, a few drops go into herbal teas and hot lemon and honey toddies.
A hot toddy is traditionally made with hot water, lemon, sugar or honey, and a liquor such as brandy, but it doesn’t have to be alcoholic to be medicinal. Fresh ginger and garlic are great for adding to home remedies, particularly for colds; just chop finely or grate and add to teas and toddies.
To make a tea from the root, bark, or stems of plants you will need to make a decoction: add approximately 2 tablespoons of the herb to 1 cup of water and gently simmer for half an hour.
Ginger is indicated for a sore throat and is a good addition to a hot toddy for cold symptoms. Ginger is known to alleviate indigestion, general nausea, upset tummy, morning sickness, motion sickness, and stomach flu. Ginger tea has a very pleasant taste, and you can buy tea bags or gently boil slices of fresh ginger root to make the tea yourself; I recommend using the fresh ginger root for maximum taste and potency. Arthritic pain can be treated with ginger, too; 3-4 grams (about 1/10 of an ounce) daily is recommended, and ground ginger can be used in capsules, or tincture of ginger.
Garlic is well known for its protection against infection and should be used regularly, to taste, in your cooking. It is also known to reduce cholesterol levels and can be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Rich in vitamins A, B, and C, garlic is an excellent source of minerals: selenium, iodine, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. The active component in garlic is allicin, a sulfur compound produced when garlic is chopped, chewed, or bruised. It is powerful as an antibiotic and helps the body inhibit the ability of germs to grow and reproduce. When preparing garlic, cut or crush the cloves and let the garlic rest for 10 minutes before cooking or eating to allow the allicin to develop. Garlic is cited as therapeutic for the treatment of many health conditions, such as high and low blood pressure, heart health, and asthma, as well as being acknowledged as an anticancer agent and preventive for colds and other infections.
Although garlic pills are available, raw garlic is just as effective and considerably cheaper. For a simple garlic tonic to guard against colds or just to boost your general health, crush a couple of cloves and add a tablespoon of olive oil.
Taking a spoonful of garlic in olive oil works well if you don’t like the taste or are fearful of unappealing, garlicky breath.
At the onset of an earache, take a peeled clove, wrap it in a little fabric, and stick it in your sore ear. Leave it there overnight, and you will feel some relief by the morning.
Grapefruit seed extract is a powerful substance. It is very strong and should never be taken undiluted or used neat in a topical application. I use it when afflicted with a stomach bug with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Take 5-10 drops in 8 ounces of juice or tea, which will help disguise its strong, bitter taste. For a child, give 3-5 drops in 5 ounces of juice or tea. These doses should be taken morning and evening, and will clear up a stomach bug pretty quickly. After taking grapefruit seed extract, also take some acidophilus, either in a natural yogurt or tablet form. This will restore your “friendly” intestinal flora to a healthy, balanced state. Grapefruit seed extract is also recommended as a gingivitis treatment: add 3 drops to 5 ounces of water and use as a mouthwash—rinse and spit, but try not to swallow!
For an effective dandruff cure, add 5 drops to your usual dollop of hair shampoo and massage it into the scalp.
For a wart or cyst, apply a drop of grapefruit seed extract daily directly to the affected spot and cover with a bandage.
As a topical application, aloe vera gel is great for all kinds of burns, including lesions caused by psoriasis. The juice is a great general tonic recommended as an aid to digestion, a stimulus for intestinal health, and a gentle colon cleanse.
Aloe vera is one of the few vegetarian sources of vitamin B12, containing 19 amino acids, 20 minerals, and 12 vitamins, all having a beneficial effect on general health. Drinking 4 to 8 ounces daily diluted in juice or taken neat is recommended, but just a couple of times a week will be beneficial.
Baking soda is great in a bath if your skin is irritated, especially for poison oak, as the soda will help dry up wet blisters as well as greatly reducing the itch.
Applying a baking soda and water paste to the site of a bee sting or other insect bites will neutralize the pain and itch. Just remove the actual sting first, and smooth on the baking soda paste for instant relief.
A headache can be treated with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of warm water with 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Last but not least, whiten your teeth by brushing with baking soda and water.
Witch hazel is an excellent and inexpensive astringent and antiseptic to always keep on hand. Topical uses for witch hazel include cleaning cuts, reducing skin inflammations and abrasions, sunburn, insect bites, bruising, poison oak and ivy, diaper rash, eczema, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids.
Preparations of witch hazel from the pharmacy generally contain isopropyl alcohol, so make sure you only use it externally, as it is poisonous to ingest.
Make cold compresses with witch hazel for painful hemorrhoids, varicose veins, or other skin inflammation and bruises. For a witch hazel tincture, add 15 drops to a small bowl of warm water, immerse a clean washcloth in the solution, and leave it soaking for 5 minutes. Wring out the washcloth and lay it on the affected area.
As an astringent, witch hazel works well for drying sores, diaper rash, and poison oak and ivy. Use witch hazel tincture (5 drops to 8 ounces of water) if you want to avoid the isopropyl alcohol.
Many remedies can be made from what you have in the kitchen, from spices as well as plants. Here are a few simple tried and tested recipes:
Grated nutmeg soothes diarrhea and upset tummies. Use a nutmeg grater to grate a small amount (about 1/8 teaspoon) into warmed milk (cow, soy, rice, or in oat milk).
Use this pepper as a remedy for colds, coughs, sore throats, heartburn, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins, or as a digestive stimulant and to improve circulation. Make an infusion by adding 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder to 1 cup boiled water. Add 2 cups of hot water to make a more pleasant and palatable infusion. Add lemon and honey to taste.
This commonplace vegetable is a fantastic antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Cabbage can be used for stomach ulcers, arthritis, and swollen joints, or as a liver tonic. To create a cabbage tonic, dilute 1 part cabbage juice with 2 parts water. For swollen joints and arthritic pain, lightly crush a few green outer cabbage leaves with a rolling pin, and then lay over afflicted area with the inner side of the leaf on your skin, securing with a bandage. Some prefer to boil the leaves, let them cool, and then apply. Going to bed with a cabbage bandage on is also good, giving the leaf time to work its magic.
Black and Green Teas
Use black tea for an upset tummy and diarrhea. Green tea strengthens the immune system, and you can reuse tea bags to stanch cuts or calm insect bites.
White tea, green tea, and black tea are all made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. White tea is made from the youngest leaves of the plant; it is a sweet brew and has less caffeine than green or black tea. It is also rich in antioxidants and is recommended for reducing “bad” cholesterol and improving artery health. White tea is a little costly but a good choice for health and flavor.
Use this citrus for colds and infections. Add the fresh-squeezed juice to hot water, with honey to taste. For a fast sore-throat curative, use unsweetened lemon juice with warm water as an antiseptic gargle.
This spice is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial. Turmeric is also a liver detox and curative for acne and common colds. Make a turmeric tea by adding a teaspoon of the powder to 4 cups of boiling water. Simmer over low heat until it dissolves, adding milk and honey to taste.
Kombucha has been credited with miraculous properties and is a probiotic, making it very curative for digestive issues. Learn how to make kombucha with our Kombucha Tea recipe.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Lemons and Lavender: The Eco Guide to Better Homekeeping by Billee Sharp, published by Viva Editions, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Lemons and Lavender.
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