Not so crazy many years ago, when people had a stomachache or a headache, they didn’t run to the drugstore. They either suffered with it, or they used a home remedy. Sometimes the home remedies were remarkably effective. Sometimes they were just placebo, but effective nonetheless. (Sometimes, if you weren’t careful, they might even do more harm than good.) Now, we generally run to the store if we have a headache, a cold, a cough. For pain, you have aspirin, naproxen sodium, ibuprofen, acetominophen, combinations of the above, plus many prescription choices. For coughs and stuffy noses there are syrups in every color and flavor, based on ingredients that sound like the name of an Alien War Commander: Guifenesin, Chlorpheniramine, Phenylpropanolamine… It’s a treasure trove of modern pharmacology. But what if…?
What if you can’t get to the store? What if you can’t afford the OTC medications? What if you want a more “natural” alternative? What if the Zombies come and you have to rely on yourself? (Okay, maybe a natural disaster is a little more likely…) A little knowledge of herbs and natural remedies can help you feel more secure about your family’s medical future, just like knowing how to grow and preserve your own foods gives a little security about your family’s future food requirements. Plus, it’s just interesting and fun.
A couple of disclaimers. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I’m not a certified herbalist, or even an herb-garden specialist. I have used some of these remedies myself, but not all of them. Nothing here should be taken as medical advice or proof of safety or efficacy, and you should do your own research and/or consult a professional before attempting any “home remedy”. Children, pregnant and nursing women absolutely should consult a professional first. If you wish a professional opinion, a naturopath would be a great place to start. A certified herbalist would also be a great resource.
Second, natural does not automatically mean safe. Arsenic is natural. So are oleander, belladonna, and dart frog skin. All are quite, quite toxic. (Some can also be used successfully as medical therapies by people trained to do so. Trained.) Please exercise common sense when using home remedies, and when in doubt, consult a professional. Also remember, combining any herbal remedies with over the counter or prescription drugs can be dangerous, as sometimes they cause interference with one another, or even synergistic effects that can amplify the drugs and cause dangerous reactions. And if you’re taking any herbal remedies, whether home-grown or purchased, disclose them to your doctor and/or pharmacist when you’re asked about any drugs you may be taking.
And third, I am not opposed to Western medicine. Many modern drugs and treatments are nothing short of a miracle. I take OTC remedies fairly frequently, and I see my doctor on a regular basis. My kid and I are both vaccinated. I am also not opposed to alternative medicine, and have seen a naturopath and my husband has a chiropractor. I am of the “whatever works” camp. I also have a solid background in science and a skeptical nature. I want to read about it, assess it, then potentially see it, experience it, and evaluate it for myself before making a decision. I suggest you do the same.
The subject of home remedies is so vast, I just wanted to point out some highlights mainly for people who already have herb gardens or access to common plants. Since I raise bees and am partial to honey, I’m including it as well. I’ll be breaking it out by types of illness or injury, rather than by plant or herb, since usually you know what you want to treat and need a way to treat it.
Cuts, Scrapes, and Burns
Here I’m talking about the every day kinds of injuries. A barked shin, paper cuts, skinned knees, a bug bite scratched one too many times, or very minor burns. (For second and third degree burns, or deep lacerations or puncture wounds or any animal bite, please seek medical help. If the Zombie Hordes have come and you can’t see a doctor, do your best.)
Cold Water. Seriously, the best treatment for a burn is liberal application of running cool (not ice cold) water. Don’t use ice. Just keep the burn under running cool tap water for at least five minutes.
Castille Soap. Cleanse your wounds with a dilute solution of gentle castille soap. Don’t use antibacterial soaps, and don’t use “beauty bars”. Plain old fashioned soap, warm water, and gentle cleansing with a cloth if there is the potential for dirt or foreign matter in the wound. Dry gently. Keep the wound clean as it heals.
Honey. One of the best “natural” remedies to put on a minor skin wound is honey. Yes, just plain old honey, right out of the hive, covered with a light gauze or cotton dressing just to keep from getting sticky everywhere. To be really effective, make it unfiltered, un-heated honey, as heating honey kills many of the beneficial enzymes. But even squeezee bear honey, if that’s all you can get, makes a good wound protectant. It keeps the wound from drying out, and the high sugar content keeps infection at bay, as many microorganisms cannot grow in sugar. That’s why honey never goes bad! (Side note: If you have a nasty skin infection, and like me can’t use Neomycin/Neosporin, try Manuka honey. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. It is even effective against MRSA…one of the very few things which is!)
Aloe Vera. Many of us keep one or more of these babies as houseplants. In some climates, they grow happily outdoors. Especially effective against minor burns, such as scalding burns or sunburn. To use, break off a leaf of the plant, squeeze out the clear gel, and apply to your owie. Keep uncovered if you can, or cover lightly if you need to put clothes on over the area.
Comfrey, Parsley, Cabbage. These are commonly used in poultices for treating bruising and minor abrasions. Crush up the leaves, add a bit of hot water to make a pasty concoction, and apply directly to the bruised area. Cover with a cloth if desired. (Do not take comfrey internally.)
Thyme, Rosemary. Both have purported antiseptic properties. Crush up a handful of one or both, and steep in hot water as if you were making tea. Strain and allow to cool, then use to bathe minor scrapes or cuts, or just wash your skin. Smells great, and the bees love both of them…highly recommended in a culinary or medicinal herb garden!
Calendula (pot marigold). Crush up the flowers with enough water to make a paste, and apply directly to scrapes, abrasions, and minor cuts. Antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and pretty in the yard! Flowers can be harvested and dried in a dehydrator or in the sun, then stored for future use, but fresh flowers are more potent.
Yarrow. A very useful herb that many people consider a weed. It contains salicylic acid (also found in willow bark, it’s a component of modern aspirin) and promotes pain relief. The leaves are also useful for staunching blood, so crushed up yarrow leaf, applied to a minor cut, can help stop the bleeding as well as help with the pain. (Cautionary note: the leaves can trigger skin irritation and photosensitivity in some people.)