Rachel Rabkin Peachman
For centuries people have been alleviating minor ailments through natural remedies, and now medical experts and scientific research are backing up these cures. The best part? There’s no need to go beyond your own kitchen to find fast, safe relief.
Common foods and household products have natural healing properties that could ease your pain and spare you a trip to the doctor. Of course, if your condition doesn’t improve with these treatments — or gets worse — see a medical professional stat.
Ailment: Rash, hives, or eczema
Kitchen cure: Oatmeal
Oatmeal seals in moisture and relieves the irritation and itchiness caused by skin conditions like rashes, hives and eczema, says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., physician, holistic health expert, and author of books such as The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health. Oatmeal also contains a type of omega-6 fatty acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties that decrease swelling. To ease an itchy skin situation, fill a cloth bag with half a cup of oatmeal and add it to a warm bath. Or mix water and uncooked oats to make a paste, and place it on the affected skin for 30 minutes to an hour.
Ailment: A cut
Kitchen cure: Black tea
The tannins in tea act as an astringent, which shrinks skin tissues and draws them together to help heal minor wounds, says Michael Culp, N.D., a naturopathic physician and director of the Natural Health and Wellness Centre in London. So the next time your child gets a scrape, simply place a warm bag of tea on the cut for 20 minutes and let it work its magic.
Kitchen cure: Apple cider vinegar
Dandruff is caused by a buildup of skin cells on the scalp due to too much oil, or it can result when dehydrated skin on the scalp gets stripped of its normal acidity, says Dr. Dean. To combat this flaky condition, try an after-shampoo rinse of one cup of apple cider vinegar and one pint of warm water. This mixture will alter the pH level of your scalp, making the skin more acidic and less likely to flake. You may smell a bit like a salad but your scalp will look and feel healthier.
Ailment: Insect sting or bite
Kitchen cure: Honey
Ironically, when you or your kiddo is stung by a bee, the very honey the insect makes can help heal the sting, says Dr. Dean. Cover the sting with the sticky sweet stuff to protect the area from getting irritated, and then let the wound benefit from honey’s healing plant nutrients.
Ailment: The common cold
Kitchen cure: Chicken soup
Though chicken soup won’t actually cure your cold, it can ease your symptoms. The warm liquid and its steamy vapors loosen mucus and alleviate congestion, says Zach Rosen, M.D., of the Montefiore Family Health Center in New York City. The soup also keeps you hydrated, which is key when treating a cold. Chicken soup may even have an anti-inflammatory effect, which can alleviate a sore throat and aching head. Just one more reason Grandma’s chicken soup is so comforting.
Ailment: Yeast infection
Kitchen cure: Unsweetened, plain yogurt
To get rid of yeast infections — which are caused by an overgrowth of yeast organisms — try eating plain, unsweetened organic yogurt or douching with it. It contains live active cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic that can help restore yeast-fighting good bacteria to the vagina, says Dr. Dean, who is also the author of The Yeast Connection.
Ailment: Back pain
Kitchen cure: Cayenne pepper
When applied to sore back muscles, this hot spice can temporarily desensitize nerve endings, which helps lessen pain. Cayenne is also known to stimulate blood circulation around an affected area, which brings much-needed healing nutrients to sore tissues, and has a warming and soothing effect. Mix the granular pepper with water to make a paste, then place it on your back and cover it with a bandage, says Larry Trivieri, Jr., author of Health on the Edge: Visionary Views of Healing in the New Millennium. Keep the paste in position until you feel some relief, which should take about 30 minutes to an hour.
Kitchen cure: Ginger root
This ancient Asian remedy has anti-inflammatory properties that can open up airways and clear stuffed sinuses, says Dr. Dean. To get relief, boil the ginger root and drink it as a tea.
Ailment: Seasonal allergies
Kitchen cure: Local honey
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may be able to find relief by swallowing a daily teaspoon of local honey. The theory is that if you ingest honey from your region, you’ll be exposed to allergens in your area in controlled amounts, which will desensitize your body to local allergens gradually. These small exposures over time may help your body build up resistance to allergens (similar to immunotherapy). Scientific data hasn’t verified this but many people swear by it, says Shilpi Agarwal, M.D., an integrative medicine family physician based in Los Angeles. If you’re going to try this one, clear it with your doctor first because some seasonal allergy sufferers can have allergic reactions to local honey.
Ailment: Poison ivy blisters
Kitchen cure: Baking soda
If you or your kids stumble on some poison ivy during a hike in the woods, there may not be a need to rush to the pharmacy. The same baking soda you use to make cookies and clean your countertops is also an effective skin salve, according to many experts. Mix the baking soda with water to make a paste, and apply it to poison ivy blisters. It will cool the skin, dry up the blisters, and alleviate itching.