You won’t need a prescription for these home remedies—many of which you probably already have stocked in your pantry or fridge.
Q: What are your top recommendations for staying healthy? I’m also curious to know what you think of kitchen medicines—for example, which foods and herbs help the body heal?
—Judith Rae P., Boston
A: Our modern society has coached us to seek quick and easy fixes for whatever problem or ailment arises—but the quick fix isn’t necessarily the best fix. When it comes to your health, there’s no question that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Seven basic habits to use every day to stay healthy, lean, and happy include:
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of clean water, ideally water that wasn’t stored in plastic.
- Get 8–10 servings (½ cup = 1 serving) of vegetables, ideally organic, daily.
- Eat some protein for breakfast (think eggs, nuts, or protein powder in a smoothie).
- Get at least 6 hours of sleep every night. And get extra sleep once a week if you feel you need it.
- Take at least 5 minutes daily to focus exclusively on deep belly breathing.
- Move your body—10,000 steps per day is the recommended goal.
- Exercise more: weights twice a week, cardio twice a week, and stretching three times a week.
Even when doing your best to stay healthy, ailments will crop up from time to time. And often, a trip to the kitchen may be all that you need to find helpful home remedies. Here are a few of my favorites.
Home-cooked applesauce, made of peeled, diced apples, is effective for short-term constipation. Grated apple can be contained in a clean handkerchief (or cheesecloth) and applied to sties or minor superficial infections as a poultice.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
Add 4 tsp. to 1 pint of hot water. It’s a very effective gargle for sore throats. ACV is also a useful weight loss agent (take 1 Tbs. in water before eating) by increasing the absorption of proteins in your meals.
½ cup in a not-too-hot bath is wonderful for itchy skin from stinging nettle or poison ivy exposure. You can also make a baking soda paste to apply to bee stings.
1 quart of cabbage juice daily for 2 weeks can heal a peptic ulcer.
It’s an effective styptic, which means it can stop bleeding. Mix cayenne powder with water and apply to wounds.
Quite effective mixed with warm rice milk for diarrhea, it’s not curative, but it will help until you figure out the cause of the problem. Diarrhea is usually osmolar (from too much sugar or salt ingestion) or infective (food poisoning), but it may also be due to chronic GI irritation, which requires more investigation.
Either burnt toast or activated charcoal tablets are helpful for food poisoning, other toxic exposure, and gas.
This is a wonderful carminative, which means digestive aide. Chew whole seeds (5–10) after a meal, or simmer in a tea.
Grated and added to a poultice can draw out sties or pimples.
Very effective for toothaches; suck on whole clove placed at base of sore tooth, or simmer into a strong tea, dip a cloth into the tea, then suck on the cloth.
The magnesium in Epsom salts is an effective muscle relaxant. Try 1–2 cups in a not-too-hot bath for sore muscles.
One of the most versatile home remedies, garlic can be sliced and simmered for sore throats and coughs; chopped in a poultice (use with a thin, moist cloth between the garlic and your skin) for minor superficial infections; or chopped and added to gently warmed olive oil to create effective drops for earaches. (Test the heat on your wrist before placing drops in ear.) Drinking garlic tea or eating whole garlic can ward off a cold. Garlic can also lower blood pressure if eaten regularly. It’s potent medicine.
Honey plus salt in water is a potent rehydration solution. Honey in warm water with a little lemon juice can relieve coughs. Honey can also be placed topically on a wound to expedite healing.
Fresh lemon in warm water, 30 minutes before eating, will improve digestion, reduce constipation, reduce arthritic pain, and lessen cough.
As a tea, mint will reduce nausea, especially if you feel hot. If you feel nauseous and chilled, ginger works well.
Very effective in a poultice for bronchitis, coughs, and pneumonia. You must have good-quality mustard, ideally with the seeds. Take a clean cloth and place over the part of the lungs that are wheezy or congested. Place a light layer of mustard. Cover with saran wrap or another cloth. Place heating pad or hot water bottle over the second layer so the heat can drive the sulfur from the mustard into the lungs, which will break up the mucous plug. Keep the poultice on for at least 20 minutes. Repeat for 2–4 days as needed.
1 cup in a tub of not-too-hot water, or placed in a sock and thoroughly wet with warm water, can help rashes or itchy skin.
A slice of raw onion on a bee sting will draw out the stinger and relieve pain.
1–2 tsp. (mixed with lemon, if you like) can relieve constipation. Also gently warmed, on a cotton ball, for mastitis. Stroke the breast fairly firmly from the tender area towards the nipple until the discharge looks like milk again.
As a tea or juice, take 1 cup, 3–4 times daily, for bladder irritation.
Cook with extra water, then drink the rice water to relieve diarrhea.
Grate a raw potato and use as a poultice, or slice and place wet side over the eye for conjunctivitis or over the ear canal for ear infection.
½ tsp. in 4 ounces of warm salt water can be used as a gargle for sore throat or tonsillitis; or sniff 3–5 drops of the same recipe into the nostrils to relieve sinusitis.
1 tsp. in 1 cup of warm water makes an effective gargle for sore throat and post-nasal drip. Also, the tea can be swallowed to relieve hay fever and hot flashes.
Can be dabbed in armpits and behind knees to bring down high fevers. In general, fevers are curative, but in young children they should not be allowed to run high more than a few days. Alcohol rubbed into armpits will reduce chronic body odor by killing the smelly bacteria.
Cool running water to treat burns; hot water bottle for cramps; cool bath to lower prolonged fever; steam inhalation for sinus congestion (ideally with a few drops of volatile oil such as eucalyptus or tea tree); ice packs for swelling.