The next time you’re sick, you might find an effective remedy in the refrigerator, the kitchen cabinet or even the spice rack. More and more evidence suggests that certain foods and household staples or other home remedies can relieve a common health problem. In fact, many physicians, concerned about the overuse of antibiotics and the trend toward treatment excesses for even minor ailments, are using these simple remedies.
The following treatments are more than just folklore – all come from doctors. But keep in mind that natural substances, like other medicines, cause side effects. If you experience an unusual reaction, discontinue the therapy immediately.
Ginger quiets queasiness and eases cold symptoms. Ginger has a calming effect on the stomach, and several studies show that capsules containing this spice help counteract motion sickness and nausea. Dr. Elson Haas, the doctor of a preventive medical center, suggests making ginger tea by simmering three or four thin slices of ginger root in two cups of water for about 10 minutes, then covering and letting it steep for 10 or 15 minutes. For a tastier brew, add lemon and honey after steeping. To prepare a tonic to stimulate digestion, combine equal amounts of dried orange peel, cloves, and rosemary. Add a teaspoon of the whole mix per cup of ginger tea and let steep ten minutes.
Ginger tea may also help alleviate the misery of colds by increasing circulation and perspiration. For chest congestion and mild bronchitis Haas uses compresses. Wet a washcloth in warm ginger tea, put it on your chest and cover with plastic wraps and a towel. Keep it in place until cool. Don’t apply ginger root directly to the skin, though – it could be irritating.
Baking soda nixes itches. Add about two tablespoons per quart of cool water in a bowl or half a cup in the bathtub, will often calm the itchiness of rashes, chicken pox or poison ivy, and sometimes relieve vaginal or anal itching. You can soak in it or apply it with compresses, says Dr. Loraines Stern, a clinical professor of pediatrics. But be aware that it may dry skin. These treatment or a paste made from baking soda and water are also frequently effective for insect bites and bee stings; however, care should be taken with young children, whose delicate skin could be irritated.
Tea bags dry out sweaty feet and canker sores. The tannic acid in tea acts as an astringent that helps feet stay dry and less odor-prone, Litt says. Boil one pint of water with two bags for 15 minutes, then add the solution to a basin of two quarts cool water. (Use regular tea since herbal varieties don’t have tannic acid.) Soaking feet for 20 minutes a day for a week and then once a week should keep them smell fresh. For pain from canker sores soak a tea bag in tepid water, wring, and hold it against the sore for five to ten minutes. Repeat as necessary every three to four hours.
Cayenne pepper powder warms cold feet. Ground red pepper warms contact and it’s too irritating to put directly on the skin, Dr. Haas says” Many people find that sprinkling a little cayenne in their socks can help ward off icicle toes and warm their feet.”
Garlic fights a cold and flu. Studies have shown that some of garlic’s chemical constituents can kill disease-causing germs. Haas recommends loading up on the herb when you have a cold, sore throat or the flu. Add two to three raw fresh – pressed cloves per serving to whatever you’re making. Or, for maximum healing power, making this special soup: toss garlic (two to three whole, peeled cloves per serving) and ginger into a potful of vegetable soup that’s heavy in ingredients loaded with Vitamins A and C (carrots, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and green peppers). These vitamins are effective nutritional infection fighters – and inhaling the soup’s steam helps clear congestion.
Ice relieves insect bites, clogged sinuses, and toothaches. Ice can take the pain and itch out of insect bites. Doctors suggest rubbing a cube over the itchy spot as needed.
For sinus infections, use ice and heat. Fill a pan with ice and water, and another with hot water. Lie on your back. Dip a washcloth in the hot water and wring it slightly; place it over your forehead and cheeks, leaving it there a minute. Then dip another cloth it the ice water and repeat. Going through ten such cycle helps move mucus out of the sinus cavity.
Ice can also indirectly help a toothache, says Dr. Kenneth C. Benty, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. But rather than applying it to the tooth, he suggests gently rubbing the web of tissue between your thumb and forefinger for about five minutes with an ice cube wrapped in a gauze pad. Repeat as needed until you can see your dentist. Although that’s an acupressure spot that may stimulate endorphins, the rationale behind the cold treatment is different, says Ronald Melzack, a university researcher who uses the therapy with Benty. Melzack believes the intensity of the cold may activate a mechanism in the brain that temporarily inhibits pain messages from the tooth.
While many of those home remedies can effective, they can’t replace your physician. So give yourself a little time to try a simple cure – how much depends on how serious the problem is. Then if you’re not better, see your health – care physician.
Heeding persistent symptoms are even more crucial when dealing with children, says pediatrician Loraine Stern. “Most home treatments temporary measures,” she says. “But if the problem continues for more than a day, or if the child seems to be getting worse, see a doctor.”