Ease common conditions with safe and natural home remedies for everyone from kids to pets
I believe that making your own medicines is an empowering act. When I take or give my child a remedy that I have made with my own hands in my own kitchen, I feel deeply connected to healing.
As a physician, I acknowledge that antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines have their place, but using drugs to treat minor ailments like coughs, sore throats, and heartburn can mask symptoms and weaken the body’s natural resistance to everything from ordinary colds to virulent staph infections. To avoid this, try a natural approach. The following drug-free recipes are simple to make and can safely and effectively treat common problems that every family faces.
I’ve been making my own Slumber Elixir for almost 20 years, and have found that
taking it consistently for at least 10 to 12 days helps about 80 percent of those who use it to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. I’ve used it for children as young as 6 who were in pain or deeply distraught, though I generally use this for teens and adults with chronic sleep problems.
5 g hops flowers
5 g valerian root
5 g California poppy herb
5 gm lemon balm herb
100 mL brandy and 2 Tbs. honey OR
115 mL vegetable glycerine and 45 mL water
Grind the herbs and put in a tall glass jar. Add brandy and honey OR vegetable glycerin and water. Stir well. If you need more alcohol, add another 20 mL brandy. If making a glycerite, add an additional 15 mL vegetable glycerine and 5 mL water.
Cover with a lid and let sit for 2 weeks. Strain and put in a dark bottle and label.
How to use:
Slumber Elixir with brandy: Teens and adults: Take 1–1 ½ tsp. 30 minutes before bed. Can be taken in hot water, tea, juice, or straight off the spoon.
Slumber Elixir with glycerin:
50–90 lb: 1 tsp. 30 minutes before bed.
90–120 lb: 1 ½ to 2 tsp. 30 minutes before bed.
Over 120 lb: 2 to 3 tsp. 30 minutes before bed.
This can be taken in hot water, tea, juice, or straight off the spoon.
Note: This elixir is designed to help you sleep. Do not take it if you are going to be driving or doing other things that require your attention. Don’t mix herbal sedatives with prescription sleeping pills. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this elixir.
Peppermint is a wonderful remedy for headache. A study found that massaging peppermint oil into your temples and forehead was as effective for relieving a tension headache as ibuprofen. You can make this simple massage oil at home.
Peppermint Headache Oil
20 drops peppermint essential oil
4 Tbs. (2 oz.) almond, grape seed,
or sunflower oil as a carrier oil
Put the carrier oil into a bottle and add peppermint essential oil. Shake well. Put on a lid.
How to use: Gently rub oil into temples, forehead, neck, and shoulders, being careful to avoid the eyes.
Note: Peppermint should not be used on the face of any child under the age of 3.
Most of us have battled diarrhea at some point. Those loose, watery stools are
usually caused by infections that don’t last long, and are more of a nuisance than a danger for most healthy people. Gastroenteritis, an inflammation/infection of the GI tract, generally lasts one to three days, and can be easily managed by staying hydrated while it runs its course. However, diarrhea can be dangerous for the very young, the very old, and those with an underlying disease.
Staying hydrated, as well as preventing dehydration, is the No. 1 priority. German chamomile tea is an excellent choice for this, and it also helps ease cramping and quiet inflammation.
The following simple recipe is excellent for hydrating the body and slowing diarrhea—and it’s good not only for humans, but is one of the best things you can give to dogs with diarrhea.
1 cup rice
4 cups water
Put 1 cup rice in 4 cups water, and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the milky water.
How to use: Drink throughout the day. If giving to your dog, you can add ½ cup chicken broth to increase the desire to drink it.
Years ago, I got inventive and blended some gut-healing herbs—chamomile, a mild bitter herb with soothing, sedative effects; licorice, healing to the gut; and meadowsweet, with its antacid and anti-inflammatory attributes—and brewed them as a tea. Meadowsweet is popular in Europe for treating heartburn.
4 Tbs. chamomile flowers
2 Tbs. meadowsweet herb
2 Tbs. licorice root
Mix all the herbs together and put in a glass jar
How to use: Pour 1 cup near-boiling water over 1 heaping tsp. of the herbal mixture. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain. Add honey if desired. Drink ½ cup 1 to 2 times a day after meals.
Note: If you have high blood pressure, it’s probably best to omit the licorice (although, it’s very unlikely to bother you at this dose). If you are allergic to aspirin, substitute marshmallow leaf for the meadowsweet, as meadowsweet contains small amounts of salicin, found in aspirin.
Sore throat, upper respiratory infections, and cuts and scrapes
Sage Honey is one of my kitchen must-haves. Also great for cooking, sage is strongly antiseptic and can be applied topically to a wound or used to ease a sore throat and
upper respiratory infection. If you have a young child in the house (under 12 months of age), you might want to substitute maple syrup for the honey in the recipe.
½ cup fresh or ¼ cup dried sage
8 oz. honey
Put honey in a saucepan and gently heat. Add the sage and stir for about 10 minutes. Pour heated sage honey into a clean
canning jar, put on the lid, and let sit in
a warm place (a windowsill, for example) for 2 to 3 weeks. Using a spatula, scoop out contents of the jar into a saucepan and gently heat until the honey has become liquid. Using a fine-mesh strainer, pour the honey into a clean jar. Label and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Your herbal honey will stay good for at least 1 year.
How to use: For coughs and sore throat, add 1 tsp. sage honey to 1 cup hot water and stir. Add some fresh lemon, if desired. You can also take 1 tsp. sage honey straight off the spoon to relieve a sore throat. For wounds, apply a thin layer to a 3- x 3-inch bandage or gauze and apply. Change daily.
Photography above: pornchai mittongtaire | styling by Robin Turk
Drying and Storing Fresh Herbs
The most important part of herbal medicine making is the herbs themselves. Gathering herbs from your garden is fun and wonderfully therapeutic. You can also purchase fresh, organic culinary herbs such as thyme, sage, garlic, oregano, or ginger.
One of the simplest ways to dry your plants is to bundle them (no thicker than about an inch in diameter), tie with a rubber band, and hang on a string in a shady area that does not get direct sunlight but gets plenty of warm air. For roots and flowers, the easiest way to dry them is to put a couple of metal screens on cinder blocks and cover them with a muslin cloth. These should be placed in a shady area where they won’t get any direct sunlight but plenty of warm air. Do not cut your leaves or flowers. Whole dried herbs keep their potency much longer than those that are crushed or powdered. The exception is large fleshy roots, which should be cut transversely into small pieces to hasten the drying process. Small roots can be left whole.
When finished, you’re ready to store your herbs, preferably in airtight jars that you store in a dark, cool place. Make sure you properly label the jar with the name of the herb and date of harvest. Leaves, flowers, herbs, and aromatic roots should be used within a year of harvest. Most other roots, seeds, and barks will stay good for two to three years if stored in a cool, dark place.
Don’t have time to make the recipes featured in this article? Try these super-quick solutions—they contain many of the same ingredients as the recipes for speedy relief of symptoms.
FOR INSOMNIA: FLORA Sleep•Essence
FOR HEADACHES: AURA CACIA Cooling Peppermint Roll-On
FOR DIARRHEA: TRADITIONAL MEDICINALS Organic Chamomile Tea
FOR HEARTBURN: EARTH MAMA ANGEL BABY Organic Heartburn Tea
FOR SORE THROAT AND UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS:Y.S. ECO BEE FARMS Manuka Honey & Propolis Lozenges