I’ve been going to physical therapy for my sprained wrist, and fortunately the therapist is someone who believes in diet and herbs as a viable alternative to or complement of conventional medicine, as do I. We started discussing home cures, and I began to think over how many that I knew because my mother used them. I was born when my parents were in their early forties, and they were born before the 1920’s, before World War II and the scientific revolution. Before everyone turned to petri dishes for the ultimate answers. Medicine made great progress in finding vaccines for heartbreaking diseases such as polio. However, its successes gave it a blanket approval, and suddenly scientists could do no wrong. Many medicines are derived from plants, such as simple aspirin which has the main ingredient salicin that is found in willow trees. Scientists found a way to synthesize salicin so as to put a patent on it and make money, just like so many other drugs. When pharmaceutical companies took hold, that is when we lost control of our traditional medicine and our health. Health is a business, and what is in the drug stores has little to do with getting well, but is mostly about making money. Most medicines treat symptoms and provide enough relief to make you re-buy the product, but won’t eliminate it because then you will have no need to buy it again.
Home remedies have for the most part become lost in the past as post World War II parents disregarded the ‘old fashioned’ methods and turned to the pharmacy. Thus, the traditions were not passed on to their children, so the remedies have been lost. Only in reading old books do we hear them mentioned. Or we can surreptitiously inquire at a health food store, where much of the same buying tactics are at play, and clerks are not medical professionals. The desperation for cures is such that people would often believe strangers rather than doctors, well-written propaganda rather than documented success, and that is dangerous. I was shopping at Henry’s last week, standing with my empty basket looking at the herbal tinctures section, and a woman pops around the corner and holds up a bottle of sesame oil and asks if it would be a good choice to use as a carrier oil for a tincture she had at home. Fortunately for her, I’ve been involved with herbs for thirty years, and I knew what she was talking about, and gave her I think accurate advice and warnings, which included doing some sound Internet research on her own. I don’t know how a short, middle-aged woman with an empty shopping basket would appear to be knowledgeable, but perhaps anyone would have done as well for her.
I have been researching home remedies for reducing inflammation, since my sprained wrist hasn’t healed and I have arthritis and bursitis (wow… just bury me now! What happened to youth?) among other casualties of the physical working life. It made me think of my mother and all the vitamins she gave us and home remedies, as well as enforcing a healthy, balanced diet when meat and potatoes were the standard.
One cure she passed on from her European grandmothers was the mustard plaster for chest colds. Mix dry mustard powder with water to make a paste, put it on an old cloth and slap it on your chest. She used old diaper cloths. I still have them! If you have tender skin or are a child, then a film of vegetable oil on the skin helps protect from the burn. I believe that the way it works is to stimulate blood flow to help the body clear up congestion, and warm up the body to help sweat out the toxins. Capsicum from peppers works the same way in arthritis medicines. Vicks Vaporub replaced the mustard plaster, using menthol from eucalyptus and mints (now synthesized) to clear the sinuses as well as help the chest. The petroleum jelly in it links us to our dependence on oil, whereas mustard grows in most places and people would harvest the weeds, using the fresh leaves for a spring tonic and the seeds for food and the mustard plaster. Another remedy was blackberry juice for.. um… the ‘runs’. It ‘binds’ the intestines quickly. She’d use a little Manischewitz Blackberry Brandy diluted in warm water, and it would not only stop the problem, but relieve the cramps and make a sick kid sleep. I’ve always used it and it has always worked, as well as plain blackberry juice. Some blackberry brandys don’t have real juice in them, so beware. There is also the cider vinegar and honey remedy which was very popular in the late 1960’s, and has cyclical resurgences. Cider vinegar is slightly fermented from apples and should have a murky, stringy bit in the bottle. That is the ‘mother’ part of the yeast which is alive, and which you can use to ferment other things if you make your own. It is also claimed to be very healthy. Mom would give us apple cider vinegar mixed with honey and warm water to drink along with dinner. I have a fondness for it, even though it brings me back to a childhood which I would rather forget. Every now and then I read about how great vinegar is and mix some up. In fact, I think I’ll do so today and see if it helps with my wrist!
Let’s see what else… prunes for.., well, the opposite of what blackberry is for. Ginger ale to settle a stomach when throwing up. The carbonation helps, but it is mostly the ginger, which eases car sickness, morning sickness, or a sour stomach. Of course, garlic, which is the cure-all to many illnesses it seems. I figure that people reeked so badly of garlic that no one would get close enough to them to give them any germs. Then there is arnica for bruises. Arnica cream is a standard in my medicine cabinet (you can learn more about them here), and when my daughter reminded me of it this week and I started applying it to my wrist at night, I had a noticeable difference in the morning. Honey for many things, including local honey for hayfever, applying it to dry skin, using it for its germicidal properties, and mixed with lemon for coughs. Raw, unheated honey kills germs and bacteria. When people had dirt floors they used strewing herbs such as rosemary and lavender on the ground when. Not only did they help with the smells of the household (which were considerable), they had medicinal properties. Rosemary kills germs. In my research for anti-inflammatory herbs, along with some Asian herbs that I’m unfamiliar with and probably can’t get, the four main common ones are garlic, ginger, pepper and turmeric. Turmeric is a yellow powder from the turmeric root and is used in curries here, but used in many medicines in India. I’m planning on creating a tincture of the four of them and applying it to my wrist to see what happens.
Of course there is always the simple Irish remedy, as is hailed on one of our traditional Irish music CD’s: ‘Have a drink of whiskey to soothe away your pains’.
If you have proven home remedies, I’d love to hear about them!