The Healing Power of Home Remedies

The Healing Power of Home Remedies


From Chatelaine


Every culture has its own special folk medicines

IN TRINIDAD people soothe itchy skin with an oatmeal paste. Ukrainian families use chamomile for insomnia. Jamaicans use pain-relief medications that grow wild in their gardens. Here's an eclectic mix of home remedies that doctors from around the world say may reduce symptoms and give comfort for what ails you.

Aches and Pains

       Dr. Bud Rickhi, a Trinida-dian-born associate professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and director of the Research Centre for Alternative Medicine, says devil's claw, a herb with claw-shaped leaves that grows in the Amazon, fends off joint pain. "Village healers know how powerful it is," he says. And so do those suffering from rheumatism and arthritis, according to medical herbalist Christopher Robbins, author of The Household Herbal: A Complete Practical Guide to Plants That Heal.

       Recent British and German studies show the herb reduces pain and inflammation in the joints. But don't take it if you're pregnant: It may stimulate the uterine muscles during pregnancy. You can buy devil's-claw teas or ointments at most health-food stores.


       In southern India a spicy, watery soup is thought to help relieve cold symptoms. Dr. Elizabeth Thakkar, a family physician from Calgary, adds to 5 mL (1 tsp.) of light olive oil, a pinch of mustard seeds, a few curry leaves and lightly sautés with three cloves of minced garlic. Then she adds 5 mL of ground cumin and 5 mL of ground black pepper, three fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled, 500 mL (2 cups) water and a pinch of salt. She brings the mixture to a boil and simmers for five minutes.

       Although the tomatoes contain lycopene, a natural antioxidant that protects cells from damage, it's the spice, according to Earl Mindell, that provides the most relief. A Canadian professor of nutrition at Pacific Western University in Los Angeles and author of Earl Mindell's Food as Medicine, he explains that black pepper is thermogenic -- creating heat in the body, which speeds up the metabolism and jump-starts the immune system.

       For coughs that accompany colds, says a Ukrainian tradition, stock up on garlic. Because Ukrainian society is agrarian, people use their gardens to help keep them healthy. Ukrainians add garlic to many dishes. Modern research confirms its ability to fight viral infections and strep throat.

       Garlic acts like a mild antifungal and antibiotic through the release of aromatic chemicals, including allicin, in the body. Raw garlic is the most effective, but it can cause gastrointestinal upset. If so, try garlic supplements, available at most pharmacies and health-food stores.

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       Chinese rhubarb is the main ingredient in an Asian prescription for constipation. Purée three Chinese rhubarb stalks (not to be confused with garden rhubarb), add 250 mL (1 cup) apple juice, 1 L (4 cups) of water, 1/4 peeled lemon and 15 mL (1 tbsp.) honey. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. According to Dr. Joseph Yuk-Shing Wong, a Toronto physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, the ingredients are natural laxatives that also boost the digestive system.


       In Zimbabwe golden honey goes into the medicine chest. "My family was fortunate to have beehives in our backyard. If any of us had a cut that wouldn't heal, the best remedy was fresh honey," says Zimbabwe-born Dr. Mohamed Ravalia, a family physician in Twillingate, Nfld. Because honey absorbs the water on skin that bacteria need to grow, it has antibacterial properties. Ravalia's advice is to apply honey directly to a minor cut and cover it with gauze. However, only raw, unprocessed honey contains the vitamins, minerals and enzymes that can help wounds to heal.


       Rickhi says Trinidadians grow ginger instead of buying antacids. Fresh or dried ginger can be added to food or made into a tea. Add 5 mL (1 tsp.) ginger to your favourite tea blend. Also recommended for nausea and ulcer pain, ginger reduces stomach irritation and helps produce digestive juices.

       Instead of after-dinner mints, many East Indian restaurants serve dainty bowls of fennel seeds. Thakkar says fennel helps your body digest a spicy meal. To decrease flatulence and ease indigestion, drink fennel tea, available at most health-food stores. The Calgary physician says nursing mothers in India often drink the tea to help soothe their colicky babies. Mindell explains that fennel has the added benefit of stimulating milk production in lactating women.


       "In Trinidad we would give little sachets of lavender to new parents, who put them in cribs to help babies sleep," says Rickhi. Lavender is a relaxing herb that affects your nervous system and may decrease your breathing and heart rate during a period of anxiety. For best results, Rickhi advises putting a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow before going to bed.

       The Ukrainian remedy for sleeplessness is nothing more complicated than a cup of chamomile tea. A mild sedative, chamomile reduces anxiety and tension, especially before you go to bed.

Sore throat

       Dr. Marlyn Cook, a Grand Rapids First Nation family physician in Winnipeg, says that to soothe a sore throat, drink a sage infusion: Put 10 mL (2 tsp.) of fresh or home-dried sage into 625 mL (2-1/2 cups) of boiling water, simmer for 20 minutes, then strain off the leaves. Drink or gargle with 250 mL (1 cup) of the sage tea for soothing relief.

       Robbins says sage is a natural astringent and antiseptic, which is recommended for gingivitis and throat infections. However, Robbins cautions women not to take it during pregnancy As with any herbal, he notes, this plant should be treated with the same respect as any other medication. Consult your physician for more information.


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