There's a growing trend to do what you can at home to relieve common ailments and health problems without emptying your pocketbook. Herbal schools are seeing an uptick in people interested in grandma's old-fashioned remedies, such as elderberry cough drops or herbal heating packs for joint pain. Likewise, my mother would be proud to know I listened when she told me that a glass of peppermint tea relieves a stomachache.
It's just common sense to take care of yourself and your family's health in small, but effective ways while saving a buck. There's also tremendous satisfaction in making your own home medicine chest. Here's how:
-Educate yourself - There's a really cheap place to learn about medicinals in almost every town in America, the library! Loads of herbal books have wonderful recipes - easily made and used at home - for common ailments. Example: Ginger tea relieves stomachache and encourages appetite. Peel the root with a spoon, grate into teapot, pour in boiling water. Drink immediately for best effect, or add honey, when cool, for an extra soothing drink.
-Find an herbalist, or better yet, become one - There are all kinds of online herbal education programs, whether you're mildly interested or serious about a career. Many recommend great sources for herbs and natural medicines, or make and sell them themselves. Some can put you in touch with local growers if you want to make your own preparations.
-Grow your own! - Those same herbal books you picked up at the library will list many medicinal plants effective for various ailments and symptoms. If you have garden space, it's worth growing a few things for what ails you. This not only gives you a free source, but a little gardening exercise, which is bound to make you feel better. The beauty and scent of many herbal plants - such as lavender, sage, thyme and peppermint - is an added bonus, contributing to feelings of wellbeing.
-Look into alternative medicines - Chinese, Indian, Native American, and European systems of medicine all have particular herbs that are effective and easy to grow. For example, tumeric root, popular with Chinese and Ayurvedic practitioners, is a safe and wonderful anti-inflammatory; it can be grown in warmer regions of the U.S. and is also available in the grocery store. This brings us to the next point:
-Food as medicine - World cultures have long recognized foods and spices as having many positive effects on the body. In India, for instance, meals are prepared and spiced with long-range health in mind. Closer to home, there are terrific remedies available in grocery store food aisles and spice racks. An oatmeal bath soothes a summer rash and poison ivy. Powdered tumeric is a great antibacterial for cuts and scratches, and so is honey; mix them together for a powerful and effective topical treatment. That cinnamon you like on your toast or in your latte? Great for heart health and circulation. Another fun food fact: common black pepper increases nutrient absorption up to 300 percent! So, if your kids don't like broccoli, tell them they don't have to eat quite so much if they sprinkle on the pepper. Those of us who do like broccoli get more nutrient bang for our buck.
-Eating well - We all know we should eat more veggies. But did you know that when you eat is as important as what you eat? It's been common knowledge for centuries that eating late at night, when the body's energies are winding down, causes digestive problems. It may also create more of those roaming, cancer-causing free radicals, along with a morning stomachache. Do what dieters do: avoid eating after 6 p.m. - not so much for weight loss, but as good health practice to optimize digestion.
We can do much to protect our health with what's available in our homes and communities. I'll be back in future articles with more info, suggestions, and recipes for home treatment of colds, coughs, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Karen Johnston is an Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant, former farmer and community food activist living in Montpelier, Vt. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.