I adore folk traditions such as folklore and folk magic. Folk remedies and natural healing stem from both of these and I think what I like about them, their allure, is the ease of their application. I do not mean that they are easy and in fact knowledge and practical application do require skill, patience and being active, but what I do mean is that once these skills have been learned, once the time and effort have been put in, then the application of them requires no huge financial outlay. Here we will explore folk remedies using everyday ingredients, many of which can be found at home. In the first of these articles we will explore the medicinal qualities of common foods. I will say here that foods benefit us most from the ingesting of them, but it’s useful to which foods can help which ailments. Ingredients can also be used in the making of tinctures, poultices and compresses to help ease external wounds and irritations.
Before looking at individual ingredients, first let us consider some of the preparations that can be made using them.
Decoction – a preparation made by extracting active ingredients by boiling. The plant matter or ingredient is boiled in water until the liquid has reduced by half. The resultant liquid is then drunk.
Tincture – these are made by steeping the plant matter or ingredients in alcohol with a high content, usually vodka, rum or brandy. Not all active chemicals are water soluble and so a decoction would not extract them and this is where tinctures are useful.
Teas – a tea is made by steeping plant matter in hot water, and again, not all active ingredients are water soluble but teas are good at extracting those that are, soothing symptoms and for increasing the intake of water.
Compress – these can be hot or cold. A compress is quite simply a clean cloth soaked in liquid such as a decoction or tea and applied to the affected area.
Poultice – similar to a compress, this involves spreading healing matter onto a cloth or bandage and wrapping it before applying to the affected area. The healing matter is usually a damp substance, plant matter, soap, whatever the infliction requires.
So now let’s take a look at some common ingredients that can be used to help alleviate and ease common ailments.
A common spice that is found in the kitchen cupboard, cinnamon is a staple in baking, classically paired with apple and in biscuits. Medicinally, cinnamon is warming and strengthening and can be used to ease the symptoms of the common cold, flu, fever, chills, coughs and infections. Cinnamon tea sweetened with honey is an easy and cheap way of utilising the medicinal benefits. Decoctions of cinnamon can also be made, adding honey after the boiling process. The essential oil of cinnamon is a natural antiseptic with antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Add to washes and waters for use in compresses to treat scratches, bites and stings or make a poultice using the ground spice.
Honey is a favourite ingredient of mine for both the food cupboard and medicine cabinet owing to its many medicinal properties. Firstly, honey is full of nutrients and good bacteria and when ingested these will help maintain health and well being. Honey is of great use in treating the symptoms of coughs and colds. It is an expectorant and as such causes thick mucus to loosen and thus be easily expelled. The syrupy texture of honey soothes the throat and it is this texture that modern cough medicines use to help soothe the symptoms of a cough and sore throat. Honey is a good medium for the taking of other medicinal herbs that are unpleasant tasting.
Ginger is one of my favourite ingredients to use in cooking and is so very versatile, it can be used in baking sweet treats and in savoury dishes alike. Ginger is warming, is an expectorant, stimulating, antibacterial, detoxifying and is useful in the treatment of digestive troubles. Ginger is a good food to include in your diet as a preventative to many common ailments and illnesses. It stimulates the heart and circulation and hot ginger tea can be taken to help ease the common cold. Ginger helps with digestive problems because it promotes enzyme secretion. Ginger can be used externally to help ease muscle and joint pain.
Lemon and other citrus fruits are well known for their healing and health properties. Full of vitamin C whilst also being diuretic, antiseptic, astringent and full of antioxidants, it is no wonder lemons have such a reputation for helping to guard and treat many common ailments. It boosts the immune system and when taken in conjunction with other ingredients such as honey or ginger, it makes a powerful medicine. Gargle with warm water to help soothe and heal sore throats, tonsillitus and other infections.
The humble potato is a food staple, If you have potatoes in your cupboard then you’ll always have a meal! More than that though, the potato is full of good stuff despite it’s bad rep. It is a highly nutritious, high energy food containing proteins, vitamins and minerals and as such it promotes good health when eaten. Externally, raw potato juice is good for the skin and can be used to soothe inflammations, infections, wounds and ulcers. The sap can be used in washes and compresses or can be grated and used in a poultice.
This acidic liquid is most used for preserving and as a condiment. It is antiseptic, astringent, diuretic, antifungal and a decongestant. Apple cider vinegar is very nutritious and a teaspoonful can be taken in a glass of water once a day as a health tonic that may help digestive problems It can also be gargled to help sore throats and other infections. Vinegar also helps in the breakdown of other minerals such as calcium. Externally vinegar can be used in preparations to help reduce swelling and inflammation and to ease bites and stings as well as to clean wounds. It is also good in the treatment of athlete’s foot and worms.
Like lemon, garlic is well known for its health promoting qualities. It is highly nutritious with antiseptic, decongestant, antioxidant benefits with the active ingredient, allicin being an antibiotic. As a microbial, garlic is useful in the treating of many common ailments including colds, flu, fevers, coughs, lung infections and even worms. It may also help in reducing blood pressure and its sulphur compounds can inhibit tumours. Eat a clove, raw, once a day to help maintain health. It can be used in conjunction with honey and ginger to make a health promoting tonic that can also be taken as a medicine when suffering from colds, coughs and fevers. It can also be used in a poultice but avoid applying directly to the skin as the sap can be strong and cause irritation.
A common kitchen ingredient, onions are extremely useful in cooking as it is used to enhance the flavours of many dishes. It helps promote healthy circulation and digestion, as well as being detoxifying, diuretic, antiseptic and can help lower cholesterol. Onions are also useful in the treatment of many common ailments such as colds, fevers, coughs and tiredness. Onions can also be used externally in the treatment of stings and bites. For this it can be used in a poultice. The juice can also be drawn from the onion by slicing and covering with salt. This can be dissolved in water and used in compresses.
In truth, many of the common ingredients can be used to help promote good health and wellness, but the ones included here are some of my most commonly used when I prepare remedies myself at home.