While we are all grateful for the incredible advances of Western medicine, some ailments can be cured naturally. Stock your pantry and medicine cabinet with these top 10 natural cure-alls, which can be found in your garden and the produce department, and get ready to heal your family’s headaches, insect bites, bruises, stomachaches, gum infections and sore throats. All in a day’s work!
Turmeric is a gorgeous bright-yellow spice used in South Asian cuisine. Even in small amounts it's a known cancer fighter and antioxidant. Flavourful but not particularly spicy, if you mix it with tofu in a mock-egg salad, your picky eater may just learn to love it. Turmeric is also an anti-inflammatory. When used in food or tea sweetened with maple syrup or honey, it can help with swollen, achy joints. Many turmeric-lovers claim it clears up acne and blemishes if ingested regularly, as well.
Turmeric’s other uses: In India, turmeric is mixed with a small amount of water to make a paste that can be applied to gums to help relieve toothaches. Because of the yellow mess that inevitably ensues, Tara Campbell, a naturopathic doctor based in Toronto, recommends using cloves for your baby’s teething pain, instead.
Read more: Are there natural remedies to help my baby with teething?
Coconuts are large tropical seeds, now commonly used in tasty alternatives to milk, yogurt and ice cream, and of course, for its oil. As with any new miracle food, it is better to eat everything in moderation.
However, there are some reasons to keep coconut products handy in your kitchen. Coconut oil will soothe and heal stubborn diaper rash. For moms and dads, a light coat of coconut oil on your skin makes a great a prep for shaving. As Campbell points out, “Coconut oil is a cooling oil, and using it topically in the summer is ideal.”
For active families, coconut water is a natural and healthy option instead of sports drinks, since it effectively replaces electrolytes and potassium after exercise or stomach flu.
Read more: 7 hiccup home remedies>
Witch hazel is a shrub native to Canada. The leaves and bark are used to make an astringent, originally used by First Nations people. Now, you can get witch hazel at any drug store.
“Witch hazel is helpful for a variety of pain relief including bruising, inflammation, skin ailments and the reduction of mucus discharges," Campbell says. "It is also my No. 1 remedy for hemorrhoids.” Use it topically to cool rashes and burns (that do not have open lesions or blisters), or bring a bottle of witch hazel with you camping to help ease the pain of insect bites and stings.
Witch hazel’s secret super power: If the kids are keeping you up at night, a small dab with a cotton ball can shrink the bags under your eyes.
Available here: iHerb
Himalayan salt is a rock salt mined in the Pakistani Himalayas, formed from ancient sea salt deposits. Campbell explains the fascination: “Himalayan salt is a more natural, unprocessed, unrefined mineral-rich salt that carries more of the vibrational energy of the earth than processed salt.”
Himalayan salt can be used just about anytime you would use table salt. It is a gentle anti-microbial, so gargle the salt with warm water to soothe sore throats. Placing a small amount of the salt in a hot bath is said to improve circulation. Himalayan salt devotees can also make a paste with a small amount of water, and rub it on their temples as a cure for headaches.
A word of caution about Himalayan salt: Although it is a nutritional powerhouse next to regular table salt, it is still salt. Over-consumption of sodium is linked to a myriad health issues. So, ingest it sparingly. Note, however, Himalayan salt it has way more flavour than table salt, so it's easier to use less of it.
Apple cider vinegar has been a popular cure-all for the last decade. Go for the unpasteurized or organic vinegar, which can appear a little cloudy (the bottom of the bottle may even be a bit slimy). Apple cider vinegar can be used diluted in warm water to make a gargle for sore throats. “It's best used in cases of reflux and low stomach acidity," suggests Campbell. "The esophageal sphincter needs the stimulation of stomach acid to close, so if you have troubles with reflux, taking the vinegar will help.”
Apple cider vinegar fun fact: Proponents claim that a teaspoon of it will stop hiccups, although the shock of drinking sour vinegar may create some distrust between you and your child....
Available here: Bragg Live Foods
Fennel is a herb. The bulb of the plant can be found in the produce department and is a yummy alternative to celery. Fennel seeds, however, are popular as a digestive aid. They are sweet and slightly licorice-flavoured. The family can munch on a teaspoon of the seeds after a heavy meal, or a tea can be made for sore tummies. Breastfeeding moms drink fennel tea to ease digestion in nursing babies.
Little known fennel fact: It increases metabolism and has been used for centuries to promote weight loss.
Read more: Simple changes to improve your family's health>
Castor oil is made from the castor seed and is found in drug stores and health-food stores. Used topically, castor oil is an incredible anti-inflammatory. A warm castor oil compress relieves achy joints, arthritis and inflamed muscles. Yoga practitioners have long used castor oil as a weekly rub to nourish skin, ease tired muscles and invigorate the lymphatic system to promote healing. A full castor oil body rub can get a bit messy, so be sure you leave yourself time to clean up. Castor oil can also be rubbed into your chest at night to relieve bad coughs, or rubbed clockwise into a child’s belly to help ease constipation.
Castor oil tip from Campbell: “My new favourite thing is adding 1/4 cup of castor oil to bath water with Epsom salts—heavenly! It is incredibly relaxing to your muscles.”
Available here: eVitamins
Lavender is a small, sturdy flowering shrub that can thrive in most Canadian gardens. My son likes to eat the flowers right off the plant, but lavender is useful all around the house. Pick and dry the flowers and place them in a bowl or a pouch to keep stuffy areas of your home smelling beautiful.
Lavender essential oil is commonly used for relaxation. You can place a few drops in the bath or rub into your young child’s feet to help promote sleep and stress-relief. As a potent antiseptic and antifungal, the oil has been topically to help relieve ringworm or minor scratches—but it's really best used for stress-relief and anti-anxiety, says Campbell.
Concerns with lavender: A small, uncontrolled study showed a link between the use of lavender oil and hormone disruption in boys during puberty. Campbell says, “It would take a lot of lavender exposure to exhibit the proposed endocrine disruption and estrogenic effects. I personally don’t think one can be naturally exposed to enough lavender to create these problems.”
Calendula is a flowering plant that looks like a marigold. It is adaptable to colder climates and makes a versatile addition to your garden. The flowers can be thrown into some olive oil and used as a salve for insect bites and bruises. Calendula salves, creams and soaps are also healing for minor cuts and dry skin.
Campbell suggests using calendula to heal conjunctivitis or pink eye. “The remedy of a calendula tea bag soaked in hot water, allowed to cool and then applied to the eye is great,” she says. Calendula is also an antimicrobial, and it can be used in a mouthwash for infected gums.
Calendula contraindications: “The biggest caution with calendula is not to use it on gaping wounds or incisions," Campbell says. "It is so good at healing tissues that it will heal the outer dermis before the inner tissue has healed, and that is not good! If you are using it on C-section or surgical scars, you must wait until the incision is very superficial.”
Available here: Boiron
Maca is a superfood plant in the radish family originating from the Andes. In most health stores, the root is available in a dried powder and is a popular addition to morning smoothies. Free of caffeine, maca root is considered to be a natural Viagra. It supports your adrenal glands, which make sex hormones, cortisol and adrenaline.
“When you are stressed you start secreting more of these hormones in order to get away from stress," Campbell explains. "If you are constantly stressed, the adrenals stop working properly and your libido will plummet.” Because of the boost it gives to adrenals, maca is known to increase libido and fertility in both men and women. The consumption of maca eases PMS symptoms and contributes to a sense of general well being. Hold the maca: “In terms of dosing for children," says Cambpell, "it is wise to consult a professional on your child’s individual case, age and symptoms.”
Available here: Meghan Telpner
Photo: Meghan Telpner
6 delicious vegan recipes>
Go meatless with these six easy recipes. They’re so scrumptious, your friends and family will never know they’re vegan.