Lifestyle Solutions for a Happy Healthy You!

11 Must-Have Healing Remedies

 

Peeked inside your medicine cabinet lately? Chances are — even if you  eat  locally, compost food scraps, and clean with nothing but vinegar  and baking soda — its contents are a medicinal flashback to your  childhood.

“When it comes to our medicine cabinets, it’s habitual to reach for   over-the-counter drugs,” says Madelon Hope, M.Ed., LMHC, a clinical  herbalist  and director of the Boston School of Herbal Studies. “These  medications are the  ones our mothers gave us, and those memories  condition our responses  today.”

If this sounds like you, it’s time for a bathroom-cabinet makeover.  While  there are times you may still want to use conventional meds, such  as ibuprofen  and antibiotic ointment, natural remedies can be just as  fast and effective as  over-the-counter fixes — sometimes more so.

Best of all, they often have far fewer (if any) pesky or potentially harmful  side effects.

You don’t have to replace everything in your cabinet all at once, of  course,  and not every natural remedy is right for everyone. But if  you’re looking to  transform your medicine cabinet from  retro-conventional to at least partially au naturel, here are a few items you’ll want to consider keeping within  reach.

Calendula Cream

Good for: Insect bites, stings or skin irritation

Because: Calendula (made from marigolds) is a  centuries-old  remedy for any skin itch or ouch, from bee stings to  sunburn to eczema. The  plant’s skin-relieving properties come from its  mixture of essential oils,  which are both antimicrobial and  anti-inflammatory.

How to: Apply an ointment containing 2 to 5 percent  calendula, as needed, up to four times daily.

Tip: If you have ragweed allergies, apply a  dime-size test  patch the first time and watch for an allergic reaction  (red or itchy bumps).  Why? Because calendula (i.e., marigolds) and  ragweed are both members of the  Aster (Compositae) family and may cause an allergic reaction in those  who are hypersensitive.

Lavender & Tea Tree Oil

Good for: Cuts, burns, athlete’s foot, minor infections or  as a natural disinfectant

Because: Both are natural antiseptics, so they are  great  for killing germs, and each has its own medicinal prowess.  Although best known  for its relaxing aroma, which is proven to quell  anxiety, lavender can also  cool the pain of minor kitchen burns and  sunburns, as well as prevent scarring.  Meanwhile, tea tree oil is an  equally powerful disinfectant, so a drop or two  of essential oil can be  smoothed onto cuts to stave off infection. Plus, its  antifungal  properties make it a natural weapon against the common toe fungus  that  causes athlete’s foot. In one randomized, double-blind,   placebo-controlled study, tea tree oil was more than twice as effective  as a  placebo in relieving the burning and itching of athlete’s foot.

How to: Both essential oils are natural antiseptics, and too  much may dry the skin, so use sparingly.

Tip: Add a few drops of lavender and tea tree  essential oil  to a spray bottle filled with water to make a disinfecting  spritz for  countertops, doorknobs and even yoga mats.

Arnica Tablets and Cream

Good for: Bruises, bumps, muscle aches and sprains

Because: Arnica is made from extracts of the  mountain  daisy, a flowering plant common at high elevations in Europe.  Reportedly, the  herb’s healing properties were discovered when people  noticed that mountain  goats nibbled on the plant after a bad fall. Quaint as that sounds, arnica has  some serious scientific backing.  Studies show that an active component in  arnica, called helenalin,  impedes the body’s inflammatory response to injury by  preventing the  release of an immune system regulator called NF-kB. One caveat:  The  plant itself can be toxic, so use only arnica gels and tablets, not the   raw herb.

How to: For whole-body trauma, like after surgery,  or  widespread muscle aches, take five tablets of homeopathic arnica four  times  daily until you experience relief. For a milder, more isolated  injury, like a  bruise or sore muscles, apply topical arnica cream or gel  as soon as possible  and repeat three to five times daily until pain,  bruising and swelling are  gone.

Tip: Hope recommends arnica tablets labeled 12X,  which are  available commercially. If you can find 6X tablets, even  better — they pack a  more powerful punch.

Aloe Vera

Good for: Mild to moderate sunburn and household burns

Because: Aloe vera gel soothes and cools the surface  of the  skin, calming the heat and irritation of a burn. The viscous  juice of the aloe  vera plant contains natural inflammation fighters,  called salicylates. As pain  and swelling subside, other aloe ingredients  (a.k.a. polysaccharides) goad the  body into making antibodies, which  speed healing. Petri-dish studies show that  regenerating skin cells,  called fibroblasts, reproduce up to four times faster  when treated with  aloe vera. “When it comes to sunburn, aloe vera works  beautifully,” says  Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of Pain  Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

How to: Slather aloe vera gel onto a sunburn or  minor  kitchen burn every couple of hours until heat dissipates and pain  lessens. Look  for ingredient lists with aloe vera near the top. Aloe  vera gels can be  naturally drying, so you might want to apply a  moisturizer once the aloe has  done its job. (Particularly for burns,  avoid aloe products with alcohol, which  can further dry out the skin.)  And skip the day-glo green aloe vera gels, which  are laced with  artificial colors.

Tip: It won’t fit in your medicine cabinet, but if  you’re  willing to think outside the box, keep an aloe vera plant in the  kitchen. For  burns, clip segments from the oldest, bottom-most leaves  (so you don’t stunt  the plant’s growth) and slather the juice on your  red, inflamed skin. It should  quickly relieve the pain. If the pain  returns, simply clip another segment and  apply more gel.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Good for: Upper-respiratory infection

Because: Squeezed from the leaves and branch tips of   eucalyptus trees, eucalyptus oil also has antibacterial, antifungal and   anti-inflammatory properties, all of which may help fight off infection  and  speed recovery. Eucalyptus oil is also an expectorant, meaning it  helps expel  mucous from the lungs.

How to: Put two or three drops of eucalyptus  essential oil  in a pot of boiling water and inhale the steam. For  children with chest colds,  add a few drops to a vaporizer and run it in  their bedroom at night. During the  day, a couple of drops of essential  oil placed under the nose can keep  congestion at bay. Smell familiar?  Eucalyptus owes its activity to menthol, a  key ingredient in most vapor  rubs.

Tip: A little eucalyptus oil goes a long way. Too  much of  any essential oil can be a skin irritant, so use sparingly as a  topical  treatment.

Peppermint Tea, Tablets and Essential Oil

Good for: Stomach cramps and bloating (use tea or tablets),  as well as aches and pains including headaches (use essential oil)

Because: Topically, in small doses, peppermint oil  eases  the pain of sore muscles and headaches by stimulating nerve  receptors on the  skin, which override pain signals, says Teitelbaum, who  serves as medical  director of the national Fibromyalgia & Fatigue  Centers. “There is only so  much signal that can travel along any given  nerve, and I’d rather have a  minty-fresh signal than an ouch signal.”

Internally, peppermint can be inhaled, tossed back in a tablet or  sipped as  a tea. For a stuffy nose, a few drops of peppermint essential  oil in a  vaporizer can ease breathing.

For stomach troubles after a meal, a simple cup of peppermint tea aids  digestion and supports the breakdown of food.

For intestinal problems, though, peppermint tablets are best.  Peppermint is  a muscle relaxant, so the herb can relax muscles that are  prone to cramping  during digestion. In a 2007 study published in the  journal Digestive and Liver  Disease, patients with IBS who swallowed  peppermint capsules one hour before  eating felt a 75 percent reduction  in symptoms, compared with only a 38 percent  drop for those who popped  placebos.

One caveat: If muscle-relaxing peppermint oils come into contact with  the  esophageal sphincter, they can cause it to loosen up, which can  lead to  heartburn. The fix is to use enteric-coated peppermint capsules,  which protect  the esophagus on the way down and get the cramp-relieving  oils where they need  to be — in the colon, explains Jamey Wallace, ND,  clinical medical director of  Bastyr Center for Natural Health in  Seattle, Wash.

How to: For tension headaches, massage two to four drops of peppermint  oil  into the skin of the forehead (more than that can be irritating when  applied  directly to the skin). To soothe a cough, squeeze three to four  drops of  peppermint oil into hot water or a vaporizer and inhale the  steam. For  digestion, drink a cup of peppermint tea after a meal. And,  if you’ve been  diagnosed with an irritated colon, try enteric-coated  peppermint tablets and  follow instructions on the label.

Tip: Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the  American  Botanical Council, likes to keep peppermint spirits handy for a  quick stomach  soother. A blend of peppermint leaf extract and  peppermint essential oil,  peppermint spirits offer fast-acting relief  from both stomach upset and gas.  Place a dropper’s worth of spirits in a  glass of water and drink up.

Oscillococcinum

Good for: Relieving flu symptoms

Because: This homeopathic flu remedy contains a  highly  diluted concentration of the virus (so diluted, in fact, that no  clinically  testable trace of the flu is in the final formula), which  sparks the body’s  immune system to fight off the bug. Several studies  have shown that  oscillococcinum not only lessens the severity of flu  symptoms but also shortens  their duration. The latest research,  published in the British Homeopathic  Journal, found that nearly 63  percent of people who took oscillococcinum within  24 hours of flu onset  showed either “clear improvement” or “complete  resolution” within 48  hours.

Homeopathy works on a different set of principles than conventional  medicine — its basic approach is that “like treats like” — therefore,   randomized-controlled trials (the gold standard of Western medicine) are  difficult to design. “Even though the remedy only contains  an energetic imprint  of the flu,” says Wallace, “the body summons the  immune system to respond to  the virus to fight it off.”

Farfetched though it may seem, some doctors are keeping a more open  mind  about homeopathic remedies these days. Mehmet Oz, MD, appeared on  Oprah a few  years ago and touted energy medicine (which includes  homeopathy) as the next  big frontier in modern medicine.

How to: Like any flu-preventative, oscillococcinum  works  best if taken early, preferably within 24 hours of experiencing  bodywide aches,  fever and runny nose. Again, follow instructions on the  label.

Tip: Substances such as caffeine, chocolate, mint  and  menthol are thought to dampen the power of homeopathic remedies, so  try to  avoid them while using oscillococcinum.

Valerian Capsules or Tincture

Good for: Insomnia

Because: Used as a sleep aid since the times of the  ancient  Greeks, valerian is one of the best-studied herbs for insomnia. A  stack of  studies show that valerian shortens the time it takes to fall  asleep without  leaving you with any of the “hangover” side effects  common with prescription  sleep aids.

Exactly how valerian works is unclear. Like most plant-based  remedies, it’s  probably a combination of factors. For instance, animal  studies indicate  valerian’s volatile oils have sedative properties.  Other studies show the herb  tricks the brain into releasing more GABA  (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a calming  neurotransmitter, before blocking  it from being sucked up by nerve cells, so  the GABA continues to  circulate and encourage sleep.

How to: The herb’s potency varies depending on the  product,  so it’s best to follow dosage instructions on the label. A  common therapeutic  dose is 300 mg of standardized (0.5 percent essential  oil) valerian extract.  Instead of taking it all at once, you might take  three 100-mg capsules over the  course of the evening to gradually ease  your body into sleep mode. Or, if using  a tincture (a concentrated,  liquid form of the herb), dilute a dropper’s worth  of valerian in a cup  of water and drink one dose after dinner and another  before bed. Madelon  Hope advises keeping either a valerian capsule or diluted  tincture by  the bedside for middle-of-the-night wakeups.

Tip: In about 10 percent of people, valerian actually  creates restlessness and anxiety, so take a fraction of a dose  the first time  to make sure you’re not one of the unlucky few.

Rescue Remedy

Good for: Anxiety, emotional upset or panic

Because: Rescue Remedy, the most popular of the many  flower  remedies, is a blend of five different flower essences, each  countering a  particular type of stress. Flower remedies are made mostly  from wildflowers  infused in water, then filtered and preserved with  equal parts brandy. Medical  evidence detailing if and how flower  essences work is sparse, but that doesn’t  keep many integrative  physicians from swearing by them. “Flower remedies fall  under the art of  medicine and the heart of healing,” says Teitelbaum. “Who the  heck  knows how they work, but they do.”

How to: To manage everyday stress, place four drops  on the  tongue three or four times a day. Or dilute the drops in a glass  of water and  sip throughout the day. For acute stress or anxiety, take  four drops every 20  minutes until feelings subside.

Tip: One of the biggest perks of flower essences is  that  they have absolutely no side effects. Alcohol-free versions of  Rescue Remedy  are available for children and pets.

Andrographis Paniculata Tincture

Good for: Fighting off colds

Because: An immune-enhancing herb common in  traditional  Chinese medicine, Andrographis paniculata is a potent  infection-fighter. In a  review of 11 double-blind, placebo-controlled  studies, Andrographis paniculata  repeatedly curtailed cold and flu  symptoms. In one of the best studies to date,  the herb outperformed  placebo by squelching cold symptoms, including headache,  runny nose and  sore throat. How does it work? “Like every herb, Andrographis  paniculata  has many, many active constituents,” says Hope, “but a big part of  its  usefulness are powerful antimicrobial substances.”

How to: A dose of Andrographis paniculata is 400 mg three  times a day.

Tip: If a cold feels imminent, choose a tincture  over a  capsule or tablet, says Hope. Tinctures are easily absorbed by  the body;  therefore, they get to work faster. “When I’m on the threshold  of a cold, three  to four dropper’s worth of Andrographis in a glass of  water a day is very  effective.”

Dr. Schulze’s Intestinal Formula #1

Good for: Occasional constipation

Because: This product packs a virtual who’s who of  the  herbal laxative world, with two varieties of aloe leaf extracts as  its top  ingredients, followed closely by senna leaf and cascara  sagrada, two  lesser-known bowel-movement helpers.

Aloe, although best known as an external salve, has a long history as  a  laxative, too. Plant compounds in aloe stimulate the inner lining of  the colon,  upping what experts aptly call the gut’s “transit time.”  While supplements  containing aloe, such as Dr. Schulze’s Intestinal  Formula #1, definitely get  the job done, it’s important to use them  cautiously and to follow their  directions to the letter. Overdoing any  laxative can lead to diarrhea and  dehydration.

How to: Follow the directions on the label exactly,   building dosage a capsule at a time until the desired effect is  achieved. Not  for daily use. See package for other contraindications.

Tip: Aloe works, in part, by slightly irritating the  gut,  thereby loosening stuck material and encouraging the lower bowel  to move, so  steer clear of aloe products if you have an inflammatory  bowel disease, such as  Crohn’s. Also avoid taking this product if you  will be far from a bathroom,  since the need to eliminate can come on  suddenly.

Stocking your medicine cabinet with natural cures is a safe,  practical way  to prepare for life’s little accidents, infections and  intermittent health  challenges. It’s important to choose products you  feel comfortable with,  though, and it’s fine to steer clear of any  products whose claims seem  overblown, or whose ingredients give you  pause.

While you’re experimenting, continue stocking those tried-and-true   conventional remedies that give you both good results and peace of mind.  Over  time, you’ll discover which new natural favorites complement your  cache of  conventional standards, and which of them might eventually take  their  place.

And if reaching for plant-based remedies feels a little strange at  first,  take comfort in the fact that many modern pharmaceuticals still  depend on  natural ingredients as a basis for their formulations. “Plant-based remedies got  our ancestors through centuries of coughs,  colds and infections,” says  Blumenthal. And they are still doing that  same job today.

By Megan 

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

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Comments on: "11 Medicine Cabinet Must-Have Healing Remedies" (1)

  1. Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
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