For centuries the natural wonders of the earth have been used to treat common everyday ailments, so it’s reassuring to know there’s no need to rush off to the doctor every time you wake up with a little cough, sniffle, or scratch. Rather than stocking up on countless pills and liquids, which may contain harmful chemicals and cause niggling side effects, why not clear some space in your cupboard and invite Mother Nature to work her magic and treat you quickly, safely, and effectively at home. Just check out these amazing tips from the experts at Vitality Center and Life Clinic.
1. Elderberries for flu and other viruses
Many of us know that dark purple and blue fruits (like elderberries and blueberries) contain powerful antioxidants and other nutrients and phytochemicals that can boost our health and immunity. Black elderberry has been historically used as a remedy for flu and respiratory ailments, as well as being used as a food ingredient in jams, jellies, cordials, and pie fillings. Berries are typically in season in summer, so in times gone by, people would process the harvest into various products that would last over colder seasons. This is especially helpful as so many of us are prone to flu over winter.
Given that we don’t get fresh elderberries in Hong Kong, we have to rely on pre-made products, such as black elderberry syrup – often called by the plant’s name, Sambucus nigra. Sambucus syrup comes in various strengths and types, for kids and adults, and is popular among families which take it as a daily tonic to avoid catching viruses. Studies have shown black elderberry to have significant anti-viral activity, so it’s an effective way to treat ailments such as flu and Herpes. The bonus is that everyone enjoys the flavour – you can take it straight off the spoon, diluted with still or sparkling water as a cordial, in a protein smoothie, or mixed in with plain yoghurt. In acute cases, you can increase the dose for a few days.
2. Thyme for sore throats
Household herbs and spices can be invaluable as remedies for common ailments. Thyme is a forgotten gem and one of its best uses is for mouth and throat infections. Its disinfectant properties mean you can use it as a mouthwash or a gargle, or even drink it as a tea – but it won’t taste good with a choc-chip cookie! If you have a sore throat, you can add a little honey or sugar to the thyme tea, which helps soothe the symptoms, while the thyme disinfects. Simply use thyme as found in the supermarket, fresh or dried, and steep it in a covered container of boiling water for 15 minutes. You can keep the leftover mixture for a couple of days and keep using it as a mouthwash. You can even add sage or rosemary to the mix, as they have similar properties.
3. Ginger and lemon for colds and nausea
Most people know about this one, but commercial ginger-lemon teas often contain flavourants instead of real ingredients, or excess sugar, or are simply not strong enough. It’s so easy to make your own, and the bonus is it tastes great. Ginger is a warming spice which aids circulation and is well known as an anti-nausea remedy. This makes it great for travel or morning sickness, so it’s always a good idea to keep some crystallised ginger, teabags, or capsules with you. Peel and chop/grate some ginger and pour boiling water over it. Add a slice of lemon if you like (wash the lemon peel, even if it’s organic), and some cloves, as well as some honey when the drink is cool enough. If you need something to send you off to dreamland, then turn it into a hot toddy by adding a shot of alcohol “to disinfect the throat”!
4. Salt water for nasal congestion
Salt water has been used throughout history as a natural cleaning product and to treat cuts, insect bites, and minor skin infections. However, it’s also a great way to irrigate the nasal passages to keep them clear (mix 1 teaspoon salt per 500ml warm water). It may feel odd the first time you do this, but you get used to it quickly, especially when you feel the benefits, such as reducing sneezing, preventing congestion, and reducing some allergy symptoms – but don’t do this if your sinuses are already blocked. Irrigate the nasal passages several times a week, and just compare the price of this with commercial saline nasal sprays! If the air is dry, moisturise the nose afterwards – coconut oil is great for this. Salt water can also be used as a gargle if you have a sore throat or a cut in your mouth (mix a slightly stronger salt solution of 1 tsp salt to 250ml warm water). You can also add a pinch of turmeric.
5. Raw garlic for bacterial infections
Garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic with anti-fungal and anti-viral properties, making it an effective remedy for treating a wide range of bacterial infections when applied topically or taken internally. This is thanks to a powerful compound called allicin which is released when a garlic clove is sliced or crushed. Crushed garlic can draw corns, and a fresh cut clove can work wonders for chest infections and thrush when taken internally. When used in its natural, raw state, garlic can also help treat acne and other infected spots on the skin. It’s important to note, however, that heating, microwaving, and even drying garlic is found to substantially decrease the allicin content in garlic, making it less effective as a natural remedy.
6. Herbal essential oils for sinus headaches
Sinus headaches can be distractingly painful, but you can use some easily-available essential oils in a steam inhalation to help clear catarrh and fight infection and inflammation. Fill a large basin or mixing bowl with boiling water and add the following essential oils: 10 drops lavender, 5 drops pine, 5 drops eucalyptus, and 5 drops thyme. Lean over the water and cover your head and basin with a towel. Inhale the steam for 10 minutes and stay in a warm room for 30 minutes afterwards. You can do this two or three times a day for effective results.
7. Lavendar essential oil for sleepless nights
Poor quality of sleep can lead to health problems such as mood imbalances, high stress, and poor mental function, but the good news is there are natural remedies that can help you drift peacefully to sleep. Lavender essential oil is known for its sleep inducing properties and ability to eliminate nervous tension and relieve pain in the body. Before bed, rub 2 to 3 drops of lavender oil in your cupped palms, then inhale to draw the scent all the way in to calm your mind. You can also rub the oil on your feet, wrists, or anywhere for an immediate calming effect on the body, as well as on your pillow to help you sleep. A mug of chamomile and honey herbal tea before bedtime can also help to promote relaxation, but for more extreme cases of insomnia, melatonin supplements can be taken. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the body which regulates our sleep cycle and plays a key role in serotonin synthesis.
8. Tumeric and coconut oil for joint pain
In Ayurvedic (“whole body”) medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric is commonly used to prevent or treat joint pain such as osteoarthritis. This is due to its curcumin component that has anti-inflammatory and immune supporting functions. To make the paste, use equal portions (i.e. 1:1) of turmeric powder and warm coconut oil and mix together. However, when applying to the joints, please take care of your clothes as it does cause stains. A combination of swimming and applying topical essential oils, such as wintergreen oil, black pepper oil, and camphor oil, is also effective in relieving stress on joints and alleviating pain. Combine 2 to 3 drops with a teaspoon of carrier oil and apply on joints or muscle pain, but don’t ingest as it can be poisonous even in small amounts.
9. Peppermint oil for digestion problems
Peppermint oil supplements are commonly used to treat indigestion, bloating, or diarrhoea. Peppermint contains menthone and menthol which relaxes the intestinal muscles, relieves pain, and combats inflammation that soothes gut problems. For digestion problems, add 2 to 3 drops of peppermint oil with 200ml hot water. The dosage of peppermint oil supplements depends on your health needs, therefore, we advise you to have a medical consultation prior to taking. Herbal tea made from fresh mandarin can also be an effective remedy as the peel promotes digestion and alleviates nausea due to its high vitamin C content and ability to encourage the flow of qi (“energy”) in the body. To make this herbal tea, combine mandarin peels with 2 to 3 drops of peppermint oil in 200ml hot water.
10. Rosehip oil for healing wounds
Rosehip oil is an antioxidative, and supports skin growth and wound healing. It provides an anti-aging effect due to its essential fatty acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, and lycopene content. All of these properties fight free radicals that contribute to oxidative stress, cell damage, and aging skin. By applying 1 to 2 drops of rosehip oil directly on the skin it can improve skin tone and pigmentation, relieve itching from skin conditions such as eczema, and boost the immune system that promotes wound healing.