Category Nature\’s Home Remedies

Problems with ‘plumbing’

  • The little red infection fighter

To prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), drink 11/2 – 4 cups (375-1000ml) unsweetened cranberry juice each day. Capsules and tablets of dried cranberry powder are also available — the usual dosage is between 500-2000mg per day; check the label. Medical researchers learned as early as the 1840s that the hippuric acid in cranberries inhibits the growth of E. coli bacteria, the most common cause of UTI. The acid also keeps E. coli from adhering to the urinary tract walls and from spreading from the bladder to the kidneys. Caution: cranberry juice can interfere with the action of anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin, so consult a doctor before using.

  • Eat parsley to ease your pain

Crush parsley leaves, add 1 teaspoon to 1 cup (250ml) boiling water and let it steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain, then drink up to 3 cups (750ml) parsley tea a day. Because a volatile oil contained in the leaves and roots of parsley has diuretic properties, parsley tea is useful for treating mild bladder problems, reducing urinary tract inflammation and even helping the passage of small kidney stones. Caution: if you have chronic kidney disease consult a doctor before using parsley; excessive ingestion of the herb can cause the skin to be photosensitive.

  • Cornsilk — a natural diuretic

Cornsilk — the ‘silk’ or fronds from maize — is a natural diuretic. Buy capsules of freeze-dried cornsilk from health food shops, or dried cornsilk from online suppliers. Use 2 teaspoons chopped dried herbs to 2/3 cup (180ml) boiling water. Steep for 15 minutes, then drink 3-5 cups (750-1250ml) daily. This natural remedy has been shown in tests to have anti-inflammatory properties that fight UTIs; it is also a traditional remedy for cystitis and inflammation of the urethra and prostate.

  • Learn to love lovage

To ease the discomfort associated with mild inflammation of the urinary tract, make lovage tea by pouring 1 cup (250ml) boiling water over 1 teaspoon crushed dried lovage root, which is a member of the carrot family but tastes more like celery. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain and drink. Caution: do not use lovage if you have a history of chronic kidney problems.

  • Drink to the health of your kidneys

Making sure you drink one 250-ml glass of unsweetened cranberry juice a day will help the overall health of your kidneys. Too much commercially sweetened fruit juice, however, can overload the kidneys. For example, the ascorbic acid in orange juice may be too acidic for cystitis sufferers. A teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in water can help to make urine more alkaline. If you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor before trying this remedy. Caution: do not drink cranberry juice if you are taking warfarin or other anticoagulants.

  • Praise the weed and pass the teapot!

Dandelion has at least two benefits for the kidneys: it increases urine flow and reduces fluid retention resulting from kidney disorders, and it may be able to speed the passing of a small kidney stone. If you feel the pain that signals movement of a stone, drink as much dandelion tea as you can. A strong diuretic, dandelion stimulates blood circulation through the kidneys, increasing urine output and helping to flush out the stone. Dandelion tea bags are available, but you can also make your own. Wash dandelion leaves and roots thoroughly and then chop finely. Add 3 tablespoons to 2 cups (500ml) water boil for 3 minutes and let it sit for 10- 12 minutes before straining.

Healing cuts, bruises and other skin problems

  • Treat a cut with garlic

To treat a cut or abrasion, gently wash the wound with warm soapy water and pat it dry with a clean soft cloth. Then bruise a peeled clove of garlic and press it against the cut for 5-10 minutes, securing it with a bandage if you like. Garlic contains allicin, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of several kinds of bacteria and protect against infection. (Caution: fresh garlic is an irritant, so never leave it in any form — infused, crushed or whole — on the skin for more than 20 minutes at a time. Remove it immediately if it irritates the skin.)

  • Black pepper stops bleeding

Shaking a good amount of black pepper onto a bleeding cut will stop the blood flow swiftly. It works because the pepper constricts the blood vessels. Many people who have tried this remedy also claim that a wound treated with black pepper heals with less scarring.

  • Reduce bruising with an onion

If you have just bumped your arm, leg or knee (or other body part) and you’re worried about bruising, immediately press the cut end of a raw onion onto the bruised area and keep it in place for 15 minutes. The allicin in onions (the compound that makes your eyes water) helps to stimulate the lymphatic flow in the body, helping to flush away excess blood in the just-injured tissue that creates the discoloration we call a bruise. Caution: use onion only on intact skin, not on skin that is broken.

  • Soothe sunburn with green tea

Just add 3 green tea bags to 1 litre just-boiled water, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it steep for 2-3 hours. Use a cotton wool ball or a very soft cloth to dab the sunburned area with the cooled tea and allow the cooling tannins to do their work.

  • Conquer lice with tea tree

When it comes to head lice, the bottom line is that you have to put in a few hours’ work to get the desired result. Combine 1/2 cup (125ml) olive oil with 1 teaspoon tea-tree essential oil. Massage the oils thoroughly into your hair and scalp, cover with plastic wrap and leave for 30 minutes. Using a special nit comb (available from pharmacies and most supermarkets), comb out your hair in sections, wiping the comb after each pass to remove any nits or lice. Shampoo with a mixture of 1-2 tablespoons regular shampoo mixed with 1 teaspoon salt and 5 drops each of tea-tree and peppermint essential oil. The tea tree and salt are natural antiseptics and peppermint has a cooling effect. Repeat the oil and shampoo recipe every couple of days, and check hair with a lice comb daily.

  • Camomile salve

Melt 4 tablespoons petroleum jelly in a double boiler and stir in 1 tablespoon camomile flowers. Heats for 2 hours or until the flowers are crisp. Tightly fit a jam strainer on top of a glass jar and squeeze the hot mixture through. Once the salve cools, apply to a mild skin rash up to four times a day. For best results, choose the more efficacious German camomile (Matricaria recutita) over Roman or English camomile (Chamaemelum nobile).

  • Double-duty paste for bee stings

A bicarbonate of soda—vinegar paste applied to a bee sting immediately after you remove the sting will help to reduce the pain. Use 2 parts bicarbonate of soda to 1 part vinegar to make a paste, apply it to the sting, allow to dry, and then wipe it off with a clean damp cloth.

  • Rolled oats and pantihose to cure hives

Cut the leg of a pair of pantihose off at the knee and put these four ingredients into the foot: 3 tablespoons each rolled oats and powdered milk, and 1 tablespoon each dried camomile flowers and lavender. Knot it off and hold it under warm (not hot) running water as you fill your bath. Submerge the bag and let the water cool. (Hot water makes hives worse, not better.) Soak for half an hour, and every 5 minutes or so hold the bag over the rash and squeeze to release the soothing stuff inside.

  •  Witch hazel for skin rashes

The bark and leaves of the witch hazel plant contain high proportions of naturally astringent tannins and an aromatic oil — the perfect recipe for soothing itchy skin rashes.

  • Spot-buster pastes

Applied to spots and pimples, these quick and easy homemade pastes will encourage blemishes to disappear quickly. Try these three:

  1. Bicarbonate of soda Moisten 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda with a few drops water and dab it onto spots. Leave for 5 minutes, and then wipe off with a face washer dipped in cool water.
  2. Rolled oats Use some of your morning porridge as a scourge for spots. Dab the cooked, cooled porridge onto blemished skin, cover with a warm-water face-washer compress and let it sit for l5 minutes. Repeat daily until the spots are gone.
  3. Cornflour and lemon juice Make a paste with 1 teaspoon cornflour and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Apply to spots and let it sit for 4-5 minutes before gently washing your face with cool water.
  • Sunscreen and spot buster

The white zinc-oxide cream that sportsman spread over their noses as a sunscreen is also an effective acne fighter. Dab on a little zinc-oxide cream before bed and it will not only help to dry up pimples but is also said to prevent scarring.

  • Wards off vampires, too!

Rubbing a freshly cut clove of raw garlic onto a pimple will help to dry it up and make it disappear. Treat pimples just before bedtime, as garlic doesn’t have to be on your breath to make those around you back off fast!

  • Seal in moisture with margarine

Dry skin and some rashes may benefit from a soak with a cool, wet face washer for several minutes, then a gentle rub-down with a bit of margarine. Cover the affected area and leave it on for 1-2 hours. Wipe the margarine off with a clean soft cloth and repeat daily or as required. Caution: if you have an inflammatory skin condition such as eczema, see your doctor before trying this remedy, as it may further inflame the rash. If you have an adverse reaction, stop applying the margarine.

  1. Two ways to stop shingles from itching

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chicken pox. (It isn’t as contagious as chicken pox but can be passed on to anyone who’s susceptible.) The rash consists of small, crusting blisters that itch terribly. Both of the following home remedies may bring some relief:

  1. Aloe gel Apply gel to affected area to calm the itch.
  2. Cornflour Soak for 15 minutes in a tepid bath with 1 cup (140g) cornflour added to it.
  3. Aspirin Mash 2 aspirin tablets and mix with 2 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide in a small cup. Stir until the aspirin dissolves. Use a cotton bud to apply to blisters only; avoid undamaged skin.
  • Remove dead skin cells the easy way

An excess of dead skin cells is a feature of many common skin conditions. You can soften and exfoliate your skin without having to resort to scrubs or potentially damaging abrasive commercial products. Due to its high content of alpha-hydroxy acids, mashed pawpaw flesh is a great exfoliant. Rub it into dry, rough skin such as elbows and feet, leave for 10 minutes, and then rinse it off with warm water.

  • Rosewater for chapped skin

To make a lotion for chapped skin (and a fragrant one, at that) mix 1/2 cup (125ml) rosewater with 1/4 cup (60ml) glycerine and rub it into the skin as needed. This essential cupboard companion is very popular in Asia and the Middle East, where it is used to flavour food as well being included in rituals. You’ll find it in pharmacies, many supermarkets and health food shops.

  • Tropical wart remover

Make several shallow cuts in an unripe green pawpaw and collect the sap that it releases. When it congeals, mix it with water to make a thin paste. Before applying the paste, protect the skin surrounding the wart by swabbing on a thin layer of petroleum jelly (papain, the enzyme in pawpaw, is an irritant so powerful that it’s an ingredient in meat tenderizers). Using a cotton bud, carefully apply the paste to a wart morning and night until it breaks down and disappears. Papain breaks down proteins in dead tissue, making it a wart remover of long standing.

  • Cure warts with a ‘garlic press’

Slice a freshly peeled garlic clove, place it on a wart and bind it with a gauze bandage. Leave the garlic in place as long you’re able to and repeat the process morning and night. Because of its general antiviral activity, it has been claimed that garlic can cure warts even when other methods have failed. It’s worth a try!

  • Turmeric for treating ringworm

If you have a bottle of the spice turmeric in a kitchen cupboard, you have an antiviral powder on hand that has been used in Asia as a ringworm remedy for centuries. In a small bowl, mix enough of the powdered root with water to make a paste. Apply the paste to the affected area with a cotton bud, cover it with a bandage and leave it on for 20-60 minutes. Repeat three or four times a day. Caution: turmeric may irritate sensitive skin, so test it first on clear skin; if redness develops, try another treatment.

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Aiding sleeplessness and anxiety

  • A tryptophan snack before bed

Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you sleep, and tryptophan is an amino acid the body uses to make serotonin. Two tryptophan-rich foods are turkey and bananas, and eating a little of either of these before bedtime could help you to fall off to sleep more successfully.

  • Drink passionflower tea

Despite its name, passionflower won’t make your honeymoon memorable. In fact, it will put you to sleep. Infuse 3 tea bags in 3 cups (750ml) just-boiled water for 30-60 minutes and sip a cup half an hour before going to bed. (The ‘passion’ in the name of the flower refers to the Crucifixion of Christ, not lust.) Alkaloids in the flower can help to allay both insomnia and anxiety, conditions that often go hand in hand. Caution: talk to your doctor before using passionflower as it may interact with certain medications, especially anticoagulants.

  • Calming Epsom salts bath

To calm yourself, pour 450g Epsom salts into a warm bath and soak to your heart’s content. Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) cleans and tone skin but may also lower blood pressure.

  • Make a hops pillow

Take a cushion cover with a zip and stuff it full of dried hops (available online and from health food shops). If you like, throw in a handful of dried lavender, also a sedative herb, to sweeten the smell. When you retire for the night, put the pillow near enough to your head that you will be able to breathe in the aroma. To keep the hops active, you will need to dampen them with grain alcohol every three or four weeks.

  • Try St John’s wort as a mood booster

A cup of St John’s wort tea can safely be drunk up to three times a day to allay mild depression, nervousness and insomnia; capsules and liquid extracts are also available. The herb is Germany’s leading antidepressant, outselling even Prozac. Studies show that hypericin and other compounds in St John’s wort act together to prevent the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) from breaking down serotonin, dopamine and other amines that elevate mood and emotions. St John’s wort interacts with various medications, so always check with your doctor before use. Caution: certain people who have used the herb have experienced delayed photosensitivity — an abnormal reaction to sunlight that usually results in a skin rash.

  • Stop snoring with a tennis ball

If your bed mate’s snoring is cutting into your sleeping time, put a tennis ball in the pocket of a cotton T-shirt and secure it closed with a safety pin. Get the snorer to put the shirt on back to front before going to sleep and it should stop him (or her) from rolling over into the prime snoring position — on the back.

  • Give yourself a soak

There’s a good reason why some parents give their babies warm baths before bedtime or a nap: warm water is a natural relaxant. So fill the bath, turn the lights down low, soak for a few minutes and crawl into a freshly made bed for some superlative sleep.

  • Pre-sleep sip

Camomile, which is known to have sedating qualities, is an ideal sleep-inducer. If you can get good-quality tea bags, they will work perfectly; if you can grow fresh camomile in a small pot on a windowsill, all the better. Snip them about 2cm below the flower, tie a few of them together with kitchen string and steep them in a mug of hot water for a delicious calming drink.

  • White noise as sleep therapy

A number of studies have shown that white noise — defined as noise that combines sounds of all different frequencies so that they virtually cancel each other out — is an effective, completely non-narcotic, safe and peaceful sleep aid. Where can you get it? You can buy white-noise machines or even less expensively, CDs and tapes. Load them into a CD player in the bedroom, turn the lights down, climb into bed and remember to set the alarm.

  • Keep your cool!

The term ‘warm and cosy’ doesn’t always translate to the right conditions for falling asleep; so resist the urge to keep the heat up and instead, lower your bedroom thermostat to around 18°C and, if possible, open the window a little for good ventilation. Most sleep experts maintain that bedroom temperatures that are slightly cooler than living areas result in a sounder, better night’s sleep.

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Caring for your baby

  • Nappy rash soothers

Prolonged contact of a baby’s skin with urine and faeces causes nappy rash, especially when nappy changes are delayed — so the best treatment for nappy rash is to leave the nappy off for as long as possible. Soap can irritate the skin even more and so can wipes that contain alcohol — though most commercial baby wipes are alcohol-free. Here are three easy nappy-rash soothers you’re likely to have at home:

  1. ‘Toasted’ cornflour Although moisture-absorbing cornflour can be used straight from the box, it works better when dried in the oven. Just spread it on a baking tray and dry it in a very low oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before using.
  2. Honey The sugar in honey absorbs water, denying the bacteria that cause infection the moisture they need to survive. Ask your doctor before using honey on children under 12 months of age; don’t give it to your child to eat — if ingested, honey can result in a botulism infection.
  3. Petroleum jelly Wiping petroleum jelly on the rash gives your baby’s skin a protective coating so that the rash can heal.
  • A spicy baby powder substitute

The spice fenugreek has been shown to soothe nappy rash. Apply directly to the skin, like baby powder, or mix it with a little water to form a paste to apply sparingly to irritated areas.

  • Prevent nappy rash with salt and zinc

Most babies have nappy rash at some time or other, but parents of babies with extra-sensitive skin are going to need all the help they can get. Stir 1 tablespoon salt into 1 litre boiling water and let the solution cool to room temperature. Wipe it onto your baby’s bottom, then gently dab it dry. Then apply a zinc-oxide lotion to create a physical barrier against further wetness.

  • The easiest rash preventive of all

The less time a baby’s bottom is covered by a nappy, the less he or she risks suffering nappy rash. At sleep time, just place an unfastened nappy under your child or put the baby on towels placed over a waterproof sheet.

  • A rash remedy from the garden

 Calendula, a cousin of marigolds, has long been used to treat skin rashes, so keep a homemade wash in the nursery to soothe your baby’s skin. Cut the flower heads from a calendula plant and let them dry. Pick the petals off and put 1 heaped tablespoon petals into a bowl. Pour 3 cups (750ml) just-boiled water over the petals, let steep for 1 hour, then strain into a container. Apply to the baby’s bottom or other red or itchy areas up to four times a day.

  • Soothe heat rash with a bicarb bath

Heat rash can make babies miserable. Here’s a way to help ‘take the red out’: add bicarbonate of soda to your baby’s lukewarm bathwater -2 teaspoons to every 8 litres water. Then let your baby air-dry instead of wiping him or her with a towel. Or gently press the rash with a cool, wet face washer several times a day.

  • Say goodbye to crusting

Although it’s a common, usually harmless condition, cradle cap can be very unsightly. Get on top of it fast by gently rubbing a bit of baby oil onto your baby’s head, and then lightly comb it through his or her hair. If the baby gets upset, comb it at different times, but don’t leave the baby oil on for more than 24 hours in total. Afterwards, wash the hair thoroughly, using a mild baby shampoo. Repeat the process if the cradle cap persists. Caution: if you notice a lot of yellow crusting, or if the cradle cap has spread behind the ears or neck, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible.

  • Combat cradle cap

Another remedy for cradle cap is to make a paste from 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and 1 teaspoon water, apply it to the scalp an hour before bedtime, then rinse it off the following morning, but do not use it with shampoo. You may need to apply it on consecutive nights.

  • Camomile for congestion

If your baby is 6 months or older, try easing congestion with weak camomile tea — weak meaning 1 tea bag steeped in 2 cups (500ml) hot water for no more than 3 minutes. Put the lukewarm tea into a bottle or cup for sipping on two or three times a day. Caution: check with your doctor before doing this.

  • Soothing a sore throat

If your baby is old enough to be eating solids, warm drinks such as tea or clear soup can be soothing to a sore throat. But don’t add honey to the tea as honey may contain spores that could grow in the baby’s immature digestive tract. Cool apple juice is another effective sore-throat soother for a baby or small child.

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Caring for your feet

  • Beat athlete’s foot

To put athlete’s foot on the run, make a footbath with 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 6 litres warm water. Soak the affected foot for 10 minutes to help to kill the fungus. To make the solution even more intensely antifungal, add 1-2 tablespoons tea-tree oil.

  • Fight toenail fungus

If you think you can’t control a fungus without prescription drugs, think again — in the short term, at least. Mix equal parts warm water, vinegar (white or cider) and mouthwash with 1 tablespoon powdered cinnamon. Soak and dry your feet, then sprinkle them with cornflour. There’s no guarantee that the fungus won’t return, but you can keep it in check without having to buy expensive medicated treatments.

  • Beat stinky feet with tea

Strong black tea will not only kill the bacteria that cause foot odour but will close pores and help to keep your feet less sweaty. Simmer 3 tea bags in 1 cup (250ml) water for about 15 minutes, and then dilute the tea with 2 litres water. Once it has cooled, pour the tea into a plastic tub and soak your feet and ankles for around 30 minutes. This should put an end to your smelly feet.

  • A salty cure for sore feet

While Epsom salts have long been used to soothe dry sore feet, ordinary table salt will do. Pour 8 litres warm water into a plastic tub, add 2/3 cup (120g) table salt and stir with your hand to dissolve. Soak your feet in the solution for at least 20 minutes, and then rub the skin vigorously with a towel to slough off any dead skin cells.

  • A trick for tired feet

If your feet are tired and aching, scatter a few pencils onto the floor and then pick them up … with your toes. This little work-out will rejuvenate and invigorate your feet as much as a quick foot massage.

  • Cool hot feet with peppermint

Cool down hot feet by soaking them in iced peppermint tea for 10 minutes. Once they are pepped up, they should be ready to take you on a 5-km jog or an hour-long power walk.

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Calming gastrointestinal distress

  • Stomach soothers

Certain herb leaves, flowers and seeds have traditionally been used to remedy gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion, nausea and stomach ache. Among them are angelica, anise, camomile, caraway seed, cinnamon, fennel seed, ginger, marjoram, oregano and peppermint. And all can be used to make an herbal infusion or herbal tea.

  • Tummy-taming turmeric

To alleviate stomach cramps, add 1 teaspoon of this very mild-flavoured, bright orange powdered herb to a 250-ml glass of water or simply sprinkle it over whatever you are eating. Turmeric is an ancient Indian and Middle Eastern remedy for treating babies with colic and is a recognized antispasmodic.

  • Use camomile as a stomach calmative

Camomile tea can be safely taken by babies, children and adults for all sorts of problems affecting the digestive system. Use 1 teaspoon dried camomile to 2/3 cup (180ml) boiling water, steeping for 10 minutes before drinking.

  • Sort out problems with wind

To help keep flatulence under control, try one of these herbal teas or infusions.

  1. Caraway seed Pour 1 cup (250ml) boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons freshly crushed caraway seeds. Steep for 10-15 minutes, then strain. Drink a cupful two to four times a day between meals.
  2. Fennel seed Follow the directions given for caraway seed tea, substituting fennel, then drink before or after meals.
  3. Dried peppermint leaf Pour 1 cup (250ml) just-boiled water over 1 tablespoon dried peppermint, infuse for 10-15 minutes and strain. Drink a warm cup of tea three or four times a day.
  4. Dill seed For a mild dill-seed infusion, pour 1 cup (250ml) just-boiled water over 1 teaspoon ground dill seeds and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Strain, then drink before or after meals.
  5. Anise seed Follow the directions given for dill seed, substituting anise for dill seed. Caution: some people may be allergic to anise.
  • Go for the ginger

Sipping a cup of ginger tea after meals may help to keep your digestive system in good working order. Ginger root, which could be called the queen of digestive herbs, has been used for thousands of years to treat indigestion and diarrhoea. Research over the past 25 years has shown that two compounds in ginger — gingerols and shogaols — also work on the inner ear and central nervous system as well as the gastrointestinal tract, helping to reduce nausea and dizziness.

  • Sip cider vinegar

Stir 2 teaspoons cider vinegar into 1 cup (250ml) water and enjoy a ‘vinegar cocktail’ up to three times a day to improve digestion and to fend off an impending stomach ache. Apple cider vinegar, unlike white vinegar, contains malic acid, and can help to balance the stomach’s pH (the balance of alkalinity and acidity).

  • Treat diarrhoea with berries

Simmer 1-2 tablespoons astringent blackberries or blueberries in 1-1/2 cups (375ml) water for 10 minutes, then strain. Drink 1 cup (250ml) of this diarrhoea-fighting tonic several times a day, preparing it freshly each time. Some herbalists recommend that you drink 2 tablespoons every 4 hours or so. Another useful berry-derived remedy is raspberry leaf tea (available from most health food shops).

  • Old-time constipation cure

Your grandmother was devoted to castor oil for a good reason: one of its primary uses is as a laxative. Taking 1-2 teaspoons on an empty stomach will produce results in about 8 hours. Castor oil works because a component in the oil breaks down into a substance that stimulates the large and small intestines. Caution: this remedy is not recommended for repeated use, as it impairs the absorption of nutrients.

  • Ease constipation with molasses

This byproduct of sugar refining contains lots of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron, and in addition to easing constipation, it is also recommended as a tonic to treat anaemia. Because it is essentially concentrated cane sugar, you must brush your teeth after ingesting it, to protect the tooth enamel. Take 1 tablespoon before going to bed.

Soothing back, joint and muscular pain

  • Tin-can massage

A cold, unopened 375-ml drink can makes a great back massager, no matter what it’s filled with. To help loosen muscle tissue and spur blood flow to the area, stand against the wall with the can on its side, wedged between your back and the wall. Then move from side to side to make the can roll. This impromptu massager does an especially good job of relaxing the muscles next to the shoulder blades and lower down the back.


  • A back support for drivers

To make a lower back support to use while you are driving, fold a medium-sized bath towel lengthways, then roll it up; the roll should be about 30cm long. Cut the leg of an old pair of pantihose to fit the width of the rolled-up towel then slip the towel inside. Tuck the makeshift cushion between the small of your back and the car seat and you should be able to ride in comfort, with a back-friendly posture.

  • A mustard plaster for muscle aches

To give this favourite old pain remedy a go, combine powdered mustard seed and plain flour in a bowl (1 part mustard seed to 2 parts flour) and slowly stir in water to make a paste. Spread the mixture on one side of a 30-cm square of cheesecloth and fold. Now place the plaster on the ache, securing it with a bandage or slipping it under a tight, dark T-shirt. Leave the plaster on for no more than 20-30 minutes at a time. If any skin irritation occurs, remove the plaster immediately.

  • Painful leg cramp relievers

Standing barefoot on a cold floor decreases blood flow and could help to relax tightened leg muscles, so if you’re hit with painful leg cramps in the middle of the night, get out of bed and stand on a cold floor.

  • Quinine for cramping

To prevent cramps, make a glass of tonic water part of your total daily water intake (about 2 litres a day). Quinine, from the bark of the South American cinchona tree, is the only drug that has actually proven to be effective for leg cramps, but its serious side effects, including irregular heartbeat, put neat quinine on the prescription -only list. What you can buy instead is tonic water — so-called because it is flavoured with small doses of quinine.

  • More curry = less arthritis pain

Turmeric, one of the principal spices in curry powder, is as medicinal as it is culinary. The active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, has been shown in clinical trials to reduce swelling associated with arthritis. If you find curries too spicy, use powdered turmeric as a seasoning, sprinkling it over meat, eggs and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach.

  • Eat and drink ginger

Incorporating ginger into your diet may bring some relief from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritic pain. Take 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger or 6 teaspoons fresh ginger once a day, either in food or tea.

Eyes, ears and mouth

  • Eye can see clearly now

Carrots, celery, kale and parsley can all contribute to the trouble-free operation of your eyes. Either juices the vegetables to make an eye-boosting drink or puree to make a cold soup. The ideal proportions are 2 parts carrots, 2 parts kale, 1 part celery and 1 part parsley. For the best results, consume 2 cups (500ml) of juice or soup a day. Vary the mix by incorporating spinach, tomatoes and melons.

  • Tea for two

We’re talking about puffy eyes. Take two cool, wet tea bags, place them on tired or swollen eyes and lie down for 15-20 minutes as the tea soothes and refreshes. Green tea is ideal for these mini-compresses, but black and herbal teas work well, too. Some herbalists also claim that tea-bag compresses speed the healing of a black eye.

  • Don’t dry your eyes

Dry eyes are so common that over-the-counter remedies for this ailment abound. What are the causes? Everything from pollution and smoke to age. A good cure is to leave packaged remedies at the chemist’s and eat a banana instead. Bananas are rich in potassium, which helps to control the balance of sodium and the release of fluid in your cells.

  • Help lower blood pressure with bananas

Slice a banana into your breakfast cereal in the morning to get a potassium-laden boost to help counteract high blood pressure. Maintaining healthy blood pressure is important for eyes, too.

  • Let’s ‘ear it for mullein and garlic!

Paired with garlic, mullein (Verbascurn thapsus) makes soothing drops for an earache that you can keep on hand in the fridge. In a sterilized jar, combine 1 crushed clove garlic with 2 table-spoons dried or fresh mullein flower (crushed if fresh) and 1/2 cup (120ml) olive oil. Screw the lid on tightly and shake to blend. Store in a cool, dark place, shaking the jar daily. After two weeks, strain the oil into another jar and store it in the fridge. To treat an earache, bring the oil to room temperature or hold the jar under warm running water. With a sterile eyedropper, add 2-3 drops to the ear, and then gently massage the ear to help the oil to move through the ear canal. Caution: do not use eardrops if you suspect you may have a perforated eardrum.

  • Stop gum disease

If your gums are swollen and brushing your teeth has just made them bleed, it may be because the 10-second cleaning you’ve been giving them isn’t enough. Gum disease, or gingivitis, is the first sign of periodontal disease — the major reason adults lose their teeth. But don’t despair, in addition to brushing for longer than those 10 seconds, try this easy solution. Mix bicarbonate of soda with a little water and then massage it with your fingers along the gumline, then brush. You’ll clean, polish, neutralize acidic bacterial waste and deodorize, all in one go.

  • Homemade breath freshener

To make a mouthwash, pour 1 cup (250ml) water into a saucepan and add 1 tablespoon cardamom seeds and 1 tablespoon whole cloves. If you like, add a few mint leaves and sugar to improve the taste. Bring to the boil, remove from heat and let steep for 3-4 hours. Strain the solution into a bottle and gargle as needed.

  • Brown stains on teeth?

If your teeth are stained by coffee, tea, red wine or cigarettes, simply supplement whitening toothpaste with a dash of bicarbonate of soda and you’ll find that many of those stains will disappear. Load up your toothbrush with toothpaste, then dip it into the bicarb and brush.

  • Salt water rinse for toothaches

Swishing warm salt water around your mouth can relieve toothache in the short term. Use 2-3 teaspoons salt in 1 cup (250ml) warm water.

No-drugs headache relief

  • Running hot and cold

To help cure a tension headache (caused by contractions in the head and neck muscles and brought on by — among other things — stress, anxiety and lack of sleep) without using painkillers, dip a face washer in hot water, wring it out and fold it into a compress. Now place it on your forehead or the back of your neck to relax tight muscles. To ease a vascular headache (including migraine and cluster headaches, and stemming from the contraction and expansion of blood vessels in a particular area of the head), follow the same procedure, but use cold water, which constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood flow, taking the pressure off a painful head.

  • A cup of coffee to cure headache

One clinical trial from the US found that caffeine, which reduces the swelling of blood vessels, was found to reduce both the intensity and frequency of headaches. Subjects in one group were given caffeine alone; 58 per cent reported complete relief. Subjects in the other group were given caffeine in combination with ibuprofen, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, and 71 per cent saw their symptoms disappear. The reason coffee works is it’s high in caffeine.

  • Sinus headache self-massage

Use your middle fingers to massage points on your face just opposite your nostrils —that is, on your cheeks at the level of the tip of your nose. Massage in clockwise circles for 2-3 minutes.

  • Head-to-toe headache remedy

Blood drawn to the lower body will reduce pressure in the blood vessels of the head. What could be lower than your feet? To help soothe a throbbing vascular headache, soak your feet in a small tub filled with hot water mixed with mustard powder. After half an hour or so, remove your feet from the water, dry them and you should feel better.

  • Sip ginger tea

Ginger works especially well for treating migraines, and can help to alleviate the nausea as well as the pain. Make a tea by pouring 3 cups (750ml) boiling water over 2 table-spoons freshly grated ginger. Steep 4-5 minutes, then strain through a small sieve into a teacup. Ginger tea bags are also available, but they lack the punch of fresh ginger-root tea.

Easing asthma, bronchitis and allergies

  • inhale eucalyptus vapours

If you’re lucky enough to have access to dried Eucalyptus globulus, just boil the crumbled leaves and let them steep for 4-5 hours and strain out the bits of leaf before heating the liquid for inhalation. (Or, add 5-10 drops commercial eucalyptus oil to the steaming water.) Place the bowl at the edge of a table, sit down, bend your head over the bowl and put the towel over your head to form a tent. Breathe the vapours for about 10 minutes, taking care not to get too close to the steam. Your lungs may clear and you’ll get a facial as a bonus.

  • Bronchitis double dose

The head-clearing pungency of freshly grated horseradish paired with the acidic aroma of lemon helps to dissolve mucus in the sinuses and bronchial tubes. To make your own cough medicine, grate a peeled horseradish root into a bowl (or cheat and use prepared horseradish) and transfer 2 tablespoons grated horseradish to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice and stir well. Take 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture two or three times a day. The expectorant action should set up a cough after each dose, helping to rid your lungs of mucus.

  • Loosen mucus with mullein

Mullein (Verbascurn thapsus), a longtime folk remedy for respiratory ailments, contains saponins that loosen phlegm and promote expectoration. It also contains gelatinous mucilage that soothes the mucous membranes. To make mullein tea, steep 2 teaspoons dried mullein leaves in 1 cup (250ml) just-boiled water for 10 minutes. Drink the tea up to three times a day to ease bronchial distress.

  • Elecampane the expectorant

Buy elecampane tea or liquid extract, sweeten the tea with honey and drink 1-2 cups (250-500ml) a day to stimulate the lungs’ natural ‘housecleaning’ mechanism. The active principle in elecampane (Inula helenium) is alantolactone, a proven expectorant. Use of elecampane dates back to some of the earliest European settlers in the Americas, who used it to treat the symptoms of asthma, whooping cough, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

  • Camomile’s two faces

For an allergy-fighting tea, pour 1 cup (250ml) boiling water over 2-3 teaspoons crushed flower heads of German camomile, steep for 10 minutes, strain and drink three to four times daily. Caution: while camomile is a traditional hay-fever fighter, it can aggravate symptoms in anyone who is allergic to ragweed, a camomile cousin. For everyone else, the azulene content in camomile has anti-inflammatory properties that have led complementary therapists worldwide to prescribe camomile preparations for respiratory tract infections and allergies.

  • Remove mould to help quell sniffles

If you have a sudden case of the sniffles that won’t go away and you don’t have allergies (or a cold), you may unknowingly be living with mould. Check for spots in the bathroom or beneath windows subject to condensation, and kill mould instantly with a 50:50 mixture of bleach and water. Spray it directly onto the offensive spots and let it sit. The mould should be stopped in its tracks within minutes, along with (hopefully) your runny nose.

  • Nettle and hay fever

If you have access to fresh stinging nettle (it’s a common garden weed), wear gloves when harvesting and washing the leaves (the plant’s not called stinging nettle for nothing). Add 1 cup (120g) tightly packed leaves to 6 cups (1.5 litres) boiling water. Lower the heat and simmer until the water turns green, then strain through a fine sieve into a large teapot. During the hay fever season, drink a cup of nettle tea in the morning and one in the evening, sweetening it with honey, if you like. Studies have yet to definitively confirm the efficacy of European stinging nettle for treating hay fever, but legions of people swear by nettle’s powers to ease runny noses and watery eyes.

Rich in calcium and silica, nettle tea also makes a useful tonic for anaemia and rheumatic problems. It’s thought to be a good detox remedy and has traditionally been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema.