Natural remedies you probably already have…
By Amanda McQuade Crawford
Some of the most beneficial herbs on Mother Earth are rare. Others can be found right on the supermarket shelf or in your spice rack!
Here are 4 Herbs and Spices that you won’t have to go far to find – along with a brief description of why you should always keep them close at hand!
Peppermint (Mentha Piperita) is a multipurpose healing plant every household can use. A small 4” potted plant on your kitchen counter will supply a few sprigs as needed, and the dried leaves can be kept in a tin or glass jar away from direct light and heat.
One teaspoon of dried leaves covered in boiling water for even just five minutes gives a robust cup of tea to sip for hiccups.*
Digestive upsets, gas, and bloating, even from menstrual imbalances, is reduced by sipping one or more cups of tea.* A misperception is that the essential oil that gives peppermint its flavor and power will worsen esophageal reflux, but this finding is mainly from animal experiments.
People with GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) tend to appreciate how mint soothes. Peppermint is also soothing and cool on skin eruptions.*
To lessen a headache, soak the tea into a washcloth and leave on the forehead and temples.* Culpeper wrote that this plant, under the rule of Venus, stirs up passion.
I know of no scientific evidence for that; please keep us informed if you learn differently on your own!
Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita) is a familiar remedy for soothing frayed nerves. For painful muscle spasms, a stronger-than-usual tea or concentrated extract can work wonders quickly and safely.* For this use, an ounce of dried flowers is steeped, covered, for twenty minutes in 2 cups of water (a pint, approximately 500ml) just off the boil; strain, and drink every hour or two for a total of four cups or so.
One tablespoon (15ml) of concentrated extract or tincture can be diluted in a 1/3 cup of water as often for the same effect. Chamomile combines four important pharmacological effects: a quality sampling of Chamomile herb promotes a healthy inflammatory response, reducing pain; can act as an antispasmodic (relaxing via the nervous system) and finally, antibacterial: reducing infection and its subsequent impact on pain.* Herbalists use it for children’s fevers, women’s period pains, travel-related sickness, and to restore calm after a family squabble.*
Though some associate it with babies and children because it is safe, even in pregnancy for morning sickness, herbalists might brew a teapot full for the construction worker who has pulled a muscle.* In 1649 Culpeper reported, “It comforteth the sinews when overstrained ,… cramps or pains in the joints,… (and) the Egyptians dedicated it to the Sun, because it cures agues (fevers).”
The Capsicum family of vegetables and herbs give us several kinds of peppers. The red pepper (usually Capsicum Annuum) that sits in many kitchen spice racks is a valuable home remedy. First, red pepper or cayenne pepper stimulates circulation and is generally “warming”.* If you eat a bowl of spicy chili and feel your face become flushed and red, you will know what “warming” means!
In Irish folk use, hobos would sprinkle the powder in their socks to keep feet warm on frosty days. This is still a great trick for anyone caught in the cold snaps we have seen across the United States this winter. A scant 1/8 teaspoon sprinkled in socks before putting them on increases the temperature comfortably.* It takes a few minutes to an hour depending on the temperature outside for the body’s heat to open the pores on the soles of the feet for a cozy experience that lasts for several hours. Make sure to avoid using red pepper if there are open cuts, though!
Still older folk traditions use red pepper on open wounds to stop bleeding and pain.* A compound called capsaicin in the red pigment has been shown in studies to reduce something called Substance P, one of our own natural pain mediators. It might sound counterintuitive that an herb that is potentially irritating reduces pain. By increasing local circulation, though, and turning on chemical deactivation of Substance P, red pepper helps flush away metabolites that cause local inflammation and pain.*
For arthritic joints, preparations of capsaicin applied over the skin have become common even in conventional medical treatments for swollen, painful joints.* Red pepper is also a source of salicylic acid, related to the anti-inflammatory compound found in aspirin.
The heat generated by red pepper, either on skin or internally, is followed by the body’s cooling response; hence, in a paradoxical way, red pepper is used to reduce painfully hot, swollen tissues.* A note of caution: red pepper is not usually recommended for active bowel inflammation such as Crohn's disease.
In food, red pepper adds a warming quality to foods, helping our metabolism of fats such as triglycerides while turning on digestive juices for healthy weight management.* If you can take spicy foods, this is another way (besides exercise and avoiding processed oil, refined flour and sugar) to stimulate weight loss on a regular basis.
Besides, red pepper has Vitamin C and other antioxidant compounds for general health.* A little heat goes a long way, so trust your own taste buds when it comes to making red pepper a condiment that you move from the back of the spice rack to your kitchen table. Add it to salad dressing or mixed with thyme, sea salt, and black pepper, for a flavorful blend to top cooked grains and baked tofu or eggs.
Oregano (Origanum Vulgare) By now, everyone has probably heard of oregano oil for fighting infections but let us not forget that Nature provides this essential oil in leaves, dried or fresh, that also work to boost immunity.* Like other herb members of the Mint family (Lamiaceae; yes, it’s technically a mint!), oregano has a number of actions that benefit human health.
For centuries, people throughout the Mediterranean have relied on Oregano, especially the crops grown in the hot dry climate of Greece, to treat infections. The antibacterial, antifungal, and other benefits of Oregano are due to its mix of essential oils, including carvacrol, linalol, thymol, limonene, and camphor.* Use of oregano oil in capsules is for treating specific problems, while using the herb in kitchen medicine is for everybody and everyday benefits - we wouldn’t want to spice our meals with camphor! Because the value of oregano is in the aroma, overcooking or boiling loses the immune-protective properties.
One of the best ways to clear a respiratory infection or cleanse the digestive tract of unwanted microbes is to crumble freshly dried leaves into water just off the boil, 1 ounce to one pint (about 500ml or 2 cups), covered with a well-fitting lid such as in a mason jar or a good teapot for 15 minutes, strain, and sip one cup every two hours up to 5 cups a day for a few days.* This can be sweetened with Manuka (antibacterial) or local raw honey, if desired, avoiding refined sugar which only feeds the infection.
In the past decade, research has focused on oil of oregano for rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory infections, and digestive imbalances including the infection with H. pylori that is associated with many ulcers.* A 2007 study (1) showed that infusions (tea as described above) may be second in strength against infections to essential oil in capsules, yet still effective against common “bugs” we come into contact with on a daily basis.*
Keeping a fragrant stock of oregano on hand for seasoning your favorite dishes will make your cold weather kitchen a “Wellness Center”.
About Amanda McQuade Crawford, M.A.
Amanda McQuade Crawford, M.A. is an herbalist and clinical psychologist practicing integrative health care in Ojai, serving Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Amanda is an invaluable resource when it comes to natural health remedies, and has authored several popular books on the subject, including The Natural Menopause Handbook, Herbal Remedies for Women and more.
- Antibacterial Effects Of Oregano (Origanum vulgare) Against Gram Negative Bacilli. Masood, N et al. Pak. J. Bot., 39((2): 609-613, 2007.
- Origanum Vulgare Induces Apoptosis in Human Colon Cancer Caco2 Cells. Savini, I et al. Nutrition and Cancer, 61(3):381-389, 2009.