The Kitchen Pharmacy

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The Pharmacy in your Kitchen

Onions: In the Middle Ages, onions were used as a charm to ward off the Plague. According to Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), "the juice ……. dropped into the ears eases the pains and noises in them." Until comparatively recently it was not uncommon for a mother to put the warmed core of an onion, or some onion juice, into her child's ear to relieve the pain of earache. Roasted onion has also been used in the past as a poultice for weeping ulcers and chilblains. A slice of onion is reputed to remove warts. The Greeks used onion juice as a treatment for alopecia. Onions also help to reduce high blood pressure. They protect against the harmful effects of fatty foods on the blood, and this may help prevent circulatory diseases such as coronary heart disease, thrombosis, and a wide range of conditions associated with strokes and poor circulation. Research has shown that onions may offer protection against cancer, as it is believed that the sulphur compounds may help prevent the growth of cancer cells. Onion cough syrup is very easy to make. Slice an onion (or garlic) and place in a bowl, layering it with sugar or honey. Cover and leave overnight. Pour off the resulting syrup into a bottle and refrigerate.

Garlic: Garlic does everything an onion does, and more! It is a natural antibiotic and decongestant, and is of particular benefit for chest infections. Try rubbing a slice of garlic on the sole of your foot; within a few minutes you will be able to detect garlic fumes on your breath! A study of 16 000 Chinese found that people with the highest intake of garlic and onions were the least likely to suffer from stomach cancer. Taken daily, it will help lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

Cabbage: Heated cabbage leaves can be worn inside the bra to relieve mastitis. They may also be applied to bruises. Cabbage is an excellent remedy for gastric ulcers. It speeds up oestrogen metabolism in women, which may offer protection against hormone-related cancers such as breast or ovarian cancer. It also suppresses the growth of intestinal polyps. The crucifer/brassica family of vegetables, which includes brussels sprouts and broccoli, contain a compound which can cause some types of cancer cell to self-destruct. They are particularly beneficial in lung, colon and breast cancers.

Potatoes: a slice of raw potato applied to a black eye will reduce swelling. An old-fashioned treatment for chilblains is a poultice of mashed potatoes and turnips mixed with a little turpentine. The raw juice, or the water used to boil potatoes, can help to relieve painful joints when applied as a compress.

Beetroot: fresh beetroot juice is an extremely concentrated source of vitamins and minerals. It contains anti-carcinogens and stimulates the immune system.

Shitake mushrooms: research suggests that they help combat auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. They also lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Celery: helps to relieve joint pain by removing uric acid build-up in the joints; the seed s are particularly beneficial in the treatment of gout.

Apples: treat stomach upsets with grated apple, left to turn brown and mixed with a little honey. The pectin in apples helps to regulate the digestive system and improves nutrient absorption. 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away!'

Lemons: wasp stings can be relieved by the application of lemon juice. Lemon juice can help dissolve gallstones.

Bananas: Bananas help to strengthen the lining of the stomach, protecting it from acid and ulcers. Put the inside of a piece of banana skin against a verucca or corn and cover it with a plaster.

Cranberries: protect against bladder and kidney infections. Take as a preventative rather than as a treatment - be aware that most cranberry juice products contain large quantities of sugar, which will actually make cystitis worse.

Spices: it is a common misconception that peptic ulcers are caused by a spicy diet. In fact, research suggests that a bacterium (Helicobacter pylori) is the usual culprit. In herbal medicine, spices such as cardamom and ginger are actually used to aid digestion.

·        Black pepper: stimulates the digestion, eases flatulence, relieves constipation and improves the circulation.

·        Cardamom: relieves indigestion, freshens the breath, and helps stop belching, heartburn and vomiting. It can be used in the treatment of colds, coughs and bronchitis.

·        Cayenne pepper and Chillies: tonic to the digestive and circulatory systems and helpful in the treatment of chilblains. Useful in the treatment of sinusitis and other catarrhal conditions.

·        Cinnamon: used for indigestion, flatulence and diarrhoea.

·        Coriander seeds: the seeds stimulate the digestive system, and are also prescribed for the treatment of diarrhoea and cystitis.

·        Turmeric: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and a liver tonic. Turmeric is also used to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

·        Ginger: A small piece of ginger can be chewed to relieve toothache and mouth ulcers. It is one of the best remedies for nausea, morning sickness and travel sickness. It aids digestion and eases flatulence and griping pains. It reduces joint pain in rheumatoid arthritis. Make a massage oil by mixing one part freshly grated ginger to five parts olive oil in a clear glass jar. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours, strain and bottle. Ginger improves the circulation, particularly in the hands and feet, and increases the strength of the heartbeat. It is a useful remedy for chilblains and Raynaud's disease. Taken at the first signs of a cold or flu, ginger helps to clear a blocked nose and stimulates the liver to remove toxins from the bloodstream. Add a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of honey to a mug of boiling water.

·        Mustard: Hot water poured on to crushed mustard seeds and used as a footbath is said to ward off flu and to relieve headaches.

Herbs: most of our culinary herbs have medicinal properties too

 ·        Coriander leaves: help to strengthen the tissues of the urinary tract and are used to treat urinary tract infections.

 ·        Basil: a natural tranquilliser, calming to the nervous system.

 ·        Chives: stimulate the appetite and help the digestion during convalescence.

 ·        Dill: relieves griping and flatulence.

 ·        Fennel: prevents excessive wind and relieves nausea and vomiting. It is also taken for insomnia.

 ·        Sage: sage tea makes an excellent antiseptic gargle for a sore throat or a mouthwash for bleeding gums. The leaves can be chewed to relieve toothache. Sage is also taken to relieve anxiety, menopausal flushing or excessive sweating. It aids the digestion of rich, heavy food.

 ·        Thyme: an infusion may be used as an antiseptic gargle or as an expectorant for coughs and catarrh.

·        Parsley: freshens the breath.

 ·        Rosemary: stimulates the circulation and the nervous system. A weak infusion will help relieve nervous headaches, neuralgia and colds. It also makes an excellent antiseptic gargle.

 ·        Mint: mint tea is used to treat indigestion and headaches. A hot infusion can help at the start of a cold.

 ·        Saffron: said to relieve menstrual pain, depression, chronic diarrhoea and neuralgic pain.

Yoghurt: Live yoghurt is a good source of beneficial bowel flora, and should always be taken after antibiotic therapy. It discourages the proliferation of harmful bacteria and yeasts in the gut, and relieves digestive disorders including both diarrhoea and constipation. It can be applied externally for thrush.  It is also very soothing for sunburn.

Honey: Honey has antiseptic properties, and can be used as an ointment for wounds. Manuka honey from New Zealand is an excellent treatment for leg ulcers.

Oatmeal: a handful of oats wrapped in a piece of muslin can be used in the bath to relieve irritated or itchy skin; this is particularly beneficial for chickenpox. Oats are a nutritive tonic for the nervous system and, eaten regularly, will help the body to cope with stress. Oatbran lowers blood cholesterol and helps prevent constipation.

Barley: Lemon barley water is a soothing drink for cystitis. Put 40g of whole barley grains into 12mls water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes, adding the juice of a lemon towards the end. Strain. This may be sipped regularly throughout the day. NB. Although lemon juice is acidic, by the time it reaches the urine it is alkaline and will not irritate the bladder.

Vinegar: vinegar should be applied to jellyfish or wasp stings. Cider vinegar, taken with a little honey, can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and stimulate the liver to produce more bile.

Olive oil: rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which lower the amount of LDL, or bad cholesterol, in the blood.

Salt: bathe blistered feet in a salt footbath.

Arrowroot: arrowroot is an ideal food for convalescents and helps to relieve digestive upsets.

Bicarbonate of soda: bee stings can be relieved by bicarbonate of soda. Because it is alkaline, it will help to relieve the burning of cystitis.

Coke: flat coke is an excellent for rehydration if you are suffering from diarrhoea (the artificial sweeteners in 'diet' coke may cause or exacerbate diarrhoea). Pepsi is so-called because it was originally marketed as a digestive remedy.

Tonic water: the quinine in tonic water helps to relieve cramps 

Tea: cold tea may be applied to burns and scalds.


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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ©Purple Sage Botanicals