Is your medicine cabinet filled with old and half-used bottles, sprays, and tubes? If it’s time for a clear-out, first ask yourself what you really always need to have on hand – what are the absolute must-haves? The solutions are simpler than you might think. For day-to-day ailments, herbal remedies like aloe vera for burns, arnica for bruising, ginger tea for nausea, and witch hazel and calendula for itchy, inflamed skin are almost always adequate. For a more natural medicine cabinet, choose products based on the following ingredients.
Lavender – Long valued for making perfume and potpourri, the oil distilled from this lovely flower also eases anxiety, headaches and insomnia, plus it has a mild antibacterial action which helps to prevent cuts and grazes from becoming infected.
Peppermint – Because it aids digestion, peppermint tea can reduce nausea and treat flatulence, cramping and bloating. The essential oil is an effective decongestant and has a soothing, cooling effect on skin.
Tea tree – A multi-tasking essential oil, this can be used to heal acne, disinfect cuts and grazes and treat fungal infections like athlete’s foot; to stop the itch of insect stings; and as a gargle for bad breath and mouth ulcers (do not swallow).
Rosemary – Since ancient times, rosemary has been used to treat many minor discomforts, including sore muscles, aching joints, sinusitis and memory problems. For a soothing foot soak, add five drops of the essential oil to warm water or, for dandruff and greasy hair, add 10 drops to the final rinse water, and leave in.
Eucalyptus – This essential oil is an exceptionally effective decongestant, making it a trusty natural remedy for a variety of respiratory ailments. In addition to being an old favourite for inhalations and chest rubs for coughs, colds, and flu, it may also be used in topical remedies for skin disorders, including minor burns, cuts, and scratches, stings and bites, and viral and bacterial infections like acne and cold sores.
Clove – The essential oil made from dried clove buds has long been used as an antiseptic pain-relieving remedy in dentistry. On the home front, it can be used topically to stimulate circulation and relieve muscular pains, bruising and osteoarthritis, and in inhalations to ease chesty coughs and open the airways.
Chickweed – The dainty flowers of chickweed are a traditional herbal remedy for burns, mild sunburn, rashes, and irritated skin. A gentle healer, chickweed is mild enough for babies and the most sensitive skin types. Make a compress by soaking a cloth in a 1:5 ratio of witch hazel and cooled strained tea made from dried chickweed; apply the compress three to four times a day. To ease burns, rashes, cuts and scrapes, apply a chickweed-based cream (from health-food shops).
Calendula – This herb has significant wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties. To help heal minor wounds, cuts, grazes, or burns, apply calendula topically in the form of an ointment, cream or lotion. Calendula’s slight astringency helps to keep the site free from infection and it also works as a topical antifungal agent for some skin conditions. Cooled, boiled, strained calendula tea is an effective mouthwash against gum infections and mouth ulcers.
Aloe vera – Not only does the cooling gel from the aloe vera plant’s leaves soothe the pain of burns, it also reduces inflammation and encourages the skin’s collagen to repair itself more rapidly. Plus, it contains a chemical called bradykininase which is thought to act as a topical painkiller to ease itching and irritation. This means that burns, sunburn and other kinds of skin wounds may heal faster when a product containing aloe vera is used.
Arnica – For external use only, arnica is extremely effective for muscle soreness, bruises and sprains – keep it handy for any sort of minor accident or sports injury. It is thought to improve circulation, which speeds the removal of certain by-products of injury, like lactic acid. It has even received the stamp of approval from Germany’s Commission E – widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on herbal medicines – as a treatment for muscle pain and strains.
Capsaicin – This is the substance that gives chillies their ‘heat’; it is also the active ingredient used in natural products designed to counter joint pain. Applied to the skin, capsaicin reduces the transmission of pain sensations from nerves to the brain.
Emu oil – This is naturally high in anti-inflammatory omega-3, -6 and -9 essential fatty acids, making it very helpful for all types of muscle and joint pain, including osteoarthritis.