Laura Dean Bennett
Well, the holidays are behind us and if you feel the need to get back on the straight and narrow about your health – you’re not the only one!
The good news is that there’s a lot of natural healthfulness sitting right in our kitchen cabinets and pantry.
You don’t think our grandparents could run to the drug store every time they got a minor rash or a little tummy ache, do you?
Besides being the absolute go-to spice of the holiday season, it’s actually good for us.
It’s an excellent source of vitamins and minerals – vitamin A, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, niacin, potassium and zinc, among others, and those are just the ones I can spell.
It has antioxidant, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
For centuries, humans have been using cinnamon to treat colds, flatulence, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, arthritis pain and painful menstrual periods.
Cinnamon should not only be kept in the kitchen, but in the first aid kit, too.
To treat a minor wound or cut, wash and dry the area, then sprinkle on the cinnamon.
It can numb pain, kill bacteria and stop the bleeding.
Now, scientific studies are proving its worth as a treatment for internal disorders.
Certain compounds in cinnamon stimulate insulin receptors and help our body to properly use glucose.
Studies have shown that consuming less than one-half teaspoon per day can help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar level.
Cinnamon also helps lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of various types of heart disease.
It should never be taken in excess though, because too much cinnamon can be toxic.
Cinnamon should be on all our breakfast tables. It’s has been proven to enhance mental alertness.
And you don’t even have to eat it to get the mental benefits.
Just smelling it can boost your brain activity.
It’s easy to incorporate cinnamon into your daily diet.
Sprinkle some on top of your oatmeal or cereal, or even add a dash to your tea or coffee.
As common as fresh cranberries are to find on the produce shelves from Thanks- giving to Christmas, that’s how hard they are to find during the rest of the year.
But the those cheerful little red berries are way more than a nice accompaniment to turkey and dressing.
They are like little super vitamin pills.
And if you don’t have fresh cranberries, you can get many of the same health benefits from dried cranberries – marketed as craisins.
They are chock full of vitamin C, fiber, carbohydrates and protein as well as essential anti-oxidants.
Dried cranberries are believed to help fight bacterial infections, promote good oral health, lower cholesterol levels and reduce the development of cancer.
Some doctors recommend eating fresh or dried cranberries or drinking the juice every day as a preventive measure to protect your bladder and kidneys.
But if you’re drinking cranberry juice, drink the unsweetened variety.
Research indicates that these antioxidants also help improve the function of blood vessels, which helps decrease the risk of artery walls hardening and can lower blood pressure, all of which can lower the risks of heart disease.
The high fiber levels in cranberries and dried cranberries can also help the digestive system and ease constipation.
Some recent studies indicate that dried cranberries may promote the removal of certain metals in the body and the brain which cause Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Although dried cranberries usually contain a lot of sugar, they may actually assist with good oral health because they contain high levels of calcium which helps to reduce tooth decay and, in fact, strengthens teeth.
So it’s not just an apple a day that can keep a doctor away.
One should always keep some honey – and preferably raw, locally produced honey – on the shelf.
Unlike the commercial variety usually found in supermarkets, raw honey has not been processed, so it retains a much higher nutritional value.
Honey has a long history of having medicinal and cosmetic uses.
It offers antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It treats sore throats, burns, wounds and coughs.
Is there anyone who hasn’t swallowed a teaspoon of honey for a sore throat or made a sore throat or cough remedy from honey and lemon?
It’s a staple for first aid, too. Honey can ease the pain of minor cuts or burns and protect from infection, scarring and swelling while it’s at it.
It kills bacteria that cause diarrhea and soothes the painful tummy that comes with it – just stir three teaspoons of honey into about 10 ounces of water for the treatment.
Many grandmothers will tell you that a daily tablespoonful of locally produced honey will relieve the sneezing and wheezing from allergies and asthma. Your immune system adapts to the local pollen in the honey and stops overreacting to it.
A little honey can also treat insomnia. There’s a chemical in it which can calm the brain and help us sleep.
As good as oatmeal is for you on the inside – it’s also good for you on the outside.
It’s a great remedy for irritated skin.
It can reduce inflammation, itching and the symptoms of eczema or an allergic rash.
I remember when my daughter had chicken pox, my mom got out the oatmeal box, poured some in the blender and ground it into a powder.
We drew a lukewarm bath, added the oatmeal and sat the itchy little darling right in there.
Oatmeal baths were also used when we had a run-in with poison ivy.
I understand that oatmeal baths provide the same relief to those who suffer from sensitive skin, sunburn or eczema.
Besides using it as a bath or a soak, you can make a paste which can be applied to an affected area as a poultice.
Make a paste by adding about a third of a cup of oatmeal to some water and make it as thick or thin as you like it. Apply it directly onto the skin and leave it there for 15 minutes at a time.
Take it with you in a plastic bag and you have portable anti-itch, anti-inflammation medicine.
This poultice can come in handy for all kinds of irritated skin problems, even sunburn.
And speaking of sunburn, that brings to mind the many uses of vinegar.
Nearly everyone has some vinegar in their kitchen somewhere. And if you don’t, you need to start keeping some.
It is an absolute household staple.
Vinegar can do everything from cleaning your floors to treating your warts.
You’ll need to have both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar on hand.
When buying apple cider vinegar, try to buy it locally from someone who knows how to make it the old- fashioned way. Look for unprocessed apple cider vine- gar which contains “the mother” (a slightly murky, stringy consistency at the bottom of the bottle).
The “mother” is what offers nutrient-rich proteins, enzymes and “good” bacteria, which gives us the benefit of good immune function.
Apple cider vinegar is used to soothe digestion, promote an anti-glycemic effect and support heart health.
White vinegar, also known as “distilled vinegar,” is a clear liquid with a mildly acidic composition.
The main ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid – precisely what makes it an effective health treatment.
Taken as a tonic – usually mixed with a little water and honey – distilled vinegar aids in the absorption of calcium, improves digestion, strengthens bones and boosts the immune system.
It can also be used topically to treat burns, eliminate infections in wounds, treat dry skin, cure dandruff, and eliminate toenail fungus.
Two drops of distilled vinegar applied at the base of a fungus-infected toe changes the PH under the nail and prevents excess moisture from remaining under the nail.
Two drops only need be applied every 12 hours. In about six weeks, a thin, clear nail will begin to grow at the base.
After six months, the old, infected nail will have grown out, but continue applying the vinegar drops for about three more months.
If you follow this treatment consistently and do not apply more than two drops, you will have completely cured the problem.
Another recommendation is to drink 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with apple juice or water twice a day.
This will also help treat fungus.
But, remember to apply white distilled vinegar on the outside and take apple cider vinegar internally. Never the other way around.
Lots of people swear by the ability of apple cider vinegar to reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis.
The vinegar dissolves the acid crystals that build up in the joints.
Mix one-to-three teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into eight ounces water. Drink it three times a day, preferably before meals. To improve flavor, add a little honey. You can also use this mixture as an external pain relief poultice.
With all the bad jokes about prune juice, you might deduce that it tasted bad and was the worst remedy known to man, er, child.
No, no – that title would have to belong to the undisputed champ of all foul remedies: castor oil.
But back to prunes.
You do realize that prunes are just dried plums, right? So how bad can they be?
Well, I’ll tell you. They’re not bad at all. In fact, they are quite tasty.
So prune juice is really plum juice, and it’s packed with fiber.
Of course, these days, we all know about the benefits of increased fiber in our diets – how it helps us stay healthy and aids in weight loss efforts.
The fact that prunes or prune juice is a natural laxative which can eliminate the need for over-the-counter constipation aids, isn’t a giggly joke anymore – it just makes good cents, I mean, sense.
When you wake up with a sore throat, the first line of defense is salt.
Make a hot water gargle with a cup of really hot water and about a teaspoon of table salt. Gargle as often as you can throughout the day and see if that doesn’t help knock back those germs.
Salt has gotten a bad rap, but the truth is, your body needs some salt in order to function. Of course, too much salt in our diet is bad for us but used externally, salt is good for skin health.
Salt, especially unprocessed sea salt or epsom salt, has a high mineral content and it can help to rejuvenate dry, inflamed skin.
Make a facial scrub with a few sprinkles of salt, soap and warm water. Rub gently into the skin to remove blackheads and clean clogged pores. It will leave your skin silky smooth.
But remember, rub gently, or you will scrub your face raw.
Soak your aching feet or your whole body in a hot bath with sea salt or epsom salt helps stimulate circulation, draw out toxins and reduce aches and pains.
For those who suffer from nighttime leg cramps, a bottle of tonic water may be your best friend.
Tonic water contains quinine, which counteracts those painful cramps.
It tastes quite bitter, so you may want to flavor it with some lemon or orange juice to make it more palatable.
Drink about a cup of tonic water every day and see if that doesn’t do the trick. But don’t overdo it… quinine can be toxic in high doses.
Lemons aren’t just good for sitting on the kitchen counter and looking pretty, making one of the most refreshing drinks ever, or slicing up for garnishing iced tea.
They’re good for us because they are full of vitamin C, they aid in digestion and their peels contain healthy flavonoids which have cancer fighting properties.
The juice can act as a breath freshener, and mixed with a little water, can be used as a mouth rinse particularly useful in fighting gum disease.
Lemon juice has several health benefits associated with it.
It is well known as a useful treatment for kidney stones. The citrate in the lemon juice stops calcium based kidney stones from forming.
And if that’s not enough, lemons can also add to our beauty regimen. Lemon juice applied regularly to age spots can help them fade from view.
You may not yet have one of these plants in your kitchen, but you may want to make it one of your New Year’s resolutions to get one.
They’re pretty, easy to grow and bring some real health benefits to our kitchens.
Not only does aloe absorb toxins in the air, including benzene and formaldehyde, but the gel from inside the leaves of the plant is also an excellent topical remedy for irritated skin.
Whether you have suffered a burn, have a sunburn or the symptoms of psoriasis, external application of aloe gel is highly effective.
In many cultures, cayenne pepper has been used to combat hemorrhoids, heartburn and coughs for centuries.
If you suffer from any of the above, you may want to give it a try.
Drink a mixture of two cups of boiled water, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, raw honey and lemon.
Ginger has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
It’s rich in vitamins and minerals and it has lots of other healthful properties – it’s antifungal, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antiseptic and antibacterial.
It has been shown to improve circulation and reduce inflammation.
Nibble a little fresh or pickled ginger or use powdered ginger to combat the effects of motion sickness, upset stomach or morning sickness.
It is also said to be effective against a migraine headache. But use it sparingly – a quarter teaspoon per day is more than enough to reap the health benefits of this powerful rhizome.
If you prefer, you may use ginger in tea form. I find a cup of ginger tea to be bracing – a real “pick me up and get me going” hot drink to start the day.
These smelly little bulbs, besides being full of flavor, actually contain some serious antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Garlic has been shown to be a powerful ally in our battle against the common cold.
When ingested, it can boost immune function, soothe inflamed tissue and help treat minor infections.
If it is consumed on a regular basis, studies have shown it to lower blood pressure and improve bone health.
So the next time you’re feeling a little under the weather, head to your kitchen and dig around a little.
You may find the perfect remedy right under your nose – just as nature intended.