Sometimes even the best-equipped medicine cabinet will be missing the very item you need. But before you dash out to the pharmacy, check your cupboards first. Chances are the everyday items that are part of your usual kitchen and bathroom supplies could double as simple remedies. Here, naturopath Jess Gleeson explains how to create effective, natural remedies to treat common health niggles.
Cold tea bags
Puffy eyes, boils, cold sores and minor bleeding
“The tannins in tea have anti-inflammatory properties that can tighten skin and disperse fluid build-up in puffy eyes or conjunctivitis,” explains Jess. The gentle toning effect works best on colds sores, boils and cuts or scratches. Some people even use this remedy for relieving the discomfort of haemorrhoids.
How to: Steep two green or black tea bags in boiling water for a few minutes, transfer to a clean cup and allow to cool completely in the fridge before applying to any affected areas. Discard afterwards. Chamomile tea bags are also known to be a good eye refresher.
Insect stings, swelling, sprains, headaches and minor sunburn
One of the most versatile first aid remedies, ice is best for new injuries that are painful, red and swollen. As ice constricts blood vessels, it quickly numbs pain, such as a headache, and takes the heat out of sunburn and insect stings. Injuries such as sprains respond best when elevated.
How to: “Wrap ice or an ice pack in a damp tea towel, then apply to the injury or pain for 10-20 minutes every couple of hours,” advises Jess. In most cases, a bag of frozen peas will work just as well.
Burns, sunburn and cold sores
Because it’s instantly cooling and soothing, aloe vera is excellent for burns and irritated skin,” says Jess. Proponents say the reason it works so well is that the gel within the leaves has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Some experts recommend it for mouth ulcers too.
How to: Take a leaf from the outside of the plant, cutting close to the stem. Remove the green and yellow material to reveal the clear gel-like sap. Squeeze out the sap and mash, or juice if necessary. “Apply the clear gel to skin and leave exposed to the air rather than bandaging,” advises Jess.
Neck and back aches and muscle pain
The warmth of a homemade rice heat pack helps bring fresh blood supply to affected areas to relieve pain, so you can repeat as often as you want,” Jess says. Adding a few drops of lavender oil to the compress could enhance the relaxing benefits as it may boost circulation and reduce spasms.
How to: Pour a cup of uncooked rice into the toe of a clean cotton sock. Tie off loosely and heat in the microwave for 30-60 seconds alongside a glass of water for safety. Check the temperature of the pack before wrapping in a tea towel and applying to sore areas. Avoid using this application for headaches unless it’s the type that strikes at the back of the head, right near the top of your neck.
Nausea, travel sickness and stimulating the appetite
“Ginger brings warmth to the stomach and digestive organs, as well as stimulating saliva production to reduce the queasy feeling from motion sickness, illness or fatigue,” says Jess. Some say it prevents vomiting and lets them face food again.
How to: Freeze slivers of sliced fresh ginger in water in a small ice-cube tray, then suck on the ice during the day. Alternatively, add it to a glass of water and sip, leaving the ginger. “You can also slice a small piece into a cup of tea,” Jess suggests.
Sore throats, coughs, grazes and cold sores
Honey has antibacterial properties useful for minor wounds. Used topically, its nutrients may heal, keep moisture out and stop skin sticking to dressings.
How to: “Mix 1 tsp of manuka honey in warm water and gargle up to three times a day,” Jess says. You can also spread raw honey on a clean wound – simply inspect and change the gauze dressing daily.
Coughs, colds and asthma
Inhaling eucalyptus oil can be comforting and effective when winter lurgies strike. “By stimulating the lungs, eucalyptus can help shift any mucus,” Jess says. “You can also add eucalyptus to the final rinse when washing bedding to kill dust mites that can exacerbate asthma and allergies.”
How to: Put 10 drops in a large bowl of hot water and breathe in the vapours for 10-15 minutes. You can also mix five drops of eucalyptus oil into 2 tsp olive oil and rub the mixture into your chest and the soles of your feet before bed.
Sunburn, eczema and chickenpox
Not just good for brekkie and Anzac biscuits, oats can be used in the bath to soothe tender, itchy skin caused by illness, sun exposure or dermatitis. The anti-inflammatory properties stabilise the skin’s pH level and there may be anti- bacterial benefits too.
How to: Pour a cup of uncooked oats into the toe of a clean sock or stocking. Secure with a rubber band and hang from the tap as you fill the bath with warm water. “Let the water cool as the oats’ skin-soothing properties infuse, then soak for 15 minutes,” says Jess.