Several years ago I got interested in trying to be more “self sufficient” when it came to staying healthy, and if you do get sick, learning the best methods of prevention and treatment. One thing that working in the health profession has taught me in the last 26+ years is, your best health insurance, is to stay healthy! So I looked to herbs and natural, traditional “Gramma” medicine approaches that were not only useful and very effective, but they were inexpensive, very easy to do and great to keep on hand!
We all realize that our sleepy society can, at any time, be on the brink of disaster, whether it be natural or human caused. History proves it, and Americans are not immune, no matter how much in denial they wish to be in. We will not be able to run into the “corner drug store” or grocery store to keep supplies on hand, so it’s best to have things immediately available to you, or at least having the all too important skills of “drumming something up” to help our health challenges; or better yet, use in a “first aid” situation until other medical approaches can be used.
I will say here, it is of UTMOST IMPORTANCE that you research the herb and it’s properties, and consult with your own physician or primary caregiver to see if it in anyway, contraindicates something with your own health. I am not a physician and am not in charge or your healthcare. That is something between you and your own physician, at least as long as the government can keep their big noses out of it!
So what did I do? Here are some of the things I did to not only prepare, but to learn about and use. I use these things on a regular basis; some are seasonal, some are used year round. But what I do have, I can also grow in my backyard (with exception to the vodka I will use for medicinal tinctures…that takes some advance planning and storage…I don’t think the ATF folks would be too keen on my story of distilling moonshine for “medicinal purposes”, no matter how much I stick to said story!) I believe the best part about preparing your own medicine, is YOU know what is in the contents, not something artificially added item that can be harmful to your health.
1. READ UP: Get your hands on as much reading material that is out there. There are some very excellent herbalists and gardeners/farmers out there (nod to Marjoriy) who offer easy, affordable and practical advice. Learn about soil, how and what to grow that you know you WILL use, keep it simple (start with a few different herbs and work your way up depending on your needs), and have a blast learning!
2. PICK YOUR PRACTICAL PLOT: Depending on the herb/food you’re growing it won’t take a lot of space, and a little goes a long way. When I re-landscaped my desert backyard a couple of years ago, I planted everything that could be used in a medicinal or edible way, nothing for strictly “ornamental” purposes. Hence the “read up” suggestion: plant in areas that are conducive to what you are growing (sun vs shade). You don’t have to get discouraged if certain medicinal herbs might not be able to grow outdoors because of your local climate. The nice thing is, you can grow them indoors too! That’s the cool thing; you can literally manipulate “micro-climate” indoors that your desired plant might need.
3. PICK YOUR PHARMACY: This includes herbs that you can grow, but since not all herbs grow together and are found in all places, have a source where you can obtain dried herbs for later preparation for salves, tinctures, and other uses (they’re unbelievably easy to make!). I chose to grow garlic, onion, Yarrow, Echinacea, and St John’s Wort. I planted other desert shrubs that are also used for medicine (creosote, turpentine, and jojoba) but I’ll keep it simple for this article.
4. NOW WHAT? So now that you have some of your favorite herbs at your disposal, here are some useful things you can do with them for keeping in your own “medicine cabinet”.
GARLIC: THE HERB THAT SCARES EVERYTHING (GERM) AWAY!
Garlic is nature’s best antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal and anti-GERM herb we have at our disposal. This is the BEST and quickest “Gramma’s remedy” that you can get to, when you feel that cold or sore throat coming on. There’s a reason vampires don’t like garlic!
What do I do?
1. Chop up one clove of garlic into fine pieces. Place the pieces into a 1 oz shot glass.
2. Cover the garlic pieces with olive oil, fill to the top.
3. Leave on the counter for at least 4-6 hours. You can place the glass on a “warmer” (not too hot) and decrease the time of the garlic soaking in the oil. The longer the better, you want as much garlic fused in as possible.
4. Now take that oil, and rub enough on BOTH feet, put your socks on and go to bed. The garlic will absorb through your feet, and through your bloodstream, fighting off those nasty cooties you contracted. Do this for the next several nights until your symptoms are gone. IT. WORKS. Gramma says. And yes I do it too!
FOOTNOTE: no, you’re feet won’t smell like a pizza later!
ONION: THE QUICKER GERM PICKER UPPER AND CATCHER
I have to thank Rosemary Gladstar for showing this totally simple but effective remedy! Onions are great for when you feel a cold or flu coming on, and will help boost your immune system. This recipe is for honey syrup, that you can take to sooth a sore throat or cough. All you need is one large onion, and about 2 cups of raw local honey.
1. Cut onion in half, then cut into very thin discs (should look like thin moons). You may also add a few cloves of garlic (roughly chopped) or some fresh grated ginger for to enhance taste if you like. But plain ‘ol onion works just fine.
2. Put in a medium saucepan (or cast iron skillet), and enough honey to lightly cover up the cut onions.
3. Cover on low heat for 30 minutes, until the onions get soft and juicy.
4. Place in a glass jar and cover with lid and label (there
is no need to strain). This will store in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Take by teaspoons when you feel a cold or flu coming on. Soothes coughs and boosts immune system. You may also eat the onions in syrup. They should be very soft.
YARROW: NATURE’S WOUND CARE
The cool thing about Yarrow is that that not only it grows in so many places in the northern hemisphere, it’s a non toxic plant. It’s one of the best disinfecting herbs/antibiotic you can easily grow in your backyard. By that, I mean anti-fungal, anti-protozoa, anti-bacterial and anti-viral. In addition, it is a “cousin” to chamomile, so it has some mild ant-inflammatory properties to it. So, if you have a wound, scrape or a cut while working out in the yard (or wherever), you can apply the plant (usually the young leaves) directly on you. The plant will get right to work.
HOW DO I USE IT?
There are several easy ways to prepare Yarrow to clean up a wound, scrape or cut.
1. Prepare a “wash”: The simplest preparation is to boil water in a clean coffee can (so a ½-1 gallon or so), take several handfuls of Yarrow, and let it soak. Essentially you are making a “tea”. Let it simmer and soak for about an hour. Then, soak, or place the injured area directly in the hot wash for about 20 minutes, and clean up. Or, if the wound is on your arm (and area where you can’t really “soak”); you can make a warm compress and clean the wound with that.
2. Another way is to make a poultice: chop or break up some young leaves into tiny bits, mix it with a little hot water, and place directly onto the wound. Leave it on for at least 20 minutes, and clean off. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have water, you can actually make a “spit poultice”…yes, you can chew up some leaves, and place directly on the wound. Sounds gross, but it’s very effective.
3. Thirdly, you can take Yarrow leaves and place them in a small jar (fill it up loosely with the leaves if you can). Then, pour rubbing alcohol over the leaves, let them soak for 4-6 weeks. You may use this as a topical liniment for scrapes, cuts and wounds for disinfection.
ECHINACEA: NATURE’S COLD MEDICINE
I usually will prepare tinctures (made with 80 proof vodka) for the cold season using Echinacea, and start taking it in late September or early October daily to increase the immunity for the cold season. All it takes is “just a few squirts” in your tea, coffee, or beverage of choice and you’re good to go.
HOW DO I DO IT?
1: Fill a jar with dried Echinacea leaves about 2/3 way.
(Because of our dry desert climate here in the southwest, it’s easy to dry leaves in our sun; if you don’t have that nice “amenity”, you can stock up on dried Echinacea leaves from your local herb shop).
2. Fill the jar with 80 proof (or better) vodka, covering all of the leaves, and seal the jar.
3. Place the jar on a cool shelf, and let it sit for 6 weeks. Once weekly, you might shake the jar, and check to be sure all the leaves are covered. After the first week, you might need to “top off” the jar, since the leaves will soak up the vodka.
4. After 6 weeks, strain the leaves from the mixture, and voila! You have instant medicinal tincture that will help fight off colds and flu by helping your immune system.
ELDERBERRY: EUROPE’S FAVORITE COLD FIGHTER
Elderberry is another cold season favorite that has been used for centuries in Europe, and is one of the most well documented herbs for colds and flu. I will use dried elderberries and use as a tincture (prepared the same way as above, as the Echinacea was), or even better, use as a syrup. Now to be honest, I haven’t tried to grow this in my yard yet, but I am making an attempt to grow it indoors. I decided to include them in this “cold season” medicine cabinet because it’s an easy and effective way to increase your immune system by making a simple tincture.
HOW DO I MAKE THE SYRUP?
This is a quick and easy way to do it:
1. Take one cup of elderberries (or ½ cup of dried berries), and place the berries in a saucepan. Cover them with 3 cups of water. Then, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a half hour.
2. SMASH up the berries. Then, strain the mixture through a mesh strainer.
3. Add one cup of raw, organic honey.
4. If you’d like you can add cloves, cinnamon stick, and/or ginger to taste, for extra medicinal additives. IT’S ALL GOOD FOR YOU.
ST JOHN’S WORT (used with dried Arnica) FOR MUSCLE SORENESS AND INFLAMATION
This is one of those nice easy massage oils to use after all that digging and gardening while growing your pharmacy. As a physical therapist, I have done some personal research as to safe and effective “non toxic” pain remedies for some of my patients who just can’t plain reach for the NSAID bottle without blowing out their intestines. There are many out there that you can try and use, but here is a nice, quick way to use these two wonderful herbs as an easy muscle rub. St John’s Wort is a natural nervine; meaning that it will help calm down nerves that might be setting off a pain response. Arnica, helps with increasing blood flow and circulation to an area, which makes it great for bruises and muscle soreness (it also is wonderful for scars…more on that later).
HOW DO I USE IT?
Similar in preparation as the way one makes a tincture, I use olive oil instead for the “6 week soak”. It’s a bit messier, but the end result is well worth it.
1. Fill a jar with equal parts of dried Arnica and St John’s Wort, about ¾ full.
2. Fill jar completely with olive oil, covering all of the leaves, close and seal (note: make sure your seal is good and tight, or else the oil will go rancid).
3. Store in a cool, dry place for 6 weeks.
4. Strain after 6 weeks, place in glass (brown) bottle, and use as a topical rub for muscle soreness as needed.
I mentioned arnica used for scars. It works wonderfully for not only helping them soften, but fading them too. I recommend using arnica GEL, not the cream (there are several types at your local health food store) over scars, especially post operative scars. It’s very important not to get this stuff in an open wound, so make sure your scar is completely healed. Also, *a very few* of you might be “skin sensitive” so test out on a small part of your skin first, before trying, in case those little red spots on your previous boo boo appear because the arnica gel made your skin break out!
So there you have it. Simple, backyard medicine (well, I might have cheated on some suggestions, but you get the idea). The main point is that it is easy to do, even if you only grow a few of the herbs I suggested here. The possibilities are endless, and there are many, many ways of preparing herbal medicines for your personal health that is beyond the scope of this little suggestion box. I will leave you with a quote that one of my patients I worked with in my internships many moons ago told me, and it pretty much applies to everything I have learned (including making my own “stuff”):
“An inch is a pinch, but a mile is a trial”
Take small steps, and grow from there. You just might surprise yourself with what you might concoct. I know I did. And you know, if it was good enough for Gramma, its good enough for you!