Back to basics with natural remedies

Home remedies for minor ills are worth their weight in gold, if you know the right ones. Here are a few useful remedies to help you breathe easy, and a handy list to help guide any future remedies.

Back to basics with natural remedies

Nettle and hay fever

If you have access to fresh stinging nettle (it's a common garden weed), wear gloves when harvesting and washing the leaves. Add 110 grams (four ounces) of the leaf to 1.5 litres (six cups) of boiling water. Lower heat and simmer until the water turns green, then strain through a fine sieve into a large teapot. During hay fever season, drink a cup of nettle tea in the morning and one in the evening, sweetening it with honey if you like. Studies have yet to definitively confirm the efficacy of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) for treating hay fever, but legions of people swear by the nettle's powers to ease runny noses and watery eyes.

Salt water sniffle-stopper

Here's a homemade spray that will flush allergens from your nasal passages. The isosmotic solution parallels the concentration of salt found in the body, making the spray mild but effective.

This spray works best at room temperature. Discard any unused solution after two days or it may become contaminated.

  • 950 ml (1 qt) water
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) chamomile tea
  • 10 g (2 tsp) salt
  1. Place water in a medium saucepan. Add tea and salt and bring to a low simmer.
  2. Stir until salt is dissolved, then let cool to room temperature.
  3. Pour solution into an empty nose spray bottle. Spray twice in each nostril as needed, holding the other nostril closed each time.

What does it mean?

You probably already know the meaning of many of the words in this list, not all of which apply only to herbal remedies. But when it comes to self-treatment, having a fuller grasp of the terminology becomes all the more important. Here's a great place to start:

  • Active principle A plant chemical proven to have a medical effect.
  • Antiseptic A substance that prevents or stops the growth of microorganisms that cause infection.
  • Astringent A substance that draws together the soft tissues, such as skin or mucous membranes.
  • Decoction A drink or liquid extract made by boiling plant bark, roots, berries or seeds in water.
  • Diuretic A substance that increases the flow of urine.
  • Emollient A substance that softens and soothes the skin and mucous membranes.
  • Essential oil A plant oil that vaporizes readily and is often obtained by steam distillation; used interchangeably with volatile oil.
  • Expectorant A substance that loosens and helps to expel phlegm.
  • Infusion A preparation in which flowers, leaves, or stems are steeped in water that is not boiling.
  • Liquid extract Concentrated infusion made by soaking an herb in distilled water, grain alcohol, or glycerin for a long period.
  • Mucous membrane Lining of a body passage, such as the throat, that protects itself with secretions of mucus.
  • Photosensitivity Sensitivity to sunlight, resulting in a rash or burning sensation, brought on by ingestion or application of certain substances.
  • Plaster Gauze or cloth in which medicine has been wrapped. A plaster is applied to the skin.
  • Poultice An herbal preparation that is usually applied directly to the affected area to relieve pain or swelling.
  • Purgative A very strong laxative.
  • Tannins Astringent and bitter compounds found in the seeds and skins of grapes, which slow oxidation and aging.
  • Tincture An herbal liquid extract that generally involves macerating the herb in alcohol.
  • Volatile oil A plant oil that vaporizes readily and is often obtained by steam distillation; used interchangeably with essential oil.
  • Wash A liquid herbal medicine preparation for external use.

This ABC of natural remedies will help you understand what you need the next time you're looking for a natural remedy.

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