Natural remedies

It’s an odd thing, when you think about it, that ‘natural’ medicine used for thousands of years has become known as ‘alternative’.

Well, it’s true that ‘alternative medicine’ has more recently been called ‘complementary’ and even now many people are working together towards ‘integrated’ medicine.

There we are, back to Joined Up Living again. It’s the only way forward. Working together to achieve whole health – oneness and well-being.

Our best hope for the future is to take advantage of the amazing scientific advances of recent years, while at the same time learning from the wisdom of our ancestors who were often in touch and in harmony with the natural world around them. Perhaps, after all, gran really did know best…


Cod liver oil – Many British kids were brought up over the years on a daily spoonful of cod liver oil – you could say it was one of the first ‘supplements’ and just thought to be good for you. Now we know from research that it’s also useful for relieving pain in people with arthritis and rheumatism. A study at the University Hospitals in Dundee and Edinburgh in Scotland showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients given two teaspoons of cod liver oil each day were able cut their daily dose of painkillers, sometimes by as much as 30%.
Olive oil – In the days before bottles of extra virgin olive oil lined supermarket shelves and it was only sold in tiny bottles at the chemist, a drop or two of olive oil was popular remedy for easing earache and softening the wax. Grannies also favoured it for keeping your digestion regular…

Apple cider vinegar is such a popular folk remedy for all manner of ills that many grans and great grans have been raving about it for years. They say a tablespoon a day can help digestive problems, allergies, sinus infections, acne, high cholesterol, flu, chronic fatigue, candida, acid reflux, sore throats, contact dermatitis, arthritis, and gout. It’s widely used to help lose weight, has also been reported to lower high blood pressure and is reportedly great for the skin…
Blackberry vinegar is also popular, mostly for relieving coughs and bronchial problems.
Any kind of vinegar is good at getting rid of head lice, according to French mums. Poured over the head, it’s old French folk remedy that’s been popular for years in schools. Putting vinegar in the bath was also useful for treating itchy skin.

One of our oldest cure-alls, honey has traditionally been used for everything from soothing coughs to healing wounds. A recent report says a spoonful of honey can be more effective at soothing coughs than some over-the-counter cough medicines (see Cough medicines don’t work, above) and we now know it’s antibacterial, too. “I’d much rather use a natural approach and I always give my daughter a spoonful of honey at bedtime if she has a cough,” says Vicky Clapperton, a Forest Schools teacher. “It works really well and I’ve also been using manuka honey to help heal an abscess I had on my elbow.”

Traditionally taken for sore throats, especially in hot water with honey, we now know that lemon also helps boost your immune system – it’s a good source of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Try lemon juice in warm water first thing in the morning – it has an alkaline effect on the body that can help digestive problems and is very refreshing and cooling. It’s useful for stimulating your mind and is good for your skin, too. A general rejuvenator and antiseptic, it’s even been known to help dissolve gallstones.

Traditionally used as a cold and flu remedy in hot water with lemon juice and honey, ginger root is also a good old-fashioned remedy for nausea and sickness. A slice in hot water is very calming on the digestive system. “We were always given ginger biscuits and stem ginger sweets for the journey when we went on holiday,” says Jean Rutter, “and I still carry them with me for my kids when we go on long journeys in case they get travel sick.” Sniffing ginger oil works well, too.

From being worn round the neck in little pouches back in the middle ages as protection against infection and bad smells, and then associated with our grans and elderly aunts as 4711 toilet water, lavender is now enjoying a comeback as one of our most useful natural remedies. We’ve discovered it’s a good antiseptic, calming enough to help us sleep and useful as a first aid remedy for cuts and burns. “It’s so gentle and relaxing, I always burn lavender oil and chamomile when my two little nephews come to stay,” says Liz Newfield. “It seems to stop them arguing and keeps them happy.”

Garlic has been renowned for centuries not only as a flavouring, but also as a medicine. Its antibacterial effects help ward off colds and flu, and it used to be known as ‘the great panacea’ in the days before antibiotics. “My Polish gran made us drink garlic and sugar syrup if we had colds when we were kids. My brother hated it so she made him onion and sugar syrup instead,” remembers Barbara Beck. Mediterranean grans regularly chewed on raw garlic to keep bugs and infections away, though now many people prefer to take their daily dose in a capsule!

Aah, the virtues of cider – how nice to know it’s a remedy as well as a drink. One of my elderly clients swears by her glass of cider every day and she’s still going strong at 96. There are many old pamphlets extolling the medicinal virtues of cider, such as this one: “Cider is not only wholesome in its general effects but is also particularly adapted for those who are liable to gout, rheumatism, stones, and the kindred diseases due to an excess of uric acid in the blood… Its true properties gently stimulate the liver, cure the curse of constipation, dispel lassitude and disinclination to exertion, while the corpulent or those who put on flesh too rapidly, will find in it a drink, the use of which presents much advantage.”

Cranberries – Now well known for treating cystitis and other infections, our grans got there first. Their home remedy now has some good scientific backing as evidence shows  that cranberries can help control the levels of bacteria in the body. It’s particularly good taken as a juice because an important part of treating cystitis is drinking lots of fluid to flush out the urinary tract.
Blackcurrants Routinely given to growing kids in squashes and juices, mums and nans have always thought blackcurrants were good for our immune systems and to keep us fit. Scientists now agree as these, like many berries and currants, have proved to have high levels of vitamin C and are a great daily way to get our vitamin quota. Just watch out for the sugar content of proprietary brands and go for the natural and organic versions…

Recommended as a remedy for colds and flu, bronchitis, sore throats, laryngitis, gastritis and stomach ulcers, you’ll find liquorice in every herbalist’s medical store. It is another plant that was known for years as a ‘cure-all’ and its distinctive flavour was the principal ingredient in many early cough syrups. These days it’s widely available as a tea, herbal tincture or supplement.

• WEDDING RING – Sounds odd, but you can apparently get rid of styes if you rub a clean gold wedding band over the eye. Deborah Sampson, a holistic therapist living in France, says: “I swear by it – it’s always worked for my daughter, my husband and me…”
• HERBS FOR TEETH – fresh sage leaves rubbed over your teeth help clean them, peppermint in water makes a good mouthwash, and you can chew cloves for fresh breath
• CABBAGE leaves make a good compress if you wrap them over cuts and grazes
• SALT water baths help itchy skin and achey joints
• COPPER bracelets and rings have a long history for treating colic, gallstones and bilious complaints, and we still wear them today to ease rheumatism, often with a nutmeg in our pocket!
• TURMERIC in a glass of milk is an old granny remedy for dry coughs, and it’s also good for cuts as it’s astringent and analgesic

AN APPLE A DAY…keeps the doctor away is TRUE!  A scientific report from Australia has shown that apples have three times as many antioxidants oranges and almost eight times as many as bananas. They’ve been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, and are thought to offer some protection from asthma.

Wine could prevent the common cold! A study at Spanish universities suggests that there was a relationship between the consumption of wine and the risk of the common cold. This association was stronger for red wine than for white wine. The authors suggest that wine intake, especially red wine, may have a protective effect against common cold…