Fall is here, and with it comes the usual season of colds and flus. Many of us are searching for more natural ways to treat sickness when it arises, and the good news is that you don’t have to be a herbalist, naturopath or health kook to use home remedies that really work.

There are many home remedies out there that are difficult to make, full of expensive and exotic ingredients, or that have questionable results or even safety concerns. Happily, there are also many that consist of one or two simple and readily available ingredients, can be put together in minutes, and work safely and effectively.

These are tried and true recipes and remedies from our own family, and among my first forays into the world of herbal healing. Safe, simple, effective. What more could a mama want?

Photo by Roy Lister

1) Eucalyptus for Congestion

Bye-bye Vicks vaporub, hello eucalyptus oil!

Eucalyptus oil has many uses in the herbal first aid kit, but it is most famous for bringing relief to sinus and chest congestion. It is known to break down phlegm, ease labored breathing and bring relief to clogged nasal passages.

There are two very quick and easy ways to use it:

Homemade Chest Rub

1-2 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
1-2 tsp. carrier oil of choice

Eucalyptus (and most other essential oils) are too strong to use directly on the body at full strength, so they need to be used together with a carrier oil. Carrier oils can include olive oil, jojoba oil, almond oil and many others.

My oldest daughter often complains of a stuffed up nose when she lies down at night (even when she isn’t sick). Though we’re experimenting with the Neti Pot for a long term solution, my nightly 30-second remedy looks like this:

  1. Pour approximately 1 tsp of almond oil into the palm of my hand.
  2. Add 1 drop of eucalyptus oil into the almond oil.
  3. Using my fingers, I mix the two oils together then rub them on my hands.
  4. Rub my oiled hands on her chest, neck and a bit just under her nose (then rub any extra into my skin or on my own neck/chest, because it won’t hurt and it smells lovely).

Steam Treatment

Another excellent way to combat congestion is through the use of steam. This can be done by filling a sink or pot with hot or even boiling water and inhaling the vapors, by using a humidifier to add moisture to a room, or even by taking a very hot shower or simply closing the door and letting the bathroom fill  up with steam.

For an adult, leaning over a steamy pot or sink is probably the best solution. For an infant or young child, turning your bathroom into a temporary sauna by closing the door and running the hot shower into the tub (with the plug in) is much easier.

Simply add several drops of the eucalyptus oil (usually 3-5 is good, depending on the size and preference of the person) and steam away. Many people will also add a few drops to a humidifier for overnight treatment, but you will want to read your manual carefully to ensure that this won’t damage your machine.

Photo by felipe_gabaldon

2) Garlic for Immune Boosting

If you can stand a little garlic breath (and you can convince your hubby to join you in the immune-boosting fun), you will find that the humble garlic clove packs a powerful punch.

Whenever anyone in our family begins to feel the first hints of sickness, I pull out the garlic press. Garlic is a favorite of mine for it’s strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and and anti-fungal qualities.

These qualities are best preserved when garlic is eaten raw (because the active components in garlic, like allicin and sulphur compounds, are volatile and heat-sensitive and therefore most of the benefit is lost when garlic is cooked). If you can get it down, however, it will greatly enhance the body’s fighting ability, sometimes preventing illness entirely and other times helping to shorten the duration and/or intensity of sickness.

How to eat raw garlic:

  • Make garlic toast. Toast a piece of bread, butter it, then crush 1-3 cloves of garlic (depending how brave you are!) and spread it over the toast. A piece of cheese on top will help for those who find it difficult to eat.
  • Garlic and honey. For my children, I crush a clove onto a teaspoon, then I drizzle raw honey quite generously over the garlic. They just take it like that, followed by a swig of water. It tastes primarily like sweet honey, with a bit of a kick. It can’t be that bad, because they ask for it when they’re not really sick.
  • Swallow cloves whole (or cut in chunks). If you just can’t handle the taste, you could get it over with quickly.
  • Hide it in delicious food. Guacamole and hummus are both excellent places to disguise lots of raw garlic!
Photo by prakhar

3) Peppermint for Indigestion

Do you ever experience sluggish digestion after a heavy meal, or struggle with gas, bloating, or heartburn? You may be surprised by how handily peppermint can remedy that indigestion!

Out for dinner during a blog conference in July, I had been indulging in too many foods that I don’t regularly eat. By the time I hit the Mexican restaurant that night, my tummy was in revolt. Thankfully, I discovered over the course of the meal that I was sitting beside a herbalist who carried essential oils with her at all times.

I immediately asked if she had any peppermint oil, and lo and behold, she did. A few drops into my glass of lukewarm water, and within 15-20 minutes I was already feeling so much better!

Peppermint is a boon for those who need a little digestive help after meals, as it has a soothing and calming effective on the digestive system. I pull it out whenever something doesn’t sit right with me, and have begun to do the same for my husband and children as well, who all attest to the fact that it really does work.

Peppermint Oil After-Dinner Drink

1-3 drops into a large glass of lukewarm or cool (but preferably not cold) water. Sip on this slowly but steadily until finished or until you feel better.

For children, stick with one drop as it may be too strong otherwise. Remember that essential oils are very concentrated and it only takes a little bit.

Peppermint Tea

Another simple option is to sip on a warm peppermint tea. Choose a loose leaf tea or a full-leaf tea (made with genuine, dried mint leaves, not mint “flavor”) like Might Leaf, Numi, Yogi, Traditional Medicinals, etc.

Photo by veggiefrog

4) Aloe for Burns

Aloe has natural antiseptic properties, as well as being very soothing and cooling. Together with its easily available form, this makes aloe a perfect choice for helping to heal and soothe burns, sunburns, blisters, insect bites or stings, cuts and scrapes, etc.

You can buy aloe as a gel, but you will want to make sure that you find one that actually contains pure aloe. Many products that claim to have aloe in them are actually made up of many not-so-desirable ingredients, with the aloe as an add-in that happens to make for nice advertising claims, but you won’t find it to be very effective.

Personally, I love having an aloe plant on my windowsill. Aloe is a very easy plant to grow, requiring little care. All it asks is a sunny spot, water once in a while, and maybe the occasional bit of fertilizing love. My kind of plant.

Using Aloe Plants

For a small burn or wound, I snip off about an inch of an aloe leaf. Then I use a knife to slit it open, up one side, and then pry it open so that both of the wet, inner pieces are easy to apply to the skin. Just rub the wet gel-like substance over the injured area and let it dry there.

For a larger area, you may want to open up an entire leaf, and scrape out the gel. A butter knife works well, or you can use a metal teaspoon as well. Scrape it into a small bowl, then you can rub it over the skin.

Photo by flavorrelish

5) Onion for Colds

Last year, while fighting a bad head cold, I discovered the invaluable uses of the humble onion. Yes, it may make you weep while cooking dinner, but it will also help to ease the symptoms of a cold and make it go away faster.

In particular, it is the juice and fumes of the onion that offer much of its healing potential. The very things that bring us to tears are also powerful enough to let you sleep at night when you’re stuffed up, ease a sore throat, and drain sinus congestion, not to mention draw out toxins that contribute to sickness in the first place!

Our favorite ways to use onions:

  1. Homemade cough syrup. This recipe can be as simple as chopping 1 cup of onions, adding 1/2 cup of honey, and simmering the mixture for 20 minutes. Strain the onions out, and keep in the fridge, taking a spoonful as needed. This recipe is safe for children as well and our family found it particularly helpful for soothing coughs and clearing stuffed noses.
  2. Beside the bed. When freshly chopped, the fumes from the onion “juice” are very effective at clearing up congestion. Breathing them in through the night by placing a bowl of onion pieces beside the bed or even near your head (wrapped in thin cloth) can work wonders.

Through the month of October, I’ll be sharing Natural Remedies and Illness Prevention on my personal blog, Keeper of the Home. You can also find many ideas for natural health and healing here at Simple Organic, with more posts to come on these topics!

What are some of your favorite home remedies?