Folk remedies: raid your kitchen next time you’re sick

By / Food / August 10th, 2018 / 7
folk remedies raid your kitchen

Every family has their go-to remedies for a specific ailment (or ailments) that you won’t necessarily find at the pharmacy or be prescribed by the doctor. These folk remedies are all-natural treatments that involve average, everyday food items — like gargling hot salt water to help with sore throats or more exotic food stuffs like taking Echinacea when you feel a cold coming on. Many of these remedies have been around for centuries, predating the medieval era of leeches and bloodletting! Traditional cures laid the foundation for the non-conventional, natural and homeopathic medicine practices that spring up from time to time when you Google the best way to stop a coughing fit (or other types of common autumn problems – dry skin, stress, tiredness, etc.)

“‘Natural’ has always been very poorly defined,” says Michael Castleman, author of The New Healing Herbs (Rodale). “As typically used, it means non-pharmaceutical, treatments that come from nature, not laboratories. Homeopathic remedies are usually micro-doses of natural substances: plant, animal or mineral materials.” So while both streams of thought involve natural substances, there is a minute difference between natural and homeopathic remedies.

“Homeopathy … is the treatment according to the ‘like cures like’ principle,” explains Professor Edward Ernst, an academic physician and researcher who specializes in complementary and alternative medicine. He was the first in the world to teach complementary medicine.

I was curious what other folk remedies beside gargling salt water were out there, so I brushed off my researching cap and took to the Internet to find some of the popular folk remedies out there.

A note of caution before you continue reading: any form of non-medical treatment should be used as a complement to modern medicine, not a replacement. Before using homeopathic remedies (or if they’re not working), Castleman recommends “consulting a homeopath.”

You should always take natural treatments with a metaphorical grain of salt. “Even where the evidence is relatively positive, it is still not convincing,” says Professor Ernst. “The effects are usually small and the science supporting them is weak.”

“Read up on them first,” advises Castleman. “For anything herbal, I’d plug [my book] The New Healing Herbs. Most people use Google. Trouble is, much of the information on the Internet is questionable, so you have to be careful.”

Consult your healthcare professional or a qualified homeopath before ingesting anything unfamiliar. While there aren’t a lot of risks involved with taking all-natural folk remedies, there are still risks.

“No effective therapy is without risks,” states Professor Ernst. “In alternative medicine, the risks are not well investigated. They depend on the exact nature of the treatment.”

“As far as I know, there’s never been a documented case of serious harm from homeopathic remedies,” mentions Castleman. “As for other natural/herbal medicines, of course they can cause harm if used foolishly. Drink too much coffee and you become irritable and jittery, and can’t sleep. People should be informed consumers and research what they’re interested in instead of trusting the advice of friends.”

There, now that the necessary cautions are over, time to learn about the folk remedies that you probably have in your pantry and you never knew.


People have been touting the positive effects of chamomile for years. But there’s good reason. “Chamomile is great for nerves,” says Castleman. “Peter Rabbit’s mother gave him chamomile tea after Mr. McGregor chased him out of the garden.” It’s been used since ancient times for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties, treating everything from asthma and fevers, to inflammations and skin diseases. Think of it as a mild tranquilizer. It’s a great sleeping aid, if you’re too stressed or anxious to get to dream land.


“The most widely used [natural remedy] in the US is caffeine, for physical stimulation,” says Castleman. “That’s why the country wakes up with coffee or tea. That’s why there’s a Starbucks on every corner. Back in the 1980s, I used to give talks about herbal medicine to groups of doctors. I’d ask ‘How many of you feel skeptical of herbal medicine?’ Most hands in the room went up. Then I’d ask, ‘How many of you had a cup of coffee this morning?’ Most hands went up, and I’d say, ‘I guess you believe in herbal medicine.’”

It’s amazing to think that this morning beverage is considered a natural remedy. I drink at least two cups a day (sometimes more). Apparently it has more health benefits than just that morning energy bump – it also boosts the metabolism, increases adrenaline levels and contains vitamins B2, B5, B3, Manganese, Magnesium and Potassium (among others).


This little cooking ingredient is good for more than just tomato sauces and warding off vampires. Garlic has anti-microbial properties that fight bacteria in the mouth — gargle the recipe below twice daily for three days will remove bad breath, fight pain-causing bacteria and soothe inflamed tissues. But wait, there’s more: use “garlic for high cholesterol,” says Professor Ernst.

solution for bad breath

Press 6 garlic cloves into a glass of warm (not hot) water.


I think it was my mother who gave me ginger ale when I had an upset stomach (when I was younger anyway … now I get it for myself). Mix it with cranberry juice (another good nausea fighter) and you’ve got a delicious cure for any and all the butterflies in your stomach. Use “ginger for motion sickness and morning sickness of pregnancy,” suggests Castleman.

Eating when your stomach is causing a ruckus isn’t really number one on the to-do list, so try frozen ginger chips instead.

frozen ginger chips

Steep fresh ginger in hot water (so the water is infused with the ginger juice). Strain and let cool. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. When your stomach starts doing backflips, suck on an ice cube.

honey and lemon

Adding a little bit of honey and lemon to your tea — or even making yourself the honey and lemon tincture below — can stave off any autumn cold that comes your way. Lemon is rich in vitamin C, which, as we all know, helps fight colds. Honey, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a demulcent, which means it’s supposed to sooth the mucous membranes as well as relieve minor pain and inflammation. This powerful combo can shorten your cold’s duration and severity. At the very least, it’ll suppress your cough so that you can get a good night’s sleep.

lemon and honey tincture

Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze juice from one half into a cup. Drop the empty shell in with the juice. Add boiling water and 1 tsp of raw honey. Breathe in the steam/vapours to open the sinuses. Then sip to fight the cold symptoms.

One cup 2 or 3 times a day will keep your immune system bumping, and solve the inevitable sore throat and annoying cough.


Liquorice isn’t everyone’s favourite flavour. I personally love it — I grew up on the salty black liquorice candies popular in the Netherlands, so just writing about it makes my mouth water. What I didn’t know growing up is that liquorice has some great health benefits.

Sip “liquorice tea for sore throat,” suggests Castleman. The root of the liquorice plant is where all the benefits live. Drinking the tea will help with a sore throat, upset stomach and calm nerves. Though it’s worth noting that there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to explain why … perhaps it’s just the placebo effect. I don’t mind — liquorice is delicious.

milk thistle

This European thistle with a single purple flower was brought to North America, where its seeds are made into milk. WebMD states that milk thistle is a natural treatment for liver problems like cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis and gallbladder disorders, however clinical trials and studies have been inconclusive. Milk thistle contains silymarin, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which can help the liver detox, lower cholesterol and, when used topically, help keep skin looking healthy and young.


Castleman suggests mint “to soothe the stomach (hence our after-dinner mint candies).” Peppermint, spearmint, wild mint — there are a wide variety of mint species. Whatever the species, mint was used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach aches and chest pains. Peppermint, specifically, kills bacteria that causes bloating and relaxes gastrointestinal muscles. Brew it into a tea or keep a bag of candy in your bag for “just in case.”


“It’s the Indian root that gives curry blends their yellow colour,” says Castleman. “Turmeric is very high in antioxidant nutrients. I used to take an antioxidant vitamin supplement. Now I take turmeric, also called churchmen. In addition to its nutrients, turmeric is also a mild anti-inflammatory (a Cox-2 inhibitor). I’m 66. As people age, the aches and pains increase, so turmeric helps that, too.”

Whatever your family remedy, remember that natural “cures” help with symptoms, not the underlying causes. Always consult a medical professional for chronic issues — I really can’t repeat this enough! — especially if you’re already taking medication. Natural remedies and modern medicine can interact and create worse symptoms. Consulting a pharmacist, physician or homeopath will make sure you’re getting the best results and living a healthy lifestyle.


A freelance writer and editor, Lisa Hoekstra loves learning and trying new things. She can be found with her nose in a book or multiple tabs open on her browser as she researches the latest and greatest in the world of food, style and everything in between.

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