I’ve talked to so many people who tried the “herbal medicine” thing and went quickly back to pharmaceuticals because the herbal remedies “didn’t work.”
And I understand why that happened. We’ve been conditioned to assume medicine works instantly—that they get rid of our headaches, cure our sinus infections, or get rid of our yeast infections as soon as the pill, cream, or spray reaches our skin or blood.
When an antibiotic doesn’t work the first time, we’ve been taught to get a second one to knock out the infection. If one round doesn’t work, we throw more at it. Which makes sense … oh wait—no, it doesn’t!
Herbal medicine is not a “quick fix” like the aspirin or Pepto-Bismol most of us are used to.
Herbal remedies create a lifetime of health and wellness by healing your body and helping each system in your body work the way it was intended to.
Alternative medicine is individualized, holistic care for a lifetime of personal health and wellness.
The goal is to find herbal remedies that work for you. The beauty of alternative medicine is the process of finding what works best for you specifically.
Start with the herbs and plants listed in the next section to start cultivating your own best alternative medicine cabinet and be on the road to your own personal, holistic health and wellness routine.
Natural Medicines to Grow Yourself and How to Use Them
If you’re visiting The Grow Network for the first time, I urge you to click around on the blog in the “Medicine” section while you’re here. The network of gardeners, homesteaders, and writers here has done some absolutely amazing work in alternative medicine already. My list below comes from the wealth of knowledge this network has already provided.
Want to learn even more about herbal remedies and all other aspects of apartment and modern homesteading? Sign up for the Lab!
Marjory published her list of the top 15 antibiotic alternatives in this blog post. I want to reiterate her list and talk about how you can grow some of those 15 super plants and use them in your own alternative medicine practice.
Marjory will instruct you on everything you need to know about the wonder that is garlic, and you can even get your free copy of “The Miracle of Garlic: Your First Home Medicine” here.
Check out this video from TGN’s 2016 Home Grown Food Summit on how to grow great garlic!
And if you don’t have a yard, you can grow garlic in containers in your patio garden. Make sure you give them plenty of room to stretch out in the soil in a container that is around 18 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Click here for instructions on how to grow garlic in containers.
One of the most visited sections of the pharmacy is the Cold and Flu section. Sinus “yuck” sufferers, get out of the pharmacy and into the garden!
If you’re like the women in my family, you know how nasty the winter sinus infection can be. The only time I’ve had to take antibiotics is for sinus infections, but echinacea is an herbal alternative that can help knock out the sinus yuck without the harmful side effects of pharmaceutical antibiotics.
You can grow echinacea in a pot on your garden patio. Click here for instructions on how to grow echinacea in a pot.
But where most people dry echinacea, recent studies have shown that fresh echinacea has far more power to treat colds than the dried plant.1)http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20251749,00.html
Echinacea Tea Recipe
You can make a simple fresh echinacea tea to drink during the cold and flu season by simply adding 1/2 cup of fresh echinacea to 8 ounces of water. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the echinacea. Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Strain and add 1-2 tablespoons of raw, local honey. (The honey is especially helpful for a sore throat and a cough).
Cayenne pepper has shown itself worthy to replace over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen—especially for muscle and joint pain.
This is another area of the pharmacy that is overused; acetaminophen and ibuprofen have droves of loyal consumers who take the medicines daily in an attempt to heal chronic pain. But they have side effects like liver damage and ulcers, so we need a natural alternative like cayenne pepper to replace the medicines we take for pain relief.
Those with no yard can grow cayenne peppers in a patio garden or in a small pot indoors. Click here for instructions on how to grow cayenne peppers. Then, simply dry your peppers in the oven on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
Cut the peppers into chunks so they dry faster and place them in the oven at about 200°F for 1–3 hours until dry. You can then grind them into a powder to use in this simple pain salve recipe:
1/2 c. olive oil
2 T. cayenne powder
1/2 oz. beeswax
Infuse the olive oil with the cayenne powder using a double boiler technique. Strain through a cheesecloth. Then melt the beeswax and stir in the cayenne-infused olive oil. Pour the liquid mixture into jars or tins. Let it cool.
You can rub this salve directly onto the painful area. Not only does it allow you to avoid the dangerous side effects of over-the-counter pain medicines, but it may also work quicker than the oral pain relievers because it reaches the area of pain immediately without having to go through your blood stream to get there.
Turmeric, a bright orange root, is a great one to add to your garden for dietary and medicinal uses on your homestead. (Click here for instructions on how to grow turmeric in a pot.)
Turmeric has been shown to help mobilize fat in the body and may help reduce bad cholesterol.
High cholesterol is something many American adults struggle with, and too many of us depend on cholesterol medication to keep us out of the hospital for cholesterol-related issues. You can grow turmeric on your patio or indoors and harvest for treating a whole host of other health issues, as well—from inflammatory bowel disease to gall stones.
Live in the Midwest like I do? Here’s how to grow turmeric and ginger in the Midwest.
One of my favorite ways to use turmeric is in a tea. Here’s the recipe:
Boil 4 cups of water, add 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric, and reduce the heat to simmer for 10 minutes.
Then, strain the tea and add honey or lemon to taste. You can also add a pinch of black pepper for increased absorption.
Ginger is another plant you can grow fairly easily indoors if you don’t have space for an outdoor garden. Click here for instruction on how to grow ginger indoors.
Ginger has been shown to have antiviral effects as well as antibacterial properties. Replace Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, Nauzene, and other medicines for stomach upset with ginger.
Ginger is one of my favorites to use when I suffer from stomach bugs. This is another one I like to take in tea form.
Simply steep between 1 and 1-1/2 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger in boiling water for about 10 minutes; then, strain and sip.
Essential Oils: Round Out Your Medicine Cabinet
We’ve talked about the power of essential oils before, but we can’t have a chapter on alternative medicine without talking about essential oils!
Essential oils are super-concentrated plant extracts. They can be used to replace many over-the-counter medicines. And while many herbal remedies can take a little while to work, some essential oils can work almost instantly to reduce the symptoms of our maladies.
Two of My Favorite Natural Remedies
In my own alternative medicine journey, I’ve had the most difficulty replacing over-the-counter medicine in treatment of the common cold. Here are two of the best recipes I’ve found for natural alternatives to cough drops and cough syrup.
Honey and Essential Oils Lozenges Recipe
2 c. raw, local honey
20 drops Thieves essential oil blend*
20 drops lemon essential oil
5 drops oregano essential oil
Heat honey in a pot until candy thermometer reads 300°F (the “hard crack” stage). Stir constantly. Remove from heat and continue stirring until it cools slightly and starts to thicken. Make sure it is not still boiling continuously before adding your essential oils. Stir the oils in.
Then, in candy molds or on parchment paper, spoon out cough-drop-sized amounts of the honey/oils mixture. Allow to cool completely to room temperature. Store at room temperature.
* Thieves essential oil contains cinnamon, clove, lemon, eucalyptus radiata, and rosemary essential oils. I buy mine from Young Living, although you could theoretically make it yourself.
Simple Cough Syrup Recipe
2 c. water
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 c. fresh ginger root, finely chopped
1 c. raw, local honey
1 fresh lemon, juiced
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
Simmer thyme and ginger in water in a small pot over medium heat until the water is reduced by half. Allow to cool completely; then strain the herbs. Return the tea to the pot and whisk in honey, lemon, and cayenne pepper (which you hopefully grew yourself!).
Store in an airtight container.
Note: I got this recipe from the Traditional Cooking School, but I adapted it so I could make it without an electric pressure cooker. Take 1 tablespoon to soothe sore throat and calm your cough.
Check out other TGN posts on alternative medicine to arm yourself with all the tools you need to be your own apothecary!
This article is part of the Apartment Homesteader series. You can read the rest of the articles in the series here.
Then, find more tips, tricks, and inspiration in The Apartment Homesteader Facebook group! Join your fellow apartment homesteaders here.
(This article was originally published on December 9, 2017.)
The Grow Network is a global network of people who produce their own food and medicine. We’re the coolest bunch of backyard researchers on Earth! We’re constantly sharing, discovering, and working together to test new paths for sustainable living—while reconnecting with the “old ways” that are slipping away in our modern world. We value soil, water, sunlight, simplicity, sustainability, usefulness, and freedom. We strive to produce, prepare, and preserve our own food and medicine, and we hope you do, too!