Detox Your Medicine Cabinet: 26 Herbs and Supplements That Treat Common Symptoms


It’s time we rethink our medicines. While there are many that are lifesaving, of course, there are also many that just plain don’t work that well, or if they do, they come with a host of side effects.

Let’s just take a look at a few examples:

  • Acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol)  is responsible for more liver disease in the US than any other cause.
  • NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen) cause serious gastritis that can lead to other problems, and can even lead to stomach bleeding requiring hospitalization, surgery, and blood transfusions.
  • PPIs (like Prilosec) decrease vitamin B12 and likely other nutrient absorption.

And these medications can all cause harm even when use as recommended.

Cleaning out your medicine cabinet isn’t just about getting rid of expired meds, meds that might be hazardous to someone in your household if accidentally ingested, or checking for medications that have had an FDA recall – although these are all good reasons. It’s about ending over-reliance on common but potentially unsafe medications.

Stocking Your Natural Medicine Cabinet

The natural world offers us many safe options that are equally or more effective for treating many of our common symptoms and problems including allergies, acid reflux, gas and bloating, constipation, headaches, aches and pains, menstrual pain, colds and flu, fever, cough, and ear infections, to name just a few.

You don’t have to have a lot of remedies or invest a ton of money to keep some basic products on hand for the treatment of common symptoms and simple health problems. What’s great about herbs and supplements is that many serve more than one purpose, and some are even common kitchen ingredients!

The materials for the natural medicine cabinet can be purchased at your local grocer or pharmacy, from a major health food store, and if not easily found locally, the bulk herbs can be ordered on-line at Mountain Rose Herbs.

There are several excellent companies for the liquid extracts. I specifically recommend Herb Pharm, Gaia Herbs, and Herbalist and Alchemist because of their high quality ingredients, preparation methods, and smart environmental practices.

It’s helpful to have your medicine cabinet pre-assembled so that you’re prepared when symptoms crop up unexpectedly. Most of us don’t feel like running out to the store to find what we need when we’re not feeling our best.

Some of the ingredients on the list below, like the bulk herbs for teas, typically last for a year when stored in a dry jar in a cool dark place. Liquid extracts (tinctures) keep for years. Some foodstuffs like ginger naturally have a much shorter shelf life, but both ginger and garlic can keep for weeks or more under the right conditions (ginger in the fridge, garlic in a dry bowl or basket on the kitchen counter).

What’s in the Natural Medicine Cabinet?

Below you’ll find my “green medicine cabinet must-haves” list – the top 20 herbal ingredients plus a few additional natural supplements I always keep on hand for common household health needs.

Any of these “remedies” can be used alone and many can be used together for combined action or to address multiple symptoms.

If you haven’t already, please join my mailing list (it’s FREE) and you’ll receive a downloadable/printable handout on creating your own natural medicine cabinet, including doses, uses, and precautions. Take it along on your shopping trip to green up your medicine cabinet, and keep a copy in your medicine cabinet to refer to when needed.

  • Aloe: use the gel from the plant (I just grow one in my kitchen) topically for minor burns, sunburns, skin irritation or inflammation or keep a prepared aloe gel in your cabinet
  • Arnica oil: applied topically, it’s magical for quickly healing bruises and sprains
  • Black cohosh: the liquid extract works like a natural Tylenol for aches and pains without the potential for serious side effects; it’s excellent for headaches, menstrual cramps, and body aches from flu (and I bet you thought this herb was just for menopause!)
  • Chamomile tea: for “belly aches,” difficulty falling asleep, fussy babies or kids, gas and bloating, and colic; also anti-inflammatory for the bowel for people with inflammatory bowel problems
  • Comfrey leaf and root: used in salves and ointments for irritated skin, minor cuts, and abrasions (of course, only after minor wounds have been cleaned well with water)
  • Cramp Bark: Another great herb for menstrual cramps and body aches, keep an ounce of the liquid extract in the medicine cabinet
  • Echinacea and Elderberry Syrup: The dynamic duo for coughs, colds, and flu symptoms, to help prevent and treat them. Also tastes delicious. I recommend the combination products – the taste of the elderberry makes the Echinacea go down easier for kids (yes, Mary Poppins would agree)
  • Garlic: use to make Garlic Honey Lemonade for colds, coughs, and ‘what ails ya’
  • Garlic-Mullein Oil: the go-to remedy for earaches, a few drops of oil are put into the affected ear (as long as there is nothing draining from the ear canal and the ear drum is intact)
  • Ginger (fresh root): use hot tea for fever, colds, nausea, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and the capsules for headaches and arthritic joints. Crystallized ginger candy is fantastic for motion sickness.
  • Jamaican Dogwood: nature’s pain reliever, the liquid extract is one of the strongest botanicals we have! Great for headaches, muscles aches and pains, menstrual cramps – really, if there’s pain, it often helps. I love to combine it in equal parts with liquid extracts of Cramp Bark and Black cohosh for the triple threat pain treatment. A usual adult dose is 20-60 drops of any of these, or the combination, 4-6 times/day. Avoid with sedative medications and do not exceed this dose.
  • Kava kava: this is nature’s best medicine for anxiety. Only 5-20 drops of the liquid extract, or a low dose capsule is needed (start low and go slow ‘cause it’s strong stuff and can knock you flat if you take too much!) Avoid if you have any history of liver problems and if you are operating any machinery or driving.
  • Lavender essential oil: a few drops applied to the temples and voila! Bye-bye tension headache. Five to seven drops in your hot bath and sleep well.
  • Licorice: the DGL form is a safe and natural alternative to medications for heartburn and reflux (GERD). Licorice tea is also a very effective natural anti-inflammatory that soothes sore throats and coughs.
  • Mentholated Chest Rub (yup, like Vic’s): helps quiet coughs in kids (= more sleep for mom and dad) and in adults as well. Only use on the chest (never on the face).
  • Passionflower (liquid extract or capsules): take before bed as directed for less stress and better sleep.
  • Peppermint oil: rub a few drops into each temple for tension headaches; inhale the aroma for morning sickness or to increase concentration while studying.
  • Quercetin and Freeze Dried Nettles: classic for preventing and treating allergies and hives, this combo comes in capsules and can be taken before or when allergy season starts or when you notice symptoms. Avoid quercetin in pregnancy.
  • Slippery Elm: the lozenges are soothing and healing for sore throat discomfort.
  • Tea tree oil: a natural antiseptic and antifungal herbal extract that can be applied to the skin to treat a variety of skin infections including ringworm and athlete’s foot, and can also be used to treat yeast infections. Make sure to use a diluted product, because full strength is irritating to the skin.

Additional Natural Medicine Cabinet Must-Haves

  • Digestive enzymes: made with plant enzymes; help with gas and bloating
  • Honey: keep in your kitchen or medicine cabinet for minor burns, drying up zits, and for a cough in anyone over 1 year old
  • Magnesium citrate: from 150 mg to 800 mg before bed to treat constipation
  • Probiotics: helps get the gut flora back on track when you’ve had a cold, taken antibiotics, or have gas and bloating
  • Sea salt: One of the best remedies for a sore throat is a sea salt gargle
  • Zinc lozenges or tablets: helps boost the immune system during cold season and helps shorten the duration of respiratory infections; also helps prevent and treat seasonal allergies.

I also try to always have a couple of fresh lemons in the fridge; a squeeze in water is a quick pick me up for a blah stomach, and with honey and ginger or garlic, you’ve got a perfect cold remedy.

While most common symptoms can be treated with self-care, if you or a family member has a new, unusual, severe, or prolonged symptom or condition, please consult with your health care provider for appropriate evaluation and treatment.

If you found this article useful, please make sure to LIKE this page. If you have questions or your own fave home remedies to SHARE, please tell me about them in comments section below. I LOVE hearing from YOU! And please remember to join my mailing list and get your FREE Natural Medicine Cabinet guide!

Wishing you health and happiness,

AJR-Sig

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Denice

What a fantastic post loaded with great information. Not only did I print out the chart to tape inside my medicine cabinet, but I've forwarded this post to many friends who aren't sure where to start on their natural journeys. Thanks much!!

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Maria

Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. Love the pdf version...will share it with all my friends and family

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Julia Brandt

This is so handy and helpful! Thank you very much for sharing it with us!

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Jen

Love the chart, thanks. I would like to add that essential oil of lavender is also a fantastic burn remedy. I have used it for years, on all sorts of burns from minor (kitchen, yes I have a bottle in my kitchen) to more major burns. It is used "neat" (not mixed with a carrier oil) on any burn (except ones that are open and weeping, then I use honey.). Not only does it immediatly take the burn out but it is SO soothing to the senses.

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Mary

Just FYI, one 30C pellet of Homeopathic remedy Arnica taken 3 times every 5 minutes (dissolved under the tongue) immediately after injury is much more effective in quick healing of bruises, trauma, sprains, muscle aches after exercise etc., than topical Arnica.

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Jennifer monaghan

While a great article and very useful - I have at least half of these natural remedies in my own 'medicine ' cabinet. Tried tested and true and chose them EASILY over drug store 'remedies'. But, you must clarify and caution a few things. Like saying Tylenol /Advil cause liver damage. Period. Yes they do, but at high doses and or over a long period/ chronic use of them. But not just one or two doses a few times a year, say. You need to specify that in your article. Then on the flip side - Need to mention / clarify with some of the potentially dangerous herbal remedies - like the Jamaican dogroot for treating pain / inflammation for example. Yes it works- but it also needs to be upfront in your article that this herbal remedy needs to be used with caution especially in regards to drug interactions and severe side effects and that they are not recommended for children etc. Not in a link, that people may not bother looking at or can't connect to. It needs to be mentioned beside the herb itself in the article. Seeing this a lot in recent articles and people are running into trouble just the same with herbal choices because of this. :( Just saying....

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SueC

THANKS so much for this! Great, concise info. I'm passing this on!

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Janessa

This is great! The one thing that always holds me back from using natural remedies is the fact that I have been pregnant or nursing for the last 8+ years. And there is no go to list for what is safe and what isn't. In fact, it often depends on where you look! I know you have a few articles on what to use, thank you. I expected a note at least on black cohosh and possibly cramp bark related to not taking while pregnant. Is my knowledge (so limited) on those incorrect?

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    aviva

    Hi Janessa I am sure your knowledge is not so limited, however neither herb should truly be contraindicated for short term, acute use (as one would with something in a medicine chest). Cramp bark and black cohosh can be used short term (days at a time, for example) for headaches, muscle aches, etc without risk. There was some concern about black cohosh causing liver damage. Those fears were addressed and debunked by Edzard Enrst in his paper on the topic. It also has really quite minimal, if really any, hormonal activity -- and certainly none that would be of concern over a few days use. Hope that clarifies. Best. Aviva

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      Janessa

      Thank you for answering! It does help clarify for sure. Cramp bark is the BEST stuff. My first midwife had me get it and it completely knocked out my after pains. Now I tell everyone I know and just finally had someone take my suggestion and try it for menstrual cramps. A few hours later and she's a believer. Amazing stuff.

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Sara

Thank you SOOO much for this post! I do have a question though...I have a 15 month old who is getting her molars and having a really hard time. I use frozen rags dipped in chamomile and homeopathics mainly(plus we co-sleep so there is much more nighttime nursing during these times), but sometimes the pain gets really bad and keeps us both up. I hate to even admit that I have given her Tylenol, but I have:(. But, I would love to know if there is a way to give her something natural and safe when the pain is too much and we both need to sleep. Thanks so much!

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    aviva

    No shame in admitting that you've given tylenol! The meds were invented for good reason! :) One of my favorite remedies for my kids when they were teething was tincture of valerian rubbed right onto the gums. A little gets ingested that way, too -- and is soothing. At that age even 5-7 drops would be ok to give. Hope they come thru quickly! :) Aviva

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      Fernanda

      Aviva, was that tincture in alcohol or glycerine? Thank you!

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        aviva

        Tinctures can be made in alcohol or glycerine, depending on the extractability of the plant. I prefer alcohol (better overall extraction) but often use glycerites in kids, or in those who can't tolerate alcohol.

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Randi j

This is sooo helpful. I will forward and make copies fory loved ones , clients and myself!

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Katie

This article is perfect - I was just getting ready to stock my herbal medicine cabinet, and now here it is, all in one spot. I would love to see an article explaining why herbs are better than pharmaceutical drugs. Your book about herbs for kids talked about this a bit - herbs have potent medicinal properties as well as ingredients that make them safe and they have a much longer history - thousands of years being "on the market" versus a few years. Also, as a biochemist, I like to know how drugs/herbs actually work. And do they work? How do we know? Have herbs been studied in the same way that drugs have been studied? Or is there another way of understanding them? I would also love to hear your perspective on other alternative/complementary medicine. Several years ago I opted out of medical school to stay home and have a family. At that time I was interested in natural medicine and I picked up a book about homeopathy. Its explanation of how homeopathic remedies are supposed to work - a tiny bit of the disease, and the less, the more potent, as a cure, made no sense to me. My next exposure to non traditional medicine was no better. I was searching for a diagnosis for what I later found out to be hyperventilation syndrome. Many friends recommended a functional medicine chiropractor who recommended treating my problems with a gluten free diet and many expensive supplements with no other explanation than - this helps a lot of people with lots of different problems, maybe it will help you. I highly respect your opinion, your knowledge and your experience. I would love to understand your approach to different kinds of medicine. Thank you!

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    aviva

    hi katie there are thousands of studies on the efficacy and safety of botanicals, other supplements, and other "CAM" modalities. germany led the way on much of the early, high quality research, but we've got quite a bit un the US now. the topic is way to extensive to cover here. but i can point you to some excellent online EBM resources: university of wisconsin integrative medicine for many protocol natural medicines comprehensive database nccam american botanical council american herbal pharmacopoeia to name just a few. Sadly, functional medicine is construed -- and practice by many -- as a lab heavy, supplement heavy, expensive form of medicine -- it doesn't have to be, though. there is also a wide variety in the quality and training of practitioners out there, making it somewhat of a wild west at times. So i hear your concerns. Thanks for writing and your respect greatly appreciated! Warmly, Aviva

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Mart Ramirez

Wow! Thank you so much for the list! Printing it and saving it right now!! Ironic, we just bought Tylenol and my cuzin n law just dropped off a few Ibuprofen. This is beyond helpful! Thank you, Avivia!!

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    Mart Ramirez

    Sorry misspelled your name. Typing too fast! Thank you, AVIVA!!!!

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Nichole

Thanks especially for the headache remedies. That's probably the one conventional medicine I still use in a pinch for and I've been looking for a basic herbal alternative. I think I'll keep a bottle of the tincture in my purse for when I feel a headache coming on when I'm out and about!

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Erin H.

Excellent!! Have about 50% of that before reading this....and now...to the kitchen! (and the store) Thanks Aviva!!

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Carol Morley

Wonderful post Aviva. Great synopsis of all the must-haves!!

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Brooke

Love this post! I've been thinking more and more about how to enhance my herbal pharmacy at home and this is great! Quick question though in regards to the mentholated chest rub - is there a specific reason we would want to purchase something like Vicks or could we make our own at home? I make a rub with coconut oil and peppermint, rosemary, frankincense, pine, and lemon essential oils. Would that work just as well or is there something in a product like Vicks that gives it more medicinal value? Thanks for all you do!

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    aviva

    hi brooke homemade is cool, too! (cool, get it --mentholated!) :) i'm not sure vick's has a corner on effectiveness, but there is something about that product that seems to work. i suspect it's in a petroleum base so there's an advantage to a natural alternative... best aviva

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Marcina

Thank you so much for this list!!! I have a question... what do you use as a natural anti-inflammatory instead of ibuprophen?

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    aviva

    Depends on the condition -- if acute I use herbs such as cramp bark and Jamaican dogwood, or corydalis (or even recommend cannabis for patients with severe pain living in legal states) -- for chronic pain I usually recommend herbs such as turmeric, licorice, devil's claw, and many others...

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melissa

You are my go to blog for herbs Aviva, as an NP with very little time with the patients I serve I am so grateful for the wisdom you impart for FREE!!! Thank you for your passion and commitment to making this information accessible to everyone.

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Jennifer

Hello! I love your website and advice in all the given areas that I have read since joining. I am looking forward to a season of life where I can study herbal medicine for women under your tutelage. For now, I am satisfied with the valuable information you put out in your posts. I do have a question about the bulk herbs storage. If the herbs are getting ready to expire after a year's time, is there a way to prolong the life of them? Make a salve, oil or tincture? Or store in a cooler environment?

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    aviva

    GREAT question -- tinctures actually last forever, so no worries there. Roots often last longer than a year in bulk. Flowers and seeds -- check color and scent -- if still vibrant, still ok. Otherwise, gifts -- bath mixes, sachets, etc. OR compost if really gone. Make sure to focus on proper storage to get the most out of your herbs. :) Aviva

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Marla Hicks

Thank you so much for all the care and research that you invest in this information for your readership. I love your book on Botanical Medicine for Women's Health! We use it as a text in our midwifery education program. Wondering if you could say more about advisories regarding the use of Quercetin during pregnancy and lactation. There seem to be a variety of concerns regarding cellular toxicity, increased iron storage after prenatal exposure (rodent studies), etc. Thanks in advance for any light you can shed.

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    aviva

    Yes, I avoid quercetin in the first trimester due to possible teratogenicty -- and would only use it after this for SEVERE allergies and not more than 150 mg/day. It is also hard on the kidneys at high doses. Best, Aviva

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Craig

Inspiring article. Wondering how to get myself from Inspiration to Action on this one. Ie. I would love set up this medicine cabinet for my family but think that once I am done reading this article I may not get very far with it. Anyone have suggestions about how they have handled this? Thanks - great ideas and information!

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    Lee

    Craig, Just keep the list handy. As you find the need for something tha ails ya, check out the list and hit up the healthfood store it you don't already have it in your home. The place it in a cabinet or box. You will grow your kit in no time!

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Victoria Tuggey

Most of these suggestions are in my medicine cabinet. Missing from the list above are some key players; most used item in cabinet, healing clay for stomach upset, topically for scratches and rashes. Next olive leaf and eyebright -nettles for ear-nose-throat and allergies, oregano oil for any serious internal infection and silver for a mild antibacterial. Now my cabinet is amiss without a zapper.

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Amanda

Thank you for posting this!! I'm pregnant and have been experiencing headaches everyday, I've started trying the pepperment and lavender essential oil and I have not had a headache in a week!!

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Kristin

Any herbs or supplements out there that would improve PVCs/cardiac arrythmia? Or any that you should take when eliminating gluten from your diet?

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Vanessa

Wonderful article - thanks for the list!

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Amy

Do you have a list for a purse first aid kit? I carry essential oils, arnica and ibuprofen. I'm planning to replace my ibuprofen with ginger capsules right away.

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Ashley

I recently purchased cramp bark powder from Mountain Rose Herbs and am not entirely sure how to use it. Can I just mix it in some water and drink it like that, or do I have to make a tincture? Also, how much would I take? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

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    aviva

    Powdered Cramp bark should be taken in capsules. Tea wouldn't be very extractable and would be kind of yucky, too.

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Zita

I love the articles I read on this website which I found recently. I only saw this now as I was looking for info to help my acid reflux (GERD) with natural remedies to come off Gaviscon and Omeprazol. What would be the best amount of licorice and any other useful herbs if there is to keep this controlled without medication? Thank you for all the healthy tips.

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