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.
- 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!