Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Kitchen Apothecary

It's no secret in my family that I'm very pro-natural treatments for what ails ya. When my dad gets a tension headache- blackstrap molasses water and white willow bark (if I can get him to take it). When my daughter gets an upset stomach- ginger. When the Littles have the sniffles or a little cold- elderberry tea and a hot bath with epsom salts and eucalyptus. Sore throat? Drink some warm peppermint tea with honey.

You get the idea.

I am by no means an herbal guru, and I am still learning about the plants- both from my woods and fields and from far away places- that offer healing; I probably will be for years and years. It is fascinating to me and I hope I can some day walk through my land and know every plant, shrub, and tree, as well as their uses, and to have an apothecary stocked with those plants ready to be used to heal.

I have found some wonderful go-to resources as I build this little home apothecary, both online and written. One of my favorite standbys is Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. This little book is a handwritten at-a-glance that I keep in the drawer with all my herbs and such, and is beautifully written and easy to use. I would highly recommend it. I have also found The Cherokee Herbal: Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions by J.T. Garrett helpful, as it provides a beautiful symbiotic context when we start thinking about the use of plants for healing.  

I have also found many interesting tutorials and such online that have been pinned on this Pinterest board.

Over the years I have slowly gathered bits and pieces of my little healing stash, and tucked them here and there throughout the kitchen, in the pantry and spice racks, and even underneath bathroom sinks. When we made the move to this new house I finally committed to putting it all in one place- in the kitchen- where they are ready and waiting to be used when the need arises.  

So what now resides in my deep, spicily-scented kitchen apothecary drawer? Well...
  1. Activated charcoal. This was one of the first things I bought for our medicine cabinet when we had our first baby. Activated charcoal is used to reduce toxicity, used externally or taken internally. Our daughter got into a bed of fire ants, and using a paste of activated charcoal and baking soda I was able to ease her pain, draw out the poison from the ant bites, and reduce the swelling on her little feet. I also had the opportunity to do the exact same thing for our son when he was almost the same age. Have I ever said how much I hate fire ants? *ahem* Moving on. 
  2. Honey. We have always loved honey in and on our foods and drinks, but we also use it when we're under the weather. Honey is naturally antibiotic. You can put honey directly on to minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, and it will protect the wound and aid in healing. Honey is also one of the best throat-coaters for coughs and sore throats. Bonus: my kids love 'honey tea' when they're sick because it's sweet! We have local raw honey in the pantry and UMF 15+ Manuka Honey from New Zealand (thanks, Grammy!) for the real nitty-gritty stuff.
  3. Aloe vera. OK, technically my aloe plant is on the kitchen windowsill and not in the drawer, but it is unbeatable when a distracted hand bumps the hot oven. A quick pinch off the tip of an aloe leaf and a cooling slime oozes out for your burn-soothing pleasure. My use of this plant is pretty limited to burn treatment, but there are a ton of resources out there focused just on the amazingness of aloe and all you can do with it (like this one). 
  4. Epsom salt. I have recently started reading about the use of epsom salt in the garden, and will probably add that to the list of reasons to keep this stuff on hand, but in the past my big paper carton of epsom salt under the bathroom sink has mainly served to lessen body aches and soreness due to illness or overexertion and to soothe the itching of bug bites or the burning of sunburn.
Those are my top four, which I've always had around and use with the most frequency. All my other goodies can be summed up in what they're used for most frequently around here:
  1. Immune support/antimicrobial: honey, echinacea, garlic, cinnamon, clove, marshmallow root, yarrow, cranberry, elderberry, ginger, rose hips, lemon balm.
  2. Cramps/body aches/headaches: epsom salt, valerian root, passion flower, lemon balm, white willow bark, turmeric, yerba mate, black strap molasses.
  3. Sinus pressure/drainage: slippery elm, raspberry leaf, peppermint, eucalyptus.
  4. Fever reduction: yarrow, peppermint, elder flowers, elderberries, burdock root. 
  5. Expectorant/diuretic: comfrey, marshmallow root, licorice, eucalyptus, thyme, hibiscus flower, dandelion root, chicory root.
  6. Insomnia: chamomile, lavender, passion flower, valerian root, lemon balm.
  7. Digestive troubles: ginger, chicory root, dandelion root, comfrey, lemon balm, hibiscus flower, chamomile, Peruvian bark powder, activated charcoal.

It has become quite a hobby, this kitchen apothecary thing I've got going on in this island drawer of mine. I've had the opportunity to use most of the remedies listed above to treat my family and bring them back 'round from feeling crummy to feelin' fine. It's a pleasure and an honor to use these healing plants for the ones I love, and the more my eyes are opened to what's around me and what purposes these plants have, the more thankful I feel. What a beautiful balance we can find with the world around us, if only we look... if only we try.

Disclaimer: I am in no way an herbal guru, and anyone with severe symptoms of any kind should seek professional help! This info is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or injury. 

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