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Natural Health

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Dealing with Sickness on the Homestead

 fresh mint

Mint. Fresh herbs make a wonderful tea for times of sickness.

Recently our entire family got through a particularly nasty stomach bug and then it dawned on me that being sick has some particularly challenging aspects for homesteaders, remote dwellers and backyard gardeners. When one is feeling weak, the usual and sensible advice is to set everything aside and rest, but if you have a garden and especially livestock to take care of, some basics still need to be done. Nothing will happen if dishes go unwashed for a day or two, but keeping animals unfed isn’t responsible or humane, and losing a whole season’s harvest because it’s getting overripe and you don’t have the strength to pull yourself out of bed and deal with it is nearly heartbreaking.

The best thing is to try and have at least one adult in the household avoid the illness. It’s incredibly helpful if someone is still up on their feet to do urgent chores or prepare a simple and nourishing meal. It is possible to avoid contagious illness by limiting contact with sick family members as much as possible, moving to a different bedroom if one is available, using separate hand towels, washing dishes with very hot water and sterilizing door handles, countertops, and other work surfaces.

However, sometimes it just so happens that a particularly nasty virus gets the whole family, like it happened for us – or maybe you are the only adult in the household — and then you just have to cope.

Call on neighbors and friends. Enlisting help from willing neighbors can be a godsend at such a time. If you have a kind neighbor who is ready to come and water your garden and take care of your animals while you are too sick to move, by all means avail yourself of this blessing (and be prepared to reciprocate the favor when needed). If you aren’t actually paying your neighbors for their help, it’s nice to offer some little gift in exchange; for example, when we thus collected eggs for our neighbors, we were offered to keep some for ourselves in return.

Automate what chores you can. Supposing you are on your own, however, take things easy and don’t try to brave it out and go on, business as usual, until you actually collapse. Do the bare minimum: Keep your animals fed, watered and sheltered, and do just what it takes to make sure your garden pulls through until you have the time and energy to tend to it. Don’t worry about weeds or mulching at this point, don’t fuss about a stinky, messy chicken coop and don’t undertake heavy jobs such as fencing or other major projects. Time-saving contraptions such as automatic watering systems and self-refilling feeders and waterers for animals prove the true extent of their worth at such a moment.

Rest. Once these basic chores are taken care of, concentrate on resting and recuperating your strength. Relax in bed or on the couch and take a nice nap and catch up on some reading you’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Caring for sick children. If you also have to deal with a houseful of sick little ones, this can be particularly challenging, especially if your kids, like ours, are used to running in and out of doors at all times and find it frustrating to sit or lie down still and quiet. It helps to provide some quiet amusement in the form of books, coloring books, sketching pads, and other quiet, non-messy crafts. Let your children curl up with you in bed for some reading together, or allow them to spread a board game or puzzle on the floor while you are relaxing on the couch. Movies can have their place, too, of course, but in general I find that prolonged staring into a screen contributes to fatigue and doesn’t promote the overall sense of well-being.

Healthy foods for recovery. Provide refreshing, healthy snacks for yourself and your family (some planning ahead can be helpful here): chicken or vegetable soup, fresh and dried fruits, whole-grain crackers, natural yogurt with some raw honey. If you are experiencing a stomach virus, stick to bland foods such as bananas, white rice and white toast. Small sips of clear natural grape juice can also be helpful when it’s difficult to keep anything down.

Brewing herbal teas. Brew some tea, preferably with fresh herbs from your garden. I find this so wonderful at times of sickness that I truly believe it’s worthwhile to keep a patch of herbs (or even just a few pots on a sunny windowsill) for this, if for no other reason. Different herbs have different healing properties. Mint, sage and lemon balm combined make a tea that is great for colds, sore throats, respiratory infections, stomach viruses and inflammation of all kinds. Ginger, though not a herb, also makes a wonderful tea to keep nausea at bay at times of digestive system disorders.

Prioritize your most important chores. If it makes you feel better, make a concise, not-too-long list of chores that have to be done when you recover, in order of importance. For example, “1. Repair chicken coop door; 2. Pick and juice lemons”, etc. Above all, allow yourself the time to rest and heal; everything else can wait.

This post was an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. Get book updates and more by following my Facebook page

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here


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