"After thirty," says the proverb, "you're either a fool or your own physician." Maybe before thirty, too especially if you live in an isolated spot and or have a big bump of independence. Of course, you're a bigger fool still if you meddle with a serious or persistent condition but both you and your overworked doctor will be better off if you can prevent or cure your own minor ills. Over the next few issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Marj Watkins will be passing on some health hints that work for her family. - MOTHER
"Kitchen medicine" is my family's system of natural healing: the right food for every physical condition, plus home remedies, plus exercises to exorcize aches, plus vitamin therapy.
We believe that by immediately eating, doing and taking the right simple things as soon as we first notice minor symptoms, we can avert or prevent major illnesses. Kitchen medicine saves us money we might have had to spend on doctors' and dentists' bills and prescriptions, and the time we might have wasted in physicians' offices and drugstores goes into happy living and creative work.
Another point in favor of our natural remedies is that - sensibly applied - they can do us nothing but good. On the other hand, even such a seemingly innocent pharmaceutical as aspirin can cause an upset stomach or internal bleeding, and stronger drugstore or prescription medicines have more severe potential side effects.
Part of our kitchen medicine is family lore, handed down from the proven store of a quick-witted, innovative grandmother except that we've replaced some of her cures with others that are as effective and more pleasant. We no longer paint sore throats with iodine or blow boric acid powder into them, for instance, and the dread enema is just an unpleasant memory.
For other herbal remedies and hints on what to eat when and what to do (or not do) in case of various ailments, we're indebted to Oregon and Washington Indians, Adelle Davis, Euell Gibbons and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Here - in more or less alphabetical order - are some common disorders and the measures we've used to cope with them.
Home Remedies for Aches and Pains
The amount of pain we feel is related to the amounts of calcium and vitamin E stored in our bodies. When both are present in plenty we experience less discomfort, and fear it less. Two calcium lactate tablets with a glass of milk four times a day for a couple of days before going to have teeth drilled or pulled should send you to the dentist feeling calm and brave.
To forestall back and joint pains and muscle cramps, eat daily some of these calcium-rich foods: broccoli, chard, lamb's quarters, collard, dandelion, mustard or turnip greens, whole wheat and soy flours, rice, sesame seeds and torula yeast.
You can also extract calcium from meat bones: Simmer any you can get with water to cover, a tablespoon or two of vinegar to leach out minerals, an onion sliced and lightly stir-fried in oil, a handful of sliced celery, a few peppercorns, a tablespoon of dried seaweed, marjoram and or basil and a few slices of carrot plus a teaspoon of salt. Bring the potful to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer everything covered one to three hours. You can serve the broth in cups with a dash of tamari (fermented soy sauce) or use the stock as a base for a more elaborate soup or stew.
Vitamin E you can get from any whole grain (cooked slowly and gently), from bean sprouts, cold-pressed unrefined oils and in capsules or chewable tablets (most effective in the form of d-alpha-tocopherol). Adelle Davis recommends in her books that adults begin with 100 units daily for the first week, and work up to 600 units daily.
Ian F. Rose, father of Olympic swimmer Murray Rose, says his athlete son takes 200 to 1,500 units of vitamin E a day as stress and activity indicate plus wheat germ, wheat germ oil and rice bran.
Heat Treatment: Even the warmth of a human hand applied to an aching knee, back or neck can be very comforting. Take a hot shower with the water directed at the troublesome part, or soak in a hot bath with a tablespoon or two each of sage and thyme leaves in a tea ball (or stuffed into a swatch of cheesecloth fastened with a rubber band or twist-tie).
Another home remedy for pain is to apply a cloth wrung out of hot vinegar solution (one tablespoon of vinegar to a quart of water) to aching joints, or soak arthritic hands in the same liquid. Dr. D.C. Jarvis, author of Arthritis and Folk Medicine, claims that the acid is able to penetrate the skin and put the calcium deposited in the finger joints back into the bloodstream. Anyway, the moist heat is beneficial.
Exercise: For backache: Lie on a well-padded floor, wrap your arms around your knees and use your curved back as a rocker.
For leg joints: Apply a heating pad or hot moist pack, then stretch and bend. Walk until you reach a stride that doesn't hurt. The first few minutes may be painful; after that the joints loosen up. Stop before fatigue tightens them again.
For fingers, wrist and arm: Apply heat treatment and limber by stretching and bending.
For ankle joints: Soak the feet in hot water deep enough to cover the ankles. Balance a beanbag on your foot as you sit in a chair and raise and lower the weight five times. Very gradually increase the number of repetitions (one more each day is enough),
Deep Rest: Lie comfortably on your back, hands on chest, in the Egyptian mummy pose. Inhale fully, count to yourself as far as you can on one breath and exhale slowly and completely. Then pause for a few counts before another slow, smooth inhalation. At each end of each breath your body has some moments when not even breathing jars it. Repeat the exercise five times, breathe normally for a little while and start again. Do this for five to fifteen minutes, several times daily and before going to sleep at night.