The following is an excerpt from Grow Your Own Drugs by James Wong (Reader’s Digest, 2009). Packed with elegant photographs, this lively, practical guide will shift your focus from seeing plants as just a pretty backdrop to life to seeing them as solutions in life. Wong includes instructions for concocting all types of herbal remedies — infusions, tinctures, salves, decoctions — along with an index of the top 100 medicinal plants and more than 100 recipes that unleash the power of plants to treat everyday ailments.
(For your convenience, we’ve converted all ingredients from British to American measurements. — MOTHER)
Honey is the magic ingredient in this soothing syrup, but the cherries and lemon add a zingy punch of vitamin C.
3 3/4 cups cherries (leave the pits in)
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup honey
Place all ingredients in a pan with enough water to cover. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes, or until the cherries are soft. Remove from the heat and strain out the solids, then allow to cool. Pour into a sterilized bottle.
Take 2 tablespoons, as required, to soothe coughing. Keeps for several days in the refrigerator.
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a sharp, sour fruit grown mostly in wet meadows in North America. Although perhaps best known as an accompaniment to Christmas dinner, it has a long history of treating cystitis and other urinary tract infections. It is thought to work by preventing bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract and increasing the acidity of urine. If you suffer recurrent bouts of cystitis, regularly drinking homemade cranberry juice can help prevent further outbreaks (commercial juices are usually high in sugar). Cranberry is also used to help relieve the symptoms of acute attacks of cystitis, but you check with your family doctor first to make sure it is cystitis and nothing more serious.
1/2 cup cranberries
3/4 cup clear apple juice
1 cup water
Put all ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer until cranberries are soft. Strain. Drink as often as necessary, adding a little sugar to taste.
Elderflowers are often made into health-giving cordials and teas, but tiny black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) are less commonly used — perhaps because they have a very short season. However, the berries contain many of the same essential compounds as the flowers and are traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory to soothe coughs, sore throats and bronchial infections, and to make sinus conditions looser. Elderberry has powerful antiviral properties that combat various flu strains and have been shown to shorten the duration of flu attacks, so it is extremely useful for children and the elderly during winter months.
Caution: Unripe berries may cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Fill a small Mason jar with ripe elderberries, and cover them with diluted gelatin. Leave in a warm place for 2 weeks. Strain through cheesecloth, squeezing well. Pour into a sterilized bottle.
Adults: Take 2 teaspoons 3 times a day for coughs and sore throats.
This is a gel mask that harnesses the natural fruit acids in kiwifruit, lime and papaya to exfoliate gently, leaving the skin smooth and rejuvenated. This recipe makes enough for one or two facial treatments.
1 kiwifruit, peeled
Juice of 1 lime
2 packets gelatin
Mash the kiwifruit through a sieve into a small bowl. Add the lime juice to the kiwi. Scoop out the seeds from the papaya, and mash the flesh on a chopping board using a fork (this makes it slightly easier to press through the sieve). Press the papaya through a sieve into the top of a double boiler and mix with the gelatin using a fork.
Put the pan with the papaya mixture over the bottom of a double boiler filled halfway with boiling water and stir constantly. As soon as mixture forms a wallpaper-paste consistency, remove from heat immediately and continue to stir. Add the kiwifruit juice slowly, bit by bit, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.
When mixture is cool, apply the gel to your face, avoiding the eye area, and leave on for 10 minutes to 1 hour. Wash off with warm water. Most effective if used as soon as possible. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
Soak 1⁄2 sliced cucumber in 1⁄2 cup lemon juice for 30 minutes in a heat-resistant bowl. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon gelatin into the juice. Place the mixture in the microwave and heat on a low setting until the gelatin dissolves completely. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Spread over the face, avoiding the eye area. Leave on for 20 minutes, then wash off with warm water.
Syrup of figs has been used for hundreds of years as an effective and gentle laxative suitable for all ages. Figs (Ficus carica) work as a demulcent, soothing and protecting the bowels, and are also nutritious and very high in soluble fiber, which helps the bowels work more efficiently. Used in remedies alongside a stronger laxative such as senna, figs help soothe and prevent stomach pains and cramping. The roasted fruit was traditionally mashed and made into a poultice for abscesses in the mouth. Surely worth a try — at least it will taste good!
For the recipe below, use dried senna pods, because they seem to have a gentler effect than the leaves. Adding figs provides soluble fiber to help digestion and soothe the stomach. This syrup will quickly relieve the discomfort of constipation. It is best taken before bed, as it takes eight to 12 hours to take effect.
3/4 cup dried senna pods
2/3 cup boiling water
8 fresh figs, quartered
8 tbsp sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Place the senna pods in a glass bowl and cover with the boiling water. Leave to steep for about 30 minutes, then strain through a sieve or piece of cheesecloth into a blender.
Add the figs and sugar to the senna infusion and blend until smooth.
Pour into a saucepan, and heat slowly to reduce, stirring occasionally. You want to end up with a thick, glossy, sugar-like syrup. This will probably take about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir in well.
Remove from the heat and pour the syrup into a small, sterilized bottle. Shake well before use.
Take 2 teaspoons before bed as needed. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.
Note: Don’t use for more than a few days at a time. Discontinue using if you have severe abdominal pain.
Take 1 teaspoon dried senna pods, add a little less than 1 inch of gingerroot, peeled and chopped, and pour over 1 cup freshly boiled water. Leave for 10 minutes to infuse. Strain. Add lemon juice if desired. Drink while still warm, before bedtime.
Reprinted with permission from Grow Your Own Drugs, published by Reader’s Digest, 2010.
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