Q- Please give me some advice on how to deal with those minor injuries and illnesses that tend to crop up at the worst possible time. I'm talking about burns, sprains, wounds, fever, diarrhoea and the like. They always seem to happen in the evenings or at the weekend, when you can't get hold of a GP or sometimes even a pharmacist, but are not severe enough to bother the doctors and nurses in the A&E with. Can you suggest any simple home remedies for such problems?
T.L., via email
A- You'll be pleased to know there's plenty you can do in the comfort of your own home to treat the complaints you've mentioned. I find that natural remedies often work far better and quicker then chemical medications in these instances-and most of them are already on hand. Here's a roundup of the remedies that work for the top 10 minor medical problems I come across.
1- Minor burnsCold compresses are ideal for treating minor burns. Simply wrap clean cloths around ice cubes and place the bundle over the affected area until the ice starts to melt. Repeat several times until the pain eases, but make sure the cold isn't too intense.
For extra benefit, dip the cloths in a chamomile infusion to make a herbal poultice. If you don't have any fresh herbs to hand, try using chamomile tea. Chamomile is known to promote wound healing and relieve pain, thanks to a variety of chemical compounds it contains. Note: don't use your chamomile poultice near the eyes, as it can act as an irritant.
2- Sprains and pulled musclesRICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is the best medicine for these sorts of injuries immediately after they've happened, but Arnica as a gel or tincture is a herbal remedy that can also help. Well known for its calming effects, it can soothe overstretched tissues. It's also invaluable for knocks, bumps, bruises, welts, and general aches and pains-even osteoarthritis. Just remember: you must never use Arnica on open wounds.
3- Tense musclesFor tense and tender muscles-very commonly found at the back of the neck and in the upper back-try lavender oil. Warm it between your hands, then rub it onto the affected area, or get a willing partner to do it for you.
4- DiarrhoeaEating finely grated organic apples is an effective folk remedy for an upset stomach and diarrhoea. For children, adding a little grated carrot can make it more palatable. Alternatively, slice up a raw apple and chew each piece slowly until it becomes mushy. This will allow the apple to release pectins, which can bind and thicken the excess liquids in the gut.
The following traditional Gypsy remedy can also help alleviate diarrhoea:
o Allow lentils to soak overnight in water
o Pour off the soaking water, then boil the lentils in filtered water
o When half-cooked, pour off the water again
o Add a small pinch of salt to the lentil broth, but no fat or oil.
This lentil soup most likely works because it's long been accepted that, like pectin, any starchy soup or food can curtail diarrhoeal symptoms.
5- WoundsSesame oil is a fantastic natural remedy for small wounds like cuts and abrasions. First disinfect the wound, then dribble a few drops of sesame oil onto a clean cotton cloth and place it over the wound as a compress. If need be, hold it in place with a bandage or adhesive plaster. Sesame oil is rich in vitamins A and E, both of which are natural anti-inflammatories and promoters of new cell formation. Sesame oil can also help with gum problems; just gently rub some onto the sore spot.
6- NauseaGinger is the best remedy for queasiness of any sort-whether from food that's gone off, motion sickness, morning sickness or even the nausea that often accompanies indigestion. The spicy heat of ginger is derived from the gingerols and shogaols it contains, compounds with strong anti-emetic (nausea-reducing) properties.
7- Blocked noseWhen you're feeling 'bunged up', a nasal douche (nasal irrigation) using a saline solution is one of the best ways to get you breathing easier again. The salt water moistens the nasal mucosa, allows it to de-swell, and helps to wash away any microorganisms and other irritants. Here's how to do it:
o Dissolve 1 g ( 1/4 to 1/2 tsp) of (non-iodized) sea salt in 100 mL (3 oz or around half a cup) of lukewarm water
o Tilting your head sideways (never backwards) over a sink and using a bulb, syringe or neti pot (easily available online), insert the saline into the upper nostril and allow it to flow out of the lower nostril
o Tilt your head in the opposite direction over the sink and repeat with the other nostril
o Remember to breathe through your open mouth throughout the process.
You can also clear a blocked nose by eating 2-3 Tbsp of grated fresh raw horseradish every day; mix in a little sugar to make it taste better.
8- FeverFevers often arise in the middle of the night when you can't reach your pharmacist, naturopath or GP. For temperatures up to 39.5^0 C (103^0 F), there's an old domestic hydrotherapy remedy that you can do yourself:
o Dampen cotton cloths with lukewarm water and place one around each calf
o Loosely wind another, dry cloth around the first to make a compress on each lower leg
o Don't use cold water, as this stresses the body too much
o Remove the compresses when they have taken on body temperature-usually within 15 to 20 minutes
o Once the calves are too warm again, repeat the process.
9- Burnt tongueIf you've eaten any food or drink that was too hot and burnt your tongue, quickly squeeze a few drops of lemon juice onto the affected spot for instant relief. This also works well for cold sores and inflamed gums.
10- EaracheA little-known remedy for this painful problem is cabbage, an ancient remedy that can be traced back to the time of the Celts. Both Savoy and white head cabbages are suitable for this, as they contain ingredients that are powerful anti-inflammatories. Here's what you need to do:
o Separate the leaves from the cabbage head and lay them out on a cotton cloth
o Crush them flat with a rolling pin until their juices ooze out
o Lay the cloth with the crushed leaves over the ear and place a second cotton cloth over it
o Fix this in place with a beanie cap or headband, and leave in place overnight
o Repeat for the next two nights or until the inflammation has subsided.
Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine, 6th edn (transl Lehrbuch der Phytotherapie). Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum, 1988: 349
Rheumatol Int, 2007; 27: 585-91
Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2013; 2013: Article ID 681304, 10 pages
Am J Dis Child, 1933; 45: 18-24
Senger G. Zigeunermedizin (Gypsy Medicine). Vienna: Carl Ueberreuter Druckerei GmbH, 1987: 111
Altern Med Rev, 2003; 8: 359-77
Eur J Pharmacol, 2006; 530: 136-43
Harald Gaier, one of the UK's leading experts on alternative medicine and a registered naturopath, osteopath, acupuncturist, homeopath and herbalist, practises at The Allergy and Nutrition Clinic, 22 Harley Street, London. Visit his website at www.drgaier.com.
If you have a question for our Medical Detective, write to us at the usual address or email: