Natural and conventional medicine are much more similar than most people think, says "Grow Your Own Drugs" author and ethnobotonist James Wong. Try his simple, plant-based remedies for minor everyday complaints as a helpful complement to traditional medicine.
James's Natural Pantry
James stocks his "drug" pantry with these somewhat unusual ingredients, many of which you may already have in your kitchen cupboards or growing in the backyard.
Beeswax and emulsifying wax
Emulsifiers are used as a binding agent in lotions and creams; they attract and trap water and oil, and add a thickening effect. Beeswax is a natural, antibacterial emulsifier taken from honeycombs that can be used as a skin softener, soother, and moisture retainer.
Essential oils such as tea tree, lavender, clove bud, eucalyptus, and peppermint are a natural way to add fragrance to almost anything. However, they are extremely concentrated and should not be taken internally; if undiluted oils get on your skin, wash them off immediately.
A clear, thickening and settling agent, gelatin is often found in over-the-counter products for sore throats and intestinal disorders and is used in creams, lotions, and syrups. Powdered gelatin is easiest to use; dissolve in cold or slightly warm water, as boiling water makes it more difficult to settle.
A clear, odorless liquid, glycerin can be used to make tinctures (solutions usually made with alcohol and water) for children, though these tinctures do have a shorter shelf life than their alcohol-based counterparts. Glycerin is often used in over-the-counter products for sore throats and intestinal disorders, and can be used as a thickener and preserving agent in creams, lotions, and syrups.
Vitamin C powder
Vitamin C powder is a powerful antioxidant that acts as a natural preservative and is commonly used in skin creams.
Items such as olive oil, sunflower oil, and almond oil are high in vitamin E and can be great for topical use. Oils can go rancid quickly, so always choose fresh, good-quality oil that has been stored in a cool, dark place.
The versatile lavender plant contains antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory chemicals. Lavender has proven antianxiety effects, can be used to treat a range of everyday afflictions from athlete's foot to insomnia, and is James's top plant recommendation.
© 2013 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.