Natural Cold Remedies

This time of year, everyone seems to have the sniffles. Francisca surely had a list of natural cold remedies to treat the symptoms. Here are just a few she may have prescribed. This year, why not try a few home remedies before putting more chemicals into your body?

salt
Salt for gargle

 

For a sore throat, mix a few tablespoons of salt to a glass of warm water and gargle for thirty seconds, up to eight times a day. Why does this work? Did you ever notice that your throat feels raw and swollen when it is sore? The salt naturally dries the excessive fluid and reduces swelling. The bacteria that cause a sore throat cannot grow as easily in the drier environment. The salt may not kill the bacteria, but it will make your throat less hospitable for it to take up residence there.

hot peppers
hot peppers to clear congestion

 

Eat spicy foods. Spicy enough to make your eyes and nose run, which will help clear congestion. Hot peppers also have an expectorant effect that helps loosen mucus and clear your lungs. If you like garlic, try cooking it to soften and then crush and spread on a sandwich or use to make a tea.

 

Catmint
Catmint tea for sore throat
Catnip or catmint – You won’t find any outside this time of year, but if you can find a plant from a greenhouse, catmint is easy to grown indoors. Place it on a sunny windowsill, as lack of light will prohibit the leaf growth. Pinching off the flowers as soon as they appear will also help the plant fill out. Make sure to water it enough in the dry winter environment. As soon as the plant grows to about six to eight inches, you can start using the leaves. Plant outside after the last frost and replace your indoor catmint plant in the fall with a fresh plant.

A tea made from catnip may soothe a sore throat and help loosen phlegm, but catnip also works as an antacid, for diarrhea and stomach upset. It may reduce anxiety and insomnia as well. The anti-inflammatory properties of catnip also make it an effective treatment for arthritis and help with the swelling of insect bites. Catnip works as a sedative, so do not mix with other sedatives. It also may act as a diuretic so use it in moderation. To make the tea, remove the water from the heat for a minute or two before pouring over the catnip flowering tops and steep.

Sources:
Weiner, Michael A., Earth Medicine, Earth Food. MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc. (1980) Print
Ward, Bernie, 650 Home Remedies, An Essential Companion for Every Home. Globe Communications Corp (1996) Print

Marie’s Pantry

Marie Cathillon raised five children on the farm in Le Petit-Courty. Her pantry was stocked with wild and cultivated herbs used for cleaning, healing, and seasoning, all without the use of chemicals.

Marie’s Pantry

Making Apple Butter
My mother making apple butter on her farm in rural Western Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of Teri Meier

Soapwort (Wild Sweet William)

Soapwort (Wild Sweet William)
Soapwort (Wild Sweet William) growing in my backyard

This plant grew for years along the edge of the woods behind my house, and though I always loved the burst of color and sweet smell, I never knew its practical value.

While Marie did not know how phosphates suspend oil and dirt in water to be rinsed away, she knew that boiling soapwort created foam that would accomplish the same task.

Soapwort, wild sweet William, grows in early summer in the rich, well-drained soil along the edge of the meadow where it is shaded from the strong afternoon sun. The leaves are slightly hairy with flowers forming atop the smooth stem. Little fingers appear to reach out from the stem and grab weeds near it in order to reach its full height of three feet. Left undisturbed, it can be invasive. The prolific pink, sometimes white, flowers burst forth from June to October attracting butterflies and honeybees with its sweet, spicy aroma.

This natural soap is gentle enough for use on wool sweaters or silk blouses without stripping their natural oils. Cleanser made from soapwort makes a nice alternative for sensitive skin or for an herbal bath. Leftovers keep better in the refrigerator. If you cannot use it within the week, freeze it to avoid bacterial growth.

To verify soapwort, pick a handful of leaves and flowers, dunk them in a bucket of water, and rub them vigorously between your palms. A cool green lather will form with a fresh outdoorsy scent.

The entire plant is useful in making soap.

In the spring, harvest the shallow woody rhizomes, scrub, and cut into small chunks. Place two handfuls into a quart of boiling water. Return to a boil, and then lower the heat and let simmer for about twenty minutes. Once the mixture cools, run it through the blender, a little at a time. This will create a lot of foam, so allow to dissolve overnight. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the bits of roots. Dry and store these bits to toss in the pot the next time.

In the summer, harvest leaves and flowers. Gather about a handful of leaves and flowers and simply pour a cup of boiling water over them. Let steep about fifteen minutes, strain, and whisk the liquid until foamy.

To use all year long, dry the leaves, flowers, and roots, making sure to turn frequently to avoid mold growth.

As with any soap, do not eat soapwort.

Source: Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Gather Ye Wild Things: A Forager’s Year. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Print

Francisca’s Herbal Remedies

Fireplace drying herbs
Fireplace drying herbs in the farmhouse at Le Petit-Courty

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Genesis 1:29)

 

Hanging from the rafters of Le Petit-Courty, like an upside down garden, Francisca dried plants, roots, and bark, ready for immediate use to treat whatever ailed the Cathillon family or the people of Vacquenoux.

Hemp-Agrimony

Hemp-Agrimony
Francisca’s Favorite Herb, Hemp-Agrimony

Of the myriad of species collected, she relied on Hemp-Agrimony above all others, collecting the leaves and flowering tops in August, before they opened and dried. Vitamin C in plants such as Hemp-Agrimony staved off scurvy and colds during the long Vosges winter without fresh fruits.

A tea made from Hemp-Agrimony leaves or dried flowers treated colds and sore throats, reduced fever, and relieved stomachaches. The bruised leaves applied directly to the skin healed wounds or infections, or rubbed on domestic animals repelled insects. Placing the leaves in a bath relieved aching muscles and joints and a compress of the leaves relieved headaches. Even the roots from the plant were used as a laxative.

Commonly found in wet soil near swamps and thickets or along freshwater streams, Hemp-Agrimony is a tall woody plant, growing between two and five feet high with long, toothy leaflets. The leaves grow in familiar tiered hemp-style in pairs of three lobes. Reddish stems covered in downy hair with clusters of tiny pink or white flowers that burst forth from July to September.

Hemp-Agrimony is no relation to Agrimony, a plant with yellow flowers, nor is it related to Cannabis Hemp, though the shape of the leaf is similar. All parts of the this is poisonous if eaten and should only be ingested as a tea.

Source: Weiner, Michael A., Earth Medicine, Earth Food. MacMillan Publishing Co, Inc. (1980) Print

Catherine’s Foraging Journal

Wild Spinach or Lambsquarters

Prolific, abundant, and delicious, the top edible “weed” is Wild Spinach. It grows with little effort in almost any disturbed soil, and is one of the most nutrient dense plants ever analyzed. It is rich in potassium and magnesium, and has more vitamins A and C, riboflavin, and calcium than domesticated spinach.

Wild Spinach
Wild Spinach

Identification: The leaves of the Wild Spinach are arranged in a starburst pattern, and vary in shape from narrow and pointed, to rounded and triangular. They may grow up to four feet tall, though they lose flavor as they age. The waxy coating on the leaves makes water bead and deters insects.

Poisonous look alike: The Hairy Nightshade. The leaves on these two plants are similar, but the nightshade is hairy, while the wild spinach is not. They are also easily discernable by their flowers. Hairy nightshade flowers are white, while wild spinach flowers are green and inconspicuous. Another way to identify Wild Spinach is to spray the leaves with water and look for droplets.

Harvesting: Thin the patch by pinching shoots close to the ground and placing the baby shoots in a bowl of water to keep them from drying out. Harvest larger plants by pinching the upper stem. If the stem pinches off easily, it is tender enough to eat. If the stem is old and woody, pluck only the leaves, though pruning the woody stem will stimulate new growth. If the leaves are too old, they may become bitter, but are still usable cooked with onion, garlic, or in a stew.

Source: Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants, Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Gibbs Smith Publishing (2010) Print