April 13, 2012

DOUBLE, DOUBLE, TOIL WITHOUT TROUBLE — and happy Friday the 13th

A friend called the other night complaining of an earache and asked if I knew any home remedies. As it was a dark and stormy night, I could understand his unwillingness to venture out in search of a drugstore. Why he turned to me for a solution, I’m not sure. Perhaps knowing I’d been active in the feminist movement, he presumed I’d met a witch or two in my day. No matter. As it happened, I did know a remedy, one my mother practiced on me when I was a child.

Raised in the wilds of Central America, she’d learned how to brew concoctions for many minor ailments using the vegetation at hand. Often, when she was younger, I’d seen her bent over weeds in our back yard, collecting pods or leaves as necessary.  A handful of flax seed, boiled in water until the liquid becomes gooey (five minutes or less) gives temporary relief for a bladder infection, for example.    A garlic clove, peeled then blackened with a match and wrapped in clean cotton before placing it in the ear makes a wonderful poultice for an infection. 

(courtesy: students.sbc.edu)

Every culture has its remedies, of course. Lizzy Shannon’s book, “A Celtic Year”  abounds in them. Lemon and cucumber juice can lighten facial brown spots for less than the price of expensive creams. So can egg whites, sugar and lemon. As to the love potion she includes, we must take her word for its effect.

Of course the classic text for herbal remedies is “The Herb Book” by John Lust.  I’ve had my well-thumbed copy since 1974.

I’d never mock the wonders of modern medicine, of course. My two titanium hips continue to be a marvel to me. But sometimes, in the dark of night, when I feel too miserable to get dressed and seek an over-the-counter remedy from the all night Minit Market, it’s good to know that armed with a few old wives remedies my kitchen can become a pharmacy.