Kitchen Cupboard Medicine


Open your kitchen cupboard and what do you see? Salt, pepper, ginger, dill, alum, meat tenderizer, honey, molasses, baking soda; and the list can go on.  Viewed as flavor enhancers and condiments these are tasty additions to any meal.  But there is a hidden world of medicinal benefit in many of those little tins and shaker-topped jars. When you reach for the alum to eliminate a canker sore, or swallow a teaspoonful of honey to soothe a sore throat, or make a moist plaster of meat tenderizer to take the sting out of a bee-bite, you are practicing "Kitchen Cupboard Medicine". Kitchen Cupboard Medicine has been practiced for hundreds of years. In his ancient, surviving text, De Medicina, Aulus Cornelius Celsus’s (ca 25 BC–ca 50) references a pain relieving pill containing pepper; but only recently, with the assistance of studies and evidence-based medicine, have the benefits been proven and better understood.

As sensible and simple as treating your self or others with the every-day supplies from your kitchen cupboard may seem, it is important to know when to go to your health care provider.  High fevers, sudden and/or severe pain, broken bones and profuse bleeding may need the attention of a professional.  In these cases your kitchen cupboard may have what you need for that stop-gap-measure to ease the problem while you get to the doctor or hospital – but remember – reaching into your cupboard to treat an ailment or accident should be to obtain help, not practice heroics.

You do not need to feel intimidated by the number of herbs or spices that are listed here.  The cost of a small jar of herbs or spices can seem intimidating, but you are not bound strictly to the baking aisle to acquire these little gems of culinary interest and healing.  I have become very fond of the bulk aisle at our local WinCo grocery store.  There I found small shaker-topped bottles for $1.25 and nearly every spice or herb listed in this article for well under the per-ounce price of the pre-packaged ones in the fancier containers displayed in another part of the store.  Thrift stores are another fun place to scrounge around in to enhance your stash of containers. Many of the remedies call for the herb or spice to be made into a tea for consumption, as a poultice or to be used as a wash.  Again, you can buy the spice or herbs in bulk for this or buy the ready-made tea bags.  These are especially handy to have on hand and can make the remedy-making process a whole lot easier.  Watch for sales and coupons.  There are several medicinal herbal tea companies worth mentioning:  Celestial Seasonings, Yogi, and Traditional Medicines.  I have used many of their teas with outstanding success and confidently store many of their varieties.

As extensive as this list may seem; it is not a complete inventory of all the possible remedies you might find in your home.  I chose these remedies by one of four criteria.  Either, I have used it, I know someone who has, it was recommended by one of my trusted teachers, or I was able to document it’s effectiveness by researching evidence-based studies.  Some of these will work very well for you; while others maybe not so much.  Whether you choose an herb or spice from your cupboard, a veggie from your refrigerator or a piece of fruit from the bowl on your counter top, if you use your common sense and trust your intuition you will be guided to the remedies that are best for you and your family. 


  • Garlic: The juice has antibacterial properties. Place 2-3 drops into the affected ear and pack with cotton ball. DO NOT put ANYTHING into the ear if there is concern about a ruptured ear drum.


  • Cabbage or Lettuce Leaves Wrap: Soak the outer leaves of the cabbage or lettuce leaves in warm water, then crush lightly.  Wrap and gently tie 3-4 layers of the leaves over the sprain in contact with the skin. Leave overnight.
  • Vinegar: Make a compress and soak it in vinegar to reduce the swelling and discomfort.


  • CAUTION!  All burns are a potentially serious injury.  Know the types: first, second, third and, fourth degree; thermal, chemical or electrical. Treat only uninfected first degree burns at home.  Even large area first degree burn may need medical attention. Pay close attention to even small second degree burns (with blistering).  All third and fourth degree burns need medical attention. Watch for infection.
  • COOL the burn first.
  • Honey: Has antibacterial properties and will promote healing. Cool then apply the honey and cover the area with dry dressing.


  • Alum: The preservative, alum, can be put on the canker. It will sting and cause you to pucker-up! – Rinse with water after a few minutes. You should notice significant pain relief and it does help clear the sore up more quickly than if left untreated. Repeat once or twice a day, as needed. Alum is found on the baking aisle with spices.
  • Baking soda: It can either be used as a powder directly on the sore or made into a paste and applied several times a day.
  • Tea: Press it on the sore and hold it there for up to 10 minutes. The tannic acid in the tea is an astringent that relieves pain and encourages healing.
  • Water & Salt: Mix 2 tablespoons of salt into a 6 ounce glass of warm water and use as a mouth rinse 3-4 times a day.


  • Ginger: Drink ginger tea to help break up a cold.
  • Lemon:  Lemon helps by alkalinizing the body. Squeeze a lemon in a glass of water or tea, and drink every couple of hours.
  • Put your toothbrush in a glass of hydrogen peroxide. This will keep you from re-infecting yourself.

COLD SORES (Herpes):

  • Gelatin free yogurt: One of the best strategies for limiting the length of stay for your cold sore is to reduce the amount of arginine (an amino acid) in your body.  Lysine can do this for you; and yogurt is high in lysine.  But be aware that the gelatin in most yogurts is arginine-rich so make sure you read the label carefully. Try a natural food store if your grocery store doesn’t have it.
  • Sage & Ginger Tea: Make a tea by adding two or three fresh sage or thyme leaves or ½ to 1 teaspoon of the dried leaves to a cup of boiling water; steep; add one teaspoon of powdered ginger. Drink two to three cups a day until the sores clear up.
  • Common Tea: Steep an ordinary tea bag in boiling water for a few minutes; cool; then apply to lesions. The tannin in the tea has proven anti-viral properties.


  • CAUTION!  Conjunctivitis is very contagious. 
    • Beware of cross contamination to the unaffected eye or contamination of the eyewash. 
    • Never double-dip your cloth or cotton ball back into your eyewash container. 
    • Wash your hand often.
    • If the conjunctivitis comes at the same time as a cold sore, check with your doctor to make sure the herpes virus has not infected your eye. This is very important.
    • Discard your makeup, it is probably contaminated.
  • Chamomile Tea:  Makes soothing eyewash.
  • Fennel Tea: Boil fennel seeds in water for 10 minutes, strain, cool and use as an eyewash.
  • Honey: Dissolve three tablespoons in 2 cups of boiling water, let it cool, then use as an eyewash several times a day. The honey has antibacterial properties and unpasteurized honey has antibiotic properties.
  • Common Tea (Camellia sinensis): Tea contains bioflavonoids that fight viral and bacterial infections and tannic acid to help soothe the itching and help reduce inflammation. Repeat several times a day. Use cool water to moisten the tea bag if there is swelling.
    • Black tea: Has more tannin; and that may help reduce the inflammation.
    • A weak solution of tea may be used as an eyewash.

CONSTIPATION (occasional):

  • Apples: Apples have a laxative effect because they contain pectin which adds bulk to the stools and their cleansing action encourages bowel movements.
  • Bananas: Bananas are high in fiber and may help restore normal bowel function.
  • Honey: Honey has mildly laxative properties. Start by taking a tablespoon three times a day or add to foods or drinks.
  • Molasses: (Black Strap is most nutritional): Add 1 to 2 tablespoons a day to hot cereal or mix with warm water or milk.

COUGH (with Congestion):

  • Avoid: Mucus producing foods – these include dairy products, orange juice and fried foods.
  • Cayenne pepper: Mix ¼  to  ½ teaspoon of pepper in a glass of water and use as a gargle.
  • Honey: Mix honey with juice of a fresh lemon and take as needed. Honey soothes the tickle and it also has antibacterial properties.
    • A study funded by the US National Honey Board reports that: "…direct comparison between honey and dextromethorphan did not yield statistically significant differences."
  • Garlic: Mince several cloves of garlic and place in a small bowl; cover with honey; let set overnight. Take one tablespoonful upon awakening, then throughout the day, as needed.
  • Onion juice Syrup: Make syrup by placing a sliced, raw onion on a plate then covering it with honey. Let stand for 3-4 hours. Take the syrup in divided doses.
  • Thyme: Thyme contains a volatile oil, thymol, which has antiseptic and antibacterial properties, relaxes the lungs and promotes expectoration of mucus.  Make a tea using 2 tablespoons of fresh or 1 tablespoon of dried thyme in a cup of boiling water; steep, covered, for 3-5 minutes; strain and drink hot.

COUGH (Dry):

  • Honey & ACV: Combine 1/2 cup honey with 3-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (ACV). Take one tablespoon before going to bed or during a coughing fit, and throughout the day, as needed. Stir well before use.
  • Garlic: Mince several cloves of garlic and place in a small bowl; cover with honey; let set overnight. Take one tablespoonful upon awakening, then throughout the day, as needed.


  • Cayenne pepper (an important first aid remedy to know):
    • For internal bleeding: Take one tablespoon of cayenne in a cup of water to stop the bleeding.  Taken in capsule form works also. (Recommended)
    • For external bleeding:Cayenne can also be placed directly on an external cut to stop bleeding. You may completely pack the wound if you have enough pepper.
      • Black pepper: May be used instead if cayenne is not available.
  • Black or Green Tea: Apply a moistened tea bag to help stop bleeding.
  • Honey:  see Burns


  • CAUTION!  University of Maryland Medical Center warns: "Do not use herbs to treat diarrhea without talking to your health care provider first, and always talk to your doctor before treating diarrhea in an infant. If your diarrhea is caused by certain types of infections, herbal treatments could make it worse."
  • Allspice: A West Indies remedy calls for a pinch of allspice in a cup of warm water or milk.
  • Cardamom: To make an infusion: take about ¼ teaspoon of crushed cardamom seeds and boil them in one cup of water for about 10 minutes. Strain and add honey or a pinch of sugar to taste.
  • Carob flour/powder: Carob flour is rich in pectin, a binding substance, and tannins with anti-viral properties. It is beneficial for treating babies’ diarrhea (see caution note) and may be taken at the rate of 1.5 g (approximately 1/3rd teaspoon) per 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of body weight. Dissolve powder into a hydrating solution such as Pedialyte (or see recipe pg. 8 of this article).
  • Ginger: Add one teaspoonful of powdered ginger root to one cup of boiling water. Drink up to three cups a day. This works wonders for cramps or abdominal pain.
  • Rice or barley water, fresh vegetable juices (especially carrot and celery), miso broth, or other clear broths help restore fluid and electrolyte balance.
    • Make rice and barley water using 1 cup of raw grain to 1 quart of boiling water. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain and drink throughout the day.

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