Kitchen Cupboard Medicine, by Barefoot Yankee Gal

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:   “… 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.


  • Burned Toast & Black Tea: Georgianna Donadio, PhD, director of the National Institute of Whole Health recommends a cup black tea and a few pieces of burned toast:  “The tannic acid in tea and the charcoal in the toast will neutralize the toxins and help you get much better very quickly.”


  • Tepid bath: Make sure it is not too cool or chilling will occur.
  • Wet socks: Soak a pair of cotton socks with water, place on the feet and covering them with wool ones.  This helps cool the whole system.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar Wrap:  Combine 1 part ACV with 3 parts water.  Soak cloths and wrap around calves and wrists.  Remove once fever is reduces (just a few minutes).  Re-wrap as necessary.

GAS (intestinal):

  • Fennel: The seeds help improve digestion and aid in expelling trapped gas in the digestive tract. Make a tea by pouring one cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb; cover; steep for fifteen minutes; strain. This remedy is excellent for colicky babies. Offer ¼ cup of tea diluted with ¼ cup of water in a bottle before each feeding.


  • Hot Water Foot Soak: Soak your feet in a pan of very warm water. This increases the blood flow to the lower extremities and pulls excess blood flow away from the head, which may be causing your headache. Dry mustard, powdered ginger or cayenne may be added to the water to increase the benefit of the warm water.


  • Banana: Bananas have a natural antacid effect in the body.


  • Alum: Make a solution of one teaspoon of powdered Alum in a glass of water. Apply frequently.
  • Apple cider vinegar: The astringent qualities will help shrink swollen blood vessels. Soak a cotton ball in vinegar and dab on the affected areas as often as needed.
  • Cayenne pepper: Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cayenne in a glass of water to stop bleeding hemorrhoids. A note on this remedy:  In my humble opinion, the taste of this drink is very strong. The amount of cayenne is best scooped into capsules and taken with warm water to help the capsules dissolve promptly; but it does work quickly.


  • CAUTION!  Watch for allergic reaction to bites and stings. 
  • At the first sign of spreading swelling or system allergic reaction get the victim to your nearest emergency department. 
  • This is considered a true, life-threatening emergency.
  • Baking soda: Mix equal parts of baking soda and vinegar into a paste and apply to the sting. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes.
  • Banana peel: Bananas have documented anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Rub the affected area with the inside of a banana skin.
  • Meat tenderizer:  Make a paste of meat tenderizer and water and pat onto the bite area. The tenderizer contains the enzyme papain from the papaya fruit; which helps break down the proteins in the venom.


  • Honey/lemon: A mixture of honey and lemon makes a good gargle and soothes the throat.
  • Onion syrup: To make the onion syrup: slice three large onions and put them in four or five cups of water; simmer until syrupy; strain. Put five or six tablespoonfuls of the syrup into a glass of warm water, along with a tablespoon of honey and a dash of lemon. Sip slowly.
  • Sea salt: Make a gargle of sea salt and water and use several times a day.
  • Any hot tea:  will stimulate the throat and may help relax the vocal cords.


  • Peppermint or Chamomile Tea: Both of these herbs are soothing to the upset tummy.
  • Rice-water: After boiling 1/2 cup of rice in 1 cup of water for 10-20 minutes, consume the rice water after straining the rice from it.


  • Alum:  Is also known as aluminum sulfate. It works by constricting blood vessels to stop the blood flow.  This is the same substance found in styptic pencils.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Soak a small cotton ball in vinegar and pack it lightly into the nostril. The astringent vinegar may help the blood to clot.
  • Cayenne: Put 1/8-1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a glass of warm (hot preferred) water and drink it. This works because the cayenne travels through the entire circulatory system and regulates the pressure thereby taking pressure off the hemorrhaging area and aiding quick coagulation. Cayenne pepper is noted for its ability to stop both internal and external bleeding.

OTITIS MEDIA: (middle ear infection):



  • Apple Cider Vinegar: To relieve itching, combine equal parts of water or alcohol and apple cider vinegar. Dab on affected areas, let dry, and repeat as often as needed.
  • Baking Soda: (bicarbonate of soda) Dissolve one tablespoon of baking soda into a cup of water. Use this as a wash or make it into a poultice. Cover open blisters with sterile gauze. Baking soda paste is another common remedy that acts as a drying agent.
  • Black Tea:  Steep a black tea bag and use the liquid as a wash
  • Cornstarch: Dusting the affected area with cornstarch making a cornstarch-paste may help the itch.
  • Epsom Salts: Soak the affected area in a solution of Epsom salts and warm water for 30 minutes daily.
  • Salt water: Bathe the area with a warm solution of salt water.


  • Honey/apple cider vinegar: Mix ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar and ¼ cup of honey. Take one tablespoon every four hours or as needed for pain relief.
  • Lemon: Add the juice of one lemon and one teaspoon of salt to one cup of warm water. Gargle three times a day for one minute.
  • Thyme or Sage: Make a tea with five lightly crushed fresh or dried leaves; place in a cup and fill with boiled water; cover (to retain the aromatic oils) and leave to infuse for five minutes; remove leaves and drink. Thyme’s antiseptic properties make it an excellent choice as a gargle.
  • Water/salt: Mix a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of quite warm water.


  • 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. 
  • Epsom Salts Soak: Soak the affected area in a solution of Epsom salts and water for 30 minutes daily.
  • Cayenne Liniment: 1 tablespoon powdered Cayenne,1 pint apple cider vinegar
    Preparation: simmer for 10 minutes in closed container, bottle while hot and unstrained.  Rub gently on the sprain.  Do not cover and do not rub vigorously or skin may be burned. Wash your hand well after application.


  • CAUTION! If you experience chills, fever, or get blisters or a rash you may have sun poisoning. See your physician.
  • Aspirin: According to the New England Journal of Medicine: two regular aspirin, taken every four hours around the clock kills the pain and reduces inflammation and redness of the sunburn. DO NOT use if aspirin sensitive.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Apply a wash of half and half ACV and water to the burn with a spray bottle, or make a cooling compress for a large area to relieve the pain. Keep the skin moistened.  
  • Mint Tea: Make some tea, cool, and apply to the burn. While any tea may be beneficial, mint tea, such as peppermint or spearmint are especially helpful because of their cooling, antiseptic and slightly anesthetic properties.


  • CAUTION! Consult with your doctor before using these remedies if you have ever punctured your eardrum or had ear surgery (including having tubes inserted). 
  • Apple cider vinegar: Combine equal parts alcohol and vinegar.  Put three to four drops in the ear to ward of bacterial and fungal infections.


  • CAUTION!According to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, call a dentist immediately when the pain is very severe, your face is swollen or you have a fever over 100’F (37.8’C).
  • Cloves: Place a whole clove between the aching tooth and your cheek. It can be held in place by holding your finger on the outside of the cheek. Chew the cloves a little to release their juice, then leave them in place for half an hour or so or until the pain subsides.
  • Ginger Root: Chew a piece of fresh ginger; then pack the pulp on and around the painful tooth.


  • Ginger/honey Tea: Make a tea by mixing 1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice or freshly grated ginger and 1 teaspoon honey in a cup of boiling water; drink as needed.
  • Chamomile Tea: A University of Michigan Health System pamphlet recommends chamomile tea for its carminative properties; which helps relieve gas.
  • Saltine Crackers


Oral Rehydration Solution for Children
               From: Rehydration Project at

1 Liter water (5 cups)
6 level tsp. sugar
½ level tsp. salt

     Be very careful to mix the correct amounts. Too much sugar can make the diarrhea worse. Too much salt can be extremely harmful to the child. Making the mixture a little too diluted (with more than 1 liter of clean water) is not harmful.

Salty-Sage Gargle s(this one is my favorite)

2 tsp dried sage or 2 Tbsp. of fresh sage
1 tsp sea/rock salt
1/2 pint of boiling water

Infuse for 10 minutes then strain and use the mixture for gargling – do not swallow.


From: Tankard Recipes and Drinking Customs, compiled by Donlyn Meyers, 1993

Switchel is an old-time remedy for thirst during the hot summer days of haying.  It is a useful natural electrolyte-balancing drink when made with molasses – which contains magnesium and potassium; and has the added benefit of vitamins and other minerals. When made with honey it may replenish energy, enhance physical stamina, improve the immune systems, and aid in digestion.
8 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

“Heat together water, sugar, vinegar, molasses, and ginger until the sugar dissolves. Cool and serve in glasses. This drink was a sort of German Gatorade, for work in the fields giving sweating men sugar, electrolytes [sic] and minerals quickly.”

Barley Water
Barley water is a soothing, nutrient-dense drink.  It has been used to help those that are recovering from long-term illness and children that fail-to-thrive; it has helped some with kidney problems, urinary tract infections and gastric distress.  It is a comforting drink when cough and sore throat are troublesome.

Old Fashioned Lemon (Citrus) Barley Water


  • 1/2 cup pearl barley  
  • water
  • 10 cups water, extra
  • 1 lemons, rind of, grated
  • 1 cup lemon juice ( or other juice of choice)
  • 1 cup sugar


  1. Rinse the barley well.
  2. Cover barley in a pot with cold water and bring to the boil, drain.
  3. Return barley to saucepan with the lemon rind & 10 cups water, cook slowly for 1 hour.
  4. Add the lemon juice & sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved.
  5. Strain and chill to serve.
  6. Discarded barley can be mixed with some dried fruit and nuts and warm milk and makes a great breakfast.

Be watchful. Be wise. Be well.


This information is for education only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or prescribe for any disease or medical condition.

All information in this presentation is for reference purpose only and not intended to substitute advice given by a pharmacist, physician or other licensed health care professional.

Do not use this information for treating a disease or to make a self-diagnosis. Should any of the symptoms or signs noted and described in this presentation be present, seek the advice of your primary care physician for testing and diagnosis. A serious medical condition could occur if left unattended.

Celsus, Aulus Cornelius. (1478). De Medicina. Retrieved from:
Hobbs, Christopher, L.Ac. (1998). Herbal Remedies for Dummies. California. IDG Books Worldwide, Inc. pp 167-189
Leonard, David Bruce, L.Ac. Medicine at Your Feet. ( 2012). Kitchen Alchemy. Retrieved from:
Pollard, Ted (founder). Health911 Media, Inc. (2010). Health Conditions. Retrieved from:
The Guardian Society 04/12/2007 Randerson, James (4 December 2007). “Honey ‘beats cough medicine'”. The Guardian (London).

Wellspring School for Asian Bodywork. (2003) Lecture Notes: Herbal First Aid. Rylen Feeney, Instructor.  Boise, ID

Bananas:African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 8 (7), pp. 1176-1182, 6 April, 2009
Available online at
ISSN 1684–5315 © 2009 Academic Journals
Barley Water recipe:

One Comment

  1. Yarrow powder works better to stop bleeding than cayenne. I’ve witnessed how fast it works. The absolute best suggested burn remedy of any degree is a paste made of wheat germ oil, comfrey root powder, and raw honey. Mix = amounts oil/honey, add enough comfrey root powder to make a thin spreadable paste. Spread gently over the wound or pack if necessary, then dress with bandage. Change dressing once per day. Wet bandage with lukewarm water to remove if necessary. Gently pat dry. Do not wipe away remaining ointment. Re pack with fresh ointment and repeat until necessary as wound heals. Severe burns can cause shock. A strong suggestion is to administer 1/2 tsp Cayenne in 1/2 cup of warm water immediately. This is also helpful for the onset of a heart attack. Cayenne is an amazing herb. As always, consult your doctor first before applying these suggestions as these are only suggestions and not medical advice.

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