I grew up in Appalachia, where herbal remedies and healing foods dominated the pantry. For hundreds of years, maybe even longer, our grannies and pop-pops relied on simple household items to nourish, heal, and ignite.
Much of this came out of necessity. There were no beauty aisles layered with 15 different types of chemically-infused dehumidifying mist—there was coconut oil. Rather than using an antibacterial facial scrub, our Nanas massaged honey deep into their pores.
Some of these remedies even date back thousands of years, as far back as the tribes of Central and South America. Now, perhaps with the advent of slow-living, these products are slipping back into style. Many appreciate the remedies for their simplicity, price, or their low-impact on the earth. Rather than spend $8 on sea salt spray, you can simple mix some salt with water and spritz it into your hair. You save money as well as a package.
In honor of our ancestors, we’ve gathered some of our favorite time-honored traditions. From castor oil to rosewater and elderberry to oatmeal, these timeless products have earned a permanent place in our pantries.
We’ve already marveled over the various uses of honey before, and we’ll do it again. It can sweeten your tea, top your sprouted-grain toast, and nourish your skin. The antibacterial properties in honey help to ward of pimples, and it naturally draws moisture from their air and into your skin. Buy it from your local farmers market and use in a homemade face scrub.
The diversity of this aromatic herb makes it a worthy addition to your garden. It contains thymol, an antiseptic, antibiotic, and antiviral. Before antibiotics came around, it was mashed into a paste and used to medicate bandages. In the culinary world, thyme is a simple way to heighten vegetable and egg dishes. (Secret: it goes really well with goat cheese!)
These bright weeds get a bad rap, making it easy to overlook the overwhelming amount of health benefits. Dandelion root is a digestive aid, working as a mild laxative to help promote digestion and stimulate appetite. It also increases the release of stomach acid and bile to aid digestion, especially when it comes to fats. These properties make dandelion root a helpful addition when you’re trying to feel lighter or more regular.
It may sound like a Jurassic Park creature, but Ginkgo Biloba is actually a type of tree. The leaves have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, as many believe it helps to sharpen memory and improve thinking. Modern studies are still being conducted, but you can now purchase Ginkgo Biloba supplements at most drugstores.
It’s no wonder our grandparents loved this household remedy. Castor oil is bursting with benefits for your body, including increasing your immunity, naturally inducing labor, dissolving cysts, inducing bowel movements to relieve constipation, and treating joint pain.
Less complicated than chemically-filled perfumes, rosewater is a simple way to refresh your skin. A quick spritz helps maintain skin’s pH balance, controls excess oil, helps to prevent acne, and reduces redness. And despite its luxurious appeal, rosewater is also highly affordable, and can be found at many organic markets. Use after an intense workout or before moisturizing.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Mostly used in teas and supplements, red raspberry leaf can help with a myriad of female health problems, such as PMS, menstrual cramps, and preventing miscarriage or issues with pregnancy. It can also be used for gastrointestinal issues, making it one of the most beloved plants to stumble into your kitchen.
In the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, mint mostly came in the form of artificial flavoring. But now it’s back and begging to be loved for what it is: a sweet, spicy herb used to treat upset tummies. The herb has been used for centuries and worldwide to aid gastric discomforts. When feeling ill, prepare a cup of mint tea and sip slowly. It’s also known for its antiseptic qualities, which can help eliminate bad breath or cleanse the palate after an especially savory meal.
This sounds like something that comes from an old storybook, and it likely did. After all, remedies using elderberry originate in Europe, and have a long history of being revered for their medicinal qualities. Modern research illustrates elderberry’s ability to aid the white blood cells in preventing inflammation. They’re also known for boosting the immune system and easing sinus pain, sciatica, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Get a tasty dose by making a homemade elderberry syrup and drizzling it atop buckwheat pancakes.
White Willow Bark
Far before Tylenol and Excedrin, white willow bark was used as nature’s aspirin. When used in moderation (this is key, as too much can lead to gastric ulcers), the wood from the white willow tree can alleviate headaches, prevent heart attacks, and soothe back pain. Chew the bark as is, or occasionally sip the tea for a natural remedy for physical pain.
Let’s talk about butter. Its high fat content gives it a bad reputation, but that’s not entirely fair. Butter contains a handful of healthy fats and lowers heart attacks when compared to margarine. When coming from grass-fed cows, butter is a great source for the fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid. This fatty acid has powerful effects on metabolism, and can help lower the body fat percentage in humans. And butter is a simple, delicious way to add richness to your favorite dishes. Try it spooned in with a sweet potato mash, or atop a homemade biscuit to rekindle some of those timeless traditions.
In the last few years, oatmeal has been celebrated as a healthy alternative to high-sugar and processed breakfast cereals. But our grandmothers saw the miracle oat as something more than a filling food product; they used it on our skin. Due to its ability to tone and exfoliate, oatmeal has been used throughout the years for a variety of skincare uses. Especially popular is oatmeal as a bath soak. Next time you’re feeling the intense winds of winter, add ½ cup of oatmeal to a warm bath. Add some essential oils, light some candles, and relish in the magic of this age-old remedy.
What remedies are you using these days?
Amanda Kohr is a 25-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel. She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the internet at amandakohr.com.