Dr Jess: We have an entire cupboard of remedies at home for the whole family, most of them natural. It’s also where I keep my first aid kit and I’m often asked what’s inside. Using all of the natural therapies I practise and some common sense, here is the list! Many of the suggestions are clinical and experience-based rather than evidence-based as research is mostly funded by drug companies on the hunt for medications and who have little interest in home remedies for first aid. There are a few and sometimes no randomised controlled trials for some of the tips below but we find they consistently work for us and our patients! This is not a clinical research article but I have added supporting references where appropriate.
Through necessity and because historically our emphasis was on the natural world for medicines, home remedies and traditional medicines were passed down through families and between practitioners for thousands of years. Many of them are safe and effective, the worst you may experience is that they simply don’t work. I have used all of this list at some point in my life and arnica 200 and emergency essence have never failed to impress me with their ability to calm things down. We’ve had occasion to use them in even some serious traumas. Once when travelling in New Zealand as a student, I flipped a car over three times when it skidded off the road and while all of my possessions scattered several hundred metres down the road, the arnica 200 bottle landed on my lap and helped me stay conscious and calm enough in order to be rescued by police.
Lavender essential oil is a must have for us and we can’t cope without it. It is a medicine bottle on its own and again I travel with it along with my Wu Wei Xiao Du Yin capsules in case we get any infection or wound.
Finally Helios, the homeopathic pharmacy offers a basic 36 remedy kit and a travel homeopathic kit, both of which I swear by. These kits are only available to order over the phone and not from their website. Their booklet of symptoms and remedies guides and supports most common issues and can accompany any of the below suggestions.
our top home remedies for common ailments
We should always start by saying that if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a chronic illness or are on medication, you should consult a medical practitioner first. Obviously, if you sustain a serious injury or are concerned by your symptoms, you should seek medical advice.
All herbs, natural substances and plants carry the risk of allergy. If you experience a rash, itch, irritation or swelling of the tongue, lip, mouth or throat, stop immediately and seek medical advice.
1. arnica for injury or trauma
The homeopathic remedy Arnica Montana is an essential remedy in any first aid kit … for animals or people. It’s the first remedy given by homeopaths for any trauma or injury.1 It’s also great if you get sore muscles from overdoing it.
Pick up the remedy at your local health food shop in either a 30c or 200c potency (strength) or buy from helios.co.uk. If anyone is mildly injured with a bruise,2 a bump or sore muscles), give a 30c as soon as possible. If severe, including wounds, recovery after surgery,3 broken bones, traffic accidents or trauma, give a 200c and seek medical attention. You can repeat remedies up to every 15 minutes or a couple of times a day as needed.
Homeopathic remedies are safe for pregnant women, children and pets and they do not interact with medications.
Arnica as a herbal remedy (externally only) in creams and ointments can also be great to apply to bruises and sore muscles, avoiding broken skin.
2. lavender essential oil for wounds, bites, sore throats, tooth infection, colds, relaxation, insomnia, coughs…and so much more
Lavender essential oil really is amazing. It is the gentlest of the essential oils and can be used neat on broken skin, which we wouldn’t advise with any other essential oils. It is the first thing we reach for if anyone has a wound we are worried may be infected and is shown to improve wound healing.4 I have used it on my son Jack’s hand when at 2 he tottered into a bramble bush and got spines stuck in both hands. It’s great for dog bites and cat scratches or any wound that would need antibiotics or looks a bit concerning. For burns, bites and for ingrowing toenails, it is magical and if you can reach a sore throat or the swollen gum of a tooth abscess, you can dab a small amount on your finger and it will often help. Other uses include adding a few drops to shampoo to avoid nits, a few drops to olive oil (after infusing with a crushed garlic clove for 2 hours then straining) into the ear for an ear infection and putting a couple of drops in a cup of boiling water with some tea tree oil to relieve a head cold and cough. Finally there is a wealth of positive research5 on the benefits of inhaling lavender oil in a diffuser for improving sleep quality and relaxation.
Quality matters and our favourite is the high altitude organic lavender oil from Absolute Aromas. Lavender should really be avoided in early pregnancy although the risk is pretty low and avoided around the genital area as it may cause irritation. Do not use lavender internally as it can kill off your natural good bacteria.
3. an aloe vera plant! for sunburn, sore throat, heat rashes or itchy skin and stomach upset
Aloe vera is well known for soothing sunburn or other skin irritations. Aloe will soothe itches and sore spots and it’s also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory as well. Read more about aloe here. Make sure your aloe vera plant is correctly identified as Aloe barbadensis (Aloe vera) and it needs to be a couple of years old (victoriananursery.co.uk is a nice supplier). It grows as a houseplant with very little attention and mine has gone long periods without watering! To use it, you cut off a leaf and if you are doing this regularly, you may need several plants so you are giving them a break in between.
- Make sure the leaf is free from any discoloration or mould. Cut it close to the base.
- Trim off the prickles
- Using a sharp knife, remove the outer green ‘skin’ and separate it from the inner clear gel. Discard the skin and let any yellow sap run off. Cut the clear gel into slices and you can keep them in the fridge for use over 48 hours.
- If you are eating the gel for a sore throat, chew it slowly and swallow. Stomach upset swallow it. You can apply it directly to burns, anal fissures or stick it in a blender to make a pulp and apply it to irritated skin or even acne.
Aloe is generally very safe but can interact with medications so discuss with your medical provider. The green outer leaf is very bitter and the yellow juice (latex) can cause diarrhoea (although in traditional medicine, it is a remedy for constipation!) so generally avoid consuming too much of this.
4. wu wei xiao du yin and yin qiao san for infections, allergies and hayfever
In China, these traditional Chinese Medicine formulas are extremely commonly used and are a staple of my herbal practice for infections, coughs and colds. I encourage my patients to keep a pot of each in the cupboard. They form a magical combination for most people and are convenient tablet herbal formulas. We regularly see in ourselves and patients that they stop or significantly lessen most winter respiratory viruses. While they are specific for a heat and toxin condition in Traditional Chinese medicine, we find they cover most infections.
I also use Wu Wei Xiao Du Yin as a herbal ‘antibiotic’ (but against viruses not just bacteria) for multiple infections including tooth abscesses and skin wounds, cellulitis. I have even used it successfully in a patient with a resistant surgical infection that wasn’t responding to IV antibiotics and even amputation was being considered. You should always be under the care of a medical provider for these conditions but this herb may help you in the meantime. It is made of surprisingly simple herbs: dandelion,6 honeysuckle,7 wild chrysanthemum,8 viola and forsythia9 and it’s one of my all-time favourite Chinese herbal combinations.
Yin Qiao San is a beautiful Chinese herbal medicine for stopping viruses and flu as well as for hay fever and allergies. This is a formula that is brilliant during hay fever season and has helped my daughter immensely with her allergies to horse and dog hair. For infections, we take it at the first sign of a sore throat, runny nose, cough or fever (it is for upper respiratory symptoms). It has been shown in a small study to safely and successfully reduce fever in children 1-18 years10 and have antiviral ability against multiple strains of flu virus.11
They are considered as generally safe herbs and I have used them in lower doses in children over 2, but again I would recommend seeing an appropriately qualified traditional Chinese herbalist and seeking medical advice if you have a chronic medical condition or are taking medication. Wu Wei Xiao Du Yin should not be taken in pregnancy and can cause stomach upset, in which case reduce the dosage or avoid. Because in traditional Chinese medicine this formula quickly relieves heat (inflammation) and ‘toxin’ (allergy or infection), it can be great in an emergency for hay fever or allergy.
My dosage is three capsules of each twice a day at the first sign of a sore throat, cold or flu and continue until symptoms settle (again always seek medical advice if symptoms aren’t settling or you are concerned). Visit a traditional Chinese herbalist to check these are suitable for you.
5. feverfew for headaches, migraines, aches and pains
Consider Feverfew instead of aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen although honestly, the occasional Anadin Extra for migraines and headaches when you are really struggling is worth considering as it really works. Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew) is our version of a general painkiller for headaches or migraines, which both I and Xandra have been prone to in the past. It can be taken as needed or daily as a preventor if they are frequent. A 2019 Italian clinical study of 91 children with migraines showed it both significantly reduced the number of migraines and pain experienced.12 It can also help when you are sore and achy and is traditionally used for arthritis, toothache and fevers as well. Tanacetum is considered to be relatively safe with few mild side effects.13 I often recommend Nature’s aid Feverfew tablets as they are easy to get hold of quickly on Amazon.
It should be avoided in pregnancy as it can cause contractions and again seek medical advice if you are on medication.
6. activated charcoal
The ultimate first aid remedy for accidental poisoning14 to be given immediately in suspected overdose or if medications or chemicals are taken accidentally whilst seeking medical treatment. It can also be extremely useful if you overindulge at dinner and are bloated and feeling the effects. Small studies have also shown benefit in flares of IBS.15 It can be kept in your kit as a powder or tablets, taking 2 tablets for overindulgence (2 hours from other medication) or 3-6 teaspoons of powder in water for accidental poisonings. It is safe and non-toxic so take as much as you are able to get down. Read more about the benefits of activated charcoal here.
7. plug-in diffuser with the essential oils, lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus and camphor
A plug-in diffuser is another magical staple in our house. Any sinus congestion, cough or runny nose and it goes on in the bedroom overnight. If our house smells a bit like ‘wet dog’, it also acts as a great natural air freshener. If we have elderly or vulnerable visitors over, we often put it on to prevent us transmitting any coughs or colds as essential oils have immune stimulating and antiviral properties. We also ran a diffuser continuously in the clinic during the pandemic. The antiviral/antibacterial/allergy mix I suggest is 12 drops of lavender oil, 6 drops of tea tree oil,16,17 6 drops of *Eucalyptus globulus oil18and 2 drops of camphor oil.19,20Camphor has also been shown to eliminate dust-mites so is useful in allergy and for steam cleaning mattresses, bedding and furnishings.21
*For pets or small babies, remove the eucalyptus or keep it at 2 drops and watch for any symptoms of breathing irritation. In my experience, eucalyptus is usually fine but the guidance is to avoid.
Again, the quality of your essential oils really matters. I like all of these from Absolute Aromas and organic where possible. Lavender should really be avoided in early pregnancy although the risk is pretty low and do not use oils internally as they can kill off your good bacteria and in some cases be toxic.
8. little yellow pills (huang lian su) and chia seed
Little yellow pills for diarrhoea, loose stool or suspected food poisoning can be very helpful. Made from one Chinese herb, huang lian (high in well known anti-inflammatory berberine), I often describe them to patients as herbal Imodium. Take 1-2 tablets up to three times a day as needed or 1 before you go out if you are concerned about not being near a bathroom. Huang lian is antibacterial, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral. It’s a powerful herb and great with IBS symptoms and there is positive research for its ability to support inflammatory bowel disease.22
You can get them on ebay in a yellow, red and green packet searching for huang lian su or from most traditional Chinese medical herbalists.
If people have longer term diarrhoea or are trying to get loose stool back to normal after a bug, I often suggest a couple of teaspoons of chia seed in water (after a couple of hours it turns into a gel). You can use this for animals and children daily safely and along with kefir, it really helps soothe an irritated gut.
Always see your medical provider for unexplained diarrhoea that persists for more than 3 weeks.
9. nebuliser with normal saline 0.9%, hydrogen peroxide food grade 3% and 5% Lugol’s iodine solution
If you are worried about a nasty cold, flu or virus or frequently have things go to your chest or sinuses, a nebuliser is worth the investment and keeping in the ‘ingredients’ above to go in it during winter months is a good idea. In the recent pandemic, this was extremely helpful23,24 in my practice as I know it was for many other practitioners. There are many doctors who can discuss the immune benefits of hydrogen peroxide in a nebuliser like Dr Thomas Levy who discusses its here. Nebulisers are available for £40-60 from Amazon and you want one with a face mask that covers your nose and mouth. Do not use a battery-driven portable one as they are less effective. Our whole family use this nebuliser blend in order to fight off infections all year round and swear by it.
- In the reservoir for the nebuliser, add a mixture of 0.9% saline and food grade hydrogen peroxide (3%) made up by mixing half a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide with 4 teaspoons of normal saline.
- Once you have filled the reservoir (any left over can be kept in the fridge), add 1 drop of 5% Lugol’s iodine to the reservoir.
- Turn on the nebuliser and breathe in and out through your nose if you can (if not, through your mouth) for 5-10 minutes twice a day.
10. emergency essence or rescue remedy
Flower essences are very gentle and non-toxic, safe in pregnancy and for children and animals. They work energetically on an emotional level.
Bach’s Rescue Remedy is an emergency blend of 5 flower essences (Clematis, Cherry Plum, Impatiens, Rock Rose and Star of Bethlehem) that can relieve stress, anxiety, fear, trauma or feeling that you can’t cope. A 2014 study of Rescue Remedy in rats showed it significantly helped control blood sugar and cholesterol.25 Bach flower essence have also been shown to improve anxiety and binge eating in overweight patients26 and in a reasonably large double blind study, pain during labour.27
Although we like Rescue Remedy, a clinic favourite is Emergency Essence from Australian Bush Flower, which we find excellent.
Put 7 drops of the Emergency Essence or 2-4 drops of the Rescue Remedy straight in your mouth or into a water bottle to drink through the day. This can be useful to take into exams, interviews or stressful situations! Repeat as needed as you can’t overdose on flower essences.
11. natural insect repellent
See our natural insect repellent made from essential oils. This recipe is tried and tested by ourselves and thousands of our patients all over the world. Most of us swear by it and if you are unlucky enough to get bitten anyway, then spraying it on after will also soothe the bites and reduce the risk of infection. We use this a lot in summer and autumn when walking our dogs and there is always a bottle in the car. Allergy or irritation is always possible from essential oils so stop immediately if you have any irritation from the spray and avoid broken or delicate skin.
12. bandages, sterile dressings, steri strips, 2-3 ice packs in the freezer
A real first aid kit with some rolls of stretchy bandage, large and small sterile, non-adhesive dressings and even some steri strips can be extremely useful to have in the cupboard too. If you have a bleeding wound, applying pressure with a dressing and bandage can be invaluable until you can get medical assistance. If you have a clean wound free of debris or glass, wash it well with boiled water and salt/lavender. Steri-strips can help you hold the edges together to stop bleeding until you can get help. Ice packs have so many uses! Any sprain, strain, bruise, bump or joint injury in our house gets an ice pack (with a tea towel round it as contact with your skin can irritate). An ice pack at the base of your neck can be excellent for a headache and they are even useful to keep food cold when travelling! Ice for 10-20 minutes at a time up to three times a day as needed.
13. magnesia phos 30c
This homeopathic remedy is good for any kind of cramp, including stomach and period pains. Also for leg and muscle cramps although also consider taking a magnesium supplement if you are getting these regularly. You can take it up to every half hour as needed and if like us, you’ve ever tried it, you will swear by it, as it can bring relief in minutes. Helios.co.uk will supply it to you and you can order online or over the phone.
Homeopathic remedies are safe for pregnant women, children and pets and they do not interact with medications.
*14. manipulation after falls and injuries
* Whilst not a home remedy, we would be remiss in not suggesting you see a chiropractor or osteopath after any fall, trauma or RTA. Impact on your spine and joints can affect long term function, whether you have any fractures or not. Getting everything manipulated and assessed can be incredibly helpful to prevent this. After her car accident in New Zealand, Dr Jess was able to find a kind chiropractor to fix her whiplash!
bonus Tips – living medicines:
living plants to find out and about or grow in your garden
Plantain (Plantago spp) grows just about everywhere so this is one you don’t even need to carry with you. It is a good plant to become familiar with and it has low-lying oval or narrow leaves with ribbing lengthways there is a broad leaf variety (Plantago major) seen in the photo above and a narrow leaf variety Plantago lanceolata which still has the characteristic ribbing but on narrow leaves. Plant ID and similar apps can help you confirm as can many Youtube guides. Only use herbs you are confident and familiar with.
Plantain is known as the ‘band-aid’ plant because you can use it to help stop bleeding, for wounds,28 skin irritation, burns, ulcers,29 scratches and itchiness from insect bites and stings. If you are out and about, you can even pick a leaf and chew it until it forms a pulp and then place it on a wound or bite! Ideally it is harvested in spring or summer by picking fresh leaves, but any time you can find plantain, it can be used throughout the year in an emergency. You can chop it finely and add a little water to make it into a poultice to apply directly or for use later with hot water (follow the drying method below). Plantain can be made into a tea to soothe internally and is often used by herbalists for IBS, inflamed or leaky guts.
All herb leaves can be dried for use when not around in the winter months. You can dry the leaves by picking herbs early on a dry morning, removing damaged leaves and spreading them out on a tray on baking parchment and placing them above a radiator turning daily or in an airing cupboard or placing in the warming drawer of your oven or Aga – watch for browning and turn regularly. Once dry, store in a glass jar and discard at any sign of mould.
Calendula officinalis is the common marigold, great for wounds30 and irritated skin, cuts, abrasions, insect bites and eczema. It is healing, soothing and antibacterial31 to prevent infection. Calendula is a very safe herb but avoid using it internally in pregnancy.
Calendula is super easy to grow from seed and seen in gardens all over the UK. The flowers are edible in salads and it is a wonderful herb to use at home. Most herbalists harvest the flowers and dry them for use all year round. You can buy them dried online but check quality with visible intact flower heads and good intensity of colour, despite drying. To dry them yourself, harvest them mid-morning on a bright, dry day when they will be fully open. Snip off the fresh flower heads (ignore any that are damaged) at the very top of the stem and your calendula plant will keep producing flowers up to every 3 days. Stick the flower heads face down and spread out on wire racks on a warm windowsill, turning every couple of days. Once they are completely dry, you can store them in a glass jar and use them with hot water to make a tea. Add boiling water to 1-2tsps of the flowers, cover and steep for 10 minutes. Then strain and use the liquid to bathe eczema, wounds and irritated skin. It will store in the fridge for a few days.
Whilst controversial for internal use (reports of liver damage have been documented despite its common use for thousands of years), comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is accepted to be safe for external use. It is an extremely powerful healing herb known as ‘knitbone’ for its ability to support bone healing. In the event of a fracture, it can be harvested with a pair of gloves (it is a bit prickly!) chopped with a pair of scissors and made into a poultice or pulp by adding some boiling water and mashing it with a fork. It can then be placed inside a thin fabric or muslin and applied directly. It is a very easy to grow plant in the garden and will take over an area if left alone. When not in use for its wound healing and as a joint support, it makes an excellent green fertiliser for the garden. Comfrey poultice can also be applied to sprains, strains, arthritis flares, sore muscles and joints and skin wounds and as well as speeding up healing, it is anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.32 It is one of Dr Jess’s favourite herbs and she has been known to bring leaves into clinic when patients are struggling. Comfrey can also be easily made into an infused herbal oil for use all year round using this process (easy to do at home) or bought online.
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) is a great garden plant. Easy to grow, yarrow is a pretty and common UK herb with wonderful medicinal properties. It is yet another first aid herb for wounds and the leaves and flowering tops can also be made into a poultice and applied to wounds to stop bleeding and aid healing.33 Chewing the fresh leaves is a historical remedy for toothache and we’ve found it effective, despite its bitter taste! Research shows dried yarrow leaves and flowering tops can be made into a tea which if drunk regularly throughout the period, can relieve period pain.34 It can also help stomach ache and support liver and gallbladder function.35
Yarrow should not be used internally whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.
Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort) is a very widely used herb and known by many doctors as it can interact with many medications so please avoid using it internally if you are on medication including the contraceptive pill.
Hypericum in the garden is an easy to grow plant and you can harvest the leaves and flowering tops in summer to make poultices or dry them for use as a tea when not in flower. It also makes an excellent and excitingly red coloured herbal infused oil. Hypericum is another excellent wound healer and improves pain when used externally.36 Hypericum can be dried and made into a tea for the winter months to help lift mood and it has also been shown to improve depression, PMS,37 hot flushes and menopausal symptoms.38
Dr Jess used a fresh hypericum, yarrow and comfrey poultice to fully recover quickly from a 3rd degree tear (without stitches) after a home birth and was amazed by their healing pain-relieving properties. This use is supported in studies of hypericum and yarrow ointment after episiotomy.39
- Unbehaun B, Pellkofer T. Arnika als Homöopathikum unwirksam? Nein, nur falsch angewendet! [Is arnica as homeopathic remedy ineffective? No, only used incorrectly!]. MMW Fortschr Med. 2003 Mar 10;145(12):12. German. PMID: 15106690.
- Seeley BM, Denton AB, Ahn MS, Maas CS. Effect of homeopathic Arnica montana on bruising in face-lifts: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2006 Jan-Feb;8(1):54-9. doi: 10.1001/archfaci.8.1.54. PMID: 16415448.
- 3.Jeffrey SL, Belcher HJ. Use of Arnica to relieve pain after carpal-tunnel release surgery. Altern Ther Health Med. 2002 Mar-Apr;8(2):66-8. PMID: 11892685.
- 4.Samuelson R, Lobl M, Higgins S, Clarey D, Wysong A. The Effects of Lavender Essential Oil on Wound Healing: A Review of the Current Evidence. J Altern Complement Med. 2020 Aug;26(8):680-690. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0286. Epub 2020 Jun 24. PMID: 32589447.
- Cheong MJ, Kim S, Kim JS, Lee H, Lyu YS, Lee YR, Jeon B, Kang HW. A systematic literature review and meta-analysis of the clinical effects of aroma inhalation therapy on sleep problems. Medicine (Baltimore). 2021 Mar 5;100(9):e24652. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000024652. PMID: 33655928; PMCID: PMC7939222.
- González-Castejón M, Visioli F, Rodriguez-Casado A. Diverse biological activities of dandelion. Nutr Rev. 2012 Sep;70(9):534-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00509.x. Epub 2012 Aug 17. PMID: 22946853.
- Shang X, Pan H, Li M, Miao X, Ding H. Lonicera japonica Thunb.: ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry and pharmacology of an important traditional Chinese medicine. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Oct 31;138(1):1-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.08.016. Epub 2011 Aug 16. PMID: 21864666; PMCID: PMC7127058.
- Shao Y, Sun Y, Li D, Chen Y. Chrysanthemum indicum L.: A Comprehensive Review of its Botany, Phytochemistry and Pharmacology. Am J Chin Med. 2020;48(4):871-897. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X20500421. Epub 2020 May 20. PMID: 32431180.
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