Cold remedies from the kitchen






A colleague of mine recently had her first baby, who at the time of this writing will be 5 months old and chunky as all get out (the baby, not the colleague).

The little one also is in the throes of her first fever/cold combo, and no one in her house is getting much sleep. In a fit of desperation at 2 a.m., with no children’s Tylenol at home, my co-worker Googled, “natural fever reducers for infants” and the strangest idea appeared — lemon socks.

Have you heard of this? I hadn’t heard of this, which isn’t too surprising, since even though I run with the natural remedy crowd, I don’t have kids and have never been faced with that special brand of sleep-deprived desperation that will have you trying just about anything.

It seemed pretty simple and harmless so she gave it a try. Juice one or two lemons in some water, heat it on the stove in a saucepan, submerge the socks in the water until they are saturated, take them out, let them cool just a little, then put them on the crying, feverish infant in question and cover them with a pair of dry socks.

You’ll never guess what happened — it worked. She slept for four hours straight (the baby, not the colleague) and woke with no fever.

Maybe it was a coincidence, but maybe it worked. Either way, everyone got a little more sleep that night.

I recently spent quite a bit of time in the hospital with an ailing parent, and it is remarkable what modern medicine can do to treat what ails us, so I am not suggesting we turn our backs on what the current medical system has to offer. However, I also don’t think we should automatically write off natural remedies that our Western-medicine-socialized brains might consider a little “woo-woo.”

The great thing about almost all natural remedies is that giving them a try typically doesn’t hurt (keeping in mind that I am not a doctor, and I am not offering medical advice — and there are certainly situations where natural remedies could cause a problem, so make sure to check with your doctor before you go this route if you have any concerns. This is particularly important if you are pregnant or lactating).

We recently held a class at Convivium Urban Farmstead on natural cold and flu remedies, that one easily could pull together with common ingredients that we might all have on hand. It was taught by Briana Cushman, who is studying to be an herbalist.

She shared a bunch of really great information which she was kind enough to allow me to write about here. In particular, I’d like to share with you some of the special curative uses for common culinary herbs.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). A common ingredient in soups, sauces and marinades, thyme also is said to help relieve spasmodic coughing, upset stomach and also help support our immune systems.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum). We grow a lot of basil at Convivium, as it is the main ingredient in the many quarts of pesto that we make and freeze each year. But basil also can help with coughs, colds, fevers, upset stomach and as a mood-booster.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita). Finally! A use for all of that out-of-control mint growing in your garden (other than mojitos, of course). Mint is said to help with headache, hiccups, sinus congestion, stomach upset and nausea.

Garlic (Allium sativum). AJ, Convivium’s farm manager, swears by this one and always is either eating whole cloves of garlic or trying to get anyone else to eat whole cloves of garlic at the first sign of a cold. Garlic is said to help with bacterial infections, optimizing cholesterol levels, digestion and of course, colds and flu. Luckily, there are other ways to reap its benefits other than popping whole cloves like candy. Bless your heart, AJ.

Now, the next question is just exactly how do you prepare these herbs in order to get the best benefit? There are a number of different methods that are effective.

Here are two that we tried in class:

Herbal infusion. For this method, you need 3 tablespoons to 1 oz. of the dried herb (double if you have fresh) and one quart of filtered water. Heat the water, pour over herb in a quart-size mason jar, steep anywhere from 20 minutes to 12 hours, strain and consume the entire quart either all at once or spread over three doses throughout the day.

Herbal steam. Mint and thyme are great choices for this method. You’ll need a large bowl and a bath towel. Place herbs in the bowl, boil water, pour over herbs and cover immediately with towel and then place your head under the towel and inhale.

And as for the garlic, see the Garlic Lemonade recipe — much more palatable than AJ’s peel and pop method, and those close to you will appreciate it, too.

Leslie Shalabi is the co-founder of Convivium Urban Farmstead, a Dubuque-based nonprofit organization based on the idea of creating community around food. A lifelong lover of food and entertaining, she is dedicated to helping people find ways to connect through the universal languages of food and hospitality.

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