Being sick or bedridden is never any fun, and it can be tough to decide between taking medications—which sometimes bring their own host of unpleasant side effects—and waiting it out to see if you feel better on your own.
Many turn to alternative remedies for relief without committing to modern medicine, but finding natural remedies that are both safe and effective can be dubious. The internet is full of bizarre suggestions that may or may not work, and who knows who came up with them.
Luckily, science has proven a handful of home remedies as both safe and effective. And the best part? They’re practically all cheaper than the active-ingredient medications used as an alternative.
1. Ginger for Nausea
This is the home remedy that often brings expecting moms running, as it works wonders on most mild to moderate forms of pregnancy-related nausea.
There’s a reason most kids grew up sipping ginger ale when they had to stay home with a stomachache; while the carbonation helped to settle the stomach a little bit too, the ginger in the popular soft drink was what really did the trick. The root has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to help settle upset tummies, and the science to back it up even has some doctors recommending it as a form of alternative medicine for chemotherapy patients.
Ginger itself can’t root out the cause of an upset stomach, so it isn’t likely to do much for things like the stomach flu or food poisoning. But for stomach nausea caused by hormonal or other chemical imbalances, such as medicinal side effects from chemo or pregnancy changes, it works wonders—and since it’s all-natural, it’s safe for anyone to use. It’s even safe for infants in small doses, and can not only soothe an upset stomach but reduce gas.
2. Peppermint Oil for Headaches
Scientists still haven’t pinpointed exactly why peppermint oil boasts the benefits it does, but the sweet-tasting and sharp-scented extract has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to combat everything from irritable bowel syndrome to migraines.
Peppermint is a naturally occurring cross between spearmint and water mint, and grows throughout both Europe and North America. It was used for centuries before formally being identified by its current name, although scientists didn’t spend much time examining the health benefits of using it in home remedies until very recently.
If you aren’t a fan of the taste of peppermint, you can always use an essential oil to benefit from its effects. A diffuser is inexpensive and useful, or you can use a roller ball and simply apply small amounts to your temples or pulse points to help diffuse the scent directly on your skin.
The good news, though, is that it’s completely non-toxic—the most heavily researched scientific effect of peppermint oil is on irritable bowel syndrome, which is treated by ingesting the oil—so feel safe knowing that you don’t have to worry about avoiding contact with the skin or accidentally eating it.
3. Honey for Sore Throats
When the winter months roll around, our immune systems seem to take a major hit. Between the flu viruses that circulate during the coldest days of the year and all of the holiday travel taken by families, it’s easy to pick up the kinds of colds and viruses that leave us waking up to painful, sore throats.
If you don’t want to spend all winter dealing with the side effects of cold and cough medicines—or you have young children in the house who could do without taking too many medications—there’s plenty of evidence that honey can serve as a superfood to soothe the throat. And not only does honey do a good job of coating the throat to help with pain, but buying local honey can also help you combat allergies—so even if you aren’t sick just yet, there’s plenty of benefit to using the nature-made sweetener in your drinks or taking a spoonful a day.
Be careful with children under the age of 1, though. While honey is a great home remedy to use for toddlers dealing with throat pain, there’s a small but fatal risk that infants can contract a rare type of food poisoning known as botulism by ingesting honey. Always wait until after a child’s first birthday to use this remedy to soothe their vocal cords.
4. Warm Compress for Ear Pain
Obviously, there’s no way to use a home remedy to directly fight the bacteria or virus causing an ear infection, as that either goes away on its own over time or needs an antibiotic to fight it.
While waiting for the infection to go away, though, there’s still plenty of time in the interim where the ear pain itself can be pretty unbearable. The best way to fight this is with ibuprofen, but if you want something to help keep the pain at bay until the medication kicks in—or prefer not to use medication and just want to stave off the pain long enough to fall asleep—there’s no more effective method than using a warm compress.
Some recommend heating up a damp washcloth and putting it in the bottom of a coffee mug, using the rim of the mug to trap the moist heat around the ear while the temp and moisture work their magic. Others simply suggest heading to the store for a good, old-fashioned hot water bottle of some sort, then wrapping it in a rag and putting it up against the affected ear.
The heat works to get the blood moving and open up the blocked areas being harmed by the infection, so this isn’t just some mysterious hocus-pocus; the science is there to back this remedy, and there are few forms of alternative medicine that work better.
5. Aloe Plants for Irritated Skin
Whether you’re dealing with eczema or acne, a bug bite, or a rash from a food allergy, skin irritations can be both unsightly and painful. Itching and soreness make it tougher to let these irritants go away on their own, too, which can only further exacerbate the problem at hand.
While a lot of the lotions and creams on the market are both expensive and have active ingredients that may raise some eyebrows, though, there’s an easy way to keep skin irritations at bay by simply growing an aloe plant in your window or backyard.
The aloe vera plant has been used as a topical skin remedy for thousands of years, because it boasts both dozens of uses and is completely safe to apply directly onto the surface area of even a small child’s skin. It isn’t toxic to ingest, and some cultures even cook it—although the majority of people in the Western world simply use it for everything from acne to sunburns.
It’s easy enough to use; simply break off a stalk and scoop out the creamy-colored “gel” substance inside, smearing it on the area of skin that needs it most.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.