Problems with ‘plumbing’

  • The little red infection fighter

To prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), drink 11/2 - 4 cups (375-1000ml) unsweetened cranberry juice each day. Capsules and tablets of dried cranberry powder are also available — the usual dosage is between 500-2000mg per day; check the label. Medical researchers learned as early as the 1840s that the hippuric acid in cranberries inhibits the growth of E. coli bacteria, the most common cause of UTI. The acid also keeps E. coli from adhering to the urinary tract walls and from spreading from the bladder to the kidneys. Caution: cranberry juice can interfere with the action of anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin, so consult a doctor before using.

  • Eat parsley to ease your pain

Crush parsley leaves, add 1 teaspoon to 1 cup (250ml) boiling water and let it steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain, then drink up to 3 cups (750ml) parsley tea a day. Because a volatile oil contained in the leaves and roots of parsley has diuretic properties, parsley tea is useful for treating mild bladder problems, reducing urinary tract inflammation and even helping the passage of small kidney stones. Caution: if you have chronic kidney disease consult a doctor before using parsley; excessive ingestion of the herb can cause the skin to be photosensitive.

  • Cornsilk — a natural diuretic

Cornsilk — the 'silk' or fronds from maize — is a natural diuretic. Buy capsules of freeze-dried cornsilk from health food shops, or dried cornsilk from online suppliers. Use 2 teaspoons chopped dried herbs to 2/3 cup (180ml) boiling water. Steep for 15 minutes, then drink 3-5 cups (750-1250ml) daily. This natural remedy has been shown in tests to have anti-inflammatory properties that fight UTIs; it is also a traditional remedy for cystitis and inflammation of the urethra and prostate.

  • Learn to love lovage

To ease the discomfort associated with mild inflammation of the urinary tract, make lovage tea by pouring 1 cup (250ml) boiling water over 1 teaspoon crushed dried lovage root, which is a member of the carrot family but tastes more like celery. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain and drink. Caution: do not use lovage if you have a history of chronic kidney problems.

  • Drink to the health of your kidneys

Making sure you drink one 250-ml glass of unsweetened cranberry juice a day will help the overall health of your kidneys. Too much commercially sweetened fruit juice, however, can overload the kidneys. For example, the ascorbic acid in orange juice may be too acidic for cystitis sufferers. A teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in water can help to make urine more alkaline. If you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor before trying this remedy. Caution: do not drink cranberry juice if you are taking warfarin or other anticoagulants.

  • Praise the weed and pass the teapot!

Dandelion has at least two benefits for the kidneys: it increases urine flow and reduces fluid retention resulting from kidney disorders, and it may be able to speed the passing of a small kidney stone. If you feel the pain that signals movement of a stone, drink as much dandelion tea as you can. A strong diuretic, dandelion stimulates blood circulation through the kidneys, increasing urine output and helping to flush out the stone. Dandelion tea bags are available, but you can also make your own. Wash dandelion leaves and roots thoroughly and then chop finely. Add 3 tablespoons to 2 cups (500ml) water boil for 3 minutes and let it sit for 10- 12 minutes before straining.

Healing cuts, bruises and other skin problems

  • Treat a cut with garlic

To treat a cut or abrasion, gently wash the wound with warm soapy water and pat it dry with a clean soft cloth. Then bruise a peeled clove of garlic and press it against the cut for 5-10 minutes, securing it with a bandage if you like. Garlic contains allicin, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of several kinds of bacteria and protect against infection. (Caution: fresh garlic is an irritant, so never leave it in any form — infused, crushed or whole — on the skin for more than 20 minutes at a time. Remove it immediately if it irritates the skin.)

  • Black pepper stops bleeding

Shaking a good amount of black pepper onto a bleeding cut will stop the blood flow swiftly. It works because the pepper constricts the blood vessels. Many people who have tried this remedy also claim that a wound treated with black pepper heals with less scarring.

  • Reduce bruising with an onion

If you have just bumped your arm, leg or knee (or other body part) and you're worried about bruising, immediately press the cut end of a raw onion onto the bruised area and keep it in place for 15 minutes. The allicin in onions (the compound that makes your eyes water) helps to stimulate the lymphatic flow in the body, helping to flush away excess blood in the just-injured tissue that creates the discoloration we call a bruise. Caution: use onion only on intact skin, not on skin that is broken.

  • Soothe sunburn with green tea

Just add 3 green tea bags to 1 litre just-boiled water, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it steep for 2-3 hours. Use a cotton wool ball or a very soft cloth to dab the sunburned area with the cooled tea and allow the cooling tannins to do their work.

  • Conquer lice with tea tree

When it comes to head lice, the bottom line is that you have to put in a few hours' work to get the desired result. Combine 1/2 cup (125ml) olive oil with 1 teaspoon tea-tree essential oil. Massage the oils thoroughly into your hair and scalp, cover with plastic wrap and leave for 30 minutes. Using a special nit comb (available from pharmacies and most supermarkets), comb out your hair in sections, wiping the comb after each pass to remove any nits or lice. Shampoo with a mixture of 1-2 tablespoons regular shampoo mixed with 1 teaspoon salt and 5 drops each of tea-tree and peppermint essential oil. The tea tree and salt are natural antiseptics and peppermint has a cooling effect. Repeat the oil and shampoo recipe every couple of days, and check hair with a lice comb daily.

  • Camomile salve

Melt 4 tablespoons petroleum jelly in a double boiler and stir in 1 tablespoon camomile flowers. Heats for 2 hours or until the flowers are crisp. Tightly fit a jam strainer on top of a glass jar and squeeze the hot mixture through. Once the salve cools, apply to a mild skin rash up to four times a day. For best results, choose the more efficacious German camomile (Matricaria recutita) over Roman or English camomile (Chamaemelum nobile).

  • Double-duty paste for bee stings

A bicarbonate of soda—vinegar paste applied to a bee sting immediately after you remove the sting will help to reduce the pain. Use 2 parts bicarbonate of soda to 1 part vinegar to make a paste, apply it to the sting, allow to dry, and then wipe it off with a clean damp cloth.

  • Rolled oats and pantihose to cure hives

Cut the leg of a pair of pantihose off at the knee and put these four ingredients into the foot: 3 tablespoons each rolled oats and powdered milk, and 1 tablespoon each dried camomile flowers and lavender. Knot it off and hold it under warm (not hot) running water as you fill your bath. Submerge the bag and let the water cool. (Hot water makes hives worse, not better.) Soak for half an hour, and every 5 minutes or so hold the bag over the rash and squeeze to release the soothing stuff inside.

  •  Witch hazel for skin rashes

The bark and leaves of the witch hazel plant contain high proportions of naturally astringent tannins and an aromatic oil — the perfect recipe for soothing itchy skin rashes.

  • Spot-buster pastes

Applied to spots and pimples, these quick and easy homemade pastes will encourage blemishes to disappear quickly. Try these three:

  1. Bicarbonate of soda Moisten 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda with a few drops water and dab it onto spots. Leave for 5 minutes, and then wipe off with a face washer dipped in cool water.

  2. Rolled oats Use some of your morning porridge as a scourge for spots. Dab the cooked, cooled porridge onto blemished skin, cover with a warm-water face-washer compress and let it sit for l5 minutes. Repeat daily until the spots are gone.

  3. Cornflour and lemon juice Make a paste with 1 teaspoon cornflour and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Apply to spots and let it sit for 4-5 minutes before gently washing your face with cool water.

  • Sunscreen and spot buster

The white zinc-oxide cream that sportsman spread over their noses as a sunscreen is also an effective acne fighter. Dab on a little zinc-oxide cream before bed and it will not only help to dry up pimples but is also said to prevent scarring.

  • Wards off vampires, too!

Rubbing a freshly cut clove of raw garlic onto a pimple will help to dry it up and make it disappear. Treat pimples just before bedtime, as garlic doesn't have to be on your breath to make those around you back off fast!

  • Seal in moisture with margarine

Dry skin and some rashes may benefit from a soak with a cool, wet face washer for several minutes, then a gentle rub-down with a bit of margarine. Cover the affected area and leave it on for 1-2 hours. Wipe the margarine off with a clean soft cloth and repeat daily or as required. Caution: if you have an inflammatory skin condition such as eczema, see your doctor before trying this remedy, as it may further inflame the rash. If you have an adverse reaction, stop applying the margarine.

  1. Two ways to stop shingles from itching

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chicken pox. (It isn't as contagious as chicken pox but can be passed on to anyone who's susceptible.) The rash consists of small, crusting blisters that itch terribly. Both of the following home remedies may bring some relief:

  1. Aloe gel Apply gel to affected area to calm the itch.

  2. Cornflour Soak for 15 minutes in a tepid bath with 1 cup (140g) cornflour added to it.

  3. Aspirin Mash 2 aspirin tablets and mix with 2 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide in a small cup. Stir until the aspirin dissolves. Use a cotton bud to apply to blisters only; avoid undamaged skin.

  • Remove dead skin cells the easy way

An excess of dead skin cells is a feature of many common skin conditions. You can soften and exfoliate your skin without having to resort to scrubs or potentially damaging abrasive commercial products. Due to its high content of alpha-hydroxy acids, mashed pawpaw flesh is a great exfoliant. Rub it into dry, rough skin such as elbows and feet, leave for 10 minutes, and then rinse it off with warm water.

  • Rosewater for chapped skin

To make a lotion for chapped skin (and a fragrant one, at that) mix 1/2 cup (125ml) rosewater with 1/4 cup (60ml) glycerine and rub it into the skin as needed. This essential cupboard companion is very popular in Asia and the Middle East, where it is used to flavour food as well being included in rituals. You'll find it in pharmacies, many supermarkets and health food shops.

  • Tropical wart remover

Make several shallow cuts in an unripe green pawpaw and collect the sap that it releases. When it congeals, mix it with water to make a thin paste. Before applying the paste, protect the skin surrounding the wart by swabbing on a thin layer of petroleum jelly (papain, the enzyme in pawpaw, is an irritant so powerful that it's an ingredient in meat tenderizers). Using a cotton bud, carefully apply the paste to a wart morning and night until it breaks down and disappears. Papain breaks down proteins in dead tissue, making it a wart remover of long standing.

  • Cure warts with a 'garlic press'

Slice a freshly peeled garlic clove, place it on a wart and bind it with a gauze bandage. Leave the garlic in place as long you're able to and repeat the process morning and night. Because of its general antiviral activity, it has been claimed that garlic can cure warts even when other methods have failed. It's worth a try!

  • Turmeric for treating ringworm

If you have a bottle of the spice turmeric in a kitchen cupboard, you have an antiviral powder on hand that has been used in Asia as a ringworm remedy for centuries. In a small bowl, mix enough of the powdered root with water to make a paste. Apply the paste to the affected area with a cotton bud, cover it with a bandage and leave it on for 20-60 minutes. Repeat three or four times a day. Caution: turmeric may irritate sensitive skin, so test it first on clear skin; if redness develops, try another treatment.

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Aiding sleeplessness and anxiety

  • A tryptophan snack before bed

Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you sleep, and tryptophan is an amino acid the body uses to make serotonin. Two tryptophan-rich foods are turkey and bananas, and eating a little of either of these before bedtime could help you to fall off to sleep more successfully.

  • Drink passionflower tea

Despite its name, passionflower won't make your honeymoon memorable. In fact, it will put you to sleep. Infuse 3 tea bags in 3 cups (750ml) just-boiled water for 30-60 minutes and sip a cup half an hour before going to bed. (The ‘passion’ in the name of the flower refers to the Crucifixion of Christ, not lust.) Alkaloids in the flower can help to allay both insomnia and anxiety, conditions that often go hand in hand. Caution: talk to your doctor before using passionflower as it may interact with certain medications, especially anticoagulants.

  • Calming Epsom salts bath

To calm yourself, pour 450g Epsom salts into a warm bath and soak to your heart's content. Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) cleans and tone skin but may also lower blood pressure.

  • Make a hops pillow

Take a cushion cover with a zip and stuff it full of dried hops (available online and from health food shops). If you like, throw in a handful of dried lavender, also a sedative herb, to sweeten the smell. When you retire for the night, put the pillow near enough to your head that you will be able to breathe in the aroma. To keep the hops active, you will need to dampen them with grain alcohol every three or four weeks.

  • Try St John's wort as a mood booster

A cup of St John's wort tea can safely be drunk up to three times a day to allay mild depression, nervousness and insomnia; capsules and liquid extracts are also available. The herb is Germany's leading antidepressant, outselling even Prozac. Studies show that hypericin and other compounds in St John's wort act together to prevent the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) from breaking down serotonin, dopamine and other amines that elevate mood and emotions. St John's wort interacts with various medications, so always check with your doctor before use. Caution: certain people who have used the herb have experienced delayed photosensitivity — an abnormal reaction to sunlight that usually results in a skin rash.

  • Stop snoring with a tennis ball

If your bed mate's snoring is cutting into your sleeping time, put a tennis ball in the pocket of a cotton T-shirt and secure it closed with a safety pin. Get the snorer to put the shirt on back to front before going to sleep and it should stop him (or her) from rolling over into the prime snoring position — on the back.

  • Give yourself a soak

There's a good reason why some parents give their babies warm baths before bedtime or a nap: warm water is a natural relaxant. So fill the bath, turn the lights down low, soak for a few minutes and crawl into a freshly made bed for some superlative sleep.

  • Pre-sleep sip

Camomile, which is known to have sedating qualities, is an ideal sleep-inducer. If you can get good-quality tea bags, they will work perfectly; if you can grow fresh camomile in a small pot on a windowsill, all the better. Snip them about 2cm below the flower, tie a few of them together with kitchen string and steep them in a mug of hot water for a delicious calming drink.

  • White noise as sleep therapy

A number of studies have shown that white noise — defined as noise that combines sounds of all different frequencies so that they virtually cancel each other out — is an effective, completely non-narcotic, safe and peaceful sleep aid. Where can you get it? You can buy white-noise machines or even less expensively, CDs and tapes. Load them into a CD player in the bedroom, turn the lights down, climb into bed and remember to set the alarm.

  • Keep your cool!

The term 'warm and cosy' doesn't always translate to the right conditions for falling asleep; so resist the urge to keep the heat up and instead, lower your bedroom thermostat to around 18°C and, if possible, open the window a little for good ventilation. Most sleep experts maintain that bedroom temperatures that are slightly cooler than living areas result in a sounder, better night's sleep.

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Caring for your baby

  • Nappy rash soothers

Prolonged contact of a baby's skin with urine and faeces causes nappy rash, especially when nappy changes are delayed — so the best treatment for nappy rash is to leave the nappy off for as long as possible. Soap can irritate the skin even more and so can wipes that contain alcohol — though most commercial baby wipes are alcohol-free. Here are three easy nappy-rash soothers you're likely to have at home:

  1. 'Toasted' cornflour Although moisture-absorbing cornflour can be used straight from the box, it works better when dried in the oven. Just spread it on a baking tray and dry it in a very low oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before using.

  2. Honey The sugar in honey absorbs water, denying the bacteria that cause infection the moisture they need to survive. Ask your doctor before using honey on children under 12 months of age; don't give it to your child to eat — if ingested, honey can result in a botulism infection.

  3. Petroleum jelly Wiping petroleum jelly on the rash gives your baby's skin a protective coating so that the rash can heal.

  • A spicy baby powder substitute

The spice fenugreek has been shown to soothe nappy rash. Apply directly to the skin, like baby powder, or mix it with a little water to form a paste to apply sparingly to irritated areas.

  • Prevent nappy rash with salt and zinc

Most babies have nappy rash at some time or other, but parents of babies with extra-sensitive skin are going to need all the help they can get. Stir 1 tablespoon salt into 1 litre boiling water and let the solution cool to room temperature. Wipe it onto your baby's bottom, then gently dab it dry. Then apply a zinc-oxide lotion to create a physical barrier against further wetness.

  • The easiest rash preventive of all

The less time a baby's bottom is covered by a nappy, the less he or she risks suffering nappy rash. At sleep time, just place an unfastened nappy under your child or put the baby on towels placed over a waterproof sheet.

  • A rash remedy from the garden

 Calendula, a cousin of marigolds, has long been used to treat skin rashes, so keep a homemade wash in the nursery to soothe your baby’s skin. Cut the flower heads from a calendula plant and let them dry. Pick the petals off and put 1 heaped tablespoon petals into a bowl. Pour 3 cups (750ml) just-boiled water over the petals, let steep for 1 hour, then strain into a container. Apply to the baby's bottom or other red or itchy areas up to four times a day.

  • Soothe heat rash with a bicarb bath

Heat rash can make babies miserable. Here's a way to help 'take the red out': add bicarbonate of soda to your baby's lukewarm bathwater -2 teaspoons to every 8 litres water. Then let your baby air-dry instead of wiping him or her with a towel. Or gently press the rash with a cool, wet face washer several times a day.

  • Say goodbye to crusting

Although it's a common, usually harmless condition, cradle cap can be very unsightly. Get on top of it fast by gently rubbing a bit of baby oil onto your baby's head, and then lightly comb it through his or her hair. If the baby gets upset, comb it at different times, but don't leave the baby oil on for more than 24 hours in total. Afterwards, wash the hair thoroughly, using a mild baby shampoo. Repeat the process if the cradle cap persists. Caution: if you notice a lot of yellow crusting, or if the cradle cap has spread behind the ears or neck, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible.

  • Combat cradle cap

Another remedy for cradle cap is to make a paste from 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and 1 teaspoon water, apply it to the scalp an hour before bedtime, then rinse it off the following morning, but do not use it with shampoo. You may need to apply it on consecutive nights.

  • Camomile for congestion

If your baby is 6 months or older, try easing congestion with weak camomile tea — weak meaning 1 tea bag steeped in 2 cups (500ml) hot water for no more than 3 minutes. Put the lukewarm tea into a bottle or cup for sipping on two or three times a day. Caution: check with your doctor before doing this.

  • Soothing a sore throat

If your baby is old enough to be eating solids, warm drinks such as tea or clear soup can be soothing to a sore throat. But don't add honey to the tea as honey may contain spores that could grow in the baby's immature digestive tract. Cool apple juice is another effective sore-throat soother for a baby or small child.

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Caring for your feet

  • Beat athlete's foot

To put athlete's foot on the run, make a footbath with 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 6 litres warm water. Soak the affected foot for 10 minutes to help to kill the fungus. To make the solution even more intensely antifungal, add 1-2 tablespoons tea-tree oil.

  • Fight toenail fungus

If you think you can't control a fungus without prescription drugs, think again — in the short term, at least. Mix equal parts warm water, vinegar (white or cider) and mouthwash with 1 tablespoon powdered cinnamon. Soak and dry your feet, then sprinkle them with cornflour. There's no guarantee that the fungus won't return, but you can keep it in check without having to buy expensive medicated treatments.

  • Beat stinky feet with tea

Strong black tea will not only kill the bacteria that cause foot odour but will close pores and help to keep your feet less sweaty. Simmer 3 tea bags in 1 cup (250ml) water for about 15 minutes, and then dilute the tea with 2 litres water. Once it has cooled, pour the tea into a plastic tub and soak your feet and ankles for around 30 minutes. This should put an end to your smelly feet.

  • A salty cure for sore feet

While Epsom salts have long been used to soothe dry sore feet, ordinary table salt will do. Pour 8 litres warm water into a plastic tub, add 2/3 cup (120g) table salt and stir with your hand to dissolve. Soak your feet in the solution for at least 20 minutes, and then rub the skin vigorously with a towel to slough off any dead skin cells.

  • A trick for tired feet

If your feet are tired and aching, scatter a few pencils onto the floor and then pick them up ... with your toes. This little work-out will rejuvenate and invigorate your feet as much as a quick foot massage.

  • Cool hot feet with peppermint

Cool down hot feet by soaking them in iced peppermint tea for 10 minutes. Once they are pepped up, they should be ready to take you on a 5-km jog or an hour-long power walk.

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