Wednesday, 2 May 2018

20 Natural Remedies for Common Illnesses and Ailments

Aloe Vera Plant SketchNo one wants to get sick. It's depressing, often painful and, honestly, who has the time? As soon as most of us come down with something horrible, t's perfectly natural to want to get better as soon as possible. Whether it's a short term virus, or a long term problem that won't give in, this often means heading to the chemist, or even the doctor, for something scientific-sounding and probably expensive. For common conditions, though, it's often surprising how well natural remedies can work and this is a list of my personal favourites. They might not work for everyone, but are cheap and easy and definitely worth a try. 

These are all folk remedies that have been handed down through generations, most will probably pre-date a lot of the over-the-counter medicines you can buy today. Many of them have absolutely no scientific basis to prove that they work, but that doesn't mean they don't, just that they haven't been tested adequately in controlled conditions. As they are natural, they shouldn't do you any harm, but if symptoms persist, please see a medical professional, as I am not one of those. I'm just a mum with a lot of experience in get-me-out-of-trouble-in-the-middle-of-the-night-when-it's-a-bank-holiday-weekend school of kitchen cupboard medicine! The majority of these treatments have saved the day when I couldn't get to a chemist, and they can save a lot of money too. 


I had a stye, in my eye, that wouldn't die. I got so fed up with this situation, I even waxed lyrical on Facebook about it. Which is where I was told that if you rub a gold ring onto a stye, it will disappear. I tried it, but I don't know how long it would have taken to heal without it, so can't be sure if it worked. Also, proceed with caution, as it's very important to keep the eye clean and metal jewellery isn't generally that hygienic. Another, more soothing treatment, involves a simple tea bag, steeped in hot water, then cooled and placed over the eye. I don't know if it does anything long-term, but any kind of warm compress will make you feel better for a while anyway. 


I wrote a whole post on remedies for the common cold, such is my dislike of this revolting human condition. One apparent cure I neglected to mention, though, is onions. Personally, I have always favoured rubbing Vapour Rub on the feet, and have had great success with this treatment. If you want to go totally natural though, many people swear by sliced onions, placed on the soles of the feet, wrapped in a bandage to hold them in place, then placed in socks overnight. I haven't tried it because, yuck, but if it's all you have in the house, it may well be worth it. 

Onions sliced in a row on a chopping board


Summer is, apparently, on its way. Yes, I know it's May and it should be all blue skies and blossom, but I am writing this wrapped in a blanket, so someone needs to tell the weather. When summer does eventually rock up late to the party, looking somewhat flustered and dishevelled, it will bring with it joy and misery in equal amounts for many. We all love a bit of sun, it lifts the spirits and warms the soul, but for hayfever sufferers, it unleashes a world of itching and sneezing that can seem like having a cold for months on end. As well as over-the-counter anithistamines, there are natural remedies to try and my favourite is local honey. Based on the theory that local honey will contain essence of local flowers, it's meant to desensitise the sufferer. I have no idea if it works, but it feels good to be trying something to combat it, and it tastes good too. Read more about natural hayfever cures in Coping with Hayfever.


A well-known 'women's problem' and not something any ladies want to dwell on without crossing their legs in the same way men do when they watch someone getting kicked in the middle wicket, the suffering this causes is unbearable at times. One long-held belief is that you can relieve symptoms by applying live natural yoghurt to the area. There is a lot of debate as to whether this treatment actually works long term, but, if nothing else, if it's late at night, or you can't get to a chemist and you are driven mad by the itching, it could calm things down temporarily, until you can get a more conventional remedy. Greek yoghurt is considered most effective, and be sure it does not contain added sugar, as this lessens the effect of the probiotics that are supposed to help.


While we are on the subject of unpleasant 'downstairs' conditions, here's another one. Most often suffered by women, Cystitis is characterised by a painful burning sensation when you have a wee. Which makes you not want to wee, causing a very unfortunate conflict between your sensible brain and more impulsive body. Obviously, a girl's gotta wee and, ironically, one of the best ways to ease the symptoms of cystitis is to drink more water. I know it sounds totally illogical, but it dilutes the strength of the urine, causing it to sting less on exit. It often clears up on its own, but many people believe drinking cranberry juice can help. 


I suffer from eczema. Not a lot, just small patches on my face. Stripes, actually, on either side of my nose, like I'm auditioning for a part in Last of the Mohicans. You can imagine how thrilled I am by that development when I look in the mirror. Thankfully, though, I have found that coconut oil is brilliant for making this ridiculous look disappear. The last thing I do before I go to bed is slather lots of oil onto the effected area, and leave it to do its magic, and in the morning it's gone. I've recommended this treatment to friends with varying levels of success, so I know it won't work for everyone, but if you haven't tried it, you might as well give it a go. It softens the skin and the one I use is only about £2.50 a jar. 

Coconut oil jar taken from above

Bug Bites

For itching from bug bites, I've always used toothpaste. As with all these ideas, there will be debate on the effectiveness of this treatment but, honestly, when you've got a child going crazy because they just can't leave their newly acquired source of torment alone, you will probably want to reach for the Colgate. I used it on both my children and quiet nights resumed every time. Whether it's placebo, or the toothpaste creates a barrier that relieves the itching, the jury's still out, but what harm can it do? 


Definitely a personal recommendation from me, as an IBS sufferer. If you were accidentally accosted by an ill-advised burrito, which somehow fell into your mouth, peppermint tea is the answer. If you couldn't make it past Macdonald's without finding yourself on the wrong side of a Big Mac, peppermint tea is your friend. If you wake up in the morning, wondering why you feel like a hedgehog crawled into your mouth and died, peppermint tea will save you in more ways than one. It can also freshen breath. 


Not always the exclusive domain of the teenage and hormonal, spots can crop up for a number of reasons including, stress, changes in diet, or medication. If you're lucky, it will just be the occasional pesky pimple, which can be helped on its way by a dab of tea tree oil on the effected area, after carefully cleaning and drying the skin. 


This is particularly useful for morning sickness, but can be applied to other nausea situations, such as travelling and even hangovers. Ginger. Best taken in its purest form, by chewing pieces of peeled ginger root, you can also try taking it in tea. If, like me, you really, really hate it and think it's more likely to induce vomiting than prevent it, there is always ginger ale, ginger biscuits, or my personal favourite, the humble gingerbread man. 

Simple watercolour sketch of a gingerbread man.


Another old favourite of the IBS sufferer, always approach this particular problem with extreme caution. It is intensely frustrating and causes a myriad of other symptoms, such as headache, stomach cramps and sluggishness. And, in some sufferers, so I've heard, it's been known to cause extreme and irrational anger. Apparently. *ahem* Due to all of the above, you may feel you will try anything and everything for a quick fix, but it's never wise to throw too much at it at once. This is because whatever you do, it will take a while to take effect. When it does take effect, you don't want to go too far the other way and be hitting the ground running and throwing your colleagues aside trying to reach the nearest loo before reaching a very sudden and traumatic conclusion to your previous issue. So, go easy and be patient. 50g of dried prunes or small amounts of liquorice should help, but if it doesn't, see your doctor as there might be an underlying cause that needs investigating. 


For an irritating tickly cough, you can't beat that old favourite, honey and lemon. I always thought this was a proper old wives tale, something to placate and comfort, rather than having any actual merit as a cure. Recently though, I was kept awake with a particularly troublesome cough and in desperation, I added a spoonful of honey and a couple of good squeezes of lemon to a cup of boiled water and, after a good stir, allowed it to cool a little. I was amazed to find it actually worked and, since there's a lot of doubt over the effectiveness of most cough mixtures anyway, you might as well try this natural, cheaper alternative. 

Blocked Sinuses

A lingering symptom of the common cold, no one enjoys this stuffed up feeling that just refuses to quit. Blocked nose and sinuses takes with it your sense of smell and taste, so even comfort eating is a waste of time. They is hope though, in the form of a simple bowl, filled with very hot water. This creates a little home-facial that is both relaxing and beneficial to the nasal passages. All you have to do is lean over the bowl, covering your head with a towel and allow the steam to build up, whilst breathing in and out as deeply as you can. If you, have some, you can add a few drops of eucalyptus oil, to further clear out any blockages. Steam costs nothing and always makes me feel so much better, it is really useful in helping you get to sleep too. 

A sprig of eucalyptus in a vase


This is something else I've blogged about before, both seriously in How to Get Back to Sleep and in a more light-hearted way in 50 Thoughts Insomniacs Have. I actually don't suffer from insomnia often, but I sometimes write a blog post in my head when I do! One natural remedy that I always dig out when things get tough, is lavender. It's a popular choice, because it smells lovely anyway, so it's a win-win, but it really does work. It's calming, soothing and just rather lovely, which is nice when stress or worry is keeping you awake. It can't work miracles, your stubborn brain might manage to fight it, but I always feel I've got a better chance of beating insomnia if I burn a lavender candle for half an hour before bed, or use a lavender pillow spray. 


I first discovered chamomile tea when I was a teenager and I have used it to calm my nerves many times since. If you find you suffer from occasional anxiety, consider switching from caffeine drinks to chamomile, you might see an improvement. I am not in any way suggesting this as a substitute for proper treatment for a medical condition, more as a possible additional idea, or for low-level short term anxiety symptoms. 


Some say there is no worse pain than toothache. Excluding childbirth, of course, but we'll leave that debate for another day. Clove oil is not something you will usually find in your cupboard, but it's brilliant for relieving toothache. If you have one of those spice racks, with the little pots of exotic spices that make you look like you do proper grown-up cooking, but are really just a decoration, you might find some whole cloves. Crushed with the back of a spoon, these can also provide pain relief when rubbed on the offending tooth. 


Aloe Vera has long been recognised as a soothing treatment for grazes and burns, but recently it has been hailed by many as an effective treatment for heartburn. The juice of the aloe vera plant is said to be packed with health-giving vitamins and minerals, it also contains anti-inflammatories that can have a beneficial effect on the oesophagus. You can buy it in health food shops, but please proceed with caution, as it can cause diarrhoea, particularly in large doses, and has been known to induce miscarriage. 

A painting of an aloe vera plant in a bowl.

Ear Ache

Something I suffered from a lot as a child, there was nothing more comforting than a few drops of olive oil, warmed over some steam from the kettle on a spoon, and gently poured into the ear. You only need a very small amount and be careful not to heat it too much, but it can be very soothing, particularly for a child, and is another go-to remedy that I've often called upon in the wee small hours!

Head Ache

This is another ailment that lavender can help with. Either inhaled in steam, or burned as a candle, or even rubbed in the temples in the form of oil. Peppermint oil is also good, but you really can't beat lying in a darkened room with a cold compress on your head. I use those eye masks that you keep in the fridge with cooling gel inside. They stay cool for longer, and no one has to wonder where the soggy flannel went, if you manage to fall asleep! 


Particularly useful for Chicken Pox, this anti-itching cure can relieve a variety of skin conditions characterised by an unpleasant itch, such as hives. Cut the foot off of a pair of tights or stockings, fill with oatmeal and tie to the bath tap. Run the water through, to fill the bath and bathe in the soothing goodness for as long as you can, or chuck your pox-y young 'uns in to provide some much-needed relief for you both! 

I hope you found these ideas useful, but that you never have cause to need them! 



  1. Ah yes, peppermint tea, my good old friend! It soothes my stomach no end that when I went into labour, I reached for it! I had tried a bath first but lying down was too uncomfortable

  2. Some great advice here. I suffer from hayfever and always try and use natural remedies whenever I can.

  3. Despite being a trained nurse, I love alternative therapies that are less harsh on the body. I am a regular sufferer of cystitis and I find as well as huge amounts of water, drinking lots of milky tea (which I am not keen on) really helps idea why or how I worked that out!!

  4. I use the eucalyptus oil for my sinuses regularly as I do suffer & it def helps! I've never heard of using onions for a cold haha - doesn't sound very pleasant! x

  5. I love the idea of the local honey for hay-fever. It actually makes sense and I might try it as I can get local Algarve honey in the markets. Also, Aloe Vera gel is brilliant for chicken pox. It was all we could get for our son in Lanzarote when he came out in it and it helped with his itching enormously.

  6. I must confess that I am first in line at the chemist when anyone here is ill but it is great to see that there are so many natural remedies to try. I must give some of these a try as there are so many chemicals in medecines

  7. I didn't know about the bug bites and toothpaste, will definitely be trying it out, insects seem to love me x

  8. What a useful post for common health issues. Bookmarked it for reference. Cold is a common one for us.

  9. What a great post and very useful tips. I love coconut oil for lots of heath reasons.

  10. I am all about natural remedies! I usually treat the cold and caugh with onions, garlic, lemons, ginger and beetroots. It goes away within 3 days! x

  11. Some really useful tips . We use coconut oil for the girls eczema

  12. This is such a fantastic list as I always try and treat any aliments as naturally as possible. I have a bad cold at the moment and very tmepted to try the onions

    Laura x

  13. I have an aloe vera plant on my windowsill that is great for burns. I do try and use natural remedies where possible

  14. I am a big believer in using natural remedies and coconut oil is one of the best things we have used for just about anything!


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