These Natural Health Hacks Are Sitting Right In Your Pantry

When you’re feeling sick, the first thing you probably do is raid your medicine cabinet. But, sometimes, the health remedy for your ailments may be sitting… Aisha Abdullah - February 15, 2023

When you’re feeling sick, the first thing you probably do is raid your medicine cabinet. But, sometimes, the health remedy for your ailments may be sitting right on your pantry or fridge shelf. From headaches and sore muscles to nausea and itch relief, here are some everyday kitchen ingredients that could have you feeling better sooner.

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Honey Is Nature’s Remedy for a Variety of Ailments

With its rich flavor and high antioxidant content, you can’t do much better than honey as a sweetener. But honey is more than a natural sugar source; it’s also a powerful health remedy. Honey has been used as a wound treatment for millennia, with roots in Egyptian, Greek, Assyrian, and Chinese cultures. The sweet liquid was used as a salve to help wounds heal faster and fight infections due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In several studies, honey was beneficial for treating burns, cuts, and even infected wounds. Certain types of honey, namely Manuka honey, can kill infection-causing microbes, including some antibiotic-resistant bacteria, although this hasn’t been well-studied in humans. In children with colds and other upper respiratory infections, honey soothes sore throats and suppresses coughing. One study found that two tablespoons of honey relieved children’s coughs enough that they could sleep through the night. There’s also some evidence that honey helps relieve some digestion issues, including heartburn.

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Turmeric Is an Anti-inflammatory Super Ingredient

Turmeric is known for its bright color, earthy flavor, and powerful health-promoting properties. The vibrant antioxidant-rich yellow-orange spice is a natural anti-inflammatory frequently used as a pain remedy. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that gives the spice its distinctive color, helps reduce inflammation and pain. One study found that an 800 mg turmeric supplement per day alleviated pain from knee arthritis as well as ibuprofen. There is some evidence that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties will aid in the treatment of diseases caused by inflammation, including arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and even certain cancers. Although there have been promising studies, there is not yet solid evidence to back this up in humans. Research on the health benefits of turmeric typically uses curcumin supplements to standard dosage and to increase the potency of the treatment. Turmeric also has some blood-thinning properties, which are not fully understood. For this reason, people who are taking blood thinners and those who are pregnant may need to avoid consuming turmeric.

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Lemons Are Bursting With Vitamin C

The taste of lemons may be sour, but their potential health benefits definitely are not. Lemons, like other citrus fruits, are one of the best sources of vitamin C. This essential nutrient supports our immune system and overall health. A severe lack of vitamin C in your diet leads to a potentially fatal condition called scurvy, which causes fatigue, sore muscles, skin rashes or bruising, and bleeding gums. In centuries past, sailors would take lemons and other citrus fruit on board their ships to prevent scurvy. Vitamin C is often touted as a cold remedy. Although the nutrient won’t cure a common cold, there is evidence that it helps reduce the length and possibly the severity of colds. Drinking hot water or tea with lemon and honey can help ease congestion and cough from colds, flu, and other upper respiratory infections. Research suggests that regular consumption of citrus fruit also helps supports cardiovascular health, including one large study that found a lower stroke risk in women who ate plenty of citrus fruit.

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Cinnamon Can Help Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check

A staple in every pantry, cinnamon is a versatile spice that adds a sweet, earthy flavor to desserts and savory dishes. Made from the bark of cinnamon trees, the spice has also been studied for its ability to regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Studies show that, in people with type 2 diabetes, cinnamon supplements helped lower the levels of glucose (sugar), triglycerides (fat), and LDL cholesterol (also called bad cholesterol) in the blood while increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. There’s also evidence that cinnamon prevents a spike in blood sugar after eating and makes your body more sensitive to insulin, the hormone that moves glucose from the blood to the cells where it is used for energy. People with insulin insensitivity or resistance have high blood glucose levels. Over time, elevated glucose levels can cause damage to your cells and blood vessels. Many studies use cinnamon supplements to ensure that everyone receives the same dose. But research suggests that ground cinnamon may have a similar effect.

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Garlic Is Antimicrobial and Good for Your Heart

Garlic serves as a flavor base for cuisine around the world. The bulb, closely related to onions and leeks, is a delicious culinary ingredient with some seriously impressive health benefits. Garlic-based supplements decrease high blood pressure and regulate cholesterol levels, which benefits the cardiovascular system. One small study found that people with high blood pressure saw improvements in both blood pressure and cholesterol levels after taking garlic extract over four months. Studies in animals have had even more promising results. Garlic oil had a heart-protective effect in mice with diabetes and those with heart failure. The active ingredient in garlic, allicin, has antibacterial, antiviral, and those who had and antifungal properties, allowing it to kill or slow the growth of a variety of disease-causing microbes in lab experiments. Several large studies have found a possible link between garlic consumption and a decreased risk of certain types of cancer, including stomach, colon, and lung cancer.

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Feeling Queasy? Ginger Is a Proven Nausea Reliever

As another ancient health remedy, ginger has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. One of ginger’s most lauded qualities is its ability to relieve nausea. Many pregnant women swear by the root as the only way to beat the queasiness that comes with morning sickness. Chemotherapy patients who experience post-treatment nausea have had similarly positive results with ginger. And it isn’t just nausea; studies have found that ginger promotes healthy digestion all around, although it’s unclear how. Consuming the spice during or after a meal may help reduce gas and bloating. Sipping ginger tea can help with motion sickness and help settle your stomach after a big meal. There’s also some evidence that ginger may help relieve period cramps with the same effectiveness as other painkillers. The active ingredient in ginger has anti-inflammatory qualities that some early research suggests may help improve arthritis pain.

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Aloe Vera is Your Skin’s Best Friend

If you’ve ever had a bad sunburn, you are probably very familiar with some of the health benefits of aloe vera. The spiky succulent is used as a natural remedy for burns, cuts, insect bits, and other skin irritations. The benefits of aloe vera can be extracted by simply slicing the leaves with a sharp knife and cutting out the clear gel inside. Aloe vera gel contains enzymes that help soothe pain and heal minor injuries. Some research suggests that aloe vera may speed burn healing. The gel can also reduce inflammation and itching associated with many skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. One of the most common ingredients in acne medications, salicylic acid, occurs naturally in aloe vera. The gel can be used to gently exfoliate the skin and reduce some breakouts. And because it’s 99 percent water, aloe vera gel can moisturize your skin without making it feel oily.

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Echinacea Is a Classic Cold Remedy

This brightly colored flower is more than just a pretty face. Echinacea has a long history as a natural health remedy, dating back at least 400 years in its native North America. Although the herb has traditionally been used to treat everything from battle wounds to malaria, its most common use is as a cold remedy. The active ingredients in echinacea are antiviral and anti-inflammatory. Some research suggests that, when taken as soon as you start to feel a cold coming on, echinacea may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and shorten the length of your illness. Another study that reviewed previous research found that echinacea tea or supplements might help reduce your chance of developing a cold in the first place. There’s also evidence that the herb can help reduce repeat infections in people prone to upper respiratory infections, including colds.

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Milk Thistle Has Been Used for Centuries to Promote Liver Health

Milk thistle is a hardy flowering weed that gets its name from the white sap in its leaves. The plant has been promoted for thousands of years for its liver-protective properties. Although modern scientific research on milk thistle’s effects on the liver isn’t completely consistent, there is evidence that the herb supports healthy liver function. Some studies have found that milk thistle supplements improve the health and survival of people with severe liver conditions, including cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis. Other studies have shown that the herb may also help protect the liver from damage from toxins like alcohol, certain drugs, and poisonous mushrooms. The liver isn’t the only organ that may benefit from milk thistle. Research suggests the plant, in combination with other supplements, may help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels and improve indigestion.

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Peppermint Can Help Settle an Upset Stomach

Peppermint is a common flavoring for gum, candy, and other treats. But the fragrant herb has some surprising health uses as well. As far back as ancient Egypt, there are records of people using peppermint to aid digestion, and for good reason. Thanks to modern studies, we know that menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, helps relax the stomach and gut muscles, reducing bloating, stomach cramps, and gas. Additionally, menthol promotes the movement of bile, the fluid in the gut that breaks down fat in food, preventing indigestion. Peppermint has also traditionally been used as a nausea remedy. Chewing mint leaves, inhaling vaporized menthol oil, or sipping peppermint tea can help keep nausea at bay. Peppermint candies are mostly sugar and will not have the same benefits as other forms of the herb. In addition to calming your stomach, peppermint can reduce cold symptoms by loosening mucus and soothing a sore throat.

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Chili Peppers Pack the Heat to Soothes Sore Muscles

One of the most widely-used natural remedies is found in chili peppers. Both spicy peppers like jalapeno and bell peppers are natural sources of capsaicin, a chemical that causes a warming, then a numbing sensation on the skin. Capsaicin has been shown to reduce pain when applied to sore muscles and aching joints. Capsaicin decreases your sensitivity to pain by interacting with your pain receptors, the specialized nerve cells that respond to pain. While many over-the-counter pain relieving creams and gels contain capsaicin, you can easily and cheaply make your own at home. The basic recipe is three tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper for every cup of oil (coconut, avocado, olive, or grapeseed oil all work). Heat the pepper on low heat for 5 – 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool before massaging it into your skin.

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Relieve Stress and Headaches With Lavender

Prized for its pretty color and sweet aroma, lavender is one of the more versatile herbal remedies. The plant’s scent is frequently used in sleep masks and pillows to help you fall asleep and sleep more restfully. But lavender is much more than just a sleep aid. Lavender aromatherapy helps calm nerves and can decrease stress and feelings of anxiety. Oil from the herb has some pain-relieving properties, with some studies finding that patients reported decreased pain after being treated with topical lavender oil. Like mint, lavender can help digestive issues, including settling an upset stomach, reducing gas, and alleviating nausea. There’s also evidence that lavender oil helps reduce redness, itching, and other skin irritations. To reap the benefits of lavender, try growing fresh lavender at home, keeping dried lavender on hand, using lavender oil for aromatherapy or topical use (with a health professional’s supervision), or drinking lavender tea.

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Itchy, Irritated Skin Is No Match for Oatmeal

Oatmeal is hard to beat when it comes to all-natural skincare. The nutrient-dense cereal has been used for centuries to treat various skin ailments, including psoriasis. Colloidal oatmeal, made from oats ground into a fine powder, has anti-inflammatory properties. The FDA approves the ingredient to treat eczema, a skin disorder that causes patches of dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. Colloidal oatmeal is also beneficial for people with extremely dry or irritated skin. Avenanthramides are compounds only found in oats, which naturally soothe itchiness and irritation from bug bites, chickenpox, and mild burns. In addition, oatmeal can be used as a gentle cleanser, exfoliant, and moisturizer, replenishing your skin with vital nutrients. On top of all that, there is some evidence that some nutrients in oatmeal may help reduce the bacteria that cause acne.

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Flaxseed Is an Effective Natural Remedy for Constipation

Don’t let its tiny size fool you. Flaxseed is a nutritional powerhouse that has been used as a health remedy for many centuries. One of the most common uses of flaxseed is the treatment of constipation and occasional irregularity. The seed is high in soluble fiber, which naturally softens stool, making it easier to poop when constipated. Some research shows that consuming flaxseed supplements or as an added ingredient relieves constipation. People taking supplements and dietary flaxseed also saw improvements in their cholesterol and triglyceride (fat in the blood) levels. Flaxseed may also improve symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study found that flaxseed increased regularity and reduced bloating and stomach cramps in IBS patients with constipation.

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A Bit of Fennel Can Reduce Gas and Indigestion

Fennel is a root vegetable known for its ability to aid digestion. The plant or its licorice-flavored seeds are sometimes chewed after a big meal to prevent indigestion and gas. Fennel seeds support healthy digestion in a few ways. First, the seeds are packed with fiber, which helps promote regular poops. Second, fennel seeds stimulate the release of bile and other digestive fluids that help break down food into essential nutrients. Finally, the seeds have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Decreasing inflammation in the intestines makes it easier for waste and gas to pass through the digestive system. Some early evidence suggests that the seed’s antimicrobial qualities may help combat bacteria like E. coli that cause food poisoning.

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Gargling Salt Water Help a Sore Throat

Ordinary table salt might not be the first place you’d look for a potent natural remedy. But it turns out that, when added to water, this pantry staple is the answer to a host of ailments. Gargling with salt water kills bacteria and viruses in your mouth and throat and washes out some microbes that it doesn’t kill. This simple solution helps loosen mucus causing congestion and reduces inflammation in the throat, soothing a sore throat caused by a cold, the flu, or sinus infections. One study even found that gargling salt water three times a day may help reduce the risk of respiratory infection. Salt water is also great for oral health. The rinse can act as an antiseptic mouthwash, reducing the risk of developing cavities and gum disease. The solution could be easier or (less expensive) to prepare: Add half a teaspoon of table salt to a glass of water, and you’re all set. Just try not to swallow the solution while gargling.

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Shiitake Mushrooms Are Great for Your Dental Health

Shiitake are cultivated around the globe for its smoky flavor and potential medicinal properties. The mushroom is anti-inflammatory and rich in vitamin D, which is important for immune and bone health. Several studies suggest that extract from the mushroom helps improve dental health by reducing the harmful bacteria that can build up on the gums or teeth. These bacteria cause plaque and tartar, leading to gingivitis, cavities, and other dental health conditions. Shiitake mushrooms contain a molecule called lentinan, which has both antiviral and antibacterial qualities. Lentinan is only found in these mushrooms and is thought to be responsible for most of the shiitake mushrooms healing properties. The molecule can also cause a severe allergic reaction if the mushrooms are eaten raw or undercooked.

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Thyme Is a Natural Cough Suppressant

Thyme tea is a tried and true cold and cough remedy that has been used for centuries. The herb has anti-inflammatory properties that help relax throat muscles and calm coughing. One study found that thyme-based remedies help relieve cold symptoms, while a 2021 study found that drops made from thyme and ivy extract reduced cough in people with bronchitis. Additionally, an analysis of previous studies found that remedies made with thyme and other botanicals, such as primrose, reduced cough severity and frequency. If you want thyme tea a try, it couldn’t be easier to prepare. Add crushed thyme leaves or sprigs to boiling water, let it steep for a few minutes, remove the leaves, and sip your cough away! For added benefits (or flavor), you can add honey, lemon, or ginger.

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Green and Black Tea Soothe Puffy Red Eyes

Waking up to eyes that are puffy or bloodshot is annoying, but fortunately, there’s a quick fix. All you need is a cup (or two) of tea. Placing cooled bags of steeped tea over your eyes can reduce the appearance of dark circles, puffiness, redness, and swelling. The caffeine in black, green, and white tea constricts the blood vessels, which cause can dark circles and bloodshot eyes. These teas, along with some herbal teas like camomile, are anti-inflammatory and help reduce swelling around the eyes. To make your own tea bag eye compresses, grab two tea bags from your pantry, steep them as you normally would, let them cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator for extra relief and then place them over closed eyes for up to half an hour. This treatment can also relieve dry, itchy, or tired eyes.

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Sugar Can Cure Hiccups and Give You Glowing Skin

Sugar gets a bad reputation as an added ingredient, but it’s not without its health benefits. Aside from being a delicious sweetener, sugar is also a proven cure for hiccups. There are all sorts of unusual techniques for getting rid of hiccups, from pulling your tongue to having someone scare the hiccups out of you. One remedy that definitely works is swallowing a spoonful of sugar. Hiccups are caused by muscle spasms in your diaphragm that snap the vocal cords closed, resulting in the hic sound. Swallowing sugar tickles the back of your throat enough to interrupt your hiccups. Sugar can also be used to make a simple scrub to exfoliate your skin. The simplest scrub is made with two parts sugar (brown sugar is the and one part coconut or olive oil. Brown sugar is the gentling exfoliant and works best for sensitive skin, while white sugar is a bit coarser and suitable for most skin types.

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Get a Better Night’s Sleep With Tart Cherry Juice

If you have trouble falling asleep, sour cherry juice might be just what the doctor ordered. The drink contains two ingredients that are very important for inducing sleepiness: tryptophan and melatonin. Tryptophan is the amino acid behind the infamous “food coma” that sometimes hits you after eating a meal heavy on poultry and dairy. A tryptophan supplement helps people with insomnia fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality. Melatonin is a well-known sleep aid. It’s also the hormone that our brain releases to make us fall asleep. Given that it naturally contains two established sleep aids, it’s no surprise that drinking a glass of tart cherry juice or taking a tart cherry extract in the evening can help you get a more restful night’s sleep.

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Apple Cider Vinegar Can Improve Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels

As possibly one of the most popular home health remedies, apple cider vinegar has been touted as a way to prevent or treat dozens of conditions. Not all of those claims are backed up by science, but one apple cider vinegar benefit that stands up to scrutiny is its ability to regulate blood sugar and cholesterol. Insulin carries glucose into the cells in the body. People with type 2 diabetes have high levels of glucose in their blood either because they lack enough insulin to transport glucose or because their cells do not respond appropriately to insulin. In several studies, apple cider vinegar helped to lower blood glucose levels, especially after meals, in people with type 2 diabetes. There is also some evidence that vinegar helps improve sensitivity to insulin.

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Eucalyptus Is a Natural Cold and Pain Reliever

Eucalyptus is commonly found in over-the-counter cold medications and cough drops. The oil extracted from the leaves of Australian eucalyptus trees helps relieve nose and chest congestion, soothe coughing, and ease sore throats. Beyond its cold-remedying properties, eucalyptus is also an anti-inflammatory that helps reduce pain. In one study, people recovering from knee surgery reported that eucalyptus oil helped reduce pain. A topical cream that contains eucalyptus oil and menthol (the active ingredient in peppermint) is used to treat sore muscles and minor skin irritation. The oil may also have some use as an insect repellent. Humans should never eat eucalyptus (leave that to the koalas). The easiest way to use eucalyptus is to put a few drops of oil in hot water or a diffuser and breath in the healing mist.

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Cardamom Can Help Fight Cavities

Made from the seeds of several plants native to south and southeast Asia, cardamom is a unique spice with an extensive history in medicine. The use of cardamom for oral health dates back to ancient cultures in the Indian subcontinent, Babylon, Assyria, and Greece, where people would chew whole cardamom pods after meals as a breath freshener. Later research revealed that the spice’s active ingredient gets rid of bad breath by killing bacteria that cause it. And it’s not just bad breath-causing bacteria that are susceptible to cardamom. Several studies have found that the spice can kill bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. In addition, some research suggests that the oil in cardamom seeds may help stabilize the pH in your mouth, making it harder for disease-causing bacteria to thrive.

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