Next time you have a headache, or you ate too much and your stomach hurts, or you’re sore after a workout, look to a natural remedy rather than a chemical-based cure.
“What most people don’t know is they have many ‘natural cures’ in their pantry,” says Bella Golightly of Memphis, Tennessee’s Maggie’s Pharm.
She’s not referring to the medicine cabinet or some apothecary’s shelves full of glass jars brimming with herbs, branches and bark; rather, Golightly is talking about your spice cabinet, where you likely have bottles and jars of cinnamon, garlic, mustard seeds, turmeric, cayenne and other spices with medicinal qualities.
Fresh herbs, too, like rosemary, ginger, garlic (yes, it’s good any way you take it), parsley, thyme and just about every other herb or flower your grandmother or her grandmother grew in the garden are all here for a purpose.
“The way dried flowers and herbs can be used surprises people. Take something like cayenne. This spicy seasoning has been shown to help boost metabolism and topically—suspended in oil, lotion or cream—it helps with pain relief as it increases circulation to the areas where it’s applied,” she says.
Maggie’s Pharm has been a Memphis staple since 1980, selling medicinal herbs, teas and coffee, spices, oils, soaps and sundries. In the back are apothecary shelves of barks and twigs, powders and dried flowers, seeds, leaves and exotic smelling granules in half a hundred colors. You’ll also find loyal customers who use herbs and spices for ailments as well as for general health.
“In our whole herb section, we sell bulk herbs and spices to local herbalists, but also to walk-in customers,” says Golightly. “We’re a place people come for an herbal or natural remedy rather than a chemical one.”
Golightly points out that turmeric, the spice that lends Indian curries a bronze-gold hue, stimulates the appetite and aids in digestion but has an array of other benefits as well. It has also shown positive effects for treating arthritis. It contains a chemical, curacumin, which may help fight against certain types of cancer. Ongoing studies are examining the relationship between turmeric and curacumin with Alzheimer’s disease as well as asthma.
Garlic, which in addition to repelling vampires and close talkers, can help the body resist colds.
“Just eat a clove when you begin feeling sick, “says Golightly, “and you can slow or even stop a cold, just with garlic, no drowsy medicine required.”
Garlic has also been linked to lower cholesterol (a 5-10 percent reduction in overall count, depending on the study you reference), and can reduce the risk of heart disease.
If this sounds crazy to you, consider that many contemporary medications contain compounds built on and based off of natural cures. Take aspirin as an example. Early forms of the drug (and some current forms) were derived from white willow bark, which when boiled, delivers the same—albeit weaker—benefits as a pill.
And this just scratches the surface
“Herbs, like any medication, can be used ineffectively or incorrectly, so it’s important to work with an herbalist or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, someone who knows herbs, their effects and drawbacks, and usage. This will ensure you’re on the right path with treatment,” Golightly says. “Do your research and trust the people around you—your herbalist, the folks at stores like ours, your physician or traditional medicine practitioner.”
The most well-known of non-western medicine may be traditional Chinese medicine, which combines herbal and natural remedies with acupuncture, nutrition and medical massage. Memphis’ Acupuncture and Healing Arts Medical Group provides all aspects of traditional Chinese medicine to clients interested in these ancient treatments.
Chuck Sullivan, owner of the medical group, says, “Traditional Chinese medicine is looked at as some new-agey thing, but the roots of it are quite deep and very complex. Part of the Chinese culture is recording for the next generation, so practitioners are drawing on more than 2,000 years of writings, practices and techniques. In China today, many hospitals have two sides: Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.”
Acupuncture is one of the techniques that’s at least colloquially known to Americans. In acupuncture, miniscule needles are inserted in specific points and left in for anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. A qualified acupuncturist will interview patients to determine the best placement pattern for that individual, then insert needles along the meridian lines and points they deem to be most effective. While some new clients are nervous about being “poked” with needles, the treatment isn’t threatening or frightening at all. Using precise placement and gentle taps to set the needle, each one is inserted with little sensation.
“At most, they feel like a mosquito bite, but without the itch,” says Sullivan, who added that the needles are single-use, sterile-pack needles designed specifically for acupuncture.
Clients report warming sensations, loosening of muscles, feelings of heaviness where the needles are placed, but very rarely pain. And due to the size of the needles, blood is seldom seen.
“Acupuncture can be used to treat pain, depression, digestive issues, fertility, and much more, “Sullivan says. “But remember, acupuncture is only one element of traditional Chinese medicine, and is most effective when used in conjunction with the others.”
That means herbal remedies, nutritional approaches and medical massage—less relaxing than a Swedish massage and more focused on improving range of motion.
Diet comes into play in traditional Chinese medicine and has become more of a focus for western medical practitioners as well. Diabetics, those with Celiac or gluten intolerance, and others have used nutrition and diet to moderate conditions for a long time, and athletes have been paying more attention to nutrition and the quality of their caloric intake over generations. Now this way of thinking has reached the average consumer. Organic and non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) foods have increased in popularity and availability, and while many tout the health benefits of these foods, some call them into question. One thing is not in question, however. With organic and non-GMO foods there are no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides present, meaning when you eat, you get the plant and only the plant, no chemical compounds.
Across the U.S., the conversation on natural cures has turned with frequency to medical cannabis, commonly known as marijuana (though marijuana is actually a different plant from cannabis).
To date, 29 states have legalized some form of medical cannabis, with eight states legalizing the plant’s recreational use. Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana, and the southern border states of Illinois and Ohio have legalized limited forms of medical cannabis (check states for their respective laws regarding the legality of prescriptions, usage and obtaining cannabis, which is commonly limited to residents who are also registered medical patients).
Most states—including Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee—have legalized the use of Cannabidiol, or CBD. This is one of the active compounds in cannabis (along with THC, the psychoactive element), and it shows a lot of promise in treating a range of conditions from pain to anxiety.