As a child, at the first possible sign of a sore throat, my mother would bring water to a boil, pour it into a mug, add vinegar and salt, then, when warm, have me gargle the mixture. She used a similar saltwater cocktail when I lost my first tooth. I swished the warm concoction around the gummy space that once held my tooth to stop the bleeding and help the area heal. If I had a cough, she’d slice a lemon, squeeze the juice from each slice into a mug, warm it up, and add a dollop of honey. The tart, sweet, mix helped soothe my throat and chest while breaking down any mucous.
Though I didn’t realize it while growing up, these remedies were evidence that wellness was always within reach. The natural home remedies my mother and grandmother made were a continuation of the natural cures my great-grandmother and the matriarchs before her created to sustain their health. As a Garifuna-American woman, with roots that trace between West and Central Africa, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Honduras, my family has passed down ancestral knowledge and healing traditions that have impacted my own health and wellness regimen.
While there’s not an extensive amount of medicinal research available on a number of natural home remedies, many credit family members with imparting on them the holistic information needed to treat their ailments. “The truth is, if these remedies didn't work, they wouldn't have been handed down to several generations for centuries,” says Suncear Scretchen, a wellness coach and energy practitioner. “When you're practicing a treatment that has existed in your family for years, you are tapping into ancestral wisdom that is intrinsic to your body's intelligence.”
I didn't make the connection early in my life between the all-natural remedies my family passed down and my innate understanding of them. As I grew older, though, I felt drawn to go the more natural route of tackling specific health issues like stomachaches, skin irritations, or an impending cold with plants like aloe vera and ginger root. I have a number of childhood memories that involve trips to the market to pick up an item or two to prep a natural home remedy.
My mother always had anise, or aniseed on hand in case we needed its anti-inflammatory properties for treating digestive issues or other purposes. The women in my family also use it to treat menstrual cramps and related pain, a strategy that some research backs up; when I was having symptoms, my mother would bring anise to a boil, strain the herbs, and pour me a cup.
Now, nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve leaned into natural home remedies to keep me as healthy as possible. While information regarding the virus is constantly changing, I’ve made sure I drink teas with herbs that—given how I was raised—I believe will strengthen my immune system: echinacea, lemongrass, licorice, and peppermint, to name a few. I also begin my day with warm lemon water for hydration and to boost my intake of vitamin C, which is known to help combat the common cold.
The natural home remedies that have kept me well for 32 years have done the same for my entire family, and many Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)
The natural home remedies that have kept me well for 32 years have done the same for my entire family, and many Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). I pick up the items I use for the remedies at my local supermarket or health-food store, but all of them could be found on the land my grandparents, great-grandparents and ancestors owned. It was second nature for them to grab what they needed from the land. When I think about the thousands of years these wellness practices have existed, I can’t help but feel extremely grateful that they’ve remained intact, because that reality speaks to my ancestors’ inherent understanding of botany and the healing power of nature.
Just as my own mother and grandmother have shown me, I look forward to the day when I can show my own children that healing is accessible. Then, they can maintain and enhance their wellness with items found in their kitchen.
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