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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mama Masha's kitchen - My Home Is My Fortress, My Kitchen Is My … Pharmacy?

Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere and with it – spring flu, seasonal allergies, and all manner of other ways to get sick. While I sincerely hope that all of you remain in sound health, it might not be a good idea to stock your kitchen cabinets with some edible remedies.That's right folks, some of the oldest, most respected and most effective health and beauty aids could be hiding in your fridge, pantry or spice rack.

Honey, I am home!

Humankind has been in love with honey since time immemorial. The oldest rock painting depicting a woman gathering wild honey from a beehive in a tree dates to 13,000 BC. Sure, we didn't always know that in addition to anti-inflammatory qualities it also had the power to fight off bacterial infections, but it worked in so many ways that it didn't matter.

Legendary and real-life women like Helen of Troy and Cleopatra were rumored to bathe in milk mixed with honey to keep their skin healthy and youthful.

Honey works equally well on its own and mixed with other ingredients. Applied in a neck compress, it can soothe a sore throat and help recover quicker from strep throat and tonsillitis. Applied to scratches and bruises, it reduces inflammation and sub-dermal bruising and helps your skin heal itself faster.

Those who hate shopping for beauty products and dislike putting “all that gunk” on their faces can use the following delicious recipes to make their own organic honey-based face scrub.

Recipe 1: Blend 1 peeled cored apple with 1 tablespoon of honey in a food processor, until smooth. Pat the mix onto your face and let it sit for 15 minutes (soaking in a bath while you wait is a good idea too). Rinse off gently with warm water and a washcloth.

Recipe 2: Combine 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of finely ground almonds, 2 tablespoons of dry oatmeal and a tiny bit of lemon juice just to moisten the mix. Massage gently onto your face (keep away from the eyes), neck and chest, then rinse off with warm water.

Pass the mustard, please!

Mustard is delicious on hot dogs and hamburgers, and makes for a hell of a potato salad. But the same chemical that gives mustard its “kick” also makes it possible to use ground mustard seed as a remedy.

The old-fashioned mustard plaster – squares of heavy paper with mustard powder on one side – is used to this day to reduce congestion and make coughs more productive during a cold.

Two heaping tablespoons of mustard powder mixed with a hot foot bath improve circulation, giving your body's natural defenses an extra edge to fight infection.

Be careful – contrary to popular opinion, sniffing mustard powder will not help a stuffy nose. On the contrary, it will only worsen the inflammation and cause you to sneeze more. So, keep mustard powder in your home remedies box, but away from your breathing apparatus.

Onion and garlic – it's not just for the frying pan I don't think there is a single Mama Masha's Kitchen post that does not mention onion and garlic in some shape or form. And what's not to love? They are both widely available, inexpensive, easy to prepare in a variety of ways and with a variety of other foods, and both carry more health benefits than any flu shot could ever deliver – the fact supported by centuries of folk wisdom and recent numerous scientific studies.

Crushed onion placed on the acupoint on one's left hand – the dip on the back of the hand between the bones of the thumb and index finger – helps against cold and flu. Do not overdo it – any more than five minutes, and you might end up with one hell of a burn. Onion juice is wicked!

Five drops of garlic juice dissolved in a shot glass of lukewarm water and dribbled into the nose helps clear congestion. Once again, less is more. Too much garlic juice and you'll only worsen the inflammation in your nasal passage.

If you don't feel brave enough for either one of these remedies, I honestly can't blame you. Having experienced them both a few times, I can vouch both for their effectiveness and their extreme unpleasantness.

However, do make a point to include garlic and onion into your daily diet. With sufficient intake in various tasty forms you just might build your body's defenses enough to avoid having to drip that stuff down your nose.

Breathe in – breathe out...

There are few things more painful and exhausting than an on-going bronchitis with its nasty rasping cough. One of the easiest way to loosen up the chest congestion and give yourself a break from the cough is to put together an inhalation packet. The same herbs that work wonders to improve the flavor of your meat or fish course also have anti-inflammatory healing properties. The mix can include, but is not limited to rosemary, mint, basil, chives, lemongrass and lemon verbena. (Incidentally, another kitchen favorite – ginger – is great for settling sore tummies.) You may use them dried or crushed.

Add a heaping tablespoon of the herb mix into a small teapot with a cup of water. If you can find it, get some Tiger Balm and add a tiny bit to the mix – enough to cover the edge of a teaspoon. Set the teapot on the stove on high heat. The moment it starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium low – just enough to keep it simmering and producing steam. Wrap a piece of heavy paper around the spout of the teapot (a core from a used-up roll of paper towels works well) and breathe carefully – inhaling through your mouth and exhaling through your nose. Continue for up to 15 minutes.

Even without medicinal herbs, steam is a powerful decongestant within its own right. For a quick steamy soother, boil a large pot of potatoes for dinner. As soon as they are ready, take them off the heat and carefully drain the water. Place the pot somewhere where you can lean over it comfortably, put a towel over your head and spend a few minutes to breathe that earthy potato steam. Incidentally, it's a great way to open up and clean your pores too – a kind of built-in facial.

You give me fever!

Well, not you specifically. Fever is actually something we give ourselves – it is our body's natural way to try and fry whatever is bothering it. The good news is that we have such a cool natural mechanism. The bad news is that fever doesn't discriminate and can hurt our internal systems even as it tries to help us to fight of the disease.

Yes, there are powerful fever-reducing medications out there, but if you are like me and don't like putting scary chemicals with long names into your body, there are some natural options.

My two favorites are raspberry and blackberry. They both contain natural fever-reducing agents and anti-oxidants, so they are capable of performing double duty by fighting whatever is ailing you at the moment and strengthening your natural defenses at the same time.

As fever is frequently accompanied by headache and nausea, you can create a stomach-settling healing fizzy by mixing raspberry wine with ginger ale. It will hydrate you, stave off the nausea, help you sleep and battle your fever all at the same time.

Herbs, garlic and onion are easy enough to grow on a balcony, a window sill or a kitchen counter, and mustard powder, honey, fresh berries, and potatoes are available at any grocery store or farmers' market. It only makes sense – after all, most of these remedies were developed by village midwives and healers, who didn't have the money for or the access to the latest medical advances. So, give them a shot and be well!

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