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For Sandi Thompson, proof of cranberries' healing power is in her liver.
When Thompson's liver faltered — the consequence of consuming cocktails of prescription drugs — a doctor suggested cranberry juice. Once Thompson started drinking it — and lots of water — her lab tests improved.
That was 17 years ago, but the experience cemented Thompson's preference for natural remedies administered in her own home.
"Let's start natural," Thompson says. "Let's start simple."
Thompson's liver problems followed a urinary-tract infection for which she was prescribed several medications. When side effects — including hair loss, aches and pains — cropped up, Thompson was given yet more prescriptions.
"They were medicating all these different things," she says. "When they took me off all the medications, I returned to normal."
Now a 37-year-old mother of five daughters, the Shady Cove resident has adapted numerous home remedies from "Natural Child Care" by Maribeth Riggs to treat scrapes, nausea, sore throat, warts and other minor health conditions. A 4-H advisor, Thompson has conducted classes on the topic of natural living for the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center's annual Carnival of Learning.
Some of Thompson's antidotes, like an onion poultice for skin infections, came at the suggestion of a nurse practitioner at Shady Cove Clinic, she says. Pureed onion, applied to skin and covered with a bandage, cleared up a golf ball-sized infection Thompson developed after being bitten by a stray cat, as well as a toxic insect bite that befell her husband while he was doing relief work in New Orleans.
"These are things you have in your house," Thompson says. "A lot of these things are just regular groceries."
Interest in home remedies is increasing, says Sharon Johnson, an Extension faculty member and Oregon State University associate professor of health and human services.
"The attractiveness of home remedies can't be denied," Johnson says, adding that the high cost of prescription medications may be one driving factor.
Johnson says the Central Point Extension recently has fielded more phone calls seeking suggestions for home remedies or reassurances of their validity. Although the Extension promotes "practical, natural approaches to home and garden care," Johnson says she always recommends consulting a doctor about any health issues. She cautions that certain people — aging adults, pregnant women, children under 2 and anyone with a compromised immune system — shouldn't "just jump on a home remedy."
Yet Johnson says she has her own home pharmacopeia. At the top of the list: baking soda.
"You can use it for itching," she says. "You can use it for a calming soak."
Baking soda — along with salt, lemon, vinegar and water — is an essential substance for cleaning her house, Thompson says. Natural cleansers, she says, also have fewer allergens, of particular concern for her family, which struggles with food and environmental allergies.
To alleviate nasal congestion caused by allergies, Thompson says she uses saltwater, one of seven home remedies touted in the June 2008 Consumer Reports on Health. Citing two studies of subjects who bathed their sinuses with saline solution, the article reported that nasal irrigation clears mucus and may wash away allergens and bacteria while helping tiny hairs in the nose to move mucus more efficiently.
"I have had so many people tell me they do that," Johnson says of nasal irrigation.
Thompson heard about the practice from pediatricians and, since introducing it in her home, has saved money by refilling a commercial product's bottle with her own saline solution.
Reusing vitamin bottles for storing herb preparations, including her "scab powder" made from comfrey root and slippery elm bark, also saves money, Thompson says.
Many of the herbs she needs grow in her yard, or she purchases them at the grocery store in tea form for less than at health-food stores or herb shops.
"It's a great economics thing," Thompson says.
Saving cash isn't the only aspect of home remedies that makes us feel better. While some — like chicken soup for colds — have scientifically proven health benefits, others may simply soothe symptoms by their power of suggestion, Johnson says.
"If we think something's going to work," Johnson says, "it may be simply because we have a better attitude about it."