The Healing Balm of Herbs really Works!

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I don’t know what tree this is, but the seed pods are beginning to burst. What remains, dries and looks like a beautiful rose. (The leaves look like a water oak.)

When I was raising my children, we didn’t have “organic” fruits and vegetables. Neither did we have health food stores or digital information. I studied nutrition using library books. In my search for providing wholesome meals that my children would eat, I discovered the miraculous healing power of herbs.

When my second child had diarrhea at the age of two, I gave up on the over the counter drugs the doctor had recommended, that didn’t work, and turned to my herbal book. After steeping some dill sprigs and seeds in boiled water, I gave him a tablespoon of lukewarm dill tea every few hours. This home-made remedy took hold within hours and by the next day he was well.

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Another favorite healer is garlic. When my then seven year old daughter began wheezing and coughing, hot steamy water was only a temporary relief. I followed the directions for croup, and applied Vaseline to the bottoms of her feet to protect them from the garlic which can burn the skin. I wrapped a clove of garlic in gauze and applied it to her feet and then pulled her socks on. She slept through the night and was not coughing in the morning. Ironically, her breath smelled of garlic which told me her skin had absorbed it through her feet.

By late afternoon, she was coughing again so I applied a garlic poultice for the second time. This turned out to be her last application. The croup was gone and never returned.

I remembered my success when her older sister came down with a piercing earache in the middle of the night. I wrapped a garlic clove in gauze, put a thin coating of Vaseline over the gauze and stuffed it inside her ear. Of course, it didn’t go in very far, but apparently far enough.

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(Here are the dried seed pods that remain. Like small three petal flowers, these can be used to trim small paintings, mirrors, or photographs. Nature’s beauty at its best!)

The next morning, her earache was gone and never came back. Herbs can be hugely beneficial in healing as long as you don’t mix them with medications your doctor may have prescribed. This may make both the medicine and the herbs ineffective. Use caution. But when all else fails, give Mother Nature’s bounty a try.

I’ve always wanted to have an authentic herbal garden, but never had the space or time to get one started. I remember touring a site in New Jersey called “Jockey Hollow,” where it is said that George Washington stayed during the Revolutionary War. I was impressed by the herb gardens still cultivated in the back yard.

In Colonial times, every homestead had an herb garden for use in cooking and for medicine. The herbs were dried and the leaves crushed in a pestle before use. Most had a simple apothecary in their homes for family members or to ease some traveler’s ills.


“Americana” A symbol of America’s past and her greatness!

My own mother had her own special remedies. There was the mustard plaster applied to the chest for croup and a bad cold. Stone ground mustard was mixed with ginger and honey. There was the Vaseline rub on the neck before applying a rag soaked in alcohol. Then one of my father’s socks was wrapped around this and pinned together to hold it all in place. The warmth brought a soothing effect to sore throats and swollen glands. A  dose of honey and ginger was swallowed to ease the internal pain and kept the throat moist.

After a stomach upset or a case of the flu, we were given warm tea with a bit of toast. If it stayed down, we knew we were well. The tea also healed our shrunken stomachs.

Now days, mothers run their children to the doctor’s office for every ailment from the sniffles, to normal muscle aches and pains; I’m sure most prefer to err on the side of caution. It’s a shame that most are unaware of the power of healing they have within their own grasp.


Lichen, mushrooms, and toadstools were often used in medicine long ago. Remember Hesther Prine from The Scarlet Letter? She tried to end a pregnancy with the poison from one of them.

Our ancestors relied heavily on prayer and herbs for their very lives. Poultices worked miracles in drawing out infections and preventing gangrene. I’m reading a book about Katherine the Great during the 1300’s. They were dependent on a combination of witchcraft, superstition, prayers to obscure saints and oblations in hopes they might be healed. They had no knowledge of germs or bacteria. They lived in constant fear. They saw their loved ones die and their own lives snuffed short.

We are blessed abundantly with good health and many preventative medicines to keep us from getting ill. It would be foolish not to take advantage of the science and information we have today. Still, there are many simple illnesses that are caused by viruses and have no cure. We could heal them ourselves if we understood the benefits and healing properties of herbs.

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A Strangler Fig produces fruit.

Illness always reminds us of our Fragile Humanity

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

I was bitten by a brown recluse spider one Christmas; a near fatal experience that increased my faith. I had severe bronchitis one year that ended up being the turning point for change in a long and difficult marriage.

This year it was traveling by plane to a wedding. Somewhere along the way I picked up a virus (no wonder when the plane was filled with crying, coughing children and barking dogs). I vowed I would never fly again during the holidays, but how could I miss my grandson’s wedding?

The festivities brought my three daughters and me together for the first time in years. Since all of us live great distances from each other, the wedding gave us a welcome chance to share stories and laughs.

The reunion also brought back treasured memories of my own mother who always shared her joy of life through laughter and tears. Relationships are the glue that heals all wounds. Without them, we would shrivel up inside.

During a difficult period in my life, my friend Alice gave me a prayer plant. “It will remind you of where your strength comes from,” she said. Sure enough, every evening as the sun went down, the prayer plant extended its leaves upward. I was reminded to turn to God more often, and I also remembered my friend.

When a move across country forced me to leave the plant behind, I photographed it. Sometime later, I created an oil painting of the plant sitting beside a garden glove and a trowel. The painting still hangs in my kitchen. Whenever I look at it, I remember my friend and her reminder to reach up in times of need. Her priceless gift of love was simple and inexpensive, but never forgotten.

My dear mother died of lung cancer and I will always regret not being there for her when she needed me most. I was working full time and would have lost my job and my home if I’d taken six months off to assist her. Looking back, I wish I’d have done it. I lost precious time being with her. Like my daughters, I was separated from my mother by time and distance.

Sometimes the things that matter most suffer by the things that matter least. What seems important at the time loses its value on close examination. People always matter more than things. Our possessions tarnish with time. Everything wears out with use. Love and the relationships that grow out of unconditional lasting love endure and weather the ups and downs of turbulence and trouble.