Kitchen Medicine
Island Voices

Kitchen Medicine

By Marjorie Watkins and Suzanna Leigh

There are many things in our kitchen cupboards that can bolster our body’s ability to heal itself. Every mother is a bit of a medicine woman, and what do you do if no doctor is available?

Prevention is of course the best medicine. We all know that fresh air, fresh vegetables and fruits, and plenty of rest strengthens our body’s immune system. Did you know that, when threatened with the viruses and bacteria that cause colds and respiratory infections, the cells in our nostrils quickly release tiny sac of fluid to bind and expel these germs before they can invade our bodies? Colder temperatures (about 40 degrees) inhibit this process, but then, at 40 degrees, bacterial growth slows way down as well. That’s why we keep our refrigerators at that temperature. So, don’t be afraid to go walking in the winter wonderland – just use a mask or scarf to keep your nose warm!

Herbs can help, too. Marjorie and her family were exploring Crete when they came across an old man giving away bouquets of sage, thyme, and marjoram, to prevent colds. Marjorie made these into a tea, which she served to her family every day that winter. No one caught a cold.

Suzanna asked Jamila Al Dahir how her family in Syria has handled COVID-19; they haven’t had the vaccinations or access to hospitals. She told me that, in her community of about 10,000 people, everyone got sick, but only three people died. They treated their symptoms with the traditional remedies they use for respiratory infections. Mustafa gave me one of the recipes his family uses for all winter illness, including coughs and flu:

Mustafa’s Winter Cure

One cup of boiling water

1 tsp cumin (seeds, though powder would do in a pinch)

Boil for about 5 minutes


1 lemon, sliced

1 tbsp fresh mint

1 tsp minced fresh ginger

Boil 2 more minutes

Drink hot or cold. Optional, add honey to taste.

Marjorie says, to clear a stuffy head, wet a washcloth in hot water and hold it against your face. This loosens congestion in the sinuses. Hot onion soup is both tasty and effective, also bouillon in hot water with kelp. Suzanna adds a pinch or so of dried red pepper flakes to soup; this helps to clear her head. Miso soup is good too, or a teaspoon of miso in hot water. Also, try a gruel of brown rice with a little salt, cooked in lots of water until the rice splits.

Gargling with hot salt water (a scant 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt in a cup of water) washes out the germs and soothes a sore throat. Gargle every hour or so if you have a very sore throat. Another gargle is to steep one teaspoon of dried sage leaves in one cup of hot water. Add one teaspoon of vinegar. Or simmer one tablespoon of cloves in a cupful of boiling water for 15 minutes, and sip as needed. Even small sips are effective.

Suzanna’s Sage Tea for Lungs

In a glass quart jar put

4-5 fresh sage leaves or 1 tbsp dried sage

2 cloves garlic minced or smashed in a garlic press

1 generous tbsp honey (to taste)

Fill with boiling water and steep for at least 10 minutes.

Drink 1-3 cups hot, per day as needed.

For swollen glands under the hinge of the jaw, simmer chicken gizzards until very tender, along with a bay leaf, a sliced stalk of celery, three or four peppercorns, and a pinch of tarragon. Or gently massage camphorated oil into the glands, wrap the throat with a clean fuzzy sock, and stay out of the wind.

An important part of self-healing is prompt treatment for symptoms, paying attention to how your body responds to your remedies, and knowing when to call the doctor.

January 9, 2023

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marj and suzanna