Western MA Folk Remedies for Chest Congestions and Allergies

Chest Congestion

Natural allergy relief: common stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. (Photo credit: Tony(a) Lemos)

Onion Cough Syrup: 2 lbs. onion, peeled and cut. Use enough raw honey to cover onions (1 1/2 – 2 lbs.) in a double boiler or crock-pot. Heat to simmer. Add 1/2 oz each; Anise seed, Wild Cherry bark, cut Licorice root, Horehound. Cook for 2 hours. Strain by squeezing mixture through cheesecloth and into clean glass container. Store in refrigerator. — Kathleen Duffy

For bronchitis and coughs I’ve done different things, but what I usually stick with and love is an infusion of thyme, coltsfoot and mullein. I also dose up on echinacea. I know some people feel it’s overused or works better before you actually get sick, but when I’ve waited too long, refusing to believe that I really need to slow down, I’ve taken a dropper-full every two hours for a couple of days and it’s worked. Of course, if I start taking it when I should, my cough doesn’t turn into bronchitis in the first place. — Cathy Whitely

To treat lung and cold congestion a home made poultice made of mustard seeds and water, rub onto chest and cover with warm cloths, go to bed; wake up dead or alive! — Mindy’s paternal great grandmother

the truth is . . . i was raised a christian scientist, the only medicine in the medicine cabinet was a box of bandaids and some vicks vaporub. everything was dealt with through prayer and practitioners (and denial). oh yeah, we got ginger ale if we were feeling crummy . . . but otherwise, we had to “work it out” with god, prayer, reading, scripture etc. — Lois Brown (Artist, Shutesbury, MA)

Collect the leaves of sage and thyme from your garden or potted window herb box, loosely fill a pint jar, and cover with olive oil. Let it sit for a moon cycle, shaking whenever you remember. Strain. — In a double boiler (saucepan is fine on low heat if you do not have a double boiler) melt 2 oz of beeswax. Once this is melted add 1 oz of your infused sage and thyme oil. Turn off the heat and add up to 3-4 drops of Eucalyptus Essential Oil and up to 6 drops more of any combination of the following Essential Oils: Clove, Ravensare, Pine or Peppermint. Pour the hot liquid into your containers, and let harden. If the salve is too hard melt down and add more of the sage infused oil, if it is too soft melt down and add more beeswax. — In the Valley Essential Oils can be purchased from Cornucopia, Joia and the Greenfield Coop. They should not be used directly on the skin without first diluting in either water or oil and they should never be used internally. — Tony(a) Lemos

My other grandmother administered this remedy if we had the kind of deep, uncontrollable coughing that accompanies bronchitis. She would beat an egg white until frothy, and add fresh lemon juice and honey, beat it up a bit more and have us drink this odd foamy mixture. We weren’t crazy about drinking grandma’s potion, but it sure stopped the coughing! — Grace Edwards (Sunderland, MA)

Bone Soup to Cure Lung (what Tibetans say is too much wind energy, the feeling in the lung area that makes you spacey, anxious, restless, nervous.) Put cold water in a soup pot, add beef bones, knee bones are best! Swish to extract any juices into the water, bring up to boil then simmer for an hour adding salt, bay leaves, star anise, sechuanne peppers and sliced ginger and some cut up beef. Grounding will be insured as well as a great night’s sleep. — Eileen Latshang


allergies? what allergies? i am not allergic to anything. i don’t want to label myself or trap myself into a box. my body believes what i tell her and when i say i don’t have allergies, it is true. oh, that terrible sneezing spell i have every fall? with swollen sinuses and constant pressure, a tickle in my throat, and itchy itchy eyes. that’s just my annual adjustment period. and every year it is smoother and less painful with the help of a couple herbs and my attitude. people say, wow your allergies are really bad. i say, i don’t have allergies. i can breathe deeply all of the air around me, smell the difference in the breeze. i deserve to live and breathe and be.

you know the days when your sinuses are draining uncontrollably for the seventh day in a row and if it doesn’t stop you’re going freak out and rip your eyeballs out of your head so you can scratch the back of them? well, those are the days that you need to say . . . HEY! i can breathe freely! i can breathe deeply! i can handle anything that comes my way! i want to live and breathe and be! it can be very hard to love and encourage myself that much. i need to treat myself compassionately. i can heal myself! i don’t need to sneeze at every speck of dust or pollen or mildew in the air, i can breathe it all in, and my body is strong enough to deal with it! i am sensitive and sassy! i am free!

i say these mantras to myself while i sip a large glass of nourishing nettles leaf (urtica dioica) infusion. nettles, my dear friend and healing helper, gives me long term support for my entire being to live allergy free. you can drink as much as you want, as much as you can. nettles is like a cooked green vegetable. you can’t overdo it with the infusion, capsules on the other hand may be dangerous, and certainly not as delicious. my favorite herb to stop a sneezing attack is osha root (ligusticum porteri) infusion. you can infuse the osha root over and over again. this infusion is taken in small sips. you can feel how strong and potent it is. i take a few sips as needed each day during my freak out period of autumn, but i wouldn’t use it every day of the year. that’s what nettles is for.

while i am making, drinking, sipping my infusions i say to myself . . . i deserve to live and i deserve to breathe deeply. i deserve to live and breathe in freedom. i can do anything i want to do, and i want to live and to breathe and to be. —  emily millspaugh, wise woman herbalist, shutesbury

For more from this series, check out these posts from A Cure for What Ails

Tony(a) LemosTony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA, she also maintains an herbal medicine practice in Western Mass. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest and the Women’s Herbal Conference.

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