Zero Waste Medicine

zero waste sickness tea homemade lavender hibiscus rose hips handkerchief mouchoir zero-waste cold and flu zero waste sickness tea homemade lavender hibiscus rose hips

We rarely get sick around here, but I helped some friends with their feverish, runny-nosed kids last week, and voilà, j'ai un gros rhume. Here's what a trash-free sick day looks like- handkerchiefs, homemade tea and photo-editing. My mother gave me dried hibiscus, a friend grew the roses, and I harvested lavender from our windowsill; a few spoonfuls of miel de forêt with unpeeled ginger made the best plastic-free cough syrup imaginable. I used to think handkerchiefs were disgusting, but research confirms washing handkerchiefs removes viruses, especially if you regularly clean the machine. Throw a used Kleenex into the garbage, and the virus remains viable- in fact, rhinoviruses stay infectious in landfills. Compare the photos above to this. Which is grosser?

We have a dozen handkerchiefs in linen and cotton (gifts from my father-in-law), but you can make them from old t-shirts. Raw honey is a nice cold remedy, and it's easy to infuse at home. Place dried herbs or spices in a clean, airtight jar and cover with honey. Leave at least one week, then heat in a water bath and strain through muslin (optional). Try thyme-infused honey in boiling water with lemon and verbena leaves.



Add 2 cups fresh honeysuckle blossoms and leaves to four cups water with one cup raw honey. Take a spoonful every two hours to soothe inflammation and spasms, or use as expectorant. Strongly antiviral, the blossoms themselves can be steeped in a tea to flush toxins, or crushed and applied to wounds and bruises. Substitute lavender for the same indications.


Steep 10g each black dates, mint, ginger slices, onion peel, and orange peel in boiling water; drink every hour to prevent and treat colds and infection. Slice and use as pain killer. Combine with honey to ease cold and flu symptoms, nausea, gastritis, and menstrual cramps.


Make a paste of baking soda and water; apply as salve to insect bites or directly on canker sores to speed healing. Mix with apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and water and drink to treat urinary tract infections. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda to 1 tablespoon molasses to prevent fungal infections. Use as bath soak to relax muscle spasms and relieve soreness; also treats yeast infections and GERD symptoms. Suitable as antacid.


A natural antiseptic, use to clean cuts, treat eczema, rheumatism and muscle spasms. Can be used to treat poison ivy rashes and insect stings.


Sprinkle on wounds to stop bleeding. Apply directly to gum area to treat toothaches. Take 1/2 teaspoon in a cup of warm water to treat headaches. Boil one teaspoon with 1/4 cup each of water and apple cider vinegar. Mix with honey and lemon and take to treat sinus infections.


One to two teaspoons apple cider vinegar alleviates acid reflux and GI distress. Mix with hot water and honey to soothe sore throats. Take two tablespoons to regulate glucose. Apply on skin to ease itching, or use as bath soak to soothe tired muscles. Pour over fresh thyme sprigs and steep for four months, then apply directly to bites or stings.


Mix 80 drops clove bud essential oil with 70 drops lemon essential oil, 40 drops cinnamon essential oil, 30 drops eucalyptus essential oil, 20 drops rosemary essential oil, and 10 drops tea tree or lavender essential oil in a dark glass bottle and shake. One drop cleans cuts; soothes poison ivy rashes, insect bites and stings; relieves headaches; and sanitizes toothbrushes. Add a few drops to boiling water to sanitize the air; inhale to clear congestion. Use fifteen drops to treat bronchitis. Hand sanitizer, bug repellent, & Vaporub alternative. Note: I haven't found zero-waste essential oil in Paris- click here for at-home instructions. 
Other essentials:
  1. Lambs ear. You can grow this yourself and use it as bandages. Stereotypical Asian that I am, everyone in my family is a doctor, and we always had this or gauze and surgical tape instead of Band-Aids. Who wants to rip off a Band-Aid anyway? Dab cuts with honey first- it's an excellent antibacterial agent. You can also stop bleeding with sugar.
  2. White willow bark. Safe alternative to aspirin and salicylic acid acne treatments.
  3. Fresh aloe. Click here for instructions on harvesting aloe vera from the plant. A powerful burn treatment, this can be taken internally- avoid if you have liver issues.
  4. Neem oil. Mix 2 mL neem oil in 100 mL carrier oil (I like sweet almond) with a few drops of essential oils (try lavender or citronelle) for natural, DEET-free bug repellent.
  5. Neti pot.
  6. Raw honey. Naturally antiseptic and the best cure- along with a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water- for pinkeye.
  7. Vodka. Buy in bulk and use it as hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, disinfectant, a toothache remedy, or to treat swimmer's ear and cold sores

Whenever I get sick I sanitize the light switches, doorknobs, phone, anything I touched with vinegar and hot soapy water. For cold and flu I also like to boil a pot of onion skin, ginger, orange peel, and lemon juice with honey or Korean dates. I'm positive it helps me recover faster. Another good Korean remedy is Chinese plum boiled in sugar and water, then fermented in a big glass jar for three months. It settles the stomach immediately and helps ease symptoms of celiac disease, although Koreans mostly just put the resulting syrup in whiskey and cocktails. My doctor says that dark chocolate works better than cough drops, and he's right. It makes a huge difference (he graduated with honors from Oxford and Cambridge so it's not like he's a quack or anything). One last tip- when my sister was stung by a cactus, my grandma put the cut edge of a raw onion on the affected area. It drew out the stingers and eased the pain. The next day, it looked like nothing happened! Note: Never risk your health for the sake of zero waste. Sometimes you need medication or something in plastic packaging. That's ok! The idea is to seek the best medical treatment so you stay as healthy as possible.

Paris to Go

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