Doctoring on the Homestead

Let’s face it: at some point in life, there is a distinct possibility that you will, in fact, have to make a trip to the doctor’s office.  Surgery, a broken bone, stitches—these are situations an untrained person such as you or I would probably not want to deal with at home, nor should we.  However, whether you are living on a homestead thirty miles out of town or in a town apartment, one should not have to run to the doctor for the everyday cuts, scrapes, and bruises that come from hard work.

Granted, you could just keep a few basic OTC’s in your first-aid kit – but then that wouldn’t be particularly self-reliant, would it?  Nor would it be, and I stress this, particularly FUN!  And, since you are reading this, I can only assume that you are interested in living a somewhat self-sufficient life in which, for fun and function, you just might have to get a little creative on occasion.  Who knows, maybe you can work out a barter with the neighbor.  With all of that said, let’s get to the goods…

Some Basic Herbs to Have on Hand

To make any salve or tincture, including the two preparations I’m going to explain, you will need herbs.  No matter where you live, you can get access to the following basic list.  Plant them in your garden, on the deck, or in the window-planters for a fresh, year-round supply.

While best fresh, you can dry the excess for a winter stock, or purchase pre-dried stock in the bulk section at the health food store.

Please note that there are many, many more individual herbs, as well as combinations, beyond what I have listed here.  My goal for this list was to give a basic selection that will take care of some of the more common day to day maladies.  So, here’s

The List:

Parts Used: Leaves
Common Historical Uses (CHU): cuts, stings, stops blood flow, astringent, anti-inflammatory, swelling, or as a poultice to draw out thorns and splinters.

Witch Hazel
Parts Used:  Leaves
CHU: anti-septic, relieve pain, muscle aches

Parts Used: Flowers
CHU: headaches, burns, stress, insomnia

Parts Used: Leaves
CHU: digestive aid, headaches, increase circulation, congestion aid

Parts Used: Leaves
CHU: headaches

Parts Used: Whole Herb
CHU: cuts, burns, rashes

Parts Used: Flowers
CHU: wound healing, anti-inflammatory, canker sores

Parts Used: Flowers, Leaves
CHU: lung issues

Any of these can be combined or used individually for salves or tinctures to create the desired effect.  Please consult your doctor before use.

Doctoring on the Homestead

Doctoring on the Homestead

How to Prepare a Salve


  • Lard, Petroleum jelly, castor oil, or coco butter – this will be your base, so use something without pesticides or chemicals.
  • Your chosen herbs.
  • Vitamin E – this is your emulsifier and your preservative.
  • Beeswax – this is your thickening agent.

1. Place about one-half to one pound of herb(s) in just-boiling water. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, strain out the solids (or don’t*), and then add fresh herb to the same water.  Repeat this step once more.

2.  Add desired amount of base (perhaps one to two pints, depending on the desired concentration, etc.) to the water on the stove.  Heat to just under boiling and let the water steam out, leaving the essence of the herbs in the base.

3.  Turn off the stove after water is boiled off, as well as you can tell.

4.  Add about 3-4 capsules of Vitamin E.

5.  Add beeswax to desired consistency. Let cool (this is when the beeswax will really harden).

6.  Store in clean glass jars in a cool dark place. Use as desired.

A Second Option for Processing:

This is quicker, but somewhat less concentrated. However, it is still effective.

1.  Put herbs and base in a pot. Simmer until herb is well wilted, strain or not.*

2. Add Vitamin E and beeswax as above.

3.  Store as above.

*Straining is not necessary, though for a clean, smoother salve you would want to remove the solids.  However, the solid plant matter really won’t hurt anything.  Like with cooking, the only way to learn is to practice.

Some Possible Combinations:
—General cuts, scrapes, burns: witch hazel, plantain, lavender, chickweed, calendula.
—Chest cold: mullein & mint.
—Sore Muscles: witch hazel, peppermint, calendula.
—Headaches: lavender, rosemary, peppermint.
—Chapped Skin: calendula, chickweed, lavender.  This is best used in a moisturizing type of base like olive oil or coco butter.  The idea is for it to soak into the skin for healing.  If your goal is to protect chapped skin, use something more like petroleum jelly which will not soak in very quickly, and can work at the same time as a windbreak for your skin.

Doctoring on the Homestead, lavender


Tinctures are an example of the type of liquid herb found in some health food stores.  These are generally meant for internal use.  Due to allergies, the general possibility of contraindications, and the varied internal safety factors of various herbs, I will focus only on the process rather than the specific herbs.  Please consult a doctor and/or do your own research to determine what herbs would be beneficial and edible in regards to your needs.

How to Prepare a Tincture:


  • 1 ounce of herb(s)
  • 4 ounces of water
  • 12 ounces of apple cider vinegar


1.  Place all ingredients in a sealed jar for two weeks. Ideally, this will be somewhere where the jar gets significant amounts of sunlight.

2. Shake twice daily.

3. Use internally as desired or directed by a physician.

It’s simple, but effective.  And, again, it takes practice to get the result exactly like you want it.

Doctoring on the Homestead, witch hazel

Old-Time Remedies

Here, I have collected a few remedies used by people for years and years.  You may or may not have heard of all of them.  Some I learned in school, one I learned from my grandmother, another from my mom.  Since the recipes have lasted to be put in to this article, I find that to be a good indicator for their effectiveness.

Granny and Aunt Modine’s Homemade Nasal Spray

One afternoon at my grandparents, I stumbled across my grandmother mixing salt, soda, and water.  Had she been planning on baking something, I wouldn’t have questioned this.  However, I knew she had no plans to bake that day.

So, I asked. “What are you making, Granny?”

“Nasal spray,” she replied.

Now, forgive me, but nasal spray is one of those things that I just never thought of as being do it yourself.  However, Granny swears by it.  Her sister got the recipe somewhere, and they both use it any time they feel any nasal issues starting to prevent the issue from actually developing.  And, it actually seems to work rather well.  So, the recipe:


  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • Some old nasal spray bottles (disinfected, of course)


Simply heat the water in the microwave, dissolve the first two ingredients in the water, then pour in to your storage containers.

Snort as needed.  It’s cheap, simple, and effective—our overall goal in life, correct?

Mustard Plaster

This is a recipe I learned while in school.  The general idea for its use is in cases of chest/lung issues like bronchitis, etc.  While skin will redden, remember to remove the plaster if burning, stinging, or extreme redness occurs.


  • Wheat flour
  • Warm Water
  • Dry Mustard (Coleman’s or Durkee)
  • Saran Wrap
  • Castor oil
  • Towel
  • Cheesecloth
  • Heating Pad

For adults, it’s a ratio of 4 TBS of flour to 1 TBS of mustard.  Children take an 8 to 1 ratio, while infants take a 12-1 ratio.  Mix with tepid water to make a paste.  Put the paste on half of a piece of cheesecloth; fold the other half over the top.  Warm on a heating pad.  Remove from heating pad. Apply castor oil to skin, and then apply the plaster to chest.  Cover with a layer of saran wrap, then a towel.  Leave for twenty minutes.  Discard plaster.  Wipe skin with castor oil to remove mustard remnants.  Cover area with snug shirt, wear overnight.

Salt and Cider Vinegar Poultice

This is for sprains, ligament issues, arthritis, colitis, bruises, rheumatism, or general injuries of that nature.  It is rumored to relieve pain, swelling, and toxin build-up.


  • Hot Epsom Salt (available at any pharmacy)
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

This can be applied in several ways.  My preference is to put a layer of dampened salt on the skin about half an inch thick and then simply let it set for 30-60 minutes.  However, you can also moisten the salt and lightly massage it into the skin for 2-3 minutes.  A cloth soaked in vinegar can be applied to the skin, with hot packs of salt laid on top (in cloth bags).  So, just try whichever methods you prefer to see which is most effective for you, or for that particular injury.

Potato Poultice for the Eyes

Back in the day, and once upon a time, my mother was married to her first husband.  He was a welder.  Now, I never realized, but welders can get burned simply by being near to that much heat.  Something else I never realized was that their eyes are not immune to this.  So, when, on occasion, Jim would burn his eyes, Mom would cut up one of whatever type of potato they had in the house into slices.  Jim would close his eyes and lay (as we girls like to do with cucumbers) with them on his eyes for maybe 20 minutes.  Doing this seemed to really help his eyes from itching, redness, and the pain that came from actual burns.

Herbal salves, tinctures, and random homemade remedies – not bad for a day’s work doctoring on the homestead! I hope that you find this information useful.  When I use any of these, I certainly am able to feel better about the quality of the ingredients being put onto my skin.  This is particularly important since we absorb about 60% of what goes on our skin.  I enjoy being able to pronounce everything I am absorbing!  However, please remember, these are not substitutions for a doctor’s care when needed, and, if in doubt, it is always better to ere on the side of caution when it comes to your health.  Homemade remedies are just that, and while useful, we must still take care to seek professional advice when needed.

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