What about meds?What about meds?

People who visit our house feel like they’ve hit the jackpot when they see our “pharmacy” container: “Ah, ah! Do I spot packaging over here?” they ask teasing.

Medications have been hard to eliminate of course, but we’ve found ways to reduce our packaging here too. In the process, we went thru some trial and error. One of them was finding natural medication in bulk at Good Earth, where you fill your jar and pay by the ounce for decongestant, flu relief or echinacea. Besides the fact that these were really expensive, they did not even work! Well, at least not as well as the regular drugstore stuff.
Since then, we have found a balance between natural alternatives and drugstore products. Here again, it’s all about paring it down to essentials (you knew I was going to write that). Sincerely, is there a point in keeping medications that do not work or are expired?
Every family has different medical needs, but here is what we did in our home:
  • We took expired meds to our pharmacy
  • We now keep only a minimal supply
  • There is no way around the occasional plastic prescription bottle and it’s illegal for pharmacies to refill them in CA, but our pharmacy takes them back to recycle them (#2). I figure they have a better chance of getting those recycled than we do thru our household recycling.
  • We choose tablets (pain reliever, for example) in a glass or at default a plastic jar (usually a recyclable #2), instead of the tablets individually wrapped in aluminum/plastic and then a box (that’s what I call obnoxious packaging).
  • Although they are cheaper by the count, we do not buy jumbo size medication jars, they expire way before we can finish them.
  • We choose metal tubes instead of plastic (Arnicare is magic on bruises)
  • We invested in a Neti pot (Santa gave one to Scott this year, picture above): Great to clear out your sinuses with just water and sea salt.
  • We researched and tested a few natural alternatives: I forage Yerba Santa in the winter for its decongestant properties (tea), but many plants are available in bulk at health food stores also. For example, you can make a corn silk tea for prostate relief, a senna leaf tea for constipation relief or an oatmeal bath for skin relief. By the way, you can also roll a fresh California bay leaf in your nose to relieve a headache – I agree, it’s a great look:) or eat a small amount of local honey each day to relieve allergies. I also found this cough suppressant recipe (all ingredients available in bulk), but we have yet to try it (Knock on wood that we won’t need it for a while): 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1 T honey, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 2 T water mixed in small sterilized jar.
  • Instead of plastic band-aids, gauze and surgical tape work fine. We use hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic on small scrapes and cuts before we let them air dry or apply surgical tape directly on deeper cuts. How often do you really need a band-aid? My son thinks that band-aids are a cure to any “owie”… but a smoothie works just as well. Update: Per a nurse’s email: “Hydrogen peroxide is not recommended on wounds anymore. It may (with reservations) be diluted and used to clean, initially a very dirty wound but is actually damaging to healthy tissue. Tea tree oil or honey products are a natural antimicrobial alternative”. Old fashioned Lugol’s iodine has also been mentioned on the forum.
  • We do not use everyday antibacterial products, most contain Triclosan, and only make bad bacteria stronger. As Mayo clinic warns: “Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.”
  • To answer a question from a couple of readers, we do not take vitamins. Like Michael Pollan (in his book, “In Defense of Food“), we believe in a varied diet instead… but I did take them while pregnant and we might reconsider them when we’re older.
  • We believe in moderate sunscreen use (we worry about skin cancer as much as vitamin D deficiency). I do use it on my face everyday, for vanity reasons;), but we use clothing as sun-shield as much as we can (the rays penetrates it in a small percentage), and use sunscreen for prolonged exposures on our bodies. When we’re out of my favorite, we’ll give this recipe a try. I just have to find zinc oxide in bulk…
Do you have some natural remedies (that work) to share?

People who visit our house feel like they’ve hit the jackpot when they see our “pharmacy” container: “Ah, ah! Do I spot packaging over here?” they ask teasing.

Medications have been hard to eliminate of course, but we’ve found ways to reduce our packaging here too. In the process, we went thru some trial and error. One of them was finding natural medication in bulk at Good Earth, where you fill your jar and pay by the ounce for decongestant, flu relief or echinacea. Besides the fact that these were really expensive, they did not even work! Well, at least not as well as the regular drugstore stuff.
Since then, we have found a balance between natural alternatives and drugstore products. Here again, it’s all about paring it down to essentials (you knew I was going to write that). Sincerely, is there a point in keeping medications that do not work or are expired?
Every family has different medical needs, but here is what we did in our home:
  • We took expired meds to our pharmacy
  • We now keep only a minimal supply
  • There is no way around the occasional plastic prescription bottle and it’s illegal for pharmacies to refill them in CA, but our pharmacy takes them back to recycle them (#2). I figure they have a better chance of getting those recycled than we do thru our household recycling.
  • We choose tablets (pain reliever, for example) in a glass or at default a plastic jar (usually a recyclable #2), instead of the tablets individually wrapped in aluminum/plastic and then a box (that’s what I call obnoxious packaging).
  • Although they are cheaper by the count, we do not buy jumbo size medication jars, they expire way before we can finish them.
  • We choose metal tubes instead of plastic (Arnicare is magic on bruises)
  • We invested in a Neti pot (Santa gave one to Scott this year, picture above): Great to clear out your sinuses with just water and sea salt.
  • We researched and tested a few natural alternatives: I forage Yerba Santa in the winter for its decongestant properties (tea), but many plants are available in bulk at health food stores also. For example, you can make a corn silk tea for prostate relief, a senna leaf tea for constipation relief or an oatmeal bath for skin relief. By the way, you can also roll a fresh California bay leaf in your nose to relieve a headache – I agree, it’s a great look:) or eat a small amount of local honey each day to relieve allergies. I also found this cough suppressant recipe (all ingredients available in bulk), but we have yet to try it (Knock on wood that we won’t need it for a while): 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1 T honey, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 2 T water mixed in small sterilized jar.
  • Instead of plastic band-aids, gauze and surgical tape work fine. We use hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic on small scrapes and cuts before we let them air dry or apply surgical tape directly on deeper cuts. How often do you really need a band-aid? My son thinks that band-aids are a cure to any “owie”… but a smoothie works just as well. Update: Per a nurse’s email: “Hydrogen peroxide is not recommended on wounds anymore. It may (with reservations) be diluted and used to clean, initially a very dirty wound but is actually damaging to healthy tissue. Tea tree oil or honey products are a natural antimicrobial alternative”. Old fashioned Lugol’s iodine has also been mentioned on the forum.
  • We do not use everyday antibacterial products, most contain Triclosan, and only make bad bacteria stronger. As Mayo clinic warns: “Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.”
  • To answer a question from a couple of readers, we do not take vitamins. Like Michael Pollan (in his book, “In Defense of Food“), we believe in a varied diet instead… but I did take them while pregnant and we might reconsider them when we’re older.
  • We believe in moderate sunscreen use (we worry about skin cancer as much as vitamin D deficiency). I do use it on my face everyday, for vanity reasons;), but we use clothing as sun-shield as much as we can (the rays penetrates it in a small percentage), and use sunscreen for prolonged exposures on our bodies. When we’re out of my favorite, we’ll give this recipe a try. I just have to find zinc oxide in bulk…
Do you have some natural remedies (that work) to share?
  1. Sarah says:

    May 8th, 2010 at 7:47 pm (#)

    Another argument against products with triclosan is that when they are exposed to chlorinated water, chloroform is formed, albiet in small quantities. However, this is a carcinogen and just another thing we do not need on this planet or in/on my body!

    The neti pot is AMAZING…and so easy to use!

    For a sore throat, gargle with warm salt water.

    When sick, hot water (or tea if you prefer the flavor) with lemon and ginger do wonders for a sore throat! Add honey to this if you like it. Plus the fluids keep you hydrated!

    Remember they always say the most important things to do with a flu/cold are to drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest…

    Vitamin D: the human body can produce it when exposed to good old fashioned sunshine! Most everything else is found in a healthy diet. Send the kids outside to play instead of indoors playing video games and they've got their weekly dose!

    Bea I agree Arnicare is amazing! Better than Bengay or other rubs any day. Apply it locally to the skin to a sprained ankle or sore back and you get the relief you seek without having to take an oral tablet.

    With allergies or a cold, for me it's hard to change from paper tissues to handkerchiefs. How do you wash your handkerchiefs?

  2. Minnado says:

    May 9th, 2010 at 11:21 am (#)

    We use cloth hankerchiefs and never buy tissues – I am always surprised if a visitot to our house asks for a tissue. I wash them on a normal 30 degree wash but if we have been ill or just once every now and then I boil them up in a big pot on the stove to sterilise them and try to dry in the sunshine. This is an old fashioned thing to do -I learnt it from my mum who trained as a nurse in the 1950s, but, I think there are some old fashioned things that work!

  3. Mama Bear och Papa Bear says:

    May 9th, 2010 at 4:13 pm (#)

    I find sage tea to be amazing to soothe a sore throat. Pour 1 cup of boiled water over 2 teaspoons of fresh or 1 teaspoon of dried sage leaves. Cover and steep for about 10 minutes, then strain. (Make sure that the water is not boiling when you pour it over the leaves, otherwise, the potent essential oils contained in the sage will vaporize). Drink 1-2 cups of the tea daily, sweetened with honey.

  4. jo says:

    May 10th, 2010 at 11:04 pm (#)

    Springtime comes around and my kitchen gets invaded by ants. Any zero waste, earth friendly solutions?

  5. Bea Johnson says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 3:16 am (#)

    Here are a few things to try:
    Spray vinegar
    or draw a chalk line
    or sprinkle black pepper or cayenne pepper or cinnamon
    where you want them to stop antering 😉
    I have yet to try any of these (am waiting for them to invade… perhaps my vinegar cleaner keeps them at bay?)
    Good luck!

  6. Kimberly says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 3:36 am (#)

    Hi Bea:
    I've been a follower of yours ever since you were mentioned in the NY Times article. I am impressed by your intelligent research, especially about products like echinacea etc. that receive alot of popular press but which have indeed shown no significant healing effects when subjected to good research methods. I must admit that I am a terrible waste person; and prior to reading your blog I did think that recycling was my big input into helping. You have truly raised my awareness and I am so much more conscious now though putting the awareness into behavior is a struggle. I am tediously cancelling all the catalogs that have come into my mailbox using the website your recommended (who knew there was such an easy way to do this), and I find myself getting mildly irritated by the unnecessary packaging thrust into my life. Yes, I know: REFUSE. That principle of refusing is amazing. You rock. Keep up the good work.

  7. Bea Johnson says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 5:16 pm (#)

    Thank you for your comment, Kimberly, and most importantly, thank you for being open to change! you've made my day!

  8. Sarah says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 5:16 pm (#)

    I get ants. I have an old spray bottle, 1/10th vinegar, 9/10ths water, and a few drops of liquid dish soap (5-8 drops). If you feel like scenting it, mint oils smell nice and fresh (www.getmint.com) comes in a glass bottle (but plastic cap). Maybe 3 drops in your sprayer, a little goes a long long way. Spray on ants and it the soap in the spray kills them. The mint disrupts the chemical pathway they leave behind to prevent more ants from from following their trail. Mint also works great in a shower…I guess could also use this mint in Bea's toothpaste formula??? Bea any thoughts???

  9. Bea Johnson says:

    May 11th, 2010 at 9:59 pm (#)

    Sure you can use peppermint drops a homemade toothpaste. My girlfriend uses baking soda, vegable glycerin and peppermint essential oil in hers.

  10. momo says:

    May 12th, 2010 at 11:19 am (#)

    Hello Bea.
    I am here to say thank you for all the amazing information and inspiration.
    I was thinking of writing about packaging on my blog soon, have far too long way to become like you but I love what you write here and how you live.
    Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!

  11. Anonymous says:

    May 13th, 2010 at 9:36 pm (#)

    Hi Bea,
    I have loved reading your blog. It has inspired me to be more committed to little changes (if I forget my travel mug I don't get coffee now), and given me a zero waste goal. I am hoping you will address the issue of waste when electronics are concerned. Any tips for finding items that will last longer than the usual 3-5 years? There are a lot of things we are constantly replacing- cell phones, ipods, and computers come to mind. I am certain that they release all sorts of terrible chemicals when they are thrown out/ recycled/etc. What can we do to minimize this type of waste? Also kitchen appliances- in the past month both my food processor and my blender broke. I replaced my processor with one I found on Craigslist (I felt ok about this, but it will probably only last a few years as well), but am paralyzed in regard to the blender. Do you do without these types of things?
    Also, I think you would like the book Cradle to Cradle (if you haven't already read it).
    Thanks so much!

  12. Vanessa says:

    May 15th, 2010 at 8:25 am (#)

    Jo: my ex-boyfriend used to have an ant problem. He largely solved (there was still the very occasional ant) by just blowing on the ant trails (all the way along the the trails) hard enough to scatter the ants. The ants seem to decide that this "hurricane-prone" house was best avoided, and hightailed it out. Crazy, but there you go. Try it out – I would love to know if it works for you or if my boyfriend had some mysterious ant juju!

    I haven't too much to add to the natural remedies list, only to give another vote for the neti pot (they're terrific!) and arnica. The last time I had a virus, I was given olive leaf extract, lots of vitamin C and zinc tablets, and went to bed with a big glass of water. The virus cleared up in day, but who knows if that was as a result of the supplements (and which ones) or not. More testing required I think… but I rarely get sick, so it might be a while. 🙂

  13. Vanessa says:

    May 15th, 2010 at 10:40 am (#)

    Oooo! I forgot: this interactive chart shows the scientific evidence for various supplements in a really simple way:

    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/play/snake-oil-supplements

    It indicates that licorice is good for coughs. A quick search recommends licorice root tea or a cough syrup (two cups of strained licorice root tea to a cup of honey, warmed).

  14. virginia piazza says:

    May 15th, 2010 at 3:35 pm (#)

    Hi Bea,

    If you are still looking for zinc, try a pottery
    supply. On the west coast there is BigCeramicStore.com; click on "chemicals".

    Virginia

  15. Robin says:

    May 16th, 2010 at 3:53 pm (#)

    Here's a solution to the ant problem – I've tried it at my office and it works!
    Mix equal parts baking soda & powdered sugar and sprinkle in the area. The powdered sugar attracts them to eat it and the baking soda expands their stomaches and kills them.

  16. Bea Johnson says:

    May 17th, 2010 at 12:21 am (#)

    Virginia: Thanks for the tip! will look for a local pottery store when I run out of our last bottled stuff.

  17. Vanessa says:

    May 22nd, 2010 at 7:39 am (#)

    Bea, sorry for the third comment, but I just remembered that when I was a child, my mother used to sit us over a bowl of steaming water with eucalyptus oil in it when we had colds. It was lovely.

    Eucalyptus oil is also antiseptic, insect-repelling and good for muscle aches, but I very rarely have those… Appallingly, I tend to just use it to remove stubborn sticker residue from things – it's brilliant for that. I should try out the steam bowl again next time I have a cold, or put a few drops on the floor of the shower.

    Anyone else use it?

  18. Anonymous says:

    June 6th, 2010 at 1:39 pm (#)

    First time visitor…It won't be my last!
    Great information, thank you.
    Donna

  19. onearmwonder says:

    June 17th, 2010 at 9:20 pm (#)

    Someone posted about electronics-if you are simply upgrading a cellphone don't forget to check the local domestic violence shelter. They often take phones to reprogram for women to use as an emergency alert phone.
    And there are plenty of computer recycling places/dates just ask your local recycle center.

  20. mgeo says:

    July 25th, 2010 at 5:53 am (#)

    On expired medicines, I got this from a reliable site (maybe New Scientist) but can't find the link now:
    Most pharmaceutical medicines are fully effective past their so-called expiry dates; exceptions include nitroglycerin, insulin, and some liquid antibiotics.

  21. Ana E.G. Granziera says:

    November 9th, 2010 at 3:59 pm (#)

    Bea,
    excellent post. I actually hate taking any kind of drugs, and I take 1 tyllenol tablet a month for really bad cramps. And nothing else. I avoyd antibiotics at all costs. I drinks lots of laurel and honey tea for colds and the flu (laurel is antiinflamatory and honey an excellent bactericide), and even when I had a tooth ache I just rubbed a little powdered clove, salt and milk on it and it got better. I highly reccomend you read some Ayurvedic books. It's all about preventing the illness (naturally, with a natural lifestyle) radder then treating them. And treatments are all natural and simple. 🙂

    Best regards,
    Ana

  22. Anonymous says:

    December 29th, 2010 at 4:42 pm (#)

    In Colorado, it is illegal to recycle medication containers.

  23. Gwyn says:

    February 3rd, 2011 at 6:40 am (#)

    Vanessa, we also hang our heads over a steaming pot with a few drops of eucalyptus as well. It works great, love it! When our kids are sick, I put a few drops in their bath. They feel like they're getting the spa treatment and it does a great job of clearing their sinus.

    On the kid front, a small teaspoon of honey for a sore throat and/or a warm cup of lemon water with honey always help little ones feel and sleep better. We also recently discovered that warm water with honey is also good for helping constipation. Honey, another wonder drug from mother nature and her buzzing friends!

    Quick disclaimer that honey should not be given to children under 1 years of age.

  24. Bea Johnson says:

    February 24th, 2011 at 5:53 pm (#)

    One reader has informed me that her local SPCA accepts medication jars (labels removed) for reuse. My local SPCA does not, but you might want to check yours…

  25. Crystal says:

    March 12th, 2011 at 9:45 pm (#)

    Natural Flea/tick prevention:

    We use lavendar oil, tea tree oil or any kind of cedar wood oil: put 10-15 drops in a bottle of water and spray on dog/cat (avoid near the face b/c they have a sensitive nose). Or put 2 drops on your fingers and rub on back and legs. Lavendar is the best b/c it smells nice and is naturally relaxing (don't know where to get this bulk). Do this once a week or every other week. Also during flea season we sprinkle Stash Earl Gray tea on our carpets once a week (fleas hate this, animals love it). Also don't know where to get it bulk, but it's better than those nasty chemicals on your animals. We also do 2 tb of Apple cidar vinegar in their 5 gallon drinking water (probably need to rethink this since it's plastic-we could just use staneless dishes and refill them more frequently.) But the apple cidar vinegar is not tasty to fleas/ticks when they bite your animal. Good luck!

    Thanks Bea, I'm so excited to start making my house and my everyday life style choices better for our Earth!! Can't wait to finish reading all your wonderful alternatives for everyday life!

    -Crystal

  26. Hestermania! says:

    March 13th, 2011 at 3:17 am (#)

    Hi Bea, Just FYI – your Arnicare link does not work. =(

  27. Lara says:

    March 26th, 2011 at 5:03 pm (#)

    The sun does not cause cancer or wrinkles. Unhealthy food and toxins do. We haven't used sunscreen for two years and haven't had any problems with burns. We just go outside gradually every spring. The sun is very healing for our bodies. If you think about it, God created the sun and he created our skin. It's got to be a healthy combination!

  28. kristine says:

    April 4th, 2011 at 12:40 pm (#)

    Hi there! All of these information in this blog could really help me. Natural remedies are good than of the processed ones, 🙂 People should really try all these natural remedies shared by everyone. I tried this one said by: Mama Bear och Papa Bear
    "I find sage tea to be amazing to soothe a sore throat. Pour 1 cup of boiled water over 2 teaspoons of fresh or 1 teaspoon of dried sage leaves. Cover and steep for about 10 minutes, then strain. (Make sure that the water is not boiling when you pour it over the leaves, otherwise, the potent essential oils contained in the sage will vaporize). Drink 1-2 cups of the tea daily, sweetened with honey.

    My sister told me about this whenever I have sore throat. 🙂 This really helps me.

  29. Mardhiya says:

    April 21st, 2011 at 9:20 pm (#)

    Tiger balm is a good plastic free alternative to alleviating headaches and muscle aches. It comes in a small glass jar (sometimes also in a cardboard box). You should be able to find them at most Asian grocery stores. I've used them for years and most of my non-Asian friends have never even heard of them! So if anyone is interested this is how it looks like: http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Balm-Relieving-Ointment-Non-Staining/dp/B001ECQ5VG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1303420627&sr=8-2

  30. Ashley says:

    May 2nd, 2011 at 6:33 pm (#)

    Bea,
    I'm a fan of the zero waste philosophy, and am attempting to adopt the lifestyle myself.

    My question is about doctor's visits. At the doctor/dentist there is disposable everything: a paper sheet over the table, disposable masks medications seem come in their own tiny container. What do you do about this?

    Obviously your family is avoiding illness by preventative habits (washing hands, healthy diet, exercise, etc), but what will you do when it comes to a major trip to the hospital?

    Also, do you have any suggestions for zero waste birth control?? All the options I can think of come in obnoxious packaging.

    Thanks for your insight!

  31. Bea Johnson says:

    May 5th, 2011 at 6:00 pm (#)

    Ashley: we, of course, would not refuse medical care based on the fact that the medical world is disposable laden. What is under our control though and what we can refuse, is the excess of things that are given to us. At the dentist, the box to store an extracted baby tooth given to my son for safe keeping, the pile of gauze to go home with, the extra cup for rinsing, the free toothbrush (examples from my son's last visit). At the doctor's office, the bandaids applied after an immunization or blood draw, the medication instructions from the pharmacy, the samples… and calling around to ask for alternatives to the plastic cards…

  32. Sandra says:

    May 21st, 2011 at 6:09 pm (#)

    Ashley's question about zero waste birth control options is an interesting one. It's a medication I regularly prescribe to patients but hadn't thought of in terms of its packaging. She would definitely benefit from asking her health care provider about alternatives. Offhand, I can think of a couple options that do not involve plastic cards but they would mean a switch from an oral med to another format (injectable or implant that's done in the office).

  33. Anonymous says:

    July 20th, 2011 at 4:54 pm (#)

    Ashley,
    Natural family planning is as reliable as pharmaceuticals and is nearly zero waste (paper charts and a thermometer). There should be a teaching source in your area. It's regularly associated with religion, but is based on science and works.

  34. Susan d says:

    September 4th, 2011 at 3:41 am (#)

    Hi Bea:
    Thanks again for all of the fantastic info.
    We love to boil a few lemon slices in a cup of water and add a bit of honey whenever we have a cold. It tastes great, gives a dose of vitamin C and I think that the steam helps to clear the sinuses.
    Also, I recently invested in a neti pot. I used it for three days and then developed a really bad ear infection. I ended up taking antibiotics for ten days. I told my doctor about the neti pot and he said that it could have caused the infection. I was so disappointed as I really loved using it. Do you use distilled water or boiled water in your neti pot? I just used regular tap water so I'm wondering if that could have caused the problem.

  35. Anonymous says:

    February 1st, 2012 at 6:42 pm (#)

    you must use distilled water with the neti pot. there were recent reports of people getting a bad bacteria from using tap water with the neti pot. i love mine, too.

  36. Anonymous says:

    January 24th, 2012 at 9:33 pm (#)

    It's unsafe to use tap water for irrigating your nose. Enclosed are safe recommendations when using Neti pots.
    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/fatal-infections-linked-neti-pots/story?id=15170230
    -Alina

  37. Becky MacLean says:

    February 9th, 2013 at 10:47 pm (#)

    Raw honey is GREAT on cuts,scrapes, and minor burns. Just smear a bit on and cover with gauze. Honey is naturally antibacterial and a great healer. Make sure it is actually raw all natural and not processed. Local honey is the best for you!

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