Q. At Thanksgiving, my son-in-law sharpened my knives, but he cut his thumb and finger badly in the process. I quickly said, "Let's put pepper on it." His thumb could probably have used a suture, but I live on top of a mountain, far away from a hospital.
He thought I had totally lost my mind, but after he looked it up on his smartphone, he agreed. I had only whole peppercorns, so we had to grind them. Nonetheless, the pepper worked like a charm to stop the bleeding. The cut healed up nicely by the end of the weekend.
I now keep ground black pepper in my first-aid kit in my car and in the medicine cabinet. Thank you for alerting me to this remedy.
A. Black pepper (Piper nigrum) has been valued for medicinal and culinary uses since the time of Hippocrates. It also is used in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine to treat a variety of ills. Normally we caution people to use pepper only for minor cuts and to get medical attention for serious wounds, but we are glad that it worked so well for your son-in-law's injury.
Q. I enjoy your column when I read my local paper online. Sometimes I want to keep a column and share it with family, but I find it difficult to get back to the specific remedy I remember. I wonder if you have any ideas for how I can locate these helpful tips.
A. The easiest way to find a collection of our favorite home and food remedies is in our book from National Geographic, "The People's Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies." You also can search online at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com for the tip you want.
Q. I am 68 years old and have a lot of trouble with gas. You suggested using fennel seed tea.
I have had success with that, but fennel tastes a lot like licorice. I have heard that licorice is not good for your health. Does fennel create the same problems?
A. The ingredient in licorice that can raise blood pressure is a sweet-tasting compound called glycyrrhizin. But the licoricelike flavor shared by anise, fennel and licorice is created by a natural compound called anethole, which does not affect blood pressure. In fact, anethole, along with a number of other spice-derived nutraceuticals, shows promise as an anti-inflammatory compound (Nutrition and Cancer online, Dec. 9, 2011).
Q. I've been using a small bar of hotel soap under the sheet near my feet for three months to counteract leg cramps. It works great, and they never wake me in the middle of the night anymore.
Today I woke up with bad menstrual cramps. I decided to break the little bar in half and put it in my pocket. After a few minutes, I could feel the pain melting away. It was such a relief to go all day without needing pain medicine.
A. We have heard from many readers that a bar of soap between the bottom sheet and the mattress pad, near the feet, can help ward off foot and leg cramps at night. We wish we knew the mechanism, but it is still a mystery.
Other readers have found that holding a bar of soap can ease hand cramps, and that carrying soap in the pockets is helpful for some joint pain. Yours is the first report that soap might be helpful against menstrual cramps. We have no idea why this might work, but it is certainly unlikely to cause side effects.