Summertime is full of hazards – from bee stings to muscle cramps to motion sickness.
Joe and Terry Graedon, famous for "The People's Pharmacy" syndicated column and National Public Radio show, suggest looking in your kitchen cabinet for first aid.
"It fits with 'The People's Pharmacy' mantra," said Joe Graedon. "Might help. Won't hurt. Doesn't cost very much."
He's a pharmacologist, and she's a medical anthropologist. The Durham, N.C., couple sat down for an interview at the Observer to describe some of their favorite home remedies.
If you happen to burn yourself while grilling hamburgers, one of the best remedies may be sitting nearby.
"Grab the yellow mustard, especially if it's cold," Joe said. "Just pour it on the burn and let it dry. You will be surprised. The yellow mustard takes away the pain."
Do this after first running cold water on the burn, they said.
The Graedons heard about the mustard remedy from a Rock Hill, N.C., man who called their radio show about 15 years ago. They since have heard it from many people.
One caller, who grew up in the North Carolina mountains, remembered that his twin brother burned his hand on a wood stove, maybe 40 years ago, and their mother stuck the child's hand into a big jar of mustard. It dried like a yellow mitten, with no blisters or redness.
Why does mustard work? "We think it's the turmeric," Joe said. "There's vinegar in mustard as well," Terry added.
If you don't have mustard, soy sauce also does the job, they said.
Got muscle cramps? "Swallow a teaspoonful of mustard. It's about the fastest remedy we can think of," Joe said.
One caller to the Graedons' radio show said he was on a 120-mile bike ride when he developed cramps and pulled some yellow mustard packets from his backpack. "He said, 'I just sucked down a couple of packets,' and his cramps were gone in less than a minute," Joe said.
To stop the bleeding from cuts and nicks, pull out a shaker of finely ground black pepper and pour it on, the Graedons said.
You can wrap the cut with a towel or bandage, but you don't have to. "Basically, it'll just stop bleeding within several seconds," Joe said.
Some people have used it for more serious cuts, but the Graedons don't recommend that.
One man told them he nearly cut off his thumb while working alone at a church in Pennsylvania. He thought he might die from blood loss when he remembered his grandmother's advice.
He went to the church kitchen, dumped black pepper on his wound and wrapped it with a pot holder and duct tape. The bleeding stopped, and he went back to work. When his wife picked him up later, she insisted they go to the emergency room, where doctors unwrapped his hand and irrigated the wound. It began to hurt and started to bleed.
"I'm out of here," he said. And they went to the hospital cafeteria, where he found more black pepper to stop the bleeding.
He told the Graedons it healed without a scar.
You can soothe the sting of a wasp or bee by cutting an onion in half and holding the cut side to the sting, the Graedons said.
They believe it works because onions contain anti-inflammatory agents.
Two alternatives: Meat tenderizer or baking soda. Take either powder and make a paste with water. Slather it on the sting immediately.
Allergies and asthma
If you develop a wheezing attack and your allergy medication isn't handy, drink two cups of coffee, maybe three if they're small.
"Caffeine in the coffee is almost as good as an old asthma medicine called theophylline," Joe said.
If summer vacation finds you flying cross country, taking a car trip or sailing, you might succumb to motion sickness. Ginger is an ancient Chinese treatment. Make a tea or just eat candied ginger.
If you come in contact with poison ivy or poison oak, first wash the area with soap and water or alcohol wipes.
Then slather a soothing film of milk of magnesia on the rash, the Graedons said.
It also works for jock itch and other fungal infections. The Graedons said their website has become popular with women looking for relief from what is called "breast fungus" or "bra fungus."
"Especially women who have pendulous breasts, they have a problem," Terry said. "No bra in the world is actually strong enough to lift it up so much that there's no skin rubbing on skin causing a nice warm, dark, moist place for fungus to grow." Listerine also works, she said.
Put something really cold - such as a metal key or an ice cube - at the back of the neck.
One woman told the Graedons she keeps a butter knife in the freezer just for this purpose.
Why does it work? "It probably has something to do with reflexes and the way the nervous system and vascular system interact," Terry said.
Another use for milk of magnesia: Apply it to underarms instead of deodorant.
The Graedons heard about this more than 15 years ago from a woman who forgot her antiperspirant on vacation.
"We wrote about it and we've been hearing about it ever since," Joe said.
It's a little messy, though. And one of the ingredients - sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach - is a cause for concern, they said.
So the Graedons came up with their own product - milk of magnesia roll-on deodorant. It sells for $5.95, plus shipping and handling, on their website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Distributed by MCT Information Services