Billee Sharp’s Home Remedies

Sea salt and saliva can help save big bucks and avoid unnecessary doctor's visits.

For centuries, long before Big Pharma — heck, before House, before health insurance, and before e-mails hawking cheap Cialis — our ancestors practiced at-home healing because they had to. Using plants, earth, and the occasional animal part, they alleviated ailments, attempted makeovers, and left the rest to fate. Billee Sharp brings back some classics and updates our options in Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It: The D.I.Y. Guide to the Good Life, which she discusses at Pegasus (2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) on Monday, May 10.

“Because I have children, I keep a well-stocked first-aid kit,” said London-born Sharp, who lives in San Francisco and cofounded the city’s weekly Mission Casbah crafts market. “Instead of expensive over-the-counter products, we use hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, calamine lotion, aloe vera gel” — which can be drawn directly from the spiky succulents that grow abundantly around the East Bay — “and both arnica cream and calendula cream.”

These creams are homemade via a basic topical ointment recipe in which beeswax and vegetable oil are melted together in a double boiler, with lavender oil or another tincture added afterwards. For head lice, Sharp suggests a mixture of eucalyptus and jojoba oils. For insect stings, she suggests tobacco mixed with saliva.

After moving to California in the early 1990s with her husband, electronic-music producer Jonah Sharp, she “wanted a life of new possibilities.” Her husband’s 1993 album Alien Dreamtime featured the voice of ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, whose writings captivated Sharp, as did those of vegetarian pioneer Gypsy Boots and Whole Earth Catalog author Stewart Brand. Inspired by “those colorful hippies” but saddened by “the cracks in our over-commodified society,” she set up an almost entirely self-sufficient household in which coughs and colds call for honey-sweetened cayenne infusions and oatmeal baths ease poison oak.

“Of course, if you feel there is cause for serious concern, a doctor’s visit is a must,” warned Sharp, whose book is a blueprint for saving money and living green. But when aches, pains, and itches arise, she almost always turns first to the first-aid kit, the spice rack, or the fridge.

For many household staples, “the range of uses is wide,” she said. “For example, lavender oil is indicated for skin conditions, respiratory and circulation problems, nervous tension and exhaustion, coughs and colds, muscle aches, and menstrual cramps, as well as cuts. I stanched a deep cut on my toe with lavender oil recently: a new use for me, and it worked great. … I would estimate that this cure cost me about a dime as opposed to a $500 trip to a crowded emergency room, with an exposure to myriad viruses.” In this era of unanswered healthcare questions, that’s good news. 7:30 p.m., free.

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