Q: The best poison-ivy remedy I know of is Plantago. I've seen people use common plantain leaves rolled up tight until they start to ooze juice. Some people chew the leaves and then wipe the green saliva on the rash.
This works on poison ivy, bee stings, mosquito bites and even diaper rash.
A: Plantain (Plantago major) is a weed that grows in many yards and fields across the country. It has an oval leaf and a central seed spike that children sometimes use to shoot at each other.
Herbalists have been recommending the juice of plantain leaves for minor skin irritations for centuries. Some research suggests that an extract of plantain has anti-inflammatory activity along with pain-relieving properties (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, July 2000).
Q: An effective short-term cure for constipation is steamed or boiled okra. Buy a bag of frozen okra and keep it in the freezer. Whenever it is needed, take four pods out and put them in a cup of water. Cook several minutes in the microwave until soft. I believe this is a much safer method than many of the laxatives available today.
A: Okra is very high in soluble fiber, which is why you may have found it helpful for easing constipation. Although okra is popular in the South, especially in gumbos, some people find the slimy texture challenging.
Other natural approaches for overcoming constipation include flaxseed or psyllium (also rich in soluble fiber), magnesium and bran. Pumpkin-bran muffins also are helpful.
Q: I suffer from muscle cramps in my fingers and toes. It happens often during the day. I sometimes have cramps in other muscles as well. Please help!
A: Many readers tell us a bar of soap can ease muscle cramps almost anywhere on the body. Here is one such story: "My left hand was cramping badly. My fingers were twisting, and the pain was unbearable. I searched 'hand cramps' on the Web, found your suggestion and held a bar of soap. It worked within two minutes, and the cramp hasn't returned."
Another reader offered an unusual soap story: "I am neither a liar nor a fool. I worked for 45 years in the medical profession. When I first read about the soap treatment, I thought to myself, 'What crap.'
"Then one night when I couldn't sleep because of numbness, not pain, in my toes (idiopathic neuropathy), I decided to try the soap thing. I took two small, round bars of soap, the ones I collect when I go to hotels. I took off the plastic wrappers and stuck a bar into each sock.
"I slept like a baby! I recommended soap to a friend who gets leg cramps at night, but it didn't work for her. Instead, she takes a small quantity of magnesium.
"Each of us is unique. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. I don't know how or why the soap works, and I don't care. There are no side effects, and it doesn't cost me a cent. I'm trying my best to keep away from prescription medication for as long as I can."
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via peoplespharmacy.com.