THERE are times when we could all do with a little help from Mother Nature.

When your medicine cabinet is stuffed with rectangular packets and you have drunk enough Lemsip to fill a swimming pool, a natural remedy might make a refreshing change.

For centuries, healers have sworn by herbal and homeopathic remedies. The Egyptians were using herbal remedies more than 3,500 years ago, with plants and flowers used to treat many ills.

Today, health food shops have an abundance of natural remedies, offering alternative to traditional prescription and over-the-counter treatments.

Sally Duffin, who works at York health food shop Tullivers, in Colliergate, said herbal remedies were growing increasingly popular.

"These kinds of treatments generally have fewer side effects," said Sally, 26. "They tend to be gentler so they can take a bit longer to work than something you get on prescription, but they can be very effective."

Popular herbs include devil's claw, a liquid or tablet that acts as a painkiller. It helps with sports injuries and joint or arthritic pain.

Another is echinacea. Originating from roots, flowers and seeds, the herb strengthens the immune system and can fight infections such as colds, flu, coughs and sore throats. It can also be helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome and some allergic conditions.

Also growing in popularity are homeopathy treatments, which work on the principle that like cures like: that an ailment can be cured by small quantities of substances which produce the same symptoms.

Sally, who recently won two awards from the Health Food Institute, warned people should still consult their GP before choosing an alternative treatment.

"It's always important to see your doctor and get a proper diagnosis if there's something wrong with you," she said.

"It's not our job to diagnose, and you should always tell the shop assistant if you're on any other medication, as even though the remedies are natural they can still react with some things."

10 common ailments and alternative treatments

1. Nausea - GINGER Can be used to ease the symptoms of nausea, morning sickness or travel sickness. It can be bought in liquid or capsule form, and root ginger can be grated into food or drunk in tea. Best taken at the onset of symptoms or before a journey if you are prone to travel sickness.

2. Headache -

MAGNESIUM For stress headaches, try "stress mineral" magnesium. It helps to relax and sooth muscles and can be taken in a tablet or liquid. It is important to discover what is causing your headaches before trying to treat them yourself.

3. Bruises - ARNICA A homeopathic remedy, arnica is available in tablet form or as a cream or gel. Taken internally, arnica helps the body to heal itself. Applied externally, it helps to bring the bruise out and gets rid of it quickly.

4. Cold - ECHINACEA A popular herb, echinacea helps strengthen the immune system. It can kill off viruses and shorten a cold. Use it as a preventative measure if you are feeling off-colour, or to ease the symptoms when they start. Works best in liquid form.

5. Eczema - ALOE VERA, CHICKWEED or VIOLA To treat externally, try aloe vera cream or chickweed ointment on the itch.

For any unknown skin rash, viola, a wild pansy which can be taken internally, or flax seed oil are useful.

6. Indigestion - CENTAURIUM

A bitter-tasting liquid, Centaurium stimulates the nerve impulses in the mouth which send signals to the stomach to prepare its juices ready for food. Centaurium can also help tone the oesophageal sphincter.

7. Cystitis - CRANBERRY Try cranberry tablets or unsweetened cranberry juice. Sweetened juice is not as effective, as the sugar

feeds the bacteria.

8. Sore throat - ZINC or TEA TREE LOZENGES Can help boost the immune system and soothe the pain.

9. Varicose veins - HORSE-CHESTNUT Helps strengthen the veins to stop them leaking. Can be taken at the first sign of varicose veins as a liquid, tablet or gel. Often useful during summer or for people who are on their feet all day.

10. Heartburn - TISSUE SALTS

Homoeopathically prepared, tissue salt treatments are based on the idea that your body contains 12 different tissue salts. If you experience symptoms such as heartburn you could be lacking a particular salt.

Updated: 11:31 Friday, February 25, 2005