After the first couple months of this experiment, I naively thought that my new trash-free diet, which has forced me to pretty much eliminate packaged and processed foods from my meals, would somehow boost my immune system so much that I would get through the entire year without catching a single cold.  I was doing pretty well until the day after we went on the “Tour de Trash,” when my theory was proven wrong and I caught a nasty bug that lasted for two weeks. Although I was miserable, catching the cold did offer me the chance to see if it is possible to treat the side-effects of a cold without creating any trash.

The first few days of the cold I just had a sore throat.  This was fairly easy to deal with. A great friend of mine once taught me how wonderful hot water mixed with honey, lemon juice, and the squeezed lemon wedges feels on your throat.  I made one of these concoctions for the drive into work and packed my honey jar (an old spaghetti sauce jar filled with bulk honey) and extra lemons to make refills at the office as needed.  The used lemons got tossed in my compost and the bulk honey didn’t come in any packaging.  So far, so good.

When a cough kicked in, things got a bit more challenging.  I needed cough drops.  I searched online for recipes for home-made cough drops with honey. The first recipe I tried came out more like taffy than a hard lozenge.  I had never made candy before and I discovered that exactly when you take the melted mixture off the stove is critical. With this experience under my belt, I tried again, choosing a different recipe for pure honey cough drops.

Honey cough drops with lemon and ginger

Ingredients for honey cough drops with lemon and ginger

The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of honey, but I also added the juice from one lemon and a couple teaspoons of ginger powder once the mixture was boiling and almost ready to be made into drops.

Boiling the honey

Boiling the honey

Boiling the honey at the correct temperature is key.  The recipe calls for the temperature to reach between 300 to 310 degrees Fahrenheit.  A candy thermometer would have been really handy, but I found out that you can also check at what point along the spectrum of candy hardness a mixture is (is it going to be taffy or a hard candy?) by dropping some of it into cold water.

Dropping some of the mixture into cold water will tell you if it is ready or not

Dropping some of the mixture into cold water will tell you if it has reached the consistency for hard candy

The drop shouldn’t dissolve when it hits the water, rather it should form a hard ball.

Testing for candy hardness

Testing for candy hardness

After the mixture passed this cold water test, I quickly made honey drops on a greased cookie sheet.

Dropping the honey-lemon-ginger mixture on a greased baking pan

Dropping the honey-lemon-ginger mixture on a greased baking pan

I had to do this rather quickly, before the mixture cooled in the pot.  In the end, just a 1/2 cup of honey made quite a few cough drops.  I nearly filled an entire cookie sheet.

Completed batch of cough drops ready to cool

Completed batch of cough drops

When the drops cooled, I put them into a glass jar, dusting each piece with flour to keep them from sticking to each other.  Unfortunately, despite the cold water test result, the cough drops would still melt into more of a taffy consistency unless they were refrigerated.  When I realized this I was far into my cold, and lacked anymore energy to try again.  I think the problem may have been the humid climate here in Hawaii, but I am not sure.  If anyone has tips for making candy and/or cough drops, please send them along!

Even though I needed to keep the cough drops in the refrigerator, they were effective at abating my cough for a few days.  When the cough got stronger, however, my boyfriend (who also got sick at the same time) gifted me a bag of his Ricola cough drops that he had purchased.  The bag and wrappers for those cough drops cannot be thrown into my compost or recycled.  Since my trash-free rules do allow gifts that include trash, I don’t technically need to count the Ricola trash – however I put a few wrappers in my trash bag anyway as a reminder.

So – is it possible to catch a cold and not the trash that comes with it?  This experience taught me that it might be possible, if you are prepared.  The last thing you want to do when you are sick is to be searching online for trash-free cough drops or trying multiple times to make effective drops from scratch.  If anyone has any good homemade remedies for treating the symptoms of the common cold that I can add to my tool kit, I would love to hear about them!

Compost update:
My trash can compost bin is doing well – full of worms and biodegrading matter. However, after being packed with material for five months, the container is bulging at the sides and compost is escaping through its holes.  I could sift through the cooking heap and harvest the good stuff to make room.  However, I would probably lose some worms in this process so I will instead put it aside and start a new bin that will hopefully take me through the end of the year.

Time for a new compost bin

Escaping compost means that it is time for a new bin

Upcycled Material Pop-Quiz:
A woman who works in my building came to work with this necklace on and I was instantly drawn to it.  Can you figure out what she made the flower out of?

Up-cycled jewelry front

Upcycled jewelry - front

Up-cycled Jewelry back

Upcycled Jewelry - back

I was so surprised when she told me that she cut the pendant out of a gift card from a bookstore where she used to work.  “We threw so many used gift cards away,” she explained.  What a great idea!  I will never look at a gift card the same way again.  I wonder what other cool things could be made out of them…