There are some remedies worse than the disease.
- Publilius Syrus, 42 BC
After consuming four bottles of cough syrup, spending a weeks wages on decongestants, and becoming addicted to a variety of cough and throat drops, all in hopes of curing a cold that has hung on for months, I was ready to swallow the Old Farmers Almanac Time-Tested Methods for Staying Well, hook, line, mashed garlic, and sinker. And since I know I have a lot of company out there in cough-cough land, I thought it only fitting that I share the wealth of knowledge Ive learned.
At first glance, however, since most of the cures and preventatives include mixtures of foods and plants and read like recipes, I thought I had picked up an Almanac cookbook instead. I suppose thats understandable, since in ancient pre-med days, people turned to their cupboards and gardens for help, rather than the drug store on the corner as we have today.
Chicken soup has always been a mainstay, it seems, not so much for the flavor of the bird but for the temperature of the steam. Garlic is a prominent ingredient, too. Eaten raw, its guaranteed to fight infection, reduce congestion, or stop a sneezing fit. Then, if youre worried about your breath, you can chew a few sprigs of parsley, and if all that garlic has given you an upset stomach, drink ginger tea. Given todays warnings about the side effects of nearly every medication purchased or prescribed, the garlic, parsley, tea triangle doesnt seem unusual at all.
Heres a sure-fire recipe to fight or prevent the common cold: Make a sandwich of whole-wheat bread, raw yellow onion, a good half-inch of horseradish, cheddar cheese and brown mustard, and eat one serving daily.
For teetotalers, your sandwich may be accompanied by a cup of hot water laced with honey and lemon juice. Those inclined to imbibe may substitute the following: In a coffee mug, combine one teaspoon of brown sugar, a pinch of ground cloves, a dab of butter, and a jigger of rum. Fill with boiling water, stir with a cinnamon stick, and sip slowly.
To relieve the symptoms of a sore throat you could gargle with salt, pepper and vinegar, or drink a syrup of lemon juice, honey and horseradish. The latter is also guaranteed to cure laryngitis. For just plain hoarseness, rub garlic on your feet, apply a mustard plaster to your chest, and eat powdered nettle roots in molasses. (If anyone is brave enough to try that one, let me know if it works.)
I found more remedies for coughs than there are varieties of cough syrup on your pharmacists shelves. You could ingest a syrup of honeysuckle leaves and flowers, make a chest poultice of boiled onions, or take a bath with eucalyptus oil in the water. (Caution, dont drink the water; eucalyptus oil is highly poisonous.) Adding cayenne pepper to just about anything you cook is also suggested to reduce congestion.
Knowing how to starve a fever sounds more like a lifestyle change than a recipe: ...eat moderately, drink sparingly, lie not down on the damp earth nor overheat yourself; but keep your temper and change your clothes as the weather changes (Old Farmers Almanac, 1852).
If earaches are a problem, setting a hair dryer on low and holding it six inches away from the ear will ease the pain and calm a fussy child. Or, if you prefer, either place warm pieces of boiled onion or a small, heated bag of table salt on the affected ear.
Well, thats about it for the cold and flu season. Once summer and a new batch of poison ivy and insects arrive, Ill bring out the book again for solutions to those problems, too. In the meantime, better lay in a new supply of garlic, horseradish, onions, vinegar and cayenne. By the sound, our ancestral housewives couldnt keep house or health without them.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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