Mothers’ Natural Health Remedies

The other day I needed to pick up some Extra Strength Tylenol for my husband at CVS.  The seemingly endless choice of Tylenol’s product line extension left me confused, frustrated and irritated.  A woman next to me expressed the same feelings.  We both shook our heads and lamented the excess of choices today when purchasing over-the-counter drugs. I couldn’t help but yearn for the days when a brand performed just one function. 

Reminiscing about the good old days reminded how much I missed the simple home remedies my mother would employ when our family had basic health issues such as minor colds, sore throats and upset stomachs.    

A simple cure for sore throats

For example, when my sister Sharon and I had sore throats, our mother would dissolve an aspirin in a tablespoon with two drops of water. Next, she would carefully add honey to this simple concoction mixing it all together with a wooden toothpick. Call it nostalgia but I remember there was something reassuring and soothing about watching Mom make the potient and hearing her say, “Marsha, open your mouth wide. This will make you feel much better.  Now lie down and get some rest.”

As kids, when we overdid it in the sun and ended up with nasty sunburns, Mom would suggest.  “Let me make you some tea to dab on your backs with some cotton pads.  That will ease your sunburn’s stinging feeling.”  And the tannin in the tea worked its natural magic, although it did little to prevent the eventual peeling!

Another mother, another solution

Over coffee at breakfast with friends the other day, I brought up the topic of my mother’s homeopathic health remedies.  “Tea?  My mom used vinegar diluted in water,” countered one guy.  Then he told me his mother would put chopped onions in a clean sock and wrap it around his neck whenever he was congested with a cold.

One of the other men at the table, offered that to solve the same problem, his mother would make him lean over a bowl of steaming-hot water and then throw a towel over his head.  Within no time, he claimed, he could breathe freely again.  So much for not needing Robitussin to do the trick.

An order of wonton soup, hold the wontons

Yet another alternative to pharmaceutically produced medications for curing stuffy noses is steaming chicken soup.  Why does it work so effectively? Not only is hot soup delicious but it is also hydrating and naturally opens congested sinuses to improve breathing.  A secondary benefit with soup is that it avoids having to fight with those impossible-to-open safety tops on today’s medicine bottles. 

Let’s face it.  Before the advent of CVS, Walgreen and Amazon Prime, we managed fine with natural remedies. For example, back in the early days of our country, native American Indians would assign one of their elders to accompany them into battle as a medic. The designated tribesman would carry a leather pouch filled with an array of natural herbs and barks to dispense depending on the injury of the wounded warriors.

Nature’s “aspirin” on the bark of a tree

Indeed, botanical medicines have been around for a long time. Did you know that Homer mentioned the curative use of “nature’s aspirin” in The Odyssey? In fact, the precursor to what we call aspirin today can be found on the bark of white willow trees.  Salicin, the primary active component found on the bark, has been used for relieving pain and reducing fevers for at least 2,400 years.  

The wonders of Arnica

Just like the ancient Greeks, the French are great advocates of natural health remedies.  Go to any pharmacy in France and you’ll find a vast selection of homeopathic products for a whole range of pains, fevers or inflammations. One of their favorite go-to choices is Arnica.  If a French child falls and scrapes a knee, Mamam brings out the little white Arnica pills and pops them into her child’s mouth like a candy. “Voilà, mon petit Jésus à moi,” the concerned mother might soothingly whisper to her son. Or, if it happens to be a daughter she might smooth down the child’s hair and reassure ma biche (or my faun) that all would soon be well.

I discovered Arnica after running my first marathon in Paris.  A fellow colleague from Moët & Chandon, also running the race, gave me a vile of Arnica. It did wonders to alleviate the soreness caused by the lactic acid build-up in my legs. Later, I learned that Arnica is equally effective for bruises, sprains, and even joint pains.  You can find Arnica here at health food stores in the form of a creams or tinctures used topically.  I prefer the pills as they are easier to use.

Black tongues and food poisoning

The French are also keen on using activated charcoal tablets for relieving upset stomachs.  Despite the black tongue it produced, both times my husband ate the iconic truffle soup at Paul Bocuse’s three-star Michelin restaurant and became violently ill, the charcoal tablets saved his life.

Unlike the average Frenchman, Ed was unaware that active charcoal is used to trap toxins in the body allowing them to be flushed out instead of being reabsorbed. Emergency rooms in France as well as America will sometimes use them instead of stomach pumping in cases of poisoning and even drug overdoses.

The multiple uses of juniper berries

Another natural remedy—used both for making gin and for curative purposes—is the simple juniper berry.  My friend Karen Olaf’s recently recounted that when she was growing up her father swore by a daily routine of eating gin-soaked raisins to ward off arthritis.  Following her father’s advice, Karen tops her daily yoghurt with nine gin-soaked raisins. While she claims the alcohol wears off, I still think this is a very jolly way to start the day.  Karen’s father was not wrong in this recommendation.  Studies have proven the incredible antioxidant and antibacterial potential of juniper berries.

Italian home health remedies

Following the customs of her homeland, my immigrant grandmother Maria Spagga, would squeeze half a lemon every morning at breakfast and gulped down the juice before her first cup of coffee. I doubt that she knew anything about lemons being an excellent source of Vitamin C and flavonoids to protect against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Nonna probably merely followed what her mother used to do back in Alto Adige to protect against colds and flus.  As simple as it was, it worked.  She was the picture of good health until she passed away in her late 80’s. 

Think before you pop a pill

So, before you walk into your drugstore or purchase medicine on-line, give a thought to whether you might have a natural solution in your own kitchen.  You might be able to affectively achieve the same results when you start feeling achy or have other basic ailments. Don’t forget to check out the curative powers of turmeric, ginger and cranberries too. They certainly taste better than swallowing a pill! As for starting your day with some boozy raisins?  With arthritis raising its ugly head, nine raisins sounds appealing to me.  Maybe ten or more?