During my childhood in Brooklyn, when someone in the family got sick, we often relied on home remedies. We couldn’t afford to go to the doctor for every cold or upset tummy.
We did keep some basic medicines in the house. There was always aspirin (which we used for pains ranging from menstrual cramps to headaches to arthritis), vapor rub for congestion, a hot water bottle for muscle aches, and the famous blue bottle of Brioschi for indigestion.
But otherwise, for minor ills, Mom gave us home remedies made from inexpensive ingredients she had in the kitchen. For nausea, she gave us saltines and ginger ale. For a sore throat, it would be hot tea with honey or a saltwater gargle. And a warm bowl of pastina (tiny, star-shaped pasta) with a little butter was just the ticket if you were congested and had a stuffy nose.
Most of these remedies came from Grandma Jennie, who raised five children during the Depression and World War II years. It was hard enough for Grandma and Grandpa to feed all of those children and to keep a roof over their heads. They didn’t have extra money to pay for doctors and medicines.
During that time, when Grandpa John got sick, he couldn’t afford to stay home from work. So when he had cold or flu symptoms, Grandma used her “sweating it out” cure. She would give him boiled wine to drink and send him to bed to “sweat it out” under lots of blankets. Grandma told me that by morning he was “just fine” and able to go to work. I think it’s worth a try, but maybe I’d add spices like pepper and ginger to the wine or use a mulled wine.
The home remedy that Grandma was most famous for was her hot water and lemon cure-all. It seemed to be good for everything from an upset stomach to headaches, stuffy noses, and sore throats. It was even helpful if you wanted to lose weight! Even today, hot water with lemon is one of my Aunt Catherine’s favorite home remedies. Lemon has a lot of health benefits and water is the best beverage to keep you hydrated.
I still prefer to use old-fashioned natural cures rather than store-bought drugs for minor illnesses. There are always cans of ginger ale and saltines in my kitchen as well as lemon and salt. I think that part of the reason that these cures work is that they are comforting. The simple home remedies that our mothers and grandmothers gave us make us feel reassured and loved. I suspect that alone goes a long way toward making us feel better.