1. Japan: Pickled Produce
Grill umeboshi (pickled plum) until it’s burnt, pour very hot green tea over it, then drink to reduce a fever, says Reiko Kuroda, a Japanese ex-pat living in Boston. Other home remedies for cold symptoms that she swears by: Grating lots of ginger, adding lemon and honey and dousing it with hot water, then drinking it to clear up a stuffed nose. For a sore throat, “add minced Japanese leek and minced ginger to miso paste. Pour hot water into the mixture and drink it,” she says, adding that the miso is to make it palatable rather than for therapeutic benefit.
2. South Africa: All About Garlic
“My grandmother claimed garlic was like a natural antibiotic especially for upper respiratory infections and illnesses,” says Montreal-based Nilanie Moodley Fletcher who hails from Durban, South Africa. “She would grind fresh garlic and add [it] to soups to create a cold tonic,” she recalls. Other tricks from her grandmother include inhaling a mixture of turmeric and boiled water to clear up nasal congestion, and for coughs she administered a potent cough syrup of half black pepper and half honey. “It actually does work,” Nilanie says.
3. North America: Herbal Tea
A Crow medicine woman recounts this Native American natural remedy for the common cold to medical anthropologist John Heinerman in his book, Folk Remedies from Around the World: Add two tablespoons of chickweed herb and mullein leaves to a quart of boiling water. Stir, and steep for 30 minutes. Drink warm, one cup every three hours. Rest the entire day, and you’ll feel better the next.
4. Scotland: Rum and Peppermint
Graeme Dunn, who grew up by the sea in Prestwick, Ayshire, says, “Hot Rum and Pep—rum and peppermint—are a seaman’s cure for colds. My grandfather was a Royal Marine and that’s what they were given on the ships.” Other Scottish cold cures include drinking nettle tea and going for a walk to get sea air.. “Not mountain air, not any kind of air. Has to be sea air. If I was congested, I’d be unblocked right away. Maybe it has something to do with the salt in the spray,” he suggests.
5. Serbia: Caramel Cure
Ivana Miletic, whose family is from Belgrade, Serbia, says her mom makes a caramel drink to relieve cough and bronchitis by “slowly melting three tablespoons of sugar. Once melted and the colour of caramel add a cup of milk; keep on low heat, stirring continuously until it becomes a smooth drink. Drink it as hot as you can handle,” she describes. Miletic’s says her mom also recommends Serbian tea to treat the common cold and chills. “Slowly melt two to three teaspoons of sugar; add a few drops of water, a cup of plum brandy; once melted drink it hot,” she says.
6. Colombia: Stinky Things Ease Congestion
“Stinky things” clear the nostrils, according to the Tayrona tribe who live in highlands of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northwest Colombia. In his book Folk Remedies From Around the World, Heinerman recalls seeing a tribe member clear his stuffy nose by taking regular whiffs of a sachet containing a pungent mix of crushed garlic, broken bay leaves and coarsely ground nutmeg.
7. China: Astragalus and Oils
A practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) might prescribea the herb astragalus by tincture, pill or even injection to boost your immune system and reduce cold symptoms. If you grew up in a Chinese household, you are probably familiar with pak fah yeow, which literally translates as “White Flower Oil.” It’s a brand of clear oil that is China’s version of Vick’s VapoRub. Composed of wintergreen, camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint oils, it’s commonly rubbed on backs and chests to relieve chest congestion and cough and under noses to relieve stuffiness.