Retorts: Fighting cold with old medicine

COMMON COLD remedies range from tea to honey and chicken soup. Nome of them really worked.

The nation is in the grip of a flu epidemic. Always preferring to do things on a small scale, I’ve got a pretty persistent cold. In each case, although there’s only so much that can be done about it, there are plenty of folk remedies around.

I grew up with a ton of folk remedies. We were the kind of family wherein you had to have an arrow sticking out of your chest to go to the doctor. The only medicine we had in the medicine cabinet was aspirin and darned little of that.

Internal complaints were treated with hot tea or 7Up, depending on the season. For extreme illness, honey was added to the tea, and additional blankets to the bed.

Hot moist towels wrapped around an appendage was another common therapy. It actually worked OK unless the towels were too hot or too wet, in which case you had hot water running down into your pajamas.

For wounds the most typical household antiseptic was something called Mercurochrome, which was applied to scrapes, cuts and the like. It included mercury, which was known to kill fish and madden hatters.

A common bit of health wisdom was “feed a cold and starve a fever” … or was it the other way around? I never ate much when sick, so I guess that was an easy rule to follow.

My father was especially interested in home remedies. He was fond of apple cider vinegar – as an antiseptic – and garlic – as an anti-romantic. I blame the latter for the fact that I didn’t get married until I was 40.

He even sought to apply his health science credentials to the pets in interesting but vain efforts to banish fleas. The failure of his methods didn’t discourage him; he merely doubled down on the dosage.

The one universal cure was not in his repertoire, and that’s chicken soup. Termed “Jewish penicillin” in some quarters, it was never that big in Italian households unless you dumped a fistful of garlic right in the middle of that can of Campbell’s.

In fact, that sounds so good, I might even just add a few drops of Mercurochrome while I’m at it.

Jim Tortolano is sick of being sick, thank you very much.






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