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February 22, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Old-School Remedies: Getting Back to the Basics of Health

By Anne Christen More Blogs by This Author

Hot Toddy for the Cold

I remember being about 10 years old and suffering from a cold that just wouldn’t quit. I was achy, cranky, stuffy, and altogether miserable. In desperation, my mom called my grandfather, who gave her the recipe for a fail-proof remedy: brew some hot tea, and mix it with a hefty dose of honey, some lemon juice, and a swig of whiskey. His instructions to have me drink it immediately, while still hot, were equally terse.

My mom did just as he said, and I drank the concoction despite its horrible taste. To this day I don’t drink whiskey because of the memory of that first, awful taste. But, lo and behold, I awoke the next morning feeling like a new person. My cold wasn't gone, but I could get out of bed and function for the first time in many days. That night, Mom gave me the drink again, and I was quickly cured of my ailment.

Old-Time Cures

Old-fashioned remedies like my grandpa’s liquor-infused hot tea have existed for many, many years. While they’re permeated with wisdom, these treatments were, for a while, pushed aside in favor of more conventional medicines. “We’ve gotten into the habit of believing that anything that fights cold and flu has to come in a pill,” says Ben Kligler, MD, medical director of the Beth-Israel Center for Health and Healing in New York City. “We need to reconsider natural alternatives that work as well as – and, in many cases, better than – over-the-counter remedies.”

It appears that others agree with Dr. Kligler, and dated treatments are today resurfacing with a vengeance. Take, for instance, the words of Dr. Manny Alvarez from February 14, 2013: “Just like in fashion when trends come back in style – in medicine, too, some of these ‘old-time’ cures are making a comeback.”


Inhaling steam, for example, is once more a widely accepted remedy for congestion. This moves the mucus, which is important because bacteria flourish when mucus gets stuck in the nose, sinuses, or chest. An easy way to inhale steam is to fill a cooking pot one-quarter full with water. Bring it to a near boil, turn off the heat, and add a couple drops of essential oil of eucalyptus. Carefully remove the pot from the stove, drape a towel over your head, lean over the pot, and inhale.


Another old-time treatment gaining acceptance is "cupping." This ancient Chinese practice admittedly looks strange, but it's a genuine healer according to alternative medicine experts. Cupping can be used on the back, neck, and legs to soften muscles and restore healthy blood flow. In the past, people have also used it to relieve headaches. It involves a sharp instrument, such as a razor or knife, that is used to make very tiny cuts in the skin near the source of pain. The cupping utensil, a little round cup, is placed over the slashes to create a vacuum that then draws out blood.

Beauty Remedies

Beauty remedies from the past are resurfacing as well, particularly as women learn the potential harm of chemicals used in cosmetics and hair care products. Apple cider vinegar is reportedly good for smooth and shiny hair because it closes cuticles. Simply mix the vinegar with equal parts water and rinse through your hair. You might also consider rinsing with beer after shampooing, as it’s supposed to provide plump, lustrous locks without any risk of damage.

For the skin, women have long turned to oatmeal and milk. The latter has a high fat content to moisturize and lactic acid to gently exfoliate. To get the best effect, you’ll want to fill a bathtub with warm water and add a cup of whole milk.

Oatmeal is typically used for the face. It contains a water-soluble fiber called beta glucan, known to have soothing and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. Those who suffer from acne often find the most benefit from this remedy. To try, place a few spoonfuls of oats in a washcloth and tie shut. Put the pack in a bowl of warm water for one minute, then remove and use the cloudy water as a natural cleanser.

Who knew old-fashioned remedies would regain popularity, or that they've actually been effective all along?


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