Weirdest Cold Treatments from Around the World
Colds and flu tend to show up with dreary regularity. Learn which ones might actually help, and which are nothing but charming folktale.
Uncommon Remedies for the Common Cold and Flu
Colds and flu tend to show up with dreary regularity. Here is a look at some remedies that people around the world have used to combat the congestion, body aches, fever, and sore throat of a bad cold or flu. Click “next” to learn which ones might actually help, and which are more charming folktale than curative.
Originating in Russia and the Ukraine, this hot drink is the result of whisking together an egg yolk with a teaspoon of honey or sugar. Pour the concoction into a half-cup of milk that has been heated with a tablespoon of unsalted butter. The adult version of this remedy resembles eggnog—just add a slug of rum or cognac.
No studies measure the efficacy of gogol mogol. However, the silky consistency of the egg may ease sore throat scratchiness. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when paired with a carbohydrate like toast, the amino acid L-tryptophan in hot milk can help promote sleep (Wurtman, et al., 2003).
Is Something Burning?
In some households in China, people burn Ai Ye, or Artemisia argyi wormwood. Burning the dried leaves of this plant is said to have an antiseptic effect. It’s believed to prevent cold or flu germs from spreading and help defend against further infection.
Ai Ye leaves have antibacterial properties and are used in many forms of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture. However, it’s best to avoid inhaling any kind of smoke when you’re down with a cold or flu. Smoke acts as a lung irritant and can further restrict airways.
Put on Your Socks
This sartorial remedy recommends that cold sufferers soak their feet in hot water and then put on a pair of thin socks that have been soaked in cold water and wrung out. Next, place a dry pair of socks over that and take to your bed.
The theory behind this odd therapy is that the cold water on your feet will increase circulation, boost your immune response, and hasten the cold’s demise. However, it may be that the misery of cold, wet, feet in bed simply makes you forget how awful your cold is making you feel.
Pick Up Your Dirty Socks
Another sock remedy calls for placing dirty socks around your throat. Greasing the throat first with chicken fat or lard was part of this folk cure. The therapeutic logic behind his one is hard to pin down, but dirty socks around the throat may have originated in England. They served to label people with potentially fatal throat ailments in the days before powerful drugs and vaccines could wipe out strep and prevent diphtheria. The sight of someone swathed in dirty socks possibly warned others to steer clear. Or the dirty-sock boa may have induced sweating, which was believed to help rid the body of illness.
If you fancy an exotic variation of Grandma’s chicken soup for your cold, follow the Hong Kong custom of downing lizard soup. Simple to make but grotesque to some, the recipe calls for dried lizards, yam, and Chinese dates simmered in water. You won’t find dried lizards in the supermarket, and some Asian groceries may not carry desiccated reptiles. However, a health practitioner specializing in Chinese herbal medicine may have them.
No head-to-head studies compare chicken soup with lizard soup, but hot soup in a water-based broth helps replace fluids lost from sweating, blowing your nose, and coughing. It can also help loosen mucus.
Can Hot Cocoa Help a Hacking Cough?
One very small study by British researchers measured the effect of theobromine, an ingredient in cocoa, on coughs. Compared with codeine, theobromine was more effective in suppressing a cough that was induced with capsaicin, which is found in hot red pepper. The researchers theorized that theobromine acts on the vagus nerve, which spurs coughing (Usmani, et al., 2005).
The study is too small to conclude that chocolate is a cough remedy. However, a cup of cocoa made with low-fat milk and dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao) offers chocolate’s antioxidant benefit, and the hot milk can have a sleep-inducing effect.
The Japanese rely on sour pickled plum, or umeboshi, to prevent and heal colds and flu as well as other illnesses. Umeboshi is not, in fact, a plum at all, but a variety of apricot. It can be eaten plain if you like the pungency, or steeped in hot tea with ginger and lemon.
The medicinal quality of umeboshi stems from its reported antibiotic effects. However, no scientific studies back this up. Umeboshi may have a placebo effect as a traditional comfort food for the Japanese.
Turnip a Cure
As a healthy food, turnips have a lot going for them. They pack a wallop of vitamin C and are full of B vitamins. In Iranian culture, a plate of cooked, mashed turnips is often served to a cold sufferer. The root vegetable delivers plenty of vitamin C and is believed to act as an expectorant, helping to loosen mucus and ease a stubborn cough. However, no scientific evidence documents this effect.
A mix of European and African traditions led to this Texan preparation for chest congestion. Sheep or cattle tallow (fat) was cheap and readily available before the age of urgent care clinics. It was often used for skin ailments, as well as to keep a deep cough from turning into pneumonia. This remedy calls for a small amount of tallow to be wrapped in flannel cloth, warmed, and placed on the chest.
The TLC of Mama or Grandma placing the warm cloth on your chest may be comforting, but there are no medicinal effects.
While there is no single cure-all remedy for the common cold or flu, you've just been given plenty of reasons to show that some remedies aren't short on imagination.
There's always more research being done on how to best fight off, or better yet prevent, colds and flu. Did you know that regular exercise reduces a person's risk of cold and flu? It's true and there's research to back it up. There are also important vitamins and supplements that can help. Learn more from our experts.
No matter what works for you, we wish you the best this cold and flu season.