Old-World Cures for Late Winter Ills – Coughs, Colds, Infections, and More


When I was a kid growing up in the rural woods of Muskoka, my grandma had a cure for almost every common ailment. Folks would come from miles around to seek her advice for treating their health complaints. As a girl, I took as much pride in grandma’s doctoring skills as she did, for I was the one who helped tend her herb gardens and trek through backyard woodlands in search of the “medicinal pickings” that she used in her concoctions. Today, grandma’s old doctoring journals with their handwritten entries are some of my most prized possessions, and whenever I’m feeling under the weather I turn to the fragile yellowed pages of those cherished scribblers to seek a cure for my discomforts. Sometimes a quick inspiring read is all I need to pick me up. Other times, I’ll take her advice and prepare a cup of herbal tea or a special tonic. In my book, preparing one of her old prescriptions is the next best thing to having grandma care for me in person.

Of course, she would always recommend that folks who were feeling poorly due to unknown causes seek the advice of a medical practitioner; that sound advice should still be followed today! But for the common upsets of daily living, nothing beats these natural old world cures. Next time you’re under the weather, try one of the remedies below and see if you don’t immediately feel better.

Homemade Herbal Cough Syrup

Grandma has recorded many recipes for homemade cough syrup; this one is my favourite. It seems to ease the cough soon as it is taken. To make, add 3 cups fresh mixed herbs or 1/2 cup dried herbs into 2 cups of water. Herbs to choose from are sage, thyme, rosemary, parsley, lavender, oregano, borage and mint. You can also add dried plantain leaf, crushed dried clover blossom, chamomile flowers, dried raspberry leaves, ground wild ginger rhizomes or fresh grated or dried commercial ginger root to the herb measure.

Bring mixture to a boil, simmer about 20 minutes or until reduced to half. Remove from heat, cover and steep until cold. Strain liquid into clean pan. Put back on stove and add 1 cup of creamed clover honey. Heat until blended. Cool. Pour into sterilized bottle and cap. Take 1 tsp as needed. Store the cough syrup in a cool place and it will save indefinitely.

Herbal Teas and Infusions

Chamomile Tea for Aiding Digestion and Warding off Heartburn – This fragrant tea is reputed to aid digestion and should be served before mealtime. To make, put 3 Tbsp fresh chamomile flowers or 1 Tbsp dried flowers into a warmed teapot, cover with boiling water, and steep for 5 minutes. Strain into a teacup. It also alleviates mild nausea, so is good for easing morning sickness in pregnant women as well as seasickness in travellers.

Sage Tea for Sore Throat, Upset Stomach and Gas – To make sage tea from the fresh plant, put 2 Tbsp fresh sage leaf or 1 tsp dried plant in a heated teapot and cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Steep 5 minutes. Add lemon if using as treatment for sore throat. Sweeten with honey if you wish. In China, sage tea is recommended for many ailments including bad nerves, ulcers, liver, kidney troubles, and to reduce fever. Grandma notes that cold sage tea can be used as a cleansing wash for cuts, sores, and wounds. It can also be used as a hair rinse, in which case I usually brew it up a little stronger. It adds shine, helps prevent split ends, and leaves hair smelling naturally clean with no trace of the heavy fragrance often found in commercial rinses.

Thyme Tea for Cough and Bronchitis, and Oregano Tea for Sinus – Thyme makes a comforting cup of tea that is useful for breaking up coughs associated with bronchitis. It can be made by steeping 2 Tbsp fresh plant or 1 tsp dried plant per cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. Oregano tea is a good treatment for sinus congestion. Make it the same as you would thyme tea. A blend of the two herbs makes a potent tea for fighting any cold or influenza virus.

Dandelion Tea to Boost the Immune System – Grandma writes that this tea is good for warding off cold and ‘flu. It is also noted as being a good cleanser for the intestines and helps prevent bloating from overindulgence in rich foods (good to remember at holiday time). To make the tea from fresh plant, simply put a handful of fresh picked, washed flowers in the teapot, cover with boiling water, and steep for 5 minutes. To make it out of dried plant, use about 2 Tbsp dried flowers per cup of water. The tea can be sweetened with honey and served hot to ward off cold and ‘flu in winter, or served cold with a bit of lemon to cool down the body in summertime.

Parsley Tea for Halitosis, Sore Throat and Mouth – This tea is good for treating bad breath, sore throat, and mouth infections. To make tea from fresh plant, put several sprigs of parsley in the teapot, cover with 1 cup of boiling water, and steep until all the goodness has been leached out of the plant (about 15 minutes). To make it out of dried herb, use 1 tsp per cup, although grandma has it written that fresh plant, especially in this case, is much more potent. Like grandma, I keep a window box of herbs in my sunroom all winter long in order to have fresh herbs readily available for recipes. Alternatively, buy organically grown herbs if possible.

Calming Clover Tea for Bad Nerves and Bronchitis – Clover tea is a very calming drink and a good treatment for bronchitis. Species of clover include red, white, purple, pink, and yellow flowered plants from which the best teas are made. Clover flowers can be steeped fresh but the tea is more fragrant when made from dried flowers. Clover flowers can be dried by spreading them on a sheet of clean cloth or waxed paper and drying them in a warm sunny place until the moisture is gone, about 2 to 3 weeks. To make, use 1 Tbsp dried crushed flowers per cup of boiling water. Sweeten the tea with clover honey if you like.

Mint Tea for Bloating, Gas, Colds and ‘Flu – Garden and wild mints make delightful teas that are very good for treating bloating and gas caused by gas-producing foods such as dried beans and lentils. They are also wonderful for the sheer pleasure of drinking, and exert a cooling effect on the inflammatory effects of colds and ‘flus. Wild mint or garden mint, peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm are all delightful in the teapot. Use a small handful of fresh plant per cup of boiling water or 1 Tbsp dried plant.

Lavender Tea for Depression, Insomnia, Headaches – Nothing is more uplifting than catching a whiff of lavender in the summer breeze. The good news is, you can grow lavender in your indoor herb garden all year round to fill your room with the calming scent. Of course, you can also dry the excess bounty from your summer herb patch to use as a picker-upper whenever you’re feeling down and out, can’t sleep, or are suffering from headaches caused by stress. To make lavender tea, use 2 Tbsp fresh lavender or 1 tsp dried plant per cup of boiling water. Steep 15 minutes. For headache, inhale the steam before drinking the tea. To cure insomnia, drink the tea while soaking in a bath to which you’ve added a good handful of dried plant for a calming, relaxing scent before retiring.


Apple Cider Vinegar Preventive Medicine – Organic unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is another one of those ‘magical’ tonics useful for treating many different types of stomach ailments including diarrhea, bloating, gas, sour stomach, traveller’s sickness, and mild cases of food poisoning. If you are prone to getting travel or motion sickness, or are nervous about getting stomach and bowel infections while traveling and eating away from home, a teaspoon of unpasteurized organic apple cider vinegar stirred into a glass of water and drunk half an hour before mealtimes helps ward off bacteria that causes upset stomach and diarrhea. To make the drink more palatable, especially for children, it can be sweetened with honey. It’s an easy regimen to follow, and it works.

Brandy Posset for Sleeplessness – Grandma warns that this relaxing posset should not be given to children but works very well at helping to induce sleep in fretting adults. The posset should be sipped slowly before bedtime. It calls for 3/4 cup of milk to be scalded. Add 1/4 tsp grated lemon rind, 1 Tbsp honey, and simmer until honey is dissolved. Stir in 1/4 cup brandy and heat through. Strain into cup and take upon retiring to bed.

Rose Hip Cold Prevention Medicine – “Drink a cup of rosehip tea every day all winter long and you’ll never catch a cold.” This is preventive medicine that’s easy to swallow and, since rose hips are so plentiful and easy to gather, it’s old advice that I live by. Rose hips are at their best for gathering in the autumn after they have been nipped by frost. Gather the hips, thumb out the seeds and discard, as they contain tiny bristles that can irritate the mouth and stomach, if eaten. Spread on cloth and let dry in warm place until they are shrivelled. Or you can dry the whole hips and strain the tea, if you’d rather. Or you can buy dried rose hips at health food stores.

Rose hips contain more vitamin C than oranges and are a rich source of iron, calcium, and phosphorous. They make a very nourishing cup of tea. Put about 3 Tbsp dried hips in the teapot and cover with boiling water. Steep 15 minutes, and drink. When the teapot is empty, I always sweeten the hips with honey and eat them for good measure!

(Editor’s note: The above article was extracted from a longer feature written by Linda Gabris. To view the complete article, which includes recipes for: Bran and Balsam Infusion for Chest Colds; Molasses Posset for Cold and ‘Flu; White Wine Whey for Cough, and more, visit: http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/old-world-cures-for-winter-ailments/ )

Favourite Home Remedies From Our Readers

When we posted a question on our Facebook page, asking readers for their favourite natural remedies for common winter ailments, here’s a sampling of the replies we received:

• From Carol Little, Registered Herbalist: “Here’s one of my favourites from Studio Botanica – Herbs & Natural Alternatives for Busy Women. I call it “Jazzed Up Ginger Juice”. You will need just over a pound of ginger root to extract 4 oz juice from the ginger. Here’s the recipe:

4 oz fresh ginger juice

1 Tbsp raw honey

1/4 cup fresh lime (juiced)

1/8 tsp cayenne powder (more or less to your taste)

6 oz good quality room temperature water

I use my ‘bullet’ or Vitamix. Whiz it up. Strain it into a glass canning jar and add the other ingredients! Mix well. Add the lid.

Pour a small cup and sip throughout the day. Store any extra in the fridge. Repeat! Check out my eBOOK on sale for 50% off: Cold + Flu Season ~ Are YOU Ready? available at: http://studiobotanica.com/ cold-flu-ebook/

• Betty Young, owner of Fergus Natural Choice: “I like NOW brand Allibiotic; it is such a great formula including a 50:1 elderberry concentrate (great for antiviral and immune building), plus olive leaf, oregano oil, garlic, arabinogalactan from Larch…it works to fight viruses and bacteria and support and strengthen the immune system as well. And it’s easy to take – the directions say 1 capsule, 2X a day, but I usually hit it hard for a day, taking between 4-6 capsules at the onset of feeling immune compromised.

I also like UMCKA brand products for cold and flu, because they’re easy to take and taste good. Also highly recommended is Allimax – a very strong garlic formula that kicks any invaders out.” (Fergus Natural Choice is a health food store in Fergus, Ontario 519-787-5256)

• Simona Archer commented: “I use sliced onion covered with a bit of honey. The juice from it is excellent for coughs. I also make tea from elderberry flowers for runny nose.”

• Meredith Depuydt commented: “I take a probiotic daily to keep my immunity up. And when I start to feel even the slightest symptoms of a cold coming on, I take a capsule of oil of oregano, plus zinc and mega-dose on vitamin C.

Readers: You can follow Vitality Magazine on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/VitalityMagazine

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