Old World Herbal Remedies ~ for Coughs, Colds, Influenza, and moreLinda Gabris November 1, 2022
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 of the stories behind her recipes 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 that follow and see if you don’t immediately feel much better.
Herbal Teas & Infusions
SAGE TEA FOR SORE THROAT, UPSET STOMACH, GAS – To make sage tea from the fresh plant use 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 and 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 without the heavy fragrance found in commercial rinses.
THYME TEA FOR COUGH AND BRONCHITIS, AND OREGANO TEA FOR SINUSITIS – 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 has written that this tea is good for warding off cold and ’flu. It is also noted as 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 material, simply put a handful of fresh picked, washed flowers in the teapot, cover with boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. To make it with dried plant material, use 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.
CHAMOMILE TEA FOR AIDING DIGESTION AND HEARTBURN – This fragrant tea is reputed to aid digestion and should be served before mealtime. To make it, 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.
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 material, put several sprigs of parsley in the teapot, cover with 1 cup of boiled water and steep until all the goodness has been leached out of the plant, about 15 minutes. To make it from the dried herb, use 1 tsp per cup, although grandma has it written that fresh plant, especially in this case, is much more potent. Like her, I keep a window box in my sunroom all winter long in order to have fresh herbs readily available for recipes. Or 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 tea, 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 good 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 to fill your room with the calming scent. Of course, you can also dry the herb to use as a picker-upper when you’re feeling down and out, can’t sleep, or are suffering from headaches caused by stress.  To make the 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 relaxing scent before retiring.
More Old World Remedies
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR PREVENTIVE MEDICINE – Organic unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is a tonic useful for treating different types of stomach ailments including diarrhea, bloating, gas, sour stomach, traveller’s sickness, and mild cases of food poisoning. If you are nervous about getting stomach and bowel infections while traveling and dining away from home, bring along a bottle of apple cider vinegar. One teaspoon of the vinegar stirred into a glass of water and drunk half an hour before mealtimes helps ward off bacteria that cause upset stomach and diarrhea. To make the drink more palatable, especially for children, it can be sweetened with honey.
BRANDY POSSET FOR SLEEPLESSNESS – Grandma warns that this relaxing posset should not be given to children, but works 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 rose hip tea everyday all winter long and you’ll never catch a cold,” says grandma. 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, and thumb out and discard the seeds (they contain bristles that irritate the mouth and stomach). Spread hips on a cloth and let dry in warm place until shriveled. Or buy dried 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 like to sweeten the hips with honey and eat them for good measure!
Homemade Herbal Cough Syrup
Grandma has recorded many recipes for homemade cough syrup; this one is my favourite. It seems to ease the cough as 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 organic 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.
References and Resources
 Lavender benefits: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265922.php
Linda Gabris is an avid cook who enjoys sharing her grandmother’s old recipes and medicinal preparations as they were recorded in the handwritten journals passed down to her. Linda also enjoys gardening and foraging for edible wild foods. Over the years, she has taught cooking courses in Prince George, B.C., with a focus on healthy eating, food preparation, and International cuisine.