Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wisdom Wednesday: The magical and the mystical, "it's good for what ails you"

Every winter for the last couple of years, just after Christmas, it seems time for me to get sick. Despite scrubbing my hands, and using disinfectant on every door handle and door jam in my house, something always seems to catch me. Getting sick led me to think about the kinds of remedies used for generations in my family to cure various ailments. Some of these curatives seem more like magic than medicine, and I wonder if it was the placebo effect which worked wonders rather than the remedy itself. Suffice to say I don't recommend any of these, so proceed with extreme caution if you feel tempted to give any of them a try.

Hot tea bags for styes in the eyes:

My mother swears by this remedy. You boil water for tea, and allow two bags to steep. While the tea is still quite warm (much too warm for me), you bathe your closed eye with the tea, pressing and holding the bags to your eye until all of the tea liquid is gone. You repeat this process for any number of days until the stye has disappeared.

I think a warm compress works just as well, but my mother is convinced the cure is in the tea. I believe my mom may have picked up this practice on the Canadian side of the pond, because she was completely unfamiliar with tea bags until she came to Canada. In Ireland tea was always made with loose leaves, not tea bags. Someday I will share the story of my mom's first encounter with a Canadian tea bag.


Poultices are credited with working very well for infections. My own mom as well as mothers and grandmothers down through the maternal line of my family are credited with the use of poultices. My dad's mother and grandmother also used them.

Bread and Milk Poultice:

My mother would heat milk and soak slices of bread in it. She would then either wrap the concoction in thin brown paper and apply it to the wound, or apply the bread directly to the skin. When I was a teenager I suffered a very bad sunburn on my shoulders, and out came the warm milk and bread poultice. It took away the sting and the skin healed beautifully.

Mustard Poultice:

Mustard poultices were used to treat congestion and coughs, and even walking pneumonia. The mustard must be made from mustard powder (hot dog mustard just won't do). The mustard preparation is thickly spread on strips of cotton which have been soaked in very hot water; these are applied to the chest. Such a poultice is said to offer immediate relief of discomfort in the chest by increasing circulation in the afflicted area. I'm happy to say I have not yet had to wear this concoction.

For a sore throat and a bad cold: A woollen neck wrap with lots of vapo-rub:

I don't know if this actually worked, but when I was a child I loved to be wrapped up in a soft flannel neck wrap, my throat covered with loads of vapo-rub to effect a cure. When I had a sore throat and cold, this remedy was followed by lots of bed rest. It seemed to do the trick. This remedy is attributed to my mom.

For a sore throat: Gargling with salt water, lots of salt water:

Just thinking about this cure makes me feel a little queazy. The worst part of it was accidentally swallowing some of the mixture. Just the thought of this cure always made my throat feel better. This remedy is attributed to my maternal great grand-aunt Alice Ward.

A very hot needle to remove a splinter:

OUCH!!! In my opinion the remedy in this case is far worse than the ailment. The needle is super heated by holding it in a fire or on the hot burner of a stove. It is pushed into the skin in the same area as the splinter in order to draw the splinter out. This is another remedy attributed to my maternal great grand-aunt Alice. I think she may have had a touch of the sadist in her.

For general health and well being: Cod liver oil malt:

My maternal aunt Bernadette must own responsibility for the use of this. I still remember my very first encounter with this menace. Aunt Bernadette had it shipped to Canada from Ireland, by our aunt Kathleen I suspect. It arrived in a very large jar, and we gathered all around hoping for a spoonful as Aunt Bernadette opened the jar. The scent of it wasn't too bad; however, when she plunged in a large metal spoon and drew it back out the ladle was covered with a dark, thick, gooey mass. She pressed me to ingest it. I did, and although it didn't taste so bad, the texture was very unpleasant. Thick, goopy and and kind of chewy, it stuck to my teeth. I could feel myself wretch as it slid down my throat. "It's good for what ails you", she exclaimed, "it's healthy". Eventually we were given Canadian style cod liver oil in tiny round capsules which I was quite happy to ingest.

Do you have any home remedies in your family tree?

Thank you to The Graphics Fairy for the clip art.
©Copyright J. Geraghty-Gorman 2011.


  1. Excellent Wisdom. I use Oregano Tea when fighting a virus. It works beautifully.
    Fun but wise post.

  2. We always did salt water and Vicks Vapor Rub. My mom never gave us kids cod liver oil but I use it today because I was told my vitamin D levels were so low they were off the chart (and I live in Florida!). Since starting the CLO a few years ago I have been sniffle-free and I used to get colds and flu every year. Must be something to it.(I use the fermented kind which is more effective and doesn't taste as strong)

  3. Tea bags for the eyes would utilize the tannic acid in the tea. Tannic acid has a mild antibiotic action and an astringent. The heat would aid in the healing by increasing the blood supply to the are.

    My parents always used a hot needle, but the waited till it cooled off. The heat would sterilize the needle and perhaps inside the wound too.

    Even in the medical field salt gargles are recommended today. Guess it kills the bacteria/viruses in your throat.

    If we researched all the treatments we would probably find there is some underlying reason they work.

  4. In my family, we had variations of most of what you describe, plus hot chicken soup for a cold (opened the head up before the vicks was applied); hot toddies for a really bad cold and/or the flu, and ST37 to apply to cold sores on the lips and in the mouth (application with a Q-tip).

    I am so looking forward to hearing about your mom's first encounter with a Canadian tea bag...

  5. My mom did Vicks Vaporub and my Aunt Joy did hot toddies. I liked them both.

  6. Love your graphic. Those bottles are quite collectible now, with or without the labels. I'm an Ayer descendant, and the patent medicines were made by J. C. Ayer of Lowell, Mass. They all contained opium, so I guess everyone loved them! They were called "Mother's little helpers". I don't know exactly who J. C. Ayer was, but the whole Ayer family is distant cousins.

  7. Great post, and love the comments too!

  8. Hello Everyone, Thanks so much for the great comments! Lots to think about as far as remedies go. Cheers! Jennifer

    p.s. to dee-burris: Oddly enough a couple of people in my family have had amusing encounters with Canadian tea bags, so I'll have to get a post together including each of their stories, J.

  9. I hope you're feeling better, Jennifer. My Mum was big on poultices and my great aunt used to soak her feet in a hot mustard solution (to cure any chest problem!) and she had a cure for colds which really takes the biscuit. Wrap a dirty sock around your neck, pin it with a safety pin and sleep with it on. My sister stills does this! Jo :-)


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Cheers, Jennifer

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