Home remedies

We go straight to the chemist when a member of my family needs a remedy for sore eyes or a cough or sore throat or a wart or constipation or any of the myriad other bodily inconveniences.

But it wasn’t so long ago that a visit to the chemist, or the chemist’s shop as we called it then, was a rare event and almost always with a doctor’s prescription in hand for a problem beyond Reckitt’s Bag Blue, oil of cloves or castor oil. Well, maybe it was more than a quarter of a century ago.

Families had their own remedies, and men and women would attest earnestly to the miraculous properties of their particular hot lemon drink. Hot water, lemon juice and honey, in some families improved by steeping a few slices of ginger in the hot water for 10 or 15 minutes. And in the very best families a shot of rum or brandy worked wonders.

One or two families I’ve known add horseradish to this secret concoction, and I recall a neighbour once trying to convince us to add minced garlic!

To my great surprise the hot lemon drink did ease the symptoms the last time I had the flu, and that was without the rum or brandy because my wife hides it. Things must be grim when your wife feels the need to hide the cooking brandy and the Christmas cake rum!

And who over the age of 30 hasn’t had Vicks rubbed on their chest? I don’t know whether it does ease the congestion but it certainly smells as though it would. Sometimes we’d bend over a bowl of hot water and a few drops of eucalyptus oil, towels over our head to trap the vapour.

The most memorable home remedy of my childhood, though, was the brown liquid that was dabbed on an aching tooth. It was, I think, oil of cloves and it had in a child’s mouth an impact beyond description. The brown stuff worked, I was told at the time, because it diverted the mind from the tooth ache, and it did work, but I’ve read since that cloves do contain a substance with painkilling properties.

Thankfully castor oil has disappeared from our homes, and epsom salts has never been in mine. Rickett’s Bag Blue, a laundry whitener, has long gone too, which is a pity given that a dab or two did ease stings.

Several times over the years we’ve resorted to rags dipped in very hot water to draw a boil but not as often as my mother did when I was a child. Boils were common then, and the cure was a horrific experience.

Maybe, though, we use more home remedies than we realise. In fact I’m using one now, dabbing methylated spirits on a cold sore. We used to know it affectionately as metho until a special additive made it undrinkable.

Methylated spirits gets me out of another spot of bother occasionally. When I have water blocked in an ear, as often happens when I swim, a few drops in the ear and a minute or so later the problem is solved. And that magic remedy was given me by a pharmacist!

Copper bracelets are still plentiful among senior citizens. There is more than anecdotal evidence that the copper does ease arthritis, but even the appreciation of those who swear by it doesn’t swing the doubters. Years ago when I asked the since-retired Herald sports writer Stewart Roach if the copper band on his wrist worked, he told me that if he didn’t wear it for just one week he couldn’t play golf on the Saturday!

My wife tried half a dozen commercial products in failed attempts to rid our small school-age children of lice years ago before she was told by some wise soul to use just ordinary hair conditioner, and the fact that useless commercial preparations sell so well while the solution is in everyone’s bathroom is testimony to our belief that packaged remedies are better. The conditioner, by the way, immobilises the lice, which you remove with a lice comb. Repeat daily for a week.

And tea tree oil still makes an occasional appearance in my home, as does the saltwater gargle.

It seems that many home remedies live still.

Do you have any home remedies? Remedies that work?

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