asafetida hing

We love hearing about old-time home remedies from our readers. Many of the most popular ones come up again and again. There are always some surprises, though. One older reader remembered a lot about the remedies her family used when she was a child.

Asafoetida in Bags Around the Neck:

Q. I was surprised to see in your column a question about asafoetida. Just the day before, I had mentioned it to a friend. No one I know had ever heard of it.

I am 82 and was born and raised in Philadelphia. My brother and I were given these little sachets to wear around our necks in winter by a well-meaning little old lady. My mom used to say that if it didn’t keep the germs away, it would sure keep people away because of the strong smell.

Old-Time Home Remedies as Preventive Medicine:

We had no wonder drugs, so our parents practiced preventive medicine. In winter we always got a tablespoon of Father John’s Cough Syrup before bed. In summer it was sassafras tea.

Once a month we were taken to the drugstore for a “physic” (laxative) of “prepared castor oil” in a milkshake or an ice cream soda. A chest cold was treated with a chest rub of Musterole, then wrapped in flannel, and the soles of the feet were rubbed with Vicks.

My great-grandmother had been a slave and had lots of home remedies, I’m told. She would peel a whole head of garlic and put it in a gallon of water. My aunts kept it in the refrigerator and anyone with hypertension would drink only that water.

Cod Liver Oil as a Wintertime Tonic:

A. We have heard of many of the old-time home remedies your family used. One of the ingredients in Father John’s Cough Syrup is cod liver oil, which was traditionally used to boost resistance to respiratory infections in wintertime.

Garlic for High Blood Pressure?

We are especially interested in your great-grandmother’s use of garlic for high blood pressure. A careful review notes that garlic can lower blood pressure, although there is not enough data to tell if it reduces heart attacks and strokes (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Aug. 2012). More recently, a placebo-controlled trial found that a garlic supplement lowered blood pressure in people with heart disease (Mahdavi-Roshan et al, Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, Aug. 24, 2016). So it appears your great-grandmother was on the right track in using a remedy that was readily available.

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  1. Capra

    I grew up in my father’s drugstore. If I remember correctly Asafoetida was also called “Devils’ Dung” and yes, it DID SMELL BAD!

  2. Euan
    Ottawa, Canada

    This is a tonic I used following heart bypass surgery, it helped me greatly, let me tell you my experience and you can judge for yourself. After my surgery for a triple bypass, I did not recover well, in fact, if I had to get out the car to walk into a store, I had to stop after twenty feet so that I could catch my breath. My son manufactured condiments and he always relied on me to help him do big trade shows, he asked me to help with a show in Ottawa. I thought about it and realized I could not walk from the parking garage to the building, so, for the first time ever I had to tell him no, it was very upsetting for me. I did some research on line and read about a tonic that was quite ancient in origin and supposedly cleared plaque from veins and arteries. I tried it and within a week I attended a trade show in Toronto where I walked from the parking garage and across the convention floor without trouble and not only that, I spent twelve hours on my feet selling products, at night, we walked back to the car and we did that for three days – I couldn’t have done it a week before, so , I think the tonic really worked.
    This is how I make it, first, it is important to have a powerful blender, I bought the Ninja, but other blenders will probably do just as well. I use organic ingredients if possible and I try to purchase only Canadian or U.S. products. The first ingredient is garlic, three bulbs will do, the next is ginger, I use about six or eight inches of organic ginger, I add about one teaspoon of organic cayenne and a tablespoon of turmeric. I add two lemons peel and all, no seeds and about half a cup of apple cider vinegar with “mother”, such as Braggs. Add a couple of tablespoons of raw honey, the darker the better and that is the formula. You can get real lemon juice in small glass bottles in the grocery stores, use about half a cup or more instead of lemons.
    To prepare the tonic, , break the garlic bulbs into cloves, you don’t even have to peel them, just wash them paper and all. Wash the ginger and chop it into slices about quarter of an inch in size, chop the lemons after washing and remove any seeds. Toss all ingredients into the blender and pulse until all large pieces have been chopped very fine, add filtered water until you have a full blender. Let this mixture just sit on the counter for three or four days and then strain out the solids, which can be discarded. I do a final straining through my French Press to remove most of the solids, it works fine. I pour the liquid into a big glass container, it must be two litres in capacity and I add water if necessary.
    I think about a quarter of a glass is sufficient and since it is very strong, I add Perrier, or water, or, Juice, I take this first thing in the morning and before bed.
    Just one caveat, garlic and ginger are both blood thinners, so do not combine the tonic with aspirin or blood thinners, you could cause serious bleeding. I am not totally cured, but, when I go without my tonic, I really suffer. My wonderful Doctor rolled her eyes when I told her about it, but, one time when I had not been making the tonic, I struggled getting into her office and to my surprise, she scolded me and told me to get right back on my tonic.

  3. Euan
    Ottawa, Canada

    Sixty years ago we lived next door to a lady who grew up on a farm, her father knew a lot about healing with herbs. I remember her recipe for a spring cleanse, it consisted of a teaspoon of flowers of sulfur mixed with the same amount of black strap molasses, I seem to think we took the mixture for a few days. I am not sure what it did for us, but, the odor from three young boys going to the bathroom was awful, no one ever wanted to visit the bathroom after you.

  4. Marie

    I usually have at least one bout of respiratory illness each winter where I am in bed for several days. Bronchitis turns into pneumonia, which I have had many times. Each time is scary. This winter, I bought a bottle of cod liver oil gel caps and took one in the morning and another in the evening. This was the first winter in years when I have not had a long illness. Don’t tell me it didn’t work!

    Here is another remedy: I had a terrible time with diarrhea when I was young. Kaopectate did nothing to help me, and I am so glad that paregoric is off the market because it was awful, as well as dangerous. On one occasion when I was a teenager, Mother was desperate to get my problem stopped so she walked to the liquor store, because we did not have a car, and brought back elderberry wine made with elderberry juice, not artificially flavored. She gave it to me by the teaspoonful every hour until my problem stopped. Now elderberry juice is available, and it’s okay, but elderberry wine seems to calm the digestive system well. However, it must contain the real juice rather than the flavoring. I have learned that elderberries must be cooked in order to be effective. They are toxic if eaten raw.

    There are more, but that’s enough for now.

  5. Patty

    Q: Long term use of Milk of Magnesia can cause a flaccid or “paralyzed” bowel resulting in intractable constipation. Can magnesium supplements do the same?

  6. Karen
    Dayton, Ohio

    What do you know about leech therapy for diabetic wounds that won’t heal?

  7. Dorothy Ann Grindle
    New Hampshire

    I feel we elders with horrible chronic pain are being punished because of the opiate and heroin crisis in the USA. Also I know many people who suffer horrible chronic pain that are planning on committing suicide because the pain they suffer is so brutal and unending. I think it should be up to the Drs and the people. I feel because of the DEA we are losing our rights and I think its horrible of them to hurt so many good people who don’t abuse or sell there meds.. This is turning into a horror show for people who suffer. If they had good no narcotic methods of treating the pain it would be ok. But if they just expect us to suffer shame on them.

  8. Mar

    My grandmother boiled fennel seed in water, and used the water to calm a colic baby. Worked great on one of my children. Also a good remedy for gas in adults.

  9. Elva
    San Antonio, TX

    I agree with the Vicks being used for colds. I put Vicks on the soles of the feet whenever we
    have a cough going on. Applies to both parents and our kids. It works after the first
    application (with socks) in the evening and a quiet night’s sleep.

  10. Jason

    After too many failed attempts to get rid of toe nail fungus once and for all, I pulled the Lysol All Purpose Cleaner (kills 99.9% of viruses & bacteria) out from under the sink and started applying it to the two affected nails at bedtime…just enough to wet each with my finger. Well, it worked. No kidding.

  11. Wilma
    Houston, Texas

    Here’s one I have not seen….
    Growing up in West Virginia Each month that I had Menstrual Cramps….
    My Grandmother would pour half cup of 4 ROSES whiskey in a saucer
    light a match to it, started the fire, after she blew the flame out I could then take it.

    YES it worked. (burning the alcohol) or other pain you might have (always worked)
    I still think of those “old remedies” and I know they worked.!!
    83 years later I am on NO medication have a little wine, keep close by My Crown Royal along with Honey,Vinegar, Vick’s,and Soda. to name a few…………

  12. Patti

    Interesting…we “inherited” several jars of homemade salve that was called Aunt Mattie’s salve. It’s mostly used for drawing out soreness from a cut or abrasion. It really works.. It looks awful but we don’t care. I think it’s got bees wax as a base. I wish I had the recipe although I wouldn’t need to make it. Just curious what’s in it. I am pretty sure that it was a recipe going around years ago because I saw on a forum someone talking about it. Curious if anyone else has used it or heard of it?

  13. Kathy

    When I was a teenager and came home with indigestion after a date, I would take an Alka-Seltzer to relieve the burning in my tummy. Later, I learned that figs were a highly alkaline fruit, so I tried eating a couple figs whenever I had an acid stomach. It worked! Plus I got fiber and nutrients in the bargain. I thought you’d like to know.

  14. Angele

    I remember my great grandmother sharing these little red, round chewable codliver oil tablets. They were kind of like an M&M, the shell was sweet. She ate them every day, and had a long, healthy life. I haven’t been able to ever find those vitamins again though. Anyone ever heard of such a thing?

  15. Duane p

    What is in the asefoedia bag? My mother used that on us as kids 75 years ago. The smell was terrible.

  16. John

    Asafoetida prevented colds because it smelled so awful. No one would get close enough to me to infect me!

  17. Sue

    Why do you invite people who are receiving your newsletter to sign up for your newsletter

  18. Kinikia

    Lordy, Lordy ! I remember those Asafoetida bags!!! Could not remember HOW it was spelled : ) I “think” it CURED Everything! Thanks for the Memory!

  19. Susan
    Buffalo, NY

    We used Father John’s, too, but I recall it as “Father John’s Tonic”, and I don’t recall any reference to it as a cough medicine. It was a tall brown bottle with sloping shoulders and Father John was imaged in the paper on the front of the bottle, his shoulders fitting the shoulders of the bottle, as I recall.

    Since there were 6 of us children, we stood in line and my mother (a nurse) used the same spoon to give each of us our nightly dose. We all liked it, and no one complained. I find this very funny today, but it’s also true that we were rarely ill. We lived on a farm and had exposure to animals regularly; these days I read that this exposure may help you stay healthy. Something worked for us!

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