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A Treasure Trove of Old-Time Home Remedies

An older reader recalls a number of old-time home remedies her family used as preventive medicine when she was a young child.

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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