While people used to laugh about it being “just an old wives’ tale” we now know that chicken soup really does help relieve the symptoms of a cold. While the broth soothes the throat and acts as a “comfort food,” it also helps open up sinus passages to let you breathe easier.
What about cod liver oil? Kids and adults alike used to dread taking it and think Mom was just old fashioned and silly. But now most health professionals say the benefits of fish oil are many. It just tastes better now that it’s wrapped in a little pill that goes down quickly.
I’m not so sure about these next two, but time will tell. Perhaps the old wives will again be proven right.
When my Grandmother was a child going to a one-room country school in the late 1890’s, most of her classmates were of Italian heritage. Since the Italians liked to cook with garlic, the kids smelled like garlic most of the time, but in winter, the aroma was stronger. Their mothers habitually put a clove or two of garlic on a string and hung it around their necks to ward off colds.
In other geographic locations, the Italian community used a different cure: asafetida. It is, apparently, an herb with a strong onion-like flavor. It probably didn’t grow around here, so they used garlic.
You could assume that perhaps the reason people wearing garlic or asafetida didn’t get sick was because they had limited contact with others who might be sick. No one wanted to go near them because they smelled so strong! But, that probably wasn’t the reason.
We laugh when we think of that, but now researchers say that eating garlic can help build the body’s immune system – to fight off colds and flu! It can also help lower blood pressure. I guess those old wives weren’t so silly after all!
My grandmother hated the smell of garlic the rest of her life. In her mind, the aroma was mixed with the smell of dirty children and dirt-encrusted wool coats drying by the wood stove in that one-room school house. (Yes, nearly all children were dirty in those days… those were the days of a washtub in the kitchen being filled for the Saturday night bath. No daily showers in the 1890’s!)
Another one, that I just read about last night, sounds even more far-fetched, but you never know.
Few of us alive today remember the flu epidemic of 1919. 40 million people died and no one could quite understand why some families were devastated while others, like my Great-grandmother, stayed well and able to help nurse the sick. Some who were stricken were old hermits, living alone in the mountains where they had no contact with other people. Why did they catch it?
The story I read tells of a country doctor who stopped by a farm where everyone was well. The “old wife” at the farmhouse told him that she had taken precautions against the flu – she kept bowls of un-peeled onions in the rooms.
The theory was that the onions attracted and “trapped” the flu virus, keeping it away from the family. Supposedly, the doctor took one of the onions and examined it under a microscope and found this to be true. (Could they do that back in 1919?)
I don’t know if future studies will indeed show that onions ward off flu bugs. We do know that onions are one of nature’s most versatile health foods – giving protection against numerous diseases. They also contain anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial compounds, which could indeed help protect against colds and flu.
Still, un-peeled onions as “flu bug traps” in the house does sound a bit wild. I think probably the “old wife” was also feeding her family plenty of onions.
But in the meantime, why not try it? Onions are pretty. An assortment of red, white, and yellow in a bowl with some fall leaves would make a nice decoration.