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Axel Bueckert / EyeEm

Try them at your own risk.

Kaylee Hammonds
February 21, 2018

Take a hot bath and put on cold, wet socks. Eat a clove of raw garlic. Wrap yourself in honey-painted cabbage. These are not suggestions for some sort of elaborate and goofy hazing ritual, but cold remedies that (at least some) people swear are effective.

As cold and flu season rages on in the U.S., talk can turn to some of the crazier remedies that parents, friends, or even strangers have recommended.

Perhaps your mom always made you drink beef broth, or your uncle insisted that you gargle with salt water. And if you did try it, it may be something you keep doing—even if it seems nonsensical—because it might work, and it probably doesn't hurt.

These kinds of folk remedies and impossible-to-disprove ideas live in a particularly indestructible corner of our psyches. (I for one am going to feel totally vindicated when they finally prove that dolls really are alive and they dance around when you’re not home. No, really.)

So, in the spirit of calming our illness-ravaged psyches, we set out to gather some of the more unusual cold remedies that Cooking Light readers and staff can remember, have experienced, or even still practice. Some reader responses have been edited for clarity or concision.

“An old Jamaican go-to is an elixir of ginger, honey, and lemon with a shot of Wray & Nephew White Rum. That rum is 90 proof, so it’s very strong! If you go into a Jamaican household, they’ll have a bottle. It definitely warms the chest, and loosens any congestion you might have.” —Briana

This sounds basically, like a delightful cocktail.

“Raw garlic cloves mashed into brandy and eaten with a spoon. My mother used to give this to me, and it worked every time. You just have to get over the spice of the garlic. Brandy tends to help that.” —Cordelia

Gross, but potentially the beginning of a good sauce for steak?

“My dad’s cold remedy is 1,000 milligrams of chewable vitamin C every hour, on the hour. He swears it has to be chewable so that it ‘absorbs better.’ I think he’s just wasting his money. Also, the side effects of vitamin C overdose seem to be worse than the cold itself.” —Chris


Do not do this. You can take too many vitamins.

“A Dominican woman gave my mom a mason jar filled with (what we guess is) honey, enough garlic to kill a vampire, fresh ginger, cinnamon, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and water. It’s absolutely disgusting, but a few spoonfuls a day works every time. We don’t know where the recipe came from, but it’s a prized elixir in our house now.” —Jamie

Daniel Grill

Cider vinegar really can do everything. Cider vinegar + honey = world domination.

“My grandmother always swore by a good, strong hot toddy. Make it with tea and lots of honey, and don’t skimp on the cloves. I discovered in college that if you have enough of them, it doesn’t really matter anymore that you’re sick.” —Sean

Photo: Rachel Johnson

Oh, college.

“Hot schnapps with sugar is an old Austrian family tradition passed on to me by my grandmother. It is really disgusting. The main thing is that it makes you sweat like crazy overnight. You really do feel a lot better the next day. But it’s not for everyone, since it’s got alcohol.” —Tanja

We’re sensing a theme re: alcohol’s relationship to cold cures.

“I would say, two shots of moonshine. It really clears out the sinuses, and you sleep well after that! My grandad just swore by it. I mean, sleep is important if you’re sick, right? Right?” —Laura

Dalina Rahman / EyeEm

...definitely. Sleep is key.

“My dad always told me to listen to jazz. I’m not sure that it works but it’s nice to listen to jazz, because I forget to make an effort to do so on a regular basis. I guess maybe it just takes my mind off of how terrible I feel.” —Mitch

Apparently this is A Thing in Canada.  

“I’ve never done this, but apparently, according to my grandma, who heard it from her grandma, they used to wrap dirty socks around your throat to get rid of a cold. I’m not entirely sure why, but I looked it up once, and someone online suggested maybe it was a way to keep loved ones away from you so that you didn’t get them sick?” —James

We read the same thing, though this one had traction for an alarming amount of the 20th century. But props for trying to prevent it from spreading.

“I was in the Republic of Georgia taking a language course and someone asked the teacher about the differences between the U.S. and Georgia and she went off on this whole rant. ‘You Americans with your purple and pink liquids that you take for this and that. When we get sick in Georgia, there is easy way to get better. Take some old cabbage leaves—soft ones, from off of outside. Put honey on one side, then put on torso. Wrap up in old cloth or scarf, and sit by fire until you sweat. Cold will be gone in no time.’” —Chris

Oh! The old “honey-cabbage-fire” cure. Of course.