Folk Remedies: Do they Actually Work?

do folk remedies work

If your parents grew up during the Great Depression or were Baby Boomers, your family might have used some folk remedies that were passed down from generation to generation.

It might have been as simple as swearing by chicken noodle soup for a cold or warm tea with plenty of lemon and honey to treat a cough. Or it could have been something a bit more elaborate, like a poultice made of spearmint and castor oil – a precursor to Vicks Vap-O-Rub. There were even some home remedies that people took every day to stave off ailments, such as apple cider vinegar or blackstrap molasses.

Many of these home remedies came into renewed use during the Great Depression, a time when medical care was scarce and the money to pay for it just wasn’t there. Though many doctors were open to bartering, some families didn’t have enough for that either. Thus, the home remedies became popular out of financial necessity.

Did Home Remedies Play a Part in Life Expectancy?

Here’s an interesting fact:  according to the National Academy of Sciences, between 1929 - 1932, the average life expectancy for someone in the United States rose from 57.1 years to 63.3 years. That’s a jump of over six years during a time that was, by all accounts, extremely difficult for the vast majority of Americans. And the jump included all Americans – men and women of all races.1

And this is true even though good healthcare was rather scarce during that time. It wasn’t unusual for a town to have one doctor and maybe a nurse or two. Modern technologies of all kinds, such as advanced operating procedures or even medical alert systems for seniors, were barely on the radar.

How in the world did life expectancy rise so dramatically when people were struggling so hard?

There are a few reasons that make sense, such as:

·        There were few processed foods to be had – those were expensive, and as people began to struggle with pinching pennies, cooking from scratch was the way to go.

·        Those who cooked from scratch often did so out of their own gardens and backyard flocks. That meant that not only did they know where their food came from, they also worked to get it. That meant much more exercise.

·        People were not working outside the home as much. As the Great Depression set in and millions lost their jobs, they had a lot of time on their hands. So they applied that time toward other endeavors, from fixing up their homes to planting those aforementioned gardens. Many laborers who had been in dangerous or hazardous working conditions were now safe at home.

·        The power of community rose up to support those in need. The social safety net was alive and well, with neighbors checking on neighbors, bartering at the town square, sharing food and advice and potential work opportunities, and making friends at every turn. Even in rural areas, those who were in need banded together to get each other through.

Part of that banding together included sharing home remedies for a wide variety of maladies. Remember, getting good medical help during that time could be tough. Neighbors checking on neighbors was the earliest version of a fall alert – the absence of a person you expected to see in the town square was the alert to go check on them. And if a medical emergency had occurred, the community sprang into action to help.

Some of those home remedies are nothing we would touch now! But others still work like a charm. That’s why they have been passed down through generations. There might be some folk remedies that your grandparents used that you now pass down to your own grandchildren. They might think it’s strange and old-fashioned, but if it works, it works!

Chicken Noodle Soup

It’s amazing how much better you can feel after a hearty bowl of this soup. It works wonders for everything from the flu to the common cold and might even help settle an upset stomach. Though it’s an old home remedy, there is some science behind why it makes you feel better.

As reported in the New York Times, chicken noodle soup seems to inhibit the movement of infection-fighting cells in the body. If you’re dealing with a cold, this can be a good thing, as the soup can help reduce the upper respiratory symptoms that make you so miserable. It can also improve the function of mucus and cilia, the tiny hair-like projections in the nose that prevent you from breathing in certain viruses.2 No matter how you pour it, chicken noodle soup is good for you.

Medicinal Herbs

Many herbs in the backyard garden are perfect for treating a variety of mild ailments. Here are just a few and what they can do when sprinkled into soups and foods, or used to make teas:

·        Sage is known to aid in digestion and might be an appetite stimulant.

·        Chamomile steeped in hot water makes a very relaxing tea to help with sleep.

·        Ginger helps to calm nausea.

·        Mint is good for an aching stomach, digestion, and easing hiccups.

·        Thyme can be used to help with digestion, ease nausea, and even alleviate hangovers.

·        Licorice makes a tea that serves as a laxative.

·        Castor oil can ease an upset stomach or work as a laxative.

Some medicinal herbs are useful outside the body rather than being digested. Lavender, for instance, works well in a balm for sore muscles, just as eucalyptus does.

Mustard plaster, a blend of dry mustard powder, flour, water, and some sort of oil to form a paste, creates a heating sensation that can help with arthritis. You use it by spreading the mixture over a piece of cloth and then placing the cloth over the affected area for a time. This page from Herbal Wisdom teaches you how to create the same mustard plaster your grandma used to make.3

The Sting Paste

Sometimes this is just “the paste.” A blend of baking soda and water, just the right amount to form a thick paste, is a heavenly relief for insect stings. If the sting is very bad, you can use baking soda, salt, and water – or even use alcohol in place of the water. It will make the sting feel worse at first, but then it will quickly subside.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This might be all the rage today and could seem like a new thing, but apple cider vinegar has been around for centuries. As with the best home remedies, science has proven that some of the benefits you think you see are actually real. For instance, Healthline points out that apple cider vinegar can:

·        Reduce cholesterol

·        Lower blood sugar levels

·        Help with weight loss

·        Alleviate the symptoms of diabetes

·        Repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria

·        Alleviate the itchiness of eczema4

While some recommend a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar stirred into hot water every day, you can get plenty of it by using it in recipes in place of regular white vinegar.

Oatmeal and Calamine

Calamine lotion has been around since 1500 BC and is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medications to have on hand. It’s made from calamine mineral, or zinc ore. Those who were able to obtain the ingredients often made large batches to share with the community (or used it as a way to earn some extra cash). Today calamine is readily available in any department store at a very affordable price, but it’s still considered a home remedy, as it doesn’t offer any pharmaceutical properties.

Oatmeal is much the same way. Pouring oatmeal into a warm bath can ease the itchiness of a wide variety of problems, including eczema and mosquito bites. If you ever had chicken pox as a kid, you probably soaked in an oatmeal bath. You can also make a poultice of oatmeal and water to place on an affected area for the most benefit.

Petroleum Jelly

This cure-all is still around today and for good reason: it works well to prevent and heal diaper rash, serves as a barrier for skin that is too thin and prone to injury (such as that found in the elderly), and it keeps your skin smooth and supple. It’s a common lip balm for those who need extra protection against the sun, wind, and snow.

When Home Remedies Aren’t Enough

Though these home remedies can alleviate many maladies, they aren’t a cure. For instance, chamomile won’t actually treat insomnia and chicken noodle soup won’t actually cure the flu. But they can make you feel much better by alleviating some of the symptoms.

However, there are times when you should go straight to the doctor. For instance, no amount of home remedy will help alleviate serious burns or help you avoid a heart attack. For those moments when what’s in your medicine cabinet won’t be enough, using an emergency alert system from Alert1 is an excellent idea. If you are facing a medical problem that goes beyond folk remedies, simply press the button alarm to get the help you need right away. The sooner you get the help you need, the better your medical outcome tends to be.