With Mother’s Day approaching, it’s time to celebrate all things maternal – including Mother Nature and those handy old wives’ remedies our grandmothers swore by, says Keeley Bolger.
When presenter Lauren Laverne’s son had a nasty cough recently, she turned to her Twitter followers to seek some good old-fashioned advice from fellow mums on how to treat it.
Laverne isn’t alone in looking to the wisdom of other mothers to help treat everyday illnesses. Most families have at least a couple of old wives’ tale remedies, passed down through the generations, that they use or swear by.
When GP Dr Rob Hicks wrote Old Fashioned Remedies: From Arsenic To Gin, his own family were a rich source of inspiration on natural ways to soothe common ailments.
“My interest in all of these remedies came partly from seeing the female members of my family using everyday products to treat common ailments,” says Hicks. “For instance, I’d see my aunty with bicarbonate of soda in her water and ask why she had done that.”
While old wives’ tale remedies may not always be suitable (or practical!), Hicks reckons it’s always worth trying some of these cheap and natural cures that our mothers and grandmothers have used.
“These treatments are readily available and generally harmless so they’re worth a try if it’s convenient for you,” he says. “Understandably there are going to be times when it’s not convenient to mash up a banana and apply it to your skin!
“Plus, there is often little, if any, research behind these old remedies but they’re generally harmless and worth trying if you want something natural.”
Here’s a round-up of Hicks’s favourite old-fashioned fixes.
If stomach cramps and travel sickness are blighting your belly, reach for your spice rack and dip into one of the hardest-working roots in the kitchen. “Ginger is rare as an old wives’ remedy in that there is actually research around its anti-inflammatory benefits,” says Hicks. “It has been used to treat morning sickness, travel sickness as well as nausea, as it’s thought that the ginger oils relax the stomach muscles, which in turn help ease the symptoms.
“My grandmother used to use crystallised ginger, which is something I never liked as a child but has now become one of my favourites.”
Ginger’s anti-inflammatory qualities can also be helpful for other ailments. “If you have a cold, I’d suggest adding gratings of fresh ginger into hot honey and lemon (mixed with hot water to drink), so that you then have the vitamin C in the lemon and the antiseptic properties in the honey, as well as the anti-inflammatory qualities in the ginger,” suggests Hicks.
Eau d’cold cabbage leaf might not be your scent of choice but the whiffy greens can lift breast tenderness and period pain.
“Cabbage leaves can be very helpful in relieving breast tenderness after you’ve had a child,” says Hicks. “They can also be effective in easing period pain. You can put the cooled leaves in your bra or apply them directly on your stomach. If that’s too cold, I’d recommend warming them slightly in the microwave.”
Get more out of your banana by using it to help lighten a headache. “If you have a headache, mash up a bit of ripe banana peel and apply it to the area affected – as long as it isn’t in your hair!” says Hicks. “Alternatively, place chilled banana peel on the painful area.”
Banana skin can help soothe a vexing verruca too. “There has been no scientific research as far as I’m aware into this treatment and it could just have been coincidence, but I have seen a few cases where a patient has applied banana peel to a verruca and the verruca has then gone,” says Hicks. “What I’d suggest is to cut a piece of banana peel big enough to cover the verruca and then tape it (with surgical tape from the pharmacist) to the area overnight. You could do this during the day, but it’s less likely to come off your foot when you’re in bed and don’t have stockings or socks and shoes on.
“Another person told me she rubbed the peel onto the verruca for about 15 minutes every day, so again that’s worth trying.”
BICARBONATE OF SODA
If you’re struck by a spell of cystitis, raid your kitchen cupboard for a tub of trusty bicarbonate of soda – it could make going to the loo less painful. “To help with cystitis, just add half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to a pint of water and drink it,” says Hicks. “It’s thought that the bicarbonate of soda reduces the acidity in the urine, which will then ease the symptoms of cystitis.”
Get to the core of your diarrhoea drama by munching on a good old apple. “Apples are great for relieving diarrhoea,” says Hicks. “All you do is cut up or grate an apple and leave it for about 20 minutes so that it goes brown, then eat it. It’s thought that the pectin in the apple helps to solidify the faeces.”
If hot milk isn’t your cup of tea, try sipping on a calming mug of camomile before bedtime to send you off to sleep. The plant is also great for relieving irksome ulcers.
“I love camomile,” says Hicks. “It’s a great thing to drink before bedtime as it’s incredibly soothing but it also works as a mouthwash if you have ulcers. To try this, just put the camomile tea in the fridge for about 20 minutes and then swill it around your mouth.”
Forget bubbles – load your bath up with oats if you want to soothe itchy skin.
“Oatmeal is great to use if you have itchy skin because it is a wonderful emollient, which can relieve the symptoms of dry skin such as flaking and cracking,” says Hicks. “You can add some oatmeal to a piece of muslin cloth made into a bag, then add it to a bath or you can dab that straight onto your body. Many products designed for dry skin use oatmeal as an ingredient.”
:: Old Fashioned Remedies: From Arsenic To Gin by Doctor Rob Hicks is published by Remember When, priced £14.99. Available now
Do you have any old wives remedies to share?