Try These Old Folk Cold Remedies

Throughout the last century, a multitude of family legacies brushed aside age-old cures, deeming them antiquated and dispensable “old wives’ tales.” However, many of these time-honored practices, handed down from one generation to the next, held intrinsic value. They embodied simplicity, affordability, a sense of comfort, and, most significantly, a track record of effectiveness.

In our eagerness to discard the herbal wisdom of our great-great-grandparents, a growing number of individuals are now immersed in rediscovering the nuances of home herbal care. The quest involves unearthing old folk cold remedies and recipes from the vast realm of online resources. It’s as if we’re absorbing more information in a mere couple of years than our ancestors did in an entire lifetime.

The advent of the internet has ushered in an overwhelming surge of data, leaving many of us grappling with where to embark on our journey into the realm of natural remedies. To navigate this digital sea of information, let’s commence with the resources already at our disposal—the contents of our cupboards!

This article aims to introduce five folk cold remedies that won’t necessitate an additional excursion to the grocery store. These remedies, namely the onion poultice, saltwater gargle, respiratory steam, raw garlic, and hot toddy, derive their value from their inherent simplicity. Through the passage of generations, they have stood the test of time, proving their efficacy and reliability.

Five Old-Folk Cold Remedies that work:

1. Rediscovering the Efficacy of Onion Poultices

In the realm of folk cold remedies, onion poultices, once relegated to the shadows of antiquity by the advent of modern antibiotics, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. The rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and growing concerns about the impact of antibiotics on the gut microbiome have reignited interest in the therapeutic use of onions.

While scientific studies on onion poultices may be scarce, anecdotal evidence abounds, especially in tales of young children recovering from pneumonia after the application of an onion poultice to their feet, chest, or back. This practice, far from being confined to the realm of “old wives,” has historical roots that extend beyond folklore.

In Norway, herbalists recount a compelling story from around 1904 about a 7-year-old girl battling severe pneumonia in both lungs. Faced with the limitations of professional treatments, a doctor clandestinely advised the girl’s grandmother to concoct a remedy involving chopped onions baked with honey. The poultice, applied to the girl’s chest and back, resulted in a remarkable recovery, marked by the expulsion of large amounts of green mucus.

Within my own family, my grandfather passed down the tradition that at the first sign of a cough from any child, onions were brought forth. To preemptively ward off respiratory issues, my great-grandmother would prepare hot, stewed-onion-mash tea for everyone. The sheer number of siblings and cousins made it imperative to nip any potential cough in the bud to prevent it from spreading throughout the family.

The methods for creating onion poultices are as diverse as the individuals who craft them. One can place a freshly sliced onion in a handkerchief and apply it to the chest, sauté an onion in lard, encase it in a muslin bag, and apply the poultice to the bottoms of the feet. Alternatively, as mentioned earlier, one can chop an onion, bake it with honey, and utilize it as a potent remedy.

For a method that minimizes mess, consider lightly steaming a large onion in water. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Chop or slice the onion.
  2. Steam lightly in water until translucent, approximately 7 minutes, adding more water if necessary.
  3. Pour onto a kitchen towel, folding it to ensure no onions escape.
  4. Allow it to cool to a skin-safe temperature.
  5. Apply the poultice to the chest, back, or feet for 20 to 30 minutes.
  6. Reapply several times a day as needed until mucus is expelled. Gentle reheating allows for the poultice’s continued use throughout the day.

In the midst of this revival, onion poultices emerge as a time-honored remedy, offering a natural and historical approach to respiratory wellness.

2. Revitalizing Heritage with the Saltwater Gargle Tradition

revitalizing heritage with the saltwater gargle tradition

My grandfather, a man deeply rooted in timeless practices, commenced each morning with a ritual that resonates through generations: gargling with warm saltwater. This age-old custom, handed down from his own father, became a pivotal part of my journey into the world of herbalism, with Grandpa Mike orchestrating my inaugural herb walk at the tender age of 10.

In my personal rendition of this family heirloom, I’ve added a contemporary twist by occasionally infusing a squirt of thyme tincture into my saltwater gargle. Be it seasoned with herbs or in its pure form, gargling has metamorphosed into a cherished tradition—one that can be embraced daily, as the seasons shift, or whenever the telltale scratch in the throat calls for attention.

While scientific investigations into saltwater gargling abound, consider this: the wisdom passed through generations has found resonance in modern studies. Researchers, delving into the dynamics of this practice, propose intriguing theories. It’s postulated that saltwater may act as a cleansing agent, drawing viral particles out of cells and preventing their replication. Another hypothesis suggests that the chloride ions in saltwater equip immune cells to produce hypochlorous acid, a potent weapon against infections.

Yet, beyond the realm of scientific conjecture, the tangible benefits of this ritual are apparent in my three decades of faithful gargling. To incorporate this time-honored remedy into your routine, consider the following uncomplicated recipe:

  • 8 ounces of water, warmed to a comfortable temperature without risking discomfort to the mouth or throat
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt


  1. Dissolve the salt in warm water.
  2. Stir the solution.
  3. Gargle with half of the warm saltwater for 5 to 10 seconds, then spit it out.
  4. Repeat until the mug is empty.

While the exact mechanisms of saltwater gargling remain a fascinating subject of exploration, the amalgamation of tradition and individual experience underscores its enduring significance in preserving respiratory well-being. Joining this age-old practice is a testament to the interplay of heritage and contemporary wisdom in nurturing a holistic approach to health.

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3. Elevating the Art of Steam Inhalation

Embarking on a revitalizing steam session is as simple as having a pot of hot water and a towel. While the water alone is sufficient to create invigorating vapor, my herb enthusiast tendencies impel me to enhance the experience with aromatic plants, adding a touch of botanical delight to the therapeutic ritual.

Turns out, I’m not alone in my herbal inclinations. A noteworthy single-blind study, comparing steam inhalation with and without herbs, revealed that both methods alleviated sneezing and congestion due to allergies. However, those who indulged in herbal steam reported greater satisfaction with the results. Among my personal favorites for steaming are aromatic herbs from the mint family, including sage, peppermint, and thyme.

In my wellness repertoire, sage steams take the spotlight for effectively clearing congestion from sinuses, ears, and chest. Remarkably, they’ve also proven beneficial for alleviating my son’s seasonal allergy symptoms, though it’s essential to note that this method isn’t recommended for children under 12 due to the risk of scalding.

The roots of steam inhalation as a therapeutic practice trace back to 19th-century Europe, where it gained popularity as a folk remedy for common colds, bronchiolitis, and croup. Building on decades of personal experience, I’ve found that promptly initiating a steam session at the onset of congestion or a scratchy throat allows me to bolster my innate immunity by facilitating the movement of mucus.

For an indulgent steam session, gather the following:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 8 tablespoons of fresh herbs (or 4 tablespoons of dried herbs), such as mint, sage, rosemary, or thyme (optional)

Here’s a step-by-step guide to elevate your steam inhalation experience:

  1. Combine water and herbs (if using) in a medium-sized pot. Cover and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove the pot from heat and let it cool until it’s comfortably warm for your face.
  3. Place the pot on a pot holder or coaster on a table. Pull up a chair for a comfortable leaning position.
  4. Drape a towel over your head, leaning over the steaming pot. Ensure a safe distance to avoid burns.
  5. Inhale deeply, relishing the sensation of steam traversing through your sinuses and lungs.

Indulging in this botanical-infused steam ritual not only offers respiratory relief but also transforms a simple wellness practice into a sensorial journey of herbal wellness.

4. Harnessing the Power of Raw Garlic and Honey

Raw garlic, with its extensive documented history in folk cold remedies, stands out as one of the oldest medicinal treasures. The ancient medical texts from China, Egypt, Greece, India, and Rome all extol the virtues of garlic, attributing its uses to promoting good health and stamina. In our modern era, scientific studies have unraveled the mechanisms that validate this age-old wisdom.

Garlic, rich in trace minerals and endowed with sulfur-containing compounds, has proven antimicrobial properties. Its historical role in fending off colds finds validation in contemporary research. Studies demonstrate that garlic can elevate the production of white blood cells, fortifying the body’s innate defense mechanisms against pathogens.

Personally, I hail raw garlic as my foremost ally in the realm of cold and flu defense—outshining even the esteemed elderberry. The key lies in incorporating garlic to fortify your body’s natural defenses either preemptively or at the first whisper of illness, be it a dip in energy or a scratchy throat.

Yet, acknowledging that raw garlic may not be palatable for everyone due to potential digestive discomfort, I’ve devised a workaround. One of my favorite solutions is the creation of garlic honey, accompanied by a touch of butter. This not only mitigates digestive concerns but also adds a delightful twist to the therapeutic concoction.

Another timeless approach involves placing a garlic press on the dinner table, allowing for the easy addition of freshly pressed garlic to savory meals. For those averse to the taste, a unique remedy involves cutting a garlic clove in half and rubbing it on the soles of your feet—a practice steeped in decades of personal experience, with anecdotal evidence suggesting it imparts a strengthening and toning effect on immunity.

For a seamless incorporation of raw garlic and honey into your wellness routine, consider the following straightforward recipe:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon honey


  1. Mince the garlic or use a garlic press.
  2. Mix it with honey.
  3. Enjoy it plain or spread it on buttered toast.

This amalgamation of ancient wisdom and contemporary understanding transforms raw garlic and honey into a potent elixir, showcasing the enduring efficacy of natural remedies in supporting overall well-being.

5. Embracing the Comfort of the Hot Toddy Tradition

embracing the comfort of the hot toddy tradition

A hot toddy, a timeless concoction traditionally crafted with honey, lemon, and whiskey, stands as a steadfast homemade remedy for combating the common cold. In generations past, whiskey’s medicinal prowess was so universally acknowledged that mothers would whip up hot toddies for their children at the first inkling of a cold.

On a broader historical scale, alcohol, a key component of this elixir, has served as one of the oldest known medicines, dating back to antiquity for its pain-reducing properties.

For anyone who has endured a restless night, struggling to breathe through the congestion of a cold, the hot toddy emerges as a soothing solution. Consumed shortly before bedtime, it effectively clears nasal passageways and induces a sense of relaxation, facilitating a restful night’s sleep essential for the body’s recovery.

While the potential toxicity of alcohol in large quantities is acknowledged, the medicinal impact of a modest ounce of alcohol in hot water is noteworthy. For those opting to forgo alcohol, perhaps due to personal preferences or health considerations, a seamless substitution involves using your preferred warm tea in lieu of hot water and whiskey. Opting for a caffeine-free tea ensures a tranquil rest conducive to healing.

Honey, a key component of the hot toddy, has been recognized for its ability to alleviate symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. The synergy between multiple ingredients in a hot toddy could potentially enhance its overall effectiveness.

To bring the comfort of a hot toddy into your wellness routine, consider the following straightforward recipe:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1⁄2 ounces whiskey
  • 2 teaspoons honey (adjust to taste)
  • 1⁄4 of a lemon or 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Tea of choice (optional)

Here’s a step-by-step guide to embracing the soothing ritual:

  1. Boil the water and pour it into a mug. If using tea, prepare and steep as usual, allowing the water to cool to a drinking temperature.
  2. Add whiskey, honey, and lemon to the mug.
  3. Stir until the honey dissolves.
  4. Savor the elixir and retire promptly to bed.

In the seamless integration of honey, lemon, and whiskey, the hot toddy represents not just a time-tested remedy, but a comforting tradition that transcends generations, offering solace and relief during times of illness.



As we reach the conclusion of this journey through stories and recipes, my earnest hope is that they serve as a source of inspiration, encouraging you to embark on your own exploration of old folk cold remedies.

Consider this an invitation to delve into the wisdom of the past, to embrace practices that have traversed generations. In the echoes of my teachings to students, I often emphasize the profound truth: in returning to the Earth’s medicines and the time-honored practices bequeathed by our great-grandparents, we not only connect with our roots but also reclaim a sense of empowerment.

By rekindling these age-old traditions, we seize the reins of our well-being, assuming an active role in nurturing good health and cultivating a healing lifestyle. Remarkably, the catalyst for this transformative journey could be as close as your kitchen, with ingredients waiting patiently on your shelves.

Useful resources to check out:

A few wild beverages you should try

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

Natural remedies for common viral infections

10 Things Cowboys Carried With Them In The Wild West To Survive

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