World's Strangest Cold Remedies
Snail Syrup, Germany
Fight mucus with mucus? Snail extract—actually the goods from the trail that the mollusks leave behind—has long been used to soothe sore throats, and lately to boost the beautifying properties of skin cream. In Germany, you can still buy authentic “snail syrup” as an over-the-counter expectorant, like Cheplapharm’s Schnecken Extract, which luckily comes in not-so-snailish pineapple flavor.
Coining, China and Vietnam
Cupping—the centuries-old Chinese practice of vacuum-sealing hot cups to meridian points on your skin—is said to increase blood flow and qi (chi) energy, sucking whatever ails you out through the skin. “Coining,” or cao gio, works in the same spirit: first, you take some Tiger Balm (or a menthol or eucalyptus oil) and smooth it on your back, then take a coin or a similarly rough-edged object and make scratches on the skin, around your spine or ribs, until the marks are red. It’s supposed to relieve aches—even if it creates a few new ones along the way.
Mashed Turnips, Iran
Loaded with vitamin C and calcium, this otherwise maligned root vegetable has been heralded in folk medicine as a blood purifier. In Iran, a plate of steamed or mashed turnips ( shalgam) stands in for chicken soup and is also supposed to be good for thinning stuffy mucus.
Turmeric Milk, India
A cup of warm milk is one thing, but haldi ka doodh packs more punch: locals with sniffles have long laced milk with a hefty dose of antioxidant-rich turmeric, as well as some ginger, honey, and black peppercorns. Turmeric’s healing powers, big in ayurveda, have also been claimed to ease indigestion and toothaches.
This generations-old folk-medicine practice—which pops up in Europe, Israel, and even American pioneer times—promises to work better than it sounds. A chopped or sliced onion is placed in a bowl, then covered with sugar or honey, which draws out the onion’s natural juices (rich in B vitamins as well as immune-boosting vitamin C) and purportedly makes it more palatable for chugging.
This super-salty pickled plum—which to Western eyes may resemble a pinkish apricot—is high in citric acid and praised for its antibacterial qualities. You might soak it in green tea or in a bowl of okayu, a congee-like rice gruel that’s comforting when under the weather. In Japanese candy shops, you can find a crunchy candy version called karikari ume. While umeboshi is known for a kind of apple-a-day preventive mojo, it also has morning-after appeal, touted as an effective hangover cure.
Lizard Soup, China
Can a few cold-blooded creatures bring down your temperature? In this soup, dried lizards simmer and fall apart in broth, along with yams and dates. Other folks cook them in rice wine, for an elixir that may boost the love life while combating that cold. In street markets and even at pharmacy counters, dried lizards are typically sold two at a time, so that you can get both the male and female energy in your elixir.
Salty Licorice, Netherlands
Rough on the uninitiated, the North Seas region’s native Ricola is a super-salty, anise-forward take on the sore-throat calmer. Not so much candy as constitutional. Dutch citizens take their “drop” pretty seriously: it’s been reported that the average citizen consumes about four pounds of it a year.
Gogol Mogol, Eastern Europe
To some, it’s a Christmas party staple, to others, a first line of defense against a sore throat. This Slavic eggnog is made with whipped egg yolks, milk, vanilla, nutmeg, and honey—and for grown-ups, a jigger of rum, cognac, or slivovitz plum brandy. Combined with the warm milk, this no doubt helps you sleep, too. The New York Times has even dubbed it the “Jewish echinacea.”