Russian Folk Remedies & Cures
Wintertime is the season of sickness when colds and the flu run rampant through the population (the perfect time to learn Russian tucked under the covers!). With their bitterly cold, endless winters, the Russians know this better than anyone and have perfected an assortment of effective treatments to ward off sneezing, coughing, fevers, and sore throats without resorting to a doctor or pharmacy visit. If you are going to learn Russian, knowing some classic home remedies will surely impress any native speaker.
Vodka for Colds and Flu
The first thing that everyone thinks of when “home remedies” and “Russians” are mentioned in the same sentence is, of course, vodka—and there is some truth to that. If you are feeling the beginning of a cold, a shot of vodka with pepper or garlic will help kill the germs. Garlic, with its powerful antibacterial and immune system-boosting effects, is widely used for homeopathic purposes in Russia, helping with everything from colds to toothaches to open wounds.
If the thought of straight vodka and raw garlic doesn’t appeal to you, the vodka can also be taken in hot tea with honey before bed. Before you fall asleep, for extra warmth, make sure to wrap yourself in a few extra blankets, sprinkle some mustard powder in your socks, and learn this Russian saying: derzhi golovu v holode, zhivot v golode, a nogi- v teple. (Keep your head cool, your stomach empty, and your feet warm.)
If you wake up the next morning feeling crummy despite these preventative measures, it’s time to break out the big guns. Congested? Hacking cough? Get ready for the most tried and true of Russian decongestants: mustard plasters. Made of a mixture of dry mustard, flour, and water, then spread on a cloth and applied over the chest or back, these help draw out all the gunk in your system, and reinvigorate your circulation. They do tend to get uncomfortably hot after a while (think blistering), so don’t plan to leave them for more than half an hour.
Fortunately, half an hour is just enough time for you to boil a big pot of potatoes. Remove them from the heat, throw a towel over your head, and breathe the steam for a while. Potato steam is better than plain boiled water steam because it gets and stays hotter, plus you have potatoes to eat later on (if you can avoid coughing on them). After your steam and plaster treatment, be sure to continue to consume vast quantities of tea with honey and lemon. To mix it up, you can also try hot orange juice- never cold!
With any luck, the cold will have vanished—or at least been scared into submission by these most uncompromising home remedies. So next time you feel the sniffles coming on, reach for the potatoes and garlic instead of the Dayquil and heal yourself the old Russian way.
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