Remark: An apple a day

What are your home remedies? Our humor columnist remembers..

Home remedies are making a comeback. Those tried-and-true tonics from the trusted hands of great-grandmother weren’t so bad, were they? Perhaps some are still worth considering. Others could be merrily thrown out the back door.

Here’s a little admission before we begin – the only real vice I’ve ever had was salt. I said it, and you may quote me, my name is Helen and I’m a salt aholic. But in my defense, salt not only flavors our food, but can be dissolved in warm water and gargled as an old-fashioned remedy for a sore throat. It wasn’t enjoyable, of course, but it didn’t hurt if accidentally swallowed either. And, as my mother always said, with a dismissive gesture and a suppressive look: “Stop whining. It’s good for you.” Caution: Do not take! This concoction can cause unexpected emptying of your bowels when taken internally.

Speaking of the gut, and at the risk of getting too earthy for my readership, generations of mothers and grandmothers have advocated eating stewed plums for constipation. They’re a natural source of fiber, and along with plenty of water, can be counted on to “do the trick,” so to speak.

Alternatively, my grandmother would boil a pot of milk for the opposite problem and depend on her to dish it out lavishly. “This will stop you, Helen,” she said with a grim smile, placing a mug of steaming milk on the table in front of my startled eyes. She crossed her arms over ample bosom and waited for me to finish my cup before patting my shoulder contentedly. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable skin always seemed to form quickly on the surface. Boiled milk – stupid.

How about a teaspoon of honey for a cough? That didn’t bother me as a kid. I’ve even been known to give a spoonful or two to my own kids. In theory, it’s supposed to soothe and lubricate your throat. Not sure if it does, mind you, but it reduces whining and is a tasty treat.

Here’s one you may not have heard of; Apple juice to ward off colds. To be honest, I think it was a belief held solely by my mother. If my brother Bill or I ever made the horrible mistake of coughing, Mom’s head would snap up and she’d bark, “You kids, get a cup and pour yourselves a tall glass of apple juice — or twenty.” We couldn’t even clear our throats, could we choke on a crumb, unafraid of their clumsy fiddling with the juice can. Damn you, SunRype! As a small consequence of that awkward era, none of us will ever look a glass of this fruity beverage in the eye again. Terrible stuff!

Of course, who can forget having rubbed their chest vigorously with Rawleigh’s medicated ointment to relieve congestion? Or was I the only one who endured its generous application? I’m sorry Mr Rawleigh, your ointment wasn’t the problem. The problem was the inverted wool socks we had put around our necks to somehow speed up recovery. Who the hell came up with this evil instrument of torture?

“Let’s see how we can keep that liniment from rubbing off on your shirt, little Jimmy? Oh, I know, let’s wrap your tender young skin in that rough, unbearably scratchy, old wool sock your father pulled off his foot last night. Hold still while I secure it over your heart with this 3 inch safety pin. Yes… that will do me good.” Crazy!

Another memory is a small portion of brandy that my beloved father gave me. In his all-seeing wisdom, he recalled this unusual indigestion remedy from his strict English upbringing. It may have had healing powers, prized by British naval officers during World War II, but it wasn’t very effective for little girls with stomach ache. Still, Dad squirted a small amount of the amber liquid into a cup and handed it to me, confident in my recovery. Are you kidding me? I’ve never been so damn sick in my entire life.

In any case, despite my scoffing, I rely on some natural remedies. It is always beneficial to avoid chemicals or harsh treatments in favor of gentler ones. Just stay away from me with apple juice, booze, and old socks. I’d rather be sick.

Helen lives on the family farm near Marshall, Saskatchewan, where she works as an author, columnist and in education. Find her online at There you can find out more about her humorous Prairie Wool Books or the newly released fantasy series Runestaff Chronicles.

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