23 Old-Time Home Remedies We’ve Forgotten—but Need to Bring Back ASAP
Your grandmother grew up with these common cures but they’ve long since fallen out of fashion. We asked medical experts which ones we’d be wise to rediscover.
Salt water for a sore throatShutterstock (2)
Salt doesn’t just make food taste good—it’s extremely useful around the house for a variety of purposes, one of which is an old-fashioned remedy to soothe a sore throat. “Gargling with salt water when you have a sore throat may help relieve some of the pain and irritation,” says Dan McGee, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “But don’t overdo it—one teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of water should do it.” And be sure not to swallow it—yuck! Studies have shown gargling to be effective, but if the symptoms persist, see your doctor to make sure you don’t have an infection.
Ginger for nauseaShutterstock (2)
Ginger has been used for hundreds of years for its medicinal properties, including helping to calm tummy troubles. “Research has found ginger to be an effective digestive aid most notably by helping to alleviate nausea due to morning sickness during pregnancy, motion sickness or chemotherapy,” says registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat for Dummies. “Although we do not yet understand the exact method that allows ginger to be effective at reducing nausea, it is thought it may work by ginger obstructing the serotonin receptors in the gut that cause nausea.” It also may prompt the body release enzymes that help break down food, she says.
Cool tea for eye bagsShutterstock (2)
Tea has tons of benefits for both inside and outside your body, such as helping calm puffy eyes—which you grandmother probably knew. “The caffeine in the tea bags helps with vasoconstriction, or shrinking of the blood vessels, around the eyes, leading to less puffiness or swelling skin,” says dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD, creator of Visha Skin Care. “The cool temperature also helps decrease inflammation and swelling under the eyes.” Simply wring out wet tea bags, place in the fridge for a bit and then put over eyes. Some studies have even shown the caffeine in tea applied topically can also act as sunscreen and help prevent skin cancer.
Prunes for constipationShutterstock (2)
When you just can’t go, try a home remedy for constipation like prunes. They sound gross—probably why the California Prune Board got them renamed as “dried plums”—but if they were good enough for Grandma, they’re good enough for us.”A high fiber diet, along with adequate fluid, can be effective at helping to alleviate constipation,” Palinski-Wade says. “Prunes are an all-natural source of fiber, with three grams of fiber per serving and only 100 calories, making them an easy way to boost the fiber content of your meal plan.”
Oatmeal bath for skin ailmentsShutterstock (2)
If you suffer from skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, or even just have run-of-the-mill dry skin, home remedies may help. Although it sounds weird to bathe in something you might eat, old-fashioned oatmeal baths can be very soothing—they’re even recommended by the National Eczema Association. “Oatmeal baths are great for dry, itchy skin,” Dr. Patel says. “Oatmeal, when soaked in warm water, creates a slimy film that coats the skin to protect it and trap in moisture.” Grind up rolled oats (not the instant variety) and pour into a warm, but not hot, bath. Pat dry instead of rubbing when you get out.
Cranberry juice for UTIsShutterstock (2)
At the first signs of a urinary tract infection, your mother probably drank cranberry juice. But can a fruit really stave off a bacterial infection? Although some experts theorize that it’s really just the flushing out of the urinary tract by drinking a lot of fluid, or that the acidic environment isn’t hospitable to bacteria, there may be more to it. “Cranberry has been shown to reduce how well the bacteria stick to the lining cells of the bladder,” says Diana Bitner, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Spectrum Health, although studies in women with recurrent infections have been inconsistent. Even so, “cranberry is unlikely to cause harm, might reduce bladder infections, and could be used in conjunction with other strategies your health care provider recommends,” Dr. Bitner says.
Honey for coughsShutterstock (2)
There’s nothing worse than a pestering cough that keeps you up at night, but luckily there are some old-fashioned natural remedies for coughs that can help. “Honey may help with a cough caused by irritation,” Dr. McGee says, by lubricating the throat. Studies have actually shown honey to be more effective than cough medicine. “Just be sure not to use it in small children [under age one] as it may cause botulism,” Dr. McGee says.
Lavender for trouble sleepingShutterstock (2)
You can harness the power of this fragrant herb by using lavender essential oil to help you get more shut-eye. Its old-time medicinal powers help the body to relax, allowing you to fall asleep easier. “Research shows that smelling lavender decreases heart rate and blood pressure, key elements of relaxation,” says sleep expert Richard Shane, PhD, creator of the Sleep Easily method. “The two main chemicals in lavender have been shown to have sedative and pain-relieving effects.” One study showed that people who smelled lavender before bed had brain waves indicating deeper sleep. But only use lavender externally, or by inhalation.
Aloe for burnsShutterstock (2)
You may think of aloe for sunburn relief, but the ancient treatment can also be used for other types of burns as well. One study demonstrated the effectiveness of aloe over other treatments for second-degree burns. “Aloe is a very soothing remedy for burns,” Dr. Patel says. “It is a gel derived from the aloe vera plant that contains-anti inflammatory agents that can help with burns.” Make sure you use pure aloe and not a fragranced version, and test it out first to make sure you’re not allergic. For serious burns, though, you should still see a doctor.
Chicken soup for coldsShutterstock (2)
Even in these days of take-out food, there’s nothing like a bowl of Grandma’s chicken soup when you’re sick—and it turns out, the chicken soup remedy is backed by science. “Chicken soup works for me,” Dr. McGee says. “On top of it making me want to watch cartoons and take a nap, there is actually a small amount of prostaglandins in chicken soup that can help fight infections.” The landmark study on chicken soup showed that the nourishing food might have an anti-inflammatory effect, which later research backed up.
Witch hazel for hemorrhoidsShutterstock (2)
Although it sounds like something an old witch in the woods might use, this compound is actually an anti-inflammatory made from the witch hazel plant, common in natural beauty products. Your grandparents also probably knew it can also help cool the burn of hemorrhoids, because the tannins in witch hazel help calm blood vessels and reduce swelling. Although there haven’t been many studies on this herbal remedy, generations (and anyone who’s ever tried it) can attest to its soothing powers.
Lemon for motion sicknessShutterstock (2)
Looking for ways to survive a road trip with the family? Be sure to pack lemons, a time-honored way to reduce car sickness. “Motion sickness causes you to produce excess saliva, which can upset your stomach and trigger a nauseated feeling,” Palinski-Wade says. “Sucking on a lemon, which causes your mouth to pucker from the sore taste, can reduce the production of saliva, which in turn can help to prevent the nausea associated with it.” Lemon water made ahead of time may work, too, and research has shown even sniffing the refreshing scent of lemon can help.
Duct tape for wartsShutterstock (2)
Originally invented during World War II, duct tape was also found to have a host of genius first aid uses along with home projects. The weirdest one? To cure warts! This low-tech method is actually endorsed by the American Academy of Dermatology, and has research to back it up. Although doctors aren’t exactly sure why it works, one study found that placing duct tape over warts was 25 percent more effective than freezing them—and much cheaper to boot.
Petroleum jelly for woundsShutterstock (2)
Petroleum jelly has many uses you never thought to try—although your grandmother probably did. But for skin, using it too frequently might not be a good idea. “It is comedogenic, or acne causing, and can lead to breakouts when used on the face and body,” Dr. Patel says. “It also makes sunburns worse by trapping in heat.” But, she does recommend one particular use for the old-time product. “I do not recommend petroleum jelly for all skin issues, but it can be helpful to occlude [or close up] a wound and can prevent infection,” she says. Studies have shown it’s even effective in post-surgery healing.
Apple for cleaning teethShutterstock (2)
If you’re at work and can’t get to a toothbrush but want to save your teeth from coffee stains, try munching an apple. Turns out, the old adage might be true—and apples keep away not only the doctor, but the dentist, too. “When you eat this fleshy fruit it scrubs the teeth—think of apples as a natural toothbrush,” says dentist Nancy Rosen, DMD. “The skin of the apple, which is extremely high in fiber, can scrub against your teeth, helping to remove plaque and stain.” Although apples do contains acids and sugar, which can damage teeth, the benefits to your chompers may outweigh the negatives. Swish your mouth with water afterwards to rinse them off.
Neti pot for congestionShutterstock (2)
If you have one of these signs a cold is coming, try to nip it in the bud with the ancient Indian tradition of a neti pot for nasal irrigation. As you pour water into your nostrils, the pot works to clean out your nasal passageways. In a recent study from the UK, participants who used a neti pot had a greater reduction in symptoms of chronic sinusitis than those who didn’t. But be careful to clean and use your neti pot correctly. “If you don’t use sterile water, which means boiling it and letting it cool, one can develop a sinus infection or worse from neti pots,” Dr. McGee warns.
Cod liver oil for inflammationShutterstock (2)
Old-time remedies like cod liver oil can naturally help the pain of arthritis. Plus, this fish oil has other health benefits. “This oil, extracted from cod fish, provides a rich source of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which are the primary omega-3s you need to support heart health, brain health, eye health and maternal health,” Palinski-Wade says. “One study found that cod liver oil reduced inflammatory markers in insulin-resistant individuals.” If you’re squeamish about the oil itself, try fish oil supplements.
Licorice root for bad breathShutterstock (2)
Licorice has been valued for its healing properties since ancient times, which is why your grandfather may have chewed on it to freshen his breath. “It may be an effective agent to fight the bacteria that can cause tooth decay and periodontal disease,” Dr. Rosen says. “It’s also used as a breath freshening ingredient in some natural toothpastes.” But we’re not talking about licorice candy—we mean the actual licorice plant. Studies have shown it may also be effective at preventing stomach upset and relieving stress.
Ice for headachesShutterstock (2)
You can try these everyday habits that reduce your risk of headaches, but if you get one anyway, try this old-school remedy: ice. The National Headache Foundation advises applying cold packs on the forehead and temples. A study from the University of Hawaii also found that a frozen wrap placed in the front of the neck, over the carotid arteries, significantly reduced pain in migraine sufferers.
Baking soda for whiter teethShutterstock (2)
Forget those whitening strips—there are natural teeth cleaning methods that can whiten teeth. Try using baking soda, which is probably what your grandmother brushed her teeth with and has been shown in studies to benefit teeth. “You can whiten your teeth with making a paste out of baking soda and a little water,” Dr. Rosen says. “Put some baking soda in a small dish then add a little water, which will form a thick paste.” Then dip a toothbrush in it and brush. The abrasiveness will remove plaque and whiten the teeth, she says. But “you want to be careful and not overuse this method due to the abrasiveness of the baking soda,” Dr. Rosen says. “Too much can hurt the enamel or the gum tissue.”
Avoid the cold to fight off coldsShutterstock (2)
It seems like an old wives’ tale—that cold weather actually makes us sick. It’s now generally believed the real reason we get sick more often in winter is because we are cooped up inside sharing other peoples’ germs. But, there could be some validity to keeping warm when it’s chilly out. A Yale study found that the common cold virus replicates more effectively in cells of cooler temperatures than at core body temperature, with the researchers noting it appears the immune response, not the virus itself, was the cause. In any case, it can’t hurt to wear a hat like your parents told you!
Tennis ball for achy feetShutterstock (2)
Tennis balls have so many uses, including as a massage device for tired feet. This old-school remedy is low-tech, but very effective, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. “This is a ‘plantar fascia’ [the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes] massage,” says certified athletic trainer Phillip Adler, PhD, ATC, manager of Spectrum Health Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Programs. “The tennis ball helps to lengthen tight tissue on the bottom of the foot. Combined with heel cord stretching, or Achilles stretching, this technique can be very helpful for plantar fasciitis.”
Chewing gum for stressShutterstock (2)
Your grandfather’s choice of chewing gum might be considered retro now (Beemans, anyone?), but the sticky substance has more advantages than just freshening breath—no matter what the brand. A study from Japan found that two weeks of regularly chewing gum improved participants’ levels of anxiety, mood and tiredness. Another study from Australia echoes these findings, with levels of the stress hormone cortisol lower in gum chewers by 16 percent during mild stress and 12 percent in moderate stress. It’s like a stress ball for your mouth!