December Feature Series – Winter Health: Effective Home Remedies

There are helpful home remedies for many illnesses.

Grandma was right—chicken soup really does help a cold. And it’s just one of many homespun health tips that really work. Handy home remedies can relieve many minor health problems, in some cases eliminating the need for over-the-counter medicines. Here is a collection of tried-and-true remedies recommended by doctors and grandmothers alike. (Keep in mind, of course, that a doctor’s visit is in order any time a new or unusual symptom persists or gets worse.)


  • Have a cup of chicken-noodle soup. The steam and aroma helps open up stuffy nasal passages while the hot soup soothes and warms you up. Other hot liquids may help as well.
  • Go for the gargle. Gargling with boiled salted water that has been slightly cooled kills germs by cleaning the back of the throat and reduces swelling that can cause a sore throat.
  • Inhale. Sit in the bathroom, close the door, run hot bath water and breathe deeply. The steam can help loosen mucus.
  • Pile it up. Sleep with an extra pillow under your head to help your nasal passages drain. Use multiple pillows to create a more gradual slope if that will be more comfortable.
  • Sleep it off. Resting when you first come down with a cold helps your body direct its energy toward fighting the virus.
  • Blow it out. Blow your nose often and properly. Press a finger over one nostril while you blow gently to clear the other.

Cold Sores

  • Cool it. Apply cool milk compresses to sores or numb the pain with ice cubes.
  • Use tea. Press a warm tea bag against the sore. Black tea has tannin, an astringent-like ingredient that relieves pain.
  • Cover it. Apply petroleum jelly to a cold sore to speed healing and protect it from a secondary bacterial infection.
  • Hands off. Don’t touch a cold sore. Touching can introduce a bacterial infection and can lead to the spread of the virus to other people or other parts of your body.
  • Chew on it. Studies show that glycyrrhizic acid, an ingredient in licorice, stops the cold sore virus. Try eating licorice or applying a pinch of licorice power mixed with pure vegetable shortening to the cold sore. Be sure you’re using real licorice (not anise). If the ingredient list reads "licorice mass," the product contains real licorice. Don't go overboard as real licorice's medicinal effects can cause serious side effects if overused.

Nausea and Vomiting

  • Think clearly. After your stomach has settled for a few hours, try sipping a clear beverage: Lime-flavored soda, seltzer and clear broth are good choices. Try drinking 8 to 16 glasses a day, taking sips, to avoid dehydration.
  • Let it flow. The worst thing you can do for vomiting is to fight it, because vomiting is your body's way of getting rid of something that is causing harm in your stomach. Trying to hold back the urge can actually cause tears in your esophagus.
  • Raid the spice cabinet. Many spices, like cinnamon, aniseed, clove and fennel, have nausea fighting properties. However, ginger is the best. Try any ginger product that contains real ginger. Heads up that ginger ale usually doesn’t contain real ginger.

Dry, Chapped Lips

  • Stay moist. Chronically dry lips that don’t respond to lip balm can be a sign that your body needs more water. If you already drink the recommended 64 ounces a day, increase your intake to 100 ounces. Try sipping hot beverages that aren’t dehydrating, such as decaffeinated tea or hot water flavored with lemon. The fluid will boost circulation so moisture can better reach your lips’ tissues.
  • Don’t lick. Licking your lips actually robs them of moisture, just as frequent hand-washing dries out your hands.
  • Sweeten them. Honey is a great moisturizer. Rub some honey to your chapped lips to heal them fast and retain their moisture.


  • Chew on a prune. Sure, prune juice has a reputation as a natural constipation remedy, but plain prunes are superior. Eating three prunes at night before bedtime can practically guarantee regularity.
  • Drink something warm. Start your day with a hot cup of tea or coffee. Within about a half hour, your body may be sending you a natural signal that "it’s time." Coffee may be more effective since bitter tasting foods stimulate the digestive tract.
  • Take two. Two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses before bed can relieve occasional constipation.


  • Put pain on ice. Take a two-pack approach to pain. Apply one ice pack to the back of the neck and the other over the area of most intense pain. Ice cuts pain by constricting swollen blood vessels that are pressing on nerves and dulls the pain message to the brain. To get rid of pain quickly and completely, apply ice at the first sign of distress. You can keep a plastic bag of ice in the freezer or wrap a bag of frozen vegetables in a paper towel to make a cold pack.
  • Try heat. If ice feels uncomfortable or doesn’t help, try placing a warm washcloth over your eyes or on the site of the pain. Re-warm it as necessary.
  • Drink caffeine. While caffeine triggers headaches for some people, it can alleviate them for others.
  • Rub it. Massaging the head and neck can help. Some people claim that rubbing peppermint oil on the painful area reduces pain.

Premenstrual Syndrome

  • Skip salt and caffeine. To decrease uncomfortable bloating, go on a low-salt diet before your period. Women with bad PMS symptoms should avoid coffee or colas. Caffeine can increase anxiety and breast tenderness.
  • Go easy on sugar. While you may crave chocolate or other sweets, the effects on your blood sugar may intensify irritability and mood swings.
  • Eat often. Having six or seven small meals throughout the day prevents the intense cravings that can cause mood swings.
  • Work up a sweat. Aerobic exercise eases stress, releases feel-good hormones, and increases blood flow to the pelvic region.

Menstrual Cramps

  • Walk it off. To lessen cramp pain, take regular walks a few days before the onset of your period. The exercise helps decrease pelvic congestion and lessens menstrual pain by improving blood flow.
  • Heat it up. Using heat, through hot water bottles, heating pads, or hot baths, helps relax muscles and relieve cramping.
  • Drink tea. Chamomile tea is widely used to treat menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Existing UTIs need medical attention. The following tips are for prevention of recurrent UTIs, not treatment.

  • Go for berries. Cranberry juice can help fight UTIs by making it hard for bacteria to cling to the walls of the urinary tract. Drink eight ounces of cranberry juice daily as a preventive measure. Blueberries are from the same plant family, so you can go for a handful of blueberries as an alternative.
  • Drink lots of water. You should drink about eight 8-ounce glasses per day.
  • Get more vitamin C. Some doctors think that vitamin C helps prevent infection by acidifying the urine.
  • Don’t hold it. When you’ve got to go, go. Wipe from front to back after you urinate.
  • Choose cotton. Women should wear cotton underwear to stay dryer.

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