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5 ways people used to cure a cold — and some are still used today!


Fox Photos/Getty Images; George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

Cold season is here! Stupid sneaky cold season.

While we have a variety of modern medicine to help us stay healthy, have you ever wondered what people did before lozenges and cough syrup?

The answers might have you reaching for a tissue.

Reach for a leech

A leech on a man's arm

Photo by Pat Joyce licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Whoever thought putting a blood-sucking squishy leech on your body would make your cold go away?

Well, before modern medical science came around, if your temperature was too high, they would bleed you dry. Well, not completely dry, just a little blood-sucking with the help of an adorable little leech.

Why a leech? Way back when, the English thought health was a balance of four humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Blech!

Each of these humours was associated with a sickness. Blood was considered to be the cause of your body overheating. So it made sense back then that if you took out some blood, the heat (or fever) would go down.

Flannel is so hot right now

A pug wrapped in a blanket with his little face poking out

CC0 Public Domain

If you've ever had a minty vapour rub on your chest to help with your cough, then you can thank Mrs. Isabella Beeton.

Back in 1861, Beeton came up with a home remedy for cough and congestion. She wrote that wrapping a flannel blanket dipped in boiling water and sprinkled with turpentine (the toxic stuff you clean paint brushes with!) on your chest would relieve these cold symptoms.

Modern chest vapour rubs apply the same principle, but we’ve traded up from turpentine to menthol.

Mustard up a cure

Four bottles of different kinds of mustard: yellow, honey, spicy brown and dijon

Photo by Jordan Fischer licensed CC BY 2.0

If you're a fan of mustard, then you're in luck. Mustard has been used as a cure for the cold since the ancient Roman Times.

While it may sound a little saucy, spreading a mustard paste between two pieces of cloth and laying it on your chest used to be a go-to to get rid of the flu.

Chicken soup for all ages

chicken soup

Image by Matthias Lipinski from Pixabay

Chickens deserve some praise for this cure. It actually does work as a decongestant (that means it helps clear up your snot to help you breathe).

Using chicken soup dates as far back as 60 A.D. Writings show that a Roman surgeon named Pedacius Dioscorides praised chicken soup for being more than just delicious.

Today we know that an amino acid found in chicken soup called cysteine is the secret decongestant ingredient. Delicious and medicinal!

Ma knows best

A black and white photo of a little girl pouring tea from a giant teapot into a giant teacup

Keystone/Getty Images

A nice warm cup of tea always makes a cold feel better. But not just any cup of black tea.

For three thousand years the Chinese have been drinking a very special blend. Ma Huang is a plant that they brew into a tea that is known to clear even the snottiest and stuffiest of noses.

We now know that the traditional Ma Huang plant contains pseudoephedrine, a common modern decongestant.


(Kid with tissue: Nophamon Yanyapong/123RF)