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Hilarious historical cures for the common cold


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

Cold season is just hiding around the corner. 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 make you sick.

Reach for a leech

A leech on a man's arm

Photo by Pat Joyce licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Before modern medical science, the English thought health was a balance of what they called the "four humours": blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Each of these humours were associated with a sickness, and blood was considered to be the cause of all overheating. If your temperature was too high, they would bleed you dry. Well, not dry, just a little blood sucking with the help of an adorable little leech. It’s a cute cuddly pet that really grows on you!

Flannel is so hot right now

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

CC0 Public Domain

According to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management — which was published in 1861 — wrapping your chest in a flannel blanket dipped in boiling water and sprinkled with turpentine (a kind of oil used to mix paint as well as wood varnish) will relieve the hoarsest of coughs and toughest congestion. Modern chest vapour rubs use the same idea, 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

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 clothes and laying it on your chest used to be a go-to to get rid of the flu.

Chicken soup for all ages


A timeless potion for cold and flu relief, using chicken soup to help fight disease dates back as far as 60 AD, with reports of Roman surgeon Pedacius Dioscorides praising the dish as more than just delicious. Today,  we know that an amino acid found in chicken soup called cysteine acts as a decongestant — and the source to all the soup-based praise these chickens get!

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 for 3,000 years the Chinese have been drinking a very special blend. Ma Huang is a plant which is brewed 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, which is a common modern decongestant.