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Commentary: An Apple a Day

What are your home remedies? Our humour columnist remembers..
An apple a day...and other home remedies. Some work, some definitely don't. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Home remedies are making a comeback. Those tried-and-true tonics handed down from the trusted hands of great-grandma weren’t really so bad, were they? Perhaps a few are still worth considering. Others could cheerfully be tossed out the back door.

Here's a small admission before we begin – the only real vice I've ever had was salt. I've said it, and you may quote me, my name is Helen, and I am a salt-aholic. However, in my defense, salt not only flavours our food but can be dissolved in warm water and gargled as an old-fashioned remedy for sore throats. Of course, it wasn't enjoyable, but it didn’t hurt anything if accidentally swallowed. And, as my mother always said, with a dismissive wave of her hand and a quelling look, "Quit your moaning. It's doing you some good." Caution: Do not ingest! This concoction may cause an unexpected evacuation of your bowels if taken internally.

Speaking of bowels and at the risk of becoming too earthy for my readership, generations of mothers and grandmothers advocated the consumption of stewed prunes for constipation. They're a natural source of fibre and, along with plenty of water, can be counted on to "do the trick," so to speak.

Alternately, my grandmother would boil a pot of milk for the opposite problem and could be counted on to deal it out lavishly. "That'll stop you up, Helen," she'd say with a grim smile, clumping a mug of steaming milk on the table in front of my startled eyes. She'd fold her arms across an ample bosom and wait for me to drain the cup before patting my shoulder with satisfaction. Unfortunately, a disagreeable skin always seemed to form quickly over the surface. Boiled milk – bleah.

What about sucking on a teaspoon of honey for coughs? That was one I didn't mind as a kid. I've even been known to dispense the odd spoon to my own children. In theory, it's supposed to soothe and lubricate the throat. Not sure that it does, mind you, but it cuts down on whining and makes a tasty treat.

Here's one you may not have heard of; apple juice to ward off the common cold. Frankly, I think it was a belief held exclusively by my mother. If ever my brother Bill or I would make the dreadful mistake of coughing, mom's head would snap up, and she'd bark, "You kids get a cup and pour yourselves a big glass of apple juice – or twenty." We couldn't even clear our throats or choke on a crumb without fearing her heavy-handed plying of the juice can. Curse you, SunRype! As a minor consequence of that unpleasant era, neither of us will ever look a glass of this fruity beverage in the eye again. Horrible stuff!

Of course, who can forget having your chest briskly rubbed with Rawleigh's medicated ointment to break up congestion? Or was I the only one who endured its liberal application? Sorry, Mr. Rawleigh, your ointment wasn't the problem. The problem was the flippin’ wool sock pinned round our necks to somehow speed recovery. Who the heck came up with that evil instrument of torture?

"Now let's see, how can we keep that liniment from rubbing off on your shirt, little Jimmy? Oh, I know, let's wrap your tender young skin with this abrasive, unbearably scratchy, old woolen sock your father hauled off his foot late last night. Hold still while I fasten it over your heart with this three-inch safety pin. Yes…that will do nicely." Crazy!

Another memory is of a small measure of brandy administered to me by my beloved father. In his all-seeing wisdom, he recalled this unusual remedy for indigestion from somewhere in his strict English upbringing. Perhaps it held curative powers highly favoured by WWII British Naval officers, but it wasn't very effective for small girls with tummy aches. Nevertheless, Dad splashed a small amount of the amber liquid into a tumbler and handed it to me with complete confidence in my recovery. Are you kidding me? I was never so bloody sick in all my life.

In any case, despite my mockery, I do have faith in some natural remedies. It's always beneficial to avoid chemicals or harsh treatments in favour of gentler ones. Just keep away from me with apple juice, hard liquor, 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 learn more about her humorous Prairie Wool Books, or newly released fantasy series, Runestaff Chronicles.