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Homestyle healing: Folk remedies that have stood the test of time

Grandma was right—chicken soup really does help get rid of 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.
  • 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.


  • 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 decaffeinated coffee. Within about a half hour, your body may be sending you a natural signal that “it’s time.”

Cold sores

  • Cool it. Apply cool milk compresses to sores or numb the pain with ice cubes.
  • Take tea. Press a warm tea bag against the sore. Black tea has tannin, an astringent-like ingredient that relieves pain.

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.

Nausea and vomiting

  • Think clearly. After your stomach has settled for a few hours, try sipping a clear beverage: Lime-flavored soda, seltzer or clear broth are good choices. Try drinking eight to 16 glasses a day, taking sips, to avoid dehydration.


  • 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 box of frozen vegetables in a paper towel to make a cold pack.

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.
  • Eat often. Having six or seven small meals throughout the day prevents the intense cravings that can cause mood swings.

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.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

  • A berry good idea. Cranberry juice can help fight UTIs by making it hard for bacteria to cling to the walls of the urinary tract. If you are plagued by frequent UTIs, drink eight ounces of cranberry juice daily as a preventive measure.