Italians have some amazing home remedies when you’re feeling under the weather. These natural cures have been handed down from generation to generation and for good reason. They actually work. I’ll attempt to add a little science to the why and also explore a few traditions that probably won’t cure any cold, but are practiced nonetheless.
Note: I should state I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. All of these “remedies” are cures I’ve discovered while living in Italy and following the advice of older family members. This podcast and show notes provide general information and discussion about medicine, health, and nutrition. The words and other content provided in this podcast and show notes, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the listener or reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.
Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or read here or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor immediately. The views expressed on the podcast and show notes and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the authors are affiliated.
Also, I listed my Internet sources below in case you want to dig any further on the research and science parts.
Italian cold cure #1: Herb Tea
This is a recommendation right from Paul’s mother and another family friend. Don’t mess with the older Italians. They know their stuff. This really, really works. At least based solely on MY experience. Whether anyone has actually done a scientific study on this, I could not find.
As for the herbs, specifically this should include sage and thyme, with some mint and honey being optional. Use fresh if you have them, dry, which is the winter is more likely, if you don’t. Here’s the recipe and then we’ll talk about why it works.
- 1½ cups hot water
- 2-3 Tbl dried sage
- 1 Tbl dried thyme
- 1 Tbl dried mint
- Mix the dried herbs with hot water, let steep for 10 minutes. Very important. You need at least 10 minutes in really hot water or the dry herbs to release all their goodness.
- Strain and enjoy. Fee free to add a dash of honey or milk to cut the herb taste a bit.
There is some science behind why this works. First, did you know thyme is an officially approved German remedy for coughs, upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, and whooping cough! And being mostly German, you know I had to include this fact in here.
Anyway, theme is packed with cough-suppressant compounds. Thyme flavonoids relax tracheal muscles, which are involved in coughing, and also reduce inflammation. It also contains chemicals that might help bacterial and fungal infections, and minor irritations.
Sage is another powerhouse. It has astringent, antiseptic, and antibacterial qualities, along with a long history of use for sore throats, coughs, and mouth inflammations. People have been using sage and it’s medicinal properties in Europe for ages.
Then there’s mint. Peppermint contains menthol, which can help soothe sore throats and dry coughs. It’s also a decongestant that can thin mucus and help break up phlegm. Plus, it tastes good.
I can’t recommend enough having an herb garden if you don’t. Plants like sage, rosemary and thyme are pretty hardly and once they get going, you just need to trim here and there (if you aren’t using them that much) and you’ll always have fresh herbs on hand.
Not being a great gardener yet (that’s Paul), I will instead direct you to a couple of links on how to grow and cultivate these herbs on your own.
Italian cold cure #2: Warm Wine
This is another cure directly from Paul’s mother. And I’ve learned not to argue. I can’t say this one has worked for me, but I also haven’t given this one a true try. I don’t think a half a drink one night would really count. Casey, Paul’s daughter, swears this got her over her last cold. She added a bit of cinnamon to hers, which I’d also recommend. Some add a slice of orange as well.
The reasoning, at least from Connie, it is gets you all warm and you sweat out the bad stuff. I always thought it was just because you got drunk and felt better. Well you know what, I was WRONG:
“Now research has revealed that all wine is a powerful ally against a far more frequent health problem – the common cold. Doctors have discovered that drinking a moderate amount can help develop a kind of immunity against the 200 viruses that trigger the ailment. The study found that people who had more than 14 glasses of wine a week had a 40 per cent lower risk of getting a cold than teetotallers. And the protection was even stronger for those who favoured red wine over white…” — The dailymail.co.uk
“The common cold, or rhinovirus infection, is an upper-respiratory tract infection that can produce mucus, congestion and a runny nose. Infections result in inflammation — the body’s natural defense mechanism that destroys bacteria and viruses. Resveratrol, which is found in red wine, is believed to prevent two inflammation-producing molecules from being produced. They are sphingosine kinase and phospholipase D.” — Livestrong.com
NOTE: Drink alcohol in moderation as a preventative measure. Studies have shown that, while a cold cannot be cured by alcohol, moderate alcohol consumption can increase one’s resistance to the cold. One study has shown that drinking 8 to 14 glasses of red wine a week has reduced the chances of getting a cold by 60 percent.
Know what medications can cause negative reactions when mixed with alcohol. Most cold medications contain ingredients that should not be mixed with alcohol. Here is a list of cold-related medications that should not be taken while you are drinking. — Wikihow.com
- Medications for allergies, colds, and flu
- Cough medications
- Medications that ease muscle pain and fevers
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
Italian cold cure #3: Raw Garlic
Here, I’m a firm believer is the adjective “raw.”
Crushing fresh garlic, whether your slicked, crushing or biting down on it, causes a chemical reaction that releases allicin. (sounds like Allison) Allicin is a powerful antibacterial ONLY present shortly after garlic is crushed and BEFORE it is heated!
Eating fresh garlic like this is supposed to knock out the cold or flu. Some experts even recommend eating a clove or two every 3 to 4 hours!
Some recommend sucking on a clove for 15 minutes (sorry, can’t do). Others recommend chewing the drinking orange juice. (Really??) I’ve also seen chopping it and mixing with honey (I tried this. It was disgusting).
The best way I found was chopping up the garlic and putting it either with our extra virgin olive oil or our sun-dried tomato spread on a piece of bread and going to town. It’s still pretty strong with the oil, but sort of like a raw garlic bread. The sun-dried tomato spread wins hands down for me. It melds well with the flavors in the spread and is something I could eat all the time, even when I’m not fighting a cold.
The science: Allicin I already mentioned. In addition, garlic is a powerful antioxidant with antimicrobial, antiviral and antibiotic properties. For colds and flus, it also provides decongestant and expectorant effects. Vitamin C, a slew of enzymes, and minerals such as sulphur and selenium also definitely play a role.
A recent study looked at the effectiveness of garlic in 146 people over a 3 month period. Those that took a garlic supplement had 24 occurrences of cold symptoms, as opposed to 65 occurrences in those that did not take garlic. Also, those that took garlic had 1 day less of cold symptoms.
Italian cold cure #4: Il Corno or Il Cornetto
The “Evil Eye,” or Malocchio, is a superstition found all over Mediterranean basin. One thing they all have in common is that the Evil Eye is caused by jealousy and envy. If a person envies you or your family fortunes, they may cause a malocchio curse even without meaning to.
Every culture seems to have their own version of the Evil Eye and their own ways to fight it. I know it Greece and Turkey there are the glass blue eye charms to ward off the evil eye. However, in Italy they have the Il Corno or Il Cornetto.
It consists of a twisted horn-shaped charm often made of gold, silver, bone, terracotta or red coral. Originally it is said they resembled the twisted horn of an animal, though over the years they have become stylized and less horn-like. If you didn’t know, like me when I first saw one, you would think it was a chili pepper.
Always related to the Corno is the hand gesture known as the mano cornuta, which also wards off the Evil Eye. It is made by extending the pinkie and index finger like a pair of horns and pointing them down. But be careful!! When this gesture is made pointing up (similar to the heavy metal salute to the Devil or Hook ’em Horns of Texas) it is as an insult to somebody, meaning they are a cuckold. Which means their spouse is cheating on them. And in Italy, it usually means the spouse is cheat on them and everybody knows it but them.
Sadly, I could not find any scientific studies to back this one up.
Italian cold cure #5: Avoid Un Colpo D’Aria
Last, but certainly not least, above all else in Italy, you must, absolutely must avoid being hit by a gust of wind or breeze. I used to say “cool breeze” but have come to learn it does not have to be cool. I could be 110 degrees outside and if you have a fan directly on you or open a car window and you could be looking at causing a range of health issues, including a stiff neck, headache and even, yes a cold or influenza!
Italians will avoid it at all costs, even wearing scarves in the summer and not opening their window at night in case it might cause them to get sick.
Again, I couldn’t find any scientific studies on this one, but millions of Italians swear by it. Does strength in numbers make it correct?