Old-Time Doctor Remedies That Work

Effective home remedies science is finally recognizing

Jen Mccaffery and Tina Donvito with Ishani Nandi Updated: Jul 16, 2020 18:00:26 IST
Old-Time Doctor Remedies That Work Photographs by Yasu+Junko

Honey to heal a wound. Cardamom for depression. Cod-liver oil—blech!—to keep your eyes healthy. Your grandmother and her doctors probably swore by these fixes, and now science is catching up with them. Researchers have produced hundreds of studies in the recent past about the effectiveness of home remedies. But not all old-time solutions really help. That’s why this list focuses on treatments with expert advice and evidence to back them up. Remember that even natural cures can interact with medication. If you take pills regularly or have a chronic health condition, check with your doctor before trying these.



Age Spots

Try: Buttermilk


You can skip the expensive skin creams. This rich by-product of butter contains lactic acid and ascorbic acid. One study showed that this combination lightened age spots more effectively than lactic acid alone. Apply to the spots with a cotton ball, then rinse with water after 20 minutes.


Try: Vitamin C

Vitamin C isn’t just good for the common cold; it turns out to be an effective natural antihistamine. In one study, 74 per cent of the subjects who received a vitamin C nasal spray reported that their noses were less stuffy, compared with 24 per cent of the patients who took a placebo. The study’s authors recommend getting two grams per day from food and/or supplements.




Try: Petroleum Jelly

The rawness from blisters can be extremely painful, but chafing and friction can irritate them further. Clean a blister with soap and water, and then reduce friction by applying petroleum jelly to the inflamed area and keeping it covered with a bandage.

Bug Bites

Try: Oatmeal

“Oatmeal has a long history—and equally solid biological basis—for its anti-itch effects,” says Adam Friedman, MD, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Creams with colloidal oatmeal can be found in pharmacies or you can make a paste with equal parts oatmeal and water; apply it to the bite for 10 minutes, then rinse.


Try: Aloe

“Aloe is a very soothing remedy for burns,” says Purvisha Patel, MD, a dermatologist and the creator of Visha Skin Care. One study demonstrated it was more effective than other treatments for second-degree burns. Make sure you use pure aloe, not a scented version. If you own an aloe plant, simply cut open a leaf and apply the liquid directly to the affected area. For serious burns, you should still see a doctor.



Calluses and Corns

Try: Gingelly Oil

“Massaging gingelly oil on the area is a proven and effective remedy for calluses and corns,” says Dr Isaac Mathai, medical director of SOUKYA, a holistic wellness centre in Bengaluru. Gingelly oil is derived from raw sesame seeds and processed in a way that gives it an amber colour, darker than regular sesame oil. “Scrub the hard tissue with a scrubber and moisturize it every day for a month. Wear shoes that fit properly and, in severe cases, consult a doctor,” Mathai adds.

Canker Sores

Try: Milk of Magnesia

Canker sores are ulcers of the mouth that can be caused by viral infections or injuries. To ease the pain, rinse your mouth with milk of magnesia or apply it to canker sores three or four times a day.


Try: Ground Flaxseed

“It’s almost as if nature tailor-made ground flaxseed to relieve constipation,” says Will Busiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA. “It is a great source of both insoluble and soluble fibre, which add bulk to the stool and promote the growth of good bacteria.” Ground flaxseed is an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to  help soften stool and relieve constipation. Aim for two to three tablespoons a day as part of a fibre-rich diet.


Try: Thyme Tea

Thyme is a natural expectorant that relaxes the respiratory tract and loosens mucous. Studies have found that using thyme in combination with primrose or ivy relieves the frequency and duration of coughs. To make thyme tea, place two tablespoons of fresh thyme (or one tablespoon dried) in a cup of hot water. Allow it to steep, then drain out the herb. Add honey to taste.




Try: Cardamom

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An aromatic, flavourful and multipurpose spice, cardamom has anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. Charmaine D’Souza, a Mumbai-based nutrition consultant, and author of Kitchen Clinic, suggests taking “a daily infusion of a half teaspoon of cardamom powder and two pods of star anise in one litre of water. Drink this therapeutic solution in small quantities throughout the day between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.” Other remedies that boost your mood include chamomile tea, and one teaspoon of chironji (Cuddapah nuts) at bedtime.


Try: Raw Banana

“Raw bananas, which contain pectin, a water-soluble fibre, absorbs excess water in the colon and helps provide bulk to stool,” says Delhi-based  nutritionist Lovneet Batra. “Bananas are a rich source of potassium, which helps restore electrolyte imbalance caused by this condition. It is also a great prebiotic, which acts as food for good bacteria in our gut, further strengthening one’s digestion.”



Eye Strain

Try: Cucumber

“Lie on your back and place one cucumber slice (about one-eighth of an inch, or around two centimetres, thick) over each closed eye. Cucumbers contain antioxidants that studies have shown help reduce swelling and relieve pain. Replace the slices with a cooler pair every two or three minutes, for a total duration of up to 15 minutes in all.




Try: Dill Seeds

D’Souza recommends dill seeds (suva) for febrile conditions. “Roast one tablespoon of dill seeds with two peppercorns and one teaspoon of black cumin. Boil this in 150 ml water for four minutes and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain, add a pinch of cinnamon powder and drink warm. Repeat whenever the body temperature crosses 100 degrees,” she says. Her other go-to remedy for bringing down a fever is tulsi (holy basil) leaves—boil 20 leaves with two cloves in one litre water until it reduces to half a litre. Drink this every two hours, she advises.

Foot Odour

Try: Lavender Oil

Lavender essential oil not only smells good but also has antibacterial properties that help kill germs. Before bed, rub a few drops of oil on to your feet and massage it in. Pull on a pair of socks to protect your sheets.



GERD and Heartburn

Try: Guduchi Tea

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that occurs when acidic stomach juices, or food and fluids, back up from the stomach into the oesophagus. To combat this condition, Mathai recommends a herbal tea made with amrith, or guduchi leaves (Tinospoia cordifolia), one of the most valued and effective herbs in Ayurveda. “Also, avoid spicy or acidic foods, do not sit or lie down right after meals and chew food well before swallowing in order to allow the oesophageal sphincter to return to normal,” he suggests.


Try: Kokilaksha

Gout is a type of arthritis, where crystallized deposits of uric acid cause pain, redness and tenderness in the joints. Mathai suggests the herbs kokilaksha (Hygrophila auriculata) or punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa)—known for rejuvenating and pain-relieving properties—for gout symptoms. Cherries also contain compounds that neutralize uric acid.




Try: Peppermint Oil

Peppermint essential oil cools the skin, numbing the pain of a tension headache as well as acetaminophen does, according to two small studies. Mix a few drops with olive oil to prevent skin irritation, then gently massage onto your forehead and temples.


Try: Sugar

A spoonful of sugar doesn’t just help the medicine go down—when it comes to hiccups (contractions of the diaphragm), it is the medicine. “Eating the grainy sugar crystals forces you to swallow harder than normal, and this resets your diaphragm” to stop the spasms, says Claire Martin, a nutritionist based in Oakland, California.

High Cholesterol

Try: Niacin

Studies show that taking niacin (vitamin B3) can lower LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol by 10 per cent and triglycerides by 25 per cent, and raise HDL (‘good’) cholesterol by 20 to 30 per cent. Since high doses can cause gastrointestinal problems, liver damage, and glucose intolerance, ask your doctor before taking any supplements.




Try: Fennel

fennel_071620042836.jpgPhoto: PickPik

Those tiny seeds that you often see in bowls at restaurants are fennel (saunf). They contain carminative agents, which help expel gas from the intestinal tract. Chew a pinch of fennel to help prevent after-dinner belching.


Try: Ashwagandha

An ancient Indian medicinal herb, ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, helps lower stress, fatigue and anxiety, says Batra. Best consumed at bedtime, this adaptogen contains triethylene glycol, which relaxes the nervous system and induces sleep.



Joint Pain

Try: Green Tea

A potent antioxidant found in green tea called epigallocate-chin-3-gallate (EGCG) may put the brakes on the joint pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study in Arthritis and Rheumatology. Researchers suggest drinking two or three cups a day to reap the benefits.



Kidney Stones

Try: Lemon Juice

The most common kidney stones occur when oxalate—a compound found in spinach, bran and French fries—builds up in urine and ‘sticks’ to calcium, forming crystals. Drinking at least 120 ml of lemon juice per day could help as citric acid can prevent the calcium and oxalate from crystallizing into  these stones.



Lip Cracking

Try: Olive Oil

When you’ve got chapped lips, coat them with olive oil, a natural lubricant that will help soften and moisturize lips nicely. In fact, any vegetable oil will do.



Memory Lapses

Try: Sage

A study in healthy older adults found that taking sage leaf extract capsules improved word recall and memory.

Menopausal Symptoms

Try: Bay Leaves

“Infuse three roasted bay leaves in one litre of water and drink this through the day,” says D’Souza. Along with this, make a mix of flax meal, curry leaf powder, bay leaves, pepper powder, sesame seeds, cloves, turmeric powder and cumin. Take two teaspoons of this after lunch and dinner.




Try: Ginger

Ginger can help alleviate nausea caused by chemotherapy, morning sickness or motion sickness. “Although we do not yet understand the exact method that allows ginger to be effective at reducing nausea, it is thought it may work by obstructing the serotonin receptors in the gut that cause it,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, registered dietician. It also may prompt the body to release enzymes that help break down food. Steep ginger slices in hot water to make a tea, sip on some ginger ale or chew some candied ginger root.

Neck Pain

Try: Pressure

With your thumb or your fingertips, apply steady pressure on the painful spot on your neck for three minutes. Research shows that this simple acupressure technique helps loosen tight muscles to reduce pain.




Try: Soya


A review of several studies conducted at the University of North Carolina found that people who ate foods rich in soya had healthier bones and a reduced risk of fractures. Scientists are still trying to figure out which active compounds may account for the protective effect, but good sources of soya protein include soya beans, soya milk, miso, tempeh and tofu.




Try: Capsaicin

Capsaicin is what gives chillis its heat. Research has shown that applying capsaicin cream helps relieve the itching of psoriasis.




Try: Eucalyptus Oil

Give your congested sinuses a steam treatment. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a pot of water, boil and remove the pot from the stove. Drape a towel over your head and shoulders, then lean forward so it forms a tent over the pan. Keep your face about 18 inches above the water as you breathe deeply. As the vapour rises, it carries droplets of oil into your sinuses and loosens congestion. Studies show that the main ingredient in eucalyptus oil, cineole, can help people recover faster from acute sinusitis.

Sore Throat

Try: Liquorice

While the body’s immune response can usually fight off a viral infection, such as the common cold or the flu, a sore throat can be soothed by liquorice root—also called yashtimadhu or mulethi—brewed in hot water, says Mathai. The herb is known to be an effective anti-inflammatory and analgesic agent.



Tooth and Gum Pain

Try: Clove Oil

“Oil of cloves can sometimes soothe an inflamed tooth,” says Saul Pressner, DMD, a dentist in New York City. Clove oil has bacteria-slaying properties and also a numbing effect. Mix a few drops with olive oil to avoid irritation, then swish it in your mouth.



Urinary Tract Infection

Try: Cranberry Juice

A study of 373 women with a history of urinary tract infections (UTIs) showed that those who drank a glass of cranberry juice daily had a 40 per cent reduction in the number of UTIs compared with those who drank a placebo. While other studies have been mixed about the effect of cranberry juice on UTIs, scientists think a compound in cranberry juice can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract.



Varicose Veins

Try: Gotu Kola

Known in Ayurveda as the ‘herb of longevity’, gotu kola, Indian pennywort, is a member of the parsley family. “This herb helps strengthen weak veins and improve blood circulation,” says Batra. Its active component, TTFCA (total triterpenic fraction of Centella asiatica) has been shown by studies to promote collagen and elastin-building, which helps strengthen the walls of the veins. “Take a teaspoon of dried gotu kola leaves and boil in water and drink the aqueous solution,” she advises.

Vision Problems

Try: Cod-Liver Oil

A rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, this fish oil supplement contains vitamins A and D, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow to the eyes, cutting the risk of developing glaucoma and possibly macular degeneration. Take one teaspoon daily.




Try: Honey

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Since ancient Egyptian times, people have used honey as a salve for wounds. Pure honey contains the enzyme glucose oxidase, which causes a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic. Honeys range widely in their antibacterial potency, however. For best results, scientists recommend manuka honey, from New Zealand, which contains an additional compound that increases its effectiveness. Apply honey directly to a wound every 12 to 24 hours and cover it with sterile gauze.


Try: Duct Tape

Although doctors aren’t sure why it works, one study found that putting duct tape on warts and replacing it every six days was 25 per cent more effective than freezing them—and much cheaper.



Yeast Infection

Try: Sea Salt

Sprinkle a cup of sea salt in a tub of warm water, then take a nice soak to relieve itching and pain.




Try: Tea Tree Oil

In one study, a 5 per cent tea tree oil gel was as effective as a 5 per cent benzoyl peroxide lotion in limiting acne outbreaks—with fewer side effects.

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