Amish Cold Remedies

I rarely get ill, but when I do, it’s more often than not in the summertime. I put this down to the constant temperature swings of modern life–going from a scorching 100+ degrees outside to the frigid air conditioned interiors of the car, work, home or store.

I try to be proactive about this.  If I’m going to, say, the supermarket to do some shopping, I always bring along a pullover to mitigate the temperature drop.  Sometimes that’s not enough, though.

So I’ve been battling a summer cold for going on 2 weeks now, the kind that just sets up camp in your skull and refuses to budge. It’s basically a stuffy head, sinus pain type, with a little, but not too much, coughing. This morning I decided to delve into Amish wisdom to see if there was anything that could rescue me.

Home Remedies for Colds – from the Amish

Summer Cold RemediesSo I took a glance at Plain and Happy Living: Amish Recipes & Remedies, a book we’ve looked at here before, written by Geauga County Amish grandma Emma Byler (now deceased). There are a number of cold fixes recommended by Emma that sound like they might fit my situation.

The first is a “tobacco salve”, which is “also commonly used for pneumonia” (pp. 100-101):

1 pack cheap pipe tobacco
1/2 to 1 lb. raisins
2 lbs. lard

Cook and simmer all together slowly for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  Cool and strain.  Put in jar and use as a chest rub or poultice for pneumonia and tightness of a chest cold.

Home remedies in general fascinate me for their ingredients and methodology…for instance, who came up with this combination?  Was it a lot of trial-and-error, or is there something intuitive about lard, raisins, and tobacco being good for colds?  Why not 2 hours or 4 hours of simmering?  Must it be strained?  Anyway, this one seems hard to do (I don’t keep a lot of lard at hand, nor cheap pipe tobacco), but it’s challenging enough to make that it seems like it would work.

Here’s another (p. 113):

Anything that will make you sweat is good for colds and flu.  Boneset tea is one of these.  Crumble the dry herb fine and keep in a tightly closed jar out of direct light.  This will keep several years and stay nice and green.  Brew tsp. of herb in 3 cups boiling hot water and drink boneset tea as hot as you can stand it at the first sign of illness.

No idea what boneset tea is…and the “first sign” of illness came and went long ago…but I can get behind the “make you sweat” idea.  I’ve been jogging in the current intense heat, which at least clears the airways out, a bit.

How about this one (p. 113):

Mix well the juice of 3 lemons, 1 pt. honey, 3 tbsp. maple syrup, and a pea-sized chunk of baking soda.  Take as needed.

This one sounds the most doable of the lot…but also the least exotic.  I know I’ve tried some variation of this before.  It sounds the best tasting, at least.

Anyone have a good “remedy” for the supposedly incurable summertime cold?

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    1. Fran Handrick

      Cold Remedy - we call it "Pondwater"!

      Grate the rind from and then Juice 3 lemons, make up to half a pint with water. Add 1 tablespoon of dried mint, and then crumble up as many dried chillies or use frecs chopped ones (at least 3) as you can stand. bring to the boil, then strain.
      Drink as hot as you can.
      You can probably see why we call it pondwater, but it works – at least in this house, it does!

      1. Thanks Fran–lemon, mint and chili are 3 of my favorite tastes. So I may be called pondwater but since you’ve got these 3 in there your recipe automatically jumps near the top of the list 🙂

    2. My gradmother used to tell me........

      Reminds me a little of my own grandmother who when she was alive would always prescribe prunes for just about every discomfort known, this is a true story so no joking here (see Eriks outhouse story). Or to help keep you lets say “regular” she would recommend drinking the juice from the pickle jar (after the jar was empty) and you know what it seemed to really work! Richard

      1. Pickle Juice

        I love pickle juice Richard, though I don’t know about the side effects 🙂 It’s oddly refreshing. Not something I’d sip on a beach chair somewhere, but I’ve been known to swig from the pickle jar from time to time 😉

    3. Garlic Wine

      Boneset is a eupatorium (botanical name) and grows pretty much everywhere. It was a favourite Native American remedy for colds and influenza, and was known in past centuries as ague-weed. Go ahead and use that, after you find someone to identify the plant for you.

      I don’t recommend anything with tobacco in it. This plaster will ease breathing a bit, but NICOTINE IS A POISON. It is a neurotoxin you can absorb through the skin.

      I recommend garlic wine for colds and influenza. You’ve had this infection for a while, so you might need to take this for three days, but don’t use it any longer. I’m assuming that you are no on other prescription medications that contraindicate the use of garlic. Take a clove or two of fresh garlic, peel and mash lightly with the back of a heavy knife. Put in a cup of red wine, cover, let steep for at least 20 minutes. Take two tablespoons or more once an hour. Leave the garlic in the wine – the alcohol in the wine dissolves the allocin in the wine, making the decoction stronger over the hours. Make this fresh every day you use it. Allocin is anti-viral. Yes, you will smell like garlic, but since you have a cold, no one wants to get near you anyway.

      1. Wow, another fascinating remedy. I don’t mind the garlic, had never heard of it used in wine before. Emma Byler also has a whiskey-honey-butter remedy. She boils it a while but then says to add a splash of brandy.

        Thanks for pointing out the nicotine absorption risk.

        Emma Byler’s community is more traditional in some ways thus the hard alcohol and tobacco appearing in the book from time to time.

    4. Boneset tea tastes absolutely horrible. My grandmother made it for me once when I was complaining of some kind of ailment. It didn’t cure what was hurting but it sure cured the complaining about it.

      1. Boneset

        You traded one pain for another. Sometimes that’s the best you can do…I suspect some remedies maybe distract you enough from the ailment by substituting another discomfort, that it is its own form of “relief”.

    5. Well, I always use Advil Cold & Sinus and that does wonders for me, but it’s not what I would call “all natural”. 🙂 Maybe look up Apple Cider Vinegar – I think that does just about everything, doesn’t it? Not sure, but it does a lot of things. I love reading all these remedies! Hope you kick this real soon ~

      1. Thanks Beth, I usually take the “wait-it-out” approach, but I think I am going to try one of these that seems a) doable, and b) not too bad-tasting 🙂

        Thanks for the ideas coming in!

    6. Merry

      Two words:

      Neti pot!

      Ok, perhaps a few more words are needed 🙂 If you’re blowing green you likely have an infection so call your doctor. Even if so you can still use a Neti pot several times a day to keep sinus passages clear. The pot is a container with a spout that holds about a half cup of saline solution (I make it using 1/8th tsp sea salt to 1 C warm water) Lean over the sink, tilt you head down and to one side then pour the solution in one nostril and it flows out the other. The solution flushes out all dust, allergens and thickened mucus. Blow frequently using tissue but be sure not to block off either nostril. Continue flushing both sides (one at a time until you breathe freely. I use mine whenever pollens are in the air. You can use it as often as needed. Read all about it here:

    7. Laura

      There’s a line of medicinal teas that I like to use when I’ve got a cold. The best of the bunch is for a sore throat; it’s called Throat Coat, and I haven’t been without it for close to 20 years now. There’s also one for clearing your sinuses, and a whole bunch of others. It’s a line called Traditional Medicinals, and it’s available in most drugstores.

      And it’s not a natural remedy per se, but when I flew to the west coast last summer to visit family and developed a dreadful cold en route, my sister insisted I had to try Emergen-C, also available at any drugstore (or at a good discount at Costco), 3 times a day. I took it just to humor her because it’s mostly vitamin C and I figured it couldn’t hurt … but to my complete shock, my cold cleared up *completely* in 3 days. It was almost a miraculous cure. So if the natural remedies don’t work, I recommend it — it really worked a treat for me!

    8. Lee Ann

      we use Emergen-C as well for colds. Also cold EZ helps as well. You use Emergen-C in water or juice and mix it well and drink it. Just follow the directions on the package. Cold EZ they look like throat lozenges but are for the cold. You suck on them during the day and they help the cold go away along with the Emergene-C.

      I always just suffered through a cold until I was told about these two items. They are always in my house now. I also use the Medi-pot for sinus problems. Simular to the other pot someone else suggested. My brother is in pharmacutical sales and says the pharmist told him this was the best thing to use for sinus problems, and he got me using it.

    9. Yoder

      Medicine and free advice can both be hard to swallow! But since you asked, Chicken Noodle Soup is also known as Grandma’s Penicillin.

      Hopefully you’re thinking clearly, but if your brain is foggy, you could take a trip to Mexico and eat spicy things to clear up your sinuses. STEER clear of DAIRY until your cold clears up.

      I like a gargle made with hot water, 1/2 tsp. salt, apple cider vinegar, and a dash or 2 of cayenne pepper, with an optional drop of oregano oil. Warning, it does taste awful, but I like the results.

      A health-minded man once told me that if you catch a cold, it means your immune system is low. Do they sell Airborne tablets in Poland? Airborne has vitamins, zinc, Echinacea, etc. in it. Wal-Mart has it in the U.S. Don’t be sick; get well quick!

    10. Summer cold?

      Hi Erik, Are you SURE it is a cold? Your symptoms sound like what I used to suffer every summer. It started with chronic sinus pain and then over the years developed into asthma and chronic migraine. After years of medical tests and all kinds of prescription and over-the-counter therapies, a very smart doctor finally told me that the problem was air pollution and I needed to leave the city. I did move to the mountains and rarely have a problem here.
      The problem will always be worse in the summer because when sunlight hits the exhaust fumes in traffic, ground level ozone forms. Ozone is a good thing high in the atmosphere where it filters out potentially harmful sun rays, but it is toxic to humans and should not be inhaled. It is bad for everyone, some folks are more sensitive to it than others.
      My very smart doctor identified the problem not through a battery of expensive and sometimes painful tests, but simply by having me record the times when the problem was the worst. If your symptoms are worst when the sun is high in the sky, and when you are in traffic, then you should find a really smart doctor and see what he or she says about all this.

    11. Michigan Mary


      Eric, I agree with Margie – it sounds to me like you have what is better known as common mold allergies. Don’t let the hot, dry weather fool you either. I have, for years, been diagnosed with chronic sinusitis and bronchitis. I went to several doctors, all kept saying the same thing, over and over again, sinusitis/bronchitis. Finally, this last doctor I went to said that what I have is seasonal mold allergies and put me on a daily low-dose nasal spray (flonase) and I have not been sick a day in 2 years!!! One blast in each nostril each morning and I have been feeling great…. not one day missed from work (not sure that is a benefit though). Get checked for seasonal mold allergies and you might be surprised to find out that you can fix it for good!

    12. Michigan Mary has a point!

      H again Erik,
      Michigan Mary could be right. Mold also sometimes presents with those symptoms and can get quite serious. It is a good idea to see a doctor anytime symptoms persist, rather than self-diagnose. You could be suffering through something that is easily treated.
      Your readers want you to keep yourself in good health!

      1. Appreciate that Margie…if I ever sense the end is near I’ll try to set up a bunch of auto-posts so the blog will go on, at least for a little while 🙂

    13. Dena

      Science claims we catch colds more easily when we are in enclosed areas too much, like inside with the A/C or in winter we close up the house and run the heater! We need to “air out” our homes on a regular basis as a preventative, wash hands when coming home from the store, etc., and keeps hands away from face! I have yet to find anything that truly shortens a cold but there are the homeopathic remedies that do seem to make them more bearable.

    14. Wretched summer colds

      I sent you a private rememedy of my grandmother’s before I read your full post to learn that it is mostly a head cold. This will sound strange but I have always had good luck with horseradish on oyster crackers. Always seems to open up the sinuses, as does a dip in the ocean. Salt water works wonders. I know we all seem to believe that we get colds from extreme temperature changes, or getting wet in a downpour but it only seems that way. The only way to get a cold is to pick up the virus that causes it. Sadly, getting rid of it is a lot harder. Vicks over the bridge of the nose and above the eyebrows works too, but you need to keep your eyes closed once you do this!

    15. Paul Long


      Sounds like an upper respiratory infection. Plants use their oils to combat bacteria. These oils are extracted and known as essential oils. Oregano is very strong and actually is being used in Europe in hospitals for pnemonia. Eucalyptus is the base of most vapor rubs for sore muscles. Same as francencense and myrrh were highly regarded in biblical times. Young Living is a company that mixes and sells oils for many purposes. They work. You can get your own at a health food store and mix your own as well.
      Back when there were plauges, people that robbed the dead would make a mixture that is now known as “Thieves”. Eucalyptus , cinnamon and clove are the main ingredients. A carrier oil should be used like grape seed oil first to avoid burning the skin and it allows the skin to absorb the oils better. Put on the forehead, under eyes and nose so you breath it in as well is for sinus infections. It is absorbed into your sinuses. For a chest cold, rubbed onto chest. It smells strong, but works so well my kid doesn’t mind going to school with it on, he knows it works so well. My family has not needed a Dr. for many years with essential oils. I told my family Dr. about using them, and he’s ok with it.
      When you feel a scratchy throat coming on, a drop of organic oregano oil in a teaspoon of honey stops it, and you don’t wake up sick. Be warned it’s like 100 Hall’s cough drops melted together, but oregano is known to kill any bacteria.
      Peppermint oil is good to smell for sinus as well, it’s used to stay alert and sniff before a test makes you more accute. But the Thieves mixture is best.
      Lavendar oil is for burns, and working on steam tractors and engines I carry a bottle all the time. It stops the pain from a burn and prevents scar tissue. Read up on essential oils. It’s natures way of taking care of plants and works on human tissue as well. Many are not to be injested. Not good for animals.
      Oh, birch is good for authoritic joints, but there are cautions and proper ways to apply to skin without irritation.

    16. Paul Long

      authoritus and authoritic pain

      Get it? Arthritis pain. You’re an “author”? Never mind.

      1. Got it Paul…thumbs up 😉

    17. I plan on giving some of these natural remedies myself!

      It looks like some folks have posted a bunch of really good natural home remedies, so I think I will be trying some of them myself. Interesting topic today Erik and I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. Richard

      1. I plan on giving some of these natural remedies a try myself!


    18. Tominky

      Hey Erik natural remedies are great, but if this illness has persisted it may be better to seek out a medical doctor. I am all for giving natural medications a try, but sometimes an illness that is able to go unchecked can deplete the body and make it more susceptible. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, just a little unsolicited advice.

      1. Really good advice

        Tominky is right! While many natural medications are proven to be safe and effective, and some are even recommended by medical doctors, self-diagnosis can be dangerous. Chronic conditions call for professional attention.

    19. Lattice

      Sorry you’re sick, Erik. Summer colds are a double “whammy,” and slow to resolve. Colds, by nature, cause swelling and inflammation in the nasopharynx and sinuses (you might notice that the very first symptom, even before a sore throat, is a swollen sensation in the nasopharynx). The reason they’re hard to shake is because of the presence of pollen. Pollen is, at the least, an irritant, and oftentimes an allergen. The irritation prolongs the inflammation in the nasopharynx and sinuses, making the symptoms hard to shake, even when you’re no longer contagious.

      Take high doses of Vitamin C (like 2000 mg twice a day) which will boost your immunity, and then wean yourself off. Two weeks from now, if it’s not a distant memory, you may need a steroid nose spray. Good luck!

    20. Wow, thanks to everyone who took the time to share ideas…I do get a persistent cough occasionally, maybe it is something else, for those that suggested it might be. Feeling a bit better today, so may give it a couple more days then maybe see a doctor if not improved. I promise I wasn’t fishing for sympathy, but you all made feel better in that department at least 🙂

    21. Cold update: I went to the doctor a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be seen that day. As a stop-gap, I got some herbal nasal spray and some sort of cough medicine (I know, probably treating the symptoms rather than the “disease”). However today I finally feel like I’m on the up-and-up, at least heading in the right direction. Hopefully will stay that way. Thanks for all the ideas here, which may be what I fall back on if things go downhill again! 🙂

    22. Margaret

      Are you “healthy” again, Erik? Just checking….

      1. Thanks much Margaret, feeling better, though not totally cleared up yet.