Health and wellness

Jazz, smelly socks, vomiting: weird and wonderful common cold cures

  • Most doctors prescribe plenty of rest and fluids, but less mainstream remedies around the world are far more interesting
  • Whatever you do, don’t take antibiotics
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 6:33pm

Cold season is upon us, but however hard we try to avoid catching the virus, we all catch an average of three or four colds every year.

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that affects the nose, throat, sinuses and larynx. Symptoms include a cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezes, headache and fever. More than 200 virus strains, including rhinoviruses and coronaviruses, are implicated as causes of colds.

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Most medical professionals prescribe plenty of rest and fluids, but what if you don’t think that is enough? Here are some weird and wonderful remedies from around the world, and a few historical treatments.

One of the following cures is a fake, can you guess which?

Listening to jazz

Put on a Charlie Harper or Miles Davis album for 30 minutes and give your immune system a welcome boost. Half an hour of jazz has been shown to increase your levels of immunoglobulin A, which is found in the mucosa that lines the nose, mouth and throat.

Apparently bluegrass, choral music and soft rock also work.


There are two sock-related remedies: cold, wet socks or sweaty socks.

If you wear ice-cold damp socks with wool or thermal socks over them when you go to bed, it stimulates the circulation in your feet and regulates the immune response.

An old remedy, widely used in England until the 20th century, involved smearing the throat with chicken fat (a similar cure calls for onions, another for bacon) and wrapping smelly socks around the area like a stinky scarf.

Apparently some people suggest rubbing Vicks on your feet, then putting on a thick pair of socks. An Irish cure involves rubbing salted herring on the soles of the feet to deal with a sore throat.

Food and drink

In Hong Kong, the cold-busting drink of choice is hot cola and lemon.

Popular medicinal foods for a cold include oysters, chocolate (the bar and the hot drink), raw onion and raw onion tea, coconut water, alcohol, vinegar, raw egg and honey (a hit in Russia), chilli pepper, wasabi, and saltwater. Hot toddies (whisky, hot water and lemon) are another popular remedy that cure you, or at least make you feel better.


According to Ayurvedic medicine, astragalus extract is said to boost the immune response. Avoid dairy foods and anything that is cold, frozen, dry or raw. Other potent foods include ginger; lemon, cinnamon and honey; milk and turmeric; carom and flax seeds; and the Indian gooseberry (amla).

Traditional Chinese medicine

According to TCM there are two types of cold: wind cold and wind heat.

For wind cold, you need miso soup with spring onion (the white part) and fresh ginger. Green tea and licorice are also useful.

Wind heat requires soups, juices and the use of some formula such as Yin Qiao San, which contains ingredients including honeysuckle root, forsythia, great burdock fruit, mint leaf and licorice. Avoid ginseng root because it will make things worse.

For the past 3,000 years, the Chinese have drunk ma huang tea to clear congestion. The ma huang plant contains pseudoephedrine, which is used in most modern decongestants.

Olde worlde

Leeches were a medicinal mainstay in much of medieval Europe – removing blood was supposed to lower the temperature.

A flannel blanket dipped in boiling water and sprinkled with turpentine was a Victorian speciality recommended in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861.

In medieval Europe, doctors prescribed emetics to make the patient vomit the excess fluids that were thought to cause the cold. Bathing was discouraged because it softened the body.

A paste of mustard spread between two pieces of cloth and laid on the chest was a popular treatment in ancient Rome.

Chicken soup is a really old classic – it was mentioned in AD60 by a Roman doctor. Chicken contains the amino acid cysteine, which has mild decongestant proprieties.


Some doctors are still prescribing these for colds. Antibiotics may fight bacteria, but viruses laugh at them and multiply. Never take antibiotics for a common cold – it destroys your useful bacteria and weakens your immune system. It also leads to antibiotic-resistant strains of whatever bacteria survive.

Alternative medicine

If traditional remedies aren’t your thing, there are a range of alternate therapies you can try:

Crystal healing

Carnelian, aventurine and clear quartz are the shiny rocks of choice in the fight against the sniffles.

Colour therapy

Red and orange should dominate your life palette. Think red and orange lampshades, lighting and candles, red clothes and, of course, eat those oranges. The vitamin C is just a bonus.


Imagine a golden ray of light entering your body and travelling down the spine, invigorating your chakras with their respective colours. Then the healing touch: place palms on either side of your nose, temples, ears, the back of the head and the throat.


Recommended oils include tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint and Siberian fir. Inhale the air and let the oils’ chemicals do their work on your body.


Chiropractors recommend manipulating the spine – it seems to fix everything.

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Which is the fake cure? Believe it or not, all of them are genuinely offered as remedies. Whether they work or not is something else.