Grandma’s Home Remedies: The Good, The Benign, And The Dangerous

Ivy says:

When I was a kid, my grandma had one remedy for nearly every malady that befell us kids. If my brother and cousins read Home Ec 101, they’d be laughing right about now. See, no matter what was wrong with us, she had the same advice. Sick to your stomach? You’d better try to poop. Headache? Have you pooped lately? “Grandma! I have a broken arm!” “Your arm is fine, you just need to poop.” And if you told her you didn’t need to poop, she’d come running after you with castor oil, so you were pooping whether you wanted to or not.

Now, I don’t exactly get that excited about pooping, but I have noticed 9 times out of 10 when my kids come to me with a stomachache, they do just need to poop. Ah, well, grandma was right.

Now, pooping wasn’t my grandma’s only home remedy although it was the most frequent. There are a lot of home remedies that are actually good, some that are benign and may work by the “placebo effect”, and some that are downright dangerous. Let’s explore a few, shall we? (after the jump)

But before we do, let me say this: I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. This should not be construed as medical advice and none of this info should ever replace the advice of a medical professional.

Now that I’ve said the stuff my e-lawyer (he’s not a lawyer, but he DOES play one on the internet) wants me to say, let’s get on with it:

Grandma’s home remedy: Got a burn? Put butter on it.

Status: DANGEROUS

More Info: Butter may hold the heat in, but the more important reason not to use butter on a burn is because it creates a good environment for bacteria to grow, causing infection. A better solution is to run cool (not cold, and especially not icy) water over the burn and wrap it in some sterile gauze to keep the affected area clean and dry.

Grandma’s home remedy: Stung by a jellyfish? Have someone pee on it.

Status: Works, but there are more hygienic methods.

More info: Growing up in central Indiana, jellyfish stings were a constant worry for us. Okay, they weren’t, but I had to include this one because it makes me laugh that it actually works. The point of peeing on a jellyfish sting is apparently to keep the tentacle from releasing toxins into you. It’s the acidity that does that, so instead of getting someone to pee on your leg, you can use vinegar with the same effects. Once it’s neutralized, you or a companion or a doctor can remove the tentacle. Make sure whoever is doing the removal is wearing gloves.

Grandma’s home remedy: Honey and lemon mixed together is great for soothing a cough.

Status: Works!

More info: Google “honey and lemon for cough” and you’ll get a million different variations on this. Some people swear by boiling the lemon intact and then adding honey to that water. Other people say honey and vinegar. Other people say honey and brandy or vodka. Me, I always take a coffee cup filled about 2/3rds with hot water, add a big squeeze of honey and several drops of lemon juice. It calms the cough right down.

Grandma’s home remedy: Put bacon (or onions or tomatoes) on a boil to make it come to a head faster and/or soothe it.

Status: Ehhh, not so much.

More info: As a very frequent sufferer of boils (I have hidradenitis suppurativa), I have heard 80 million different boil remedies. Let me tell you, internets. They don’t work. I did see one while researching for this post that I haven’t tried and that’s putting a wet tea bag on the boil. I haven’t tried that, but if I try it and it works, I’ll update this post. What works for me is soaking the boil in as hot water as I can stand, then covering it with gauze and antibiotic cream and letting it pop on its own. I usually take motrin for the pain, it makes it somewhat bearable most of the time. What I have found works really well to prevent boils is washing with body wash that contains tea tree oil. Ever since I have started using body wash with tea tree oil in it, I’ve had a lot fewer boils that last a shorter period of time.

Grandma’s home remedy: A cotton ball soaked in whiskey will soothe your toothache.

Status: Mixed results

More info: Although theoretically the sugar content in corn mash whiskey would irritate the toothache, I’ve had fairly good results with this, most of the time. A good friend of mine suggested using oil of cloves on a toothache and that works even better, and I don’t have to go around smelling like a drunk. Fab.

Grandma’s home remedy: Use hot water (or a hot compress) on mosquito bites to keep them from itching.

Status: Works!

More info: It doesn’t work for a terribly long time, but it does take the itching away for a little while. If you’re out of benadryl cream or aren’t in an area where you can get some (camping, anyone?), hot compresses work great for a mosquito bite.

Grandma’s home remedy: Pour kerosene on your hair if you get lice to kill all the lice and nits.

Status: DANGEROUS!!!

More info: Kerosene can be absorbed through the skin and can be very dangerous. Plus, what if you get lit on fire? I really like the info in this link for getting rid of head lice without chemicals. And once again, good ol’ tea tree oil to the rescue! Is there anything tea tree oil can’t do? I didn’t think so.

Alright, home eccers, tell me about your grandma’s home remedies and if they work!

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Comments

  1. Angie B says:

    When my daughter was little she used to get sores on her gums (mostly from eating sweettarts). I would get a tea bag wet on the corner and make her hold it on her gum for a few minutes. It actually worked in getting rid of the sore so it may work on boils too.

  2. RE: Boils – I have cystic acne, and I find a good green tea compress helps, at very least, relieve the throbbing pain associated, while the hot water softens the skin. Additionally, finding a salicylic Acid cream helps – you can use anything from commercial zit creams and diaper rash remedies (about 5%-10%), or if you look at many of the generic creams, they come with 15%. I find these work best for cystic acne.

    RE: Mosquito bites and hot rags. Scientifically, this works because it temporarily breaks up the enzyme in the mosquito’s spit (yes, I know, ew) that make their bites make us itch.

  3. I used to scuba dive a lot and jelly fish stings were plentiful. We would make a paste with adaofs meat tenderizer and put it on the sting and it would take the sting right out.
    Trish
    http://www.herbals-unlimited.com

  4. When I was around 8 or 9, Grandma had me rub baking soda on the wart that plagued my ring finger, then bury it in the yard during a full moon. (I buried the baking soda, not the ring finger.) That almost completely failed – the “almost” bit being that it made me feel like I was doing something about it.

    RE: Burns — I didn’t get this from Grandma, but we have had good success by smearing raw honey over burns and covering with guaze. They heal up nicely, and quicker than with any burn creams we’ve tried.

  5. Meat tenderizer & water for bug bites. The tenderizer has an enzyme (papain) that breaks down the protein in the insect bites. Works.

    Eat your bread crust. It will give you curly hair. Doesn’t work.

  6. For Lice (and I know this works because we used it this year), cover the hair with mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip), cover that with a shower cap, leave it on for 30 minutes, then wash it out. I swear it works.

    Hugs,
    Melinda

  7. my college health center used to make everyone take a pregnancy test.
    oh, you got a sprained ankle there, better take a pregnancy test!!

    I like raw honey for wounds, it’s antibacterial and will keep a bandage from sticking. (has to be raw honey- the cooked stuff wil breed bacteria, not kill it)

    and i like tea tree oil for bug bites, boils, cystic acne, atheletes foot, ring worm, and more. it stings but it works.

    • Livefreeordie says:

      @Bramble I have never experienced tea tree oil that stings. Is it mixed with alcohol? Alcohol stings but tea tree oil does not sting.

  8. I freaking LOVE tea tree oil.

    Here is my tea tree oil story:
    While frolicking on the rocky coast with photographic intentions a couple of years back, I had the unfortunate luck of slipping on the wet, crumbly shale. Slipping, and sliding towards imminent death feet first, my friend grabbed me, saving my life, but not my left leg which was serious scraped up from ankle to bum. Did I mention I was wearing a dress at the time?

    The type of rock I slipped is gravel-like, and so as soon as I got home I made a salt scrub with kosher salt, vitamin e oil (popped a few capsules), tea tree oil, peppermint oil and a little sweet almond oil and scrubbed the hell out of my leg. This got the bits of rock out of my leg, and upped the circulation. The tea tree oil is anti-bacterial and along with the peppermint oil, tingly enough to keep the itchies at bay, which meant my legs could heal unencumbered. I also applied a mixture of hydrocortisone and neosporin post-shower. I don’t remember if there was more tea tree oil in it or not, but I do know that my legs healed with almost no scar evidence of the incident. Yay for tea tree oil!

  9. Mom of three says:

    My dad’s was gargling with salt water. Yuck.

    Now wouldn’t you know it. My children’s dentist and ortho both suggest that as the first line of defense after dental work. Dad knew best.

    For mosquitoes. Cover with clear nail polish. Works perfectly. Don’t use color, you’ll look stupid. :)

  10. For sore throat, I either take calamundin with with warm water or ginger ale.

    Both of them works for me. But I still take medicine prescribed by my doctor. :)

  11. Here is one that has been going back and forth.

    Grandma used to say (and it was marketed for it): Noxema for a sunburn.

    Later, it was said that Noxema “held in” the heat and was actually NOT good for a sunburn.

    But in looking this up again now, it seems that Noxema has joined the “beneficial” list again. So I Can’t actually say at this point if it works or not.

  12. mom, again says:

    my grandma also used salt water. Warm as a gargle for sore throats, congestion, mouth ulcers or wounds from brace wires. Rinse well after. Status: works for me. (My brothers doctor recently had him irrigate his sinuses with a prescription that was essentially fancy salt water. Not a pleasant task daily for two weeks, but it worked.)

    As a soak for just about anything else. Cold salt water soaks for burns (assuming blisters, if any, haven’t burst!), and wounds. For sprains and strains. Warm for athlete’s foot or just about any other skin condition. Status: variable.

  13. You can safely and effectively kill lice with salt water or a sauna – learn how to kill lice without killing yourself or the earth……

    Pediculicide POISONS do not remove nits and are dangerous. Among the reactions to poison shampoo or lice “treatments” are seizures, mental retardation, many different allergies and respiratory problems, strange tingling, burning, itching, attention deficit disorders, brain tumors, leukemia, cancer and death.

    I have used a sauna and/or salt water to safely and effectiely kill lice (but the nits remain).

    I have also used ½ oz. of Safe Solutions, Inc. Lice R Gone® Enzyme Shampoo and/or their Enzyme Cleaner with Peppermint per shampoo-type application to safely remove both lice and nits.

    Read how to safely control all pests at http://www.thebestcontrol2.com

  14. For mosquito bites (I don’t know if this works for other bugs) – make an X with the end of a fingernail on the bite. I think it helps to break up the enzyme (or whatever the previous poster was talking about). I used to do this and it seemed to help, then I read that it does help! :)

  15. Your grandma make fuss for you to poop? For me it was my grandpa.

    The one on putting onions(makes me cry) on boils sounds cool. I’m gotta try it !

    Honey definitely works WONDER for sore throat.

  16. texasgirl says:

    To get a boil to head put the lining of an egg on it (under gauze so it stays put). I didn't think this would work, but I had a boil that I had had for about three months, and then I tried the egg thing and the next morning it had popped and drained (a lot). The way I got the lining out was to take the fresh egg, crack and empty the contents, rinse it out lightly and then start to break off a little piece and then gently pull on it. The lining stays with the little piece that you break.

  17. Nobody likes to talk about this, but it's a rare family that hasn't had them at least once. Thanks for the tips on how to do it without using nasty chemicals!

  18. Thanks so much for the informative (and entertaining) tips and home remedies!

  19. btoblake says:

    Thanks for the conversation sparker.

    Grandma's #1 remedy: Wash your hands well.
    Grandma's #2 remedy: Leave fresh veggies on the table for snacking before big meals (I suppose it encouraged pooping, it certainly prevented overeating and indigestion)
    Grandma's #3 remedy: Sensible warnings, particularly "If you eat too much sugar and get sick, I'll take you back home to your parents."
    Dad's #1 remedy: Sick people need lots of fluids and sleep, and as little stimulation as possible. First water, then tea with honey (not for babies) then more water. I still use this routine when I need to get better in a day, though with less forced drinking. The boredom makes going back to school/work look good pretty quickly.
    Interesting vitamin store remedies:
    Fish oil – Cheap and helpful for joint pain, almost replaces glucosamine & chondroitin
    Ginseng – perhaps some types of ginseng work for someone.
    Green tea – used tea bags certainl helps inflamed skin look much less red, and temporarily handle itching.
    Internet remedies – Raw Honey – On skin, it certainly doesn't hurt, but I haven't proven it helps. I haven't tested it on serious wounds/burns, but in small studies raw honey is an often effective last resort. (The small chance of botulism is worth noting, particularly in babies and immunosuppressed people)
    Yogurt – Certainly useful for the digestive tract, and at the very least, pretty harmless elsewhere. A mild base.
    Lemon – a strong enough acid to be quite useful, probably antibacterial, safe for most uses (particularly if diluted, which most home remedies suggest).
    Vinegar – Widely used in cleaning, eating, stings.. strong enough to be useful, mild enough to be pretty harmless.
    Hydrogen Peroxide – a strong enough acid to be very useful, if somewhat worrying (there are enough stories about people taking it internally without watering it down). Breaks down quickly, so no worries about lingering in the system.
    Bananas – great for muscle aches after a workout.

    There were some very good home remedies both in the article and in the comments. Lots of modern home remedies are actually based on good chemistry (Of course, this may mean they're too strong to be wise for every day use).
    Clove oil is actually included in dental first aid kits.
    Tea tree oil is a reasonable antiseptic, antibacterial, ect, and generally a useful toxin. Diluted, it's very useful on skin, and seems to deter minor infections. When possible, I add it to makeups or creams which I touch with my fingers, to deter bacteria growth.

  20. When I was a child, my grandma always apply toothpaste to burns.Now that I'm a grown-up, I know that applying toothpaste to burns, especially second and third degree ones can cause more harm than good. Maybe because old-timers think toothpaste is a good remedy because of its cooling effects.

    Vlad
    Burn Care Protein

  21. Hi … My sis has Frequent problem for pooping… Doctor’s gave the medicine, its one day Relief.. But frequent Pooping Problem… can u Suggest any home remedy for proper problem…

  22. Whenever I had the hiccups and they just wouldn’t go away, good old Grandma Vernie always grabbed me, led me to the kitchen and got me a glass of water. When I would tell her I already tried that, she would light a match, let it burn a moment, then put it out in the cup of water and told me to drink it. I would (not a pleasant flavor, mind you) and afterwards I would stop hiccuping instantly. It always worked no matter what. I thank her for that trick since I get hiccups all too often nowadays. Love you Grandma Vern! Thanks for all you did.

  23. For boils and other puss-filled spots my Grandma would mix some (English) mustard powder to a paste with a little warm water, spread it on the infected area and cover with gauze and sticky plaster. Within 12 hours at the most the ‘spot’ would have burst and the puss would be drawn out. Next step: leave uncovered (for fresh air to get to the wound) and dab morning, noon and night with cooled solution of 1 teaspoon salt to 100 mls boiled water. No scars and no repeat problem!
    My father’s alternative (and wonderful) prescription which cut out the saline solution was to dab your saliva (first thing in the morning) on the infected area. He swore that your ‘morning spit’ (saliva) had so many antibodies that it cleared most of your own skin infections. He also made us use dock leaves for nettle stings. Brilliant! I have used my father’s recommendations with my young son and they actually work!! ‘Morning Spit’ has worked on our mosquito bites, minor grazes and just lately, minor prickly heat spots.

  24. For boils and other puss-filled spots my Grandma would mix some (English) mustard powder to a paste with a little warm water, spread it on the infected area and cover with gauze and sticky plaster. Within 12 hours at the most the ‘spot’ would have burst and the puss would be drawn out. Next step: leave uncovered (for fresh air to get to the wound) and dab morning, noon and night with cooled solution of 1 teaspoon salt to 100 mls boiled water. No scars and no repeat problem!
    My father’s alternative (and wonderful) prescription which cut out the saline solution was to dab your saliva (first thing in the morning) on the infected area. He swore that your ‘morning spit’ (saliva) had so many antibodies that it cleared most of your own skin infections. He also made us use dock leaves for nettle stings. Brilliant! I have used my father’s recommendations with my young son and they actually work!! ‘Morning Spit’ has worked on our mosquito bites, minor grazes and just lately, minor prickly heat spots.