Now that winter is upon us, unfortunately we are starting to see the onset of colds, coughs, flu, and other ailments. While your bubbe may not have gone to medical school (though she no doubt wanted you to or at least to marry somebody who did), she was probably an expert on home remedies. Turns out, some of these natural cures have been around for centuries, and many are quite effective and have stood up to medical review.
In Cures For the Common Cold From Maimonides to the Shtetl, the Jewish Daily Forward examines some of the different Jewish folk remedies for various ailments.
Chicken Soup For Colds
Everybody knows about the miracle of chicken soup – and there is even some scientific proof to back that belief. Maimonides described its medical effectiveness in his book, “On the Causes of Symptoms,” written in the 12th century. And an article about remedies for colds, flu and sore throats from the Jewish health site Zei Gezunt states that in 1978, Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach published a study that found chicken soup was clinically effective in fighting congestion.
More recent evidence was found by Dr. Irwin Ziment of UCLA Medical Center and an expert in respiratory pharmacology. He found that chicken, a protein food, contains an amino acid called cysteine that is chemically similar to a drug called acetylcysteine. Acetylcysteine is prescribed for people with respiratory infections because it thins the mucous in the lungs. According to Dr. Ziment, the more garlic and hot spices added to chicken soup, the better it will be at clearing congestion. The “Jewish penicillin” appears to be a legitimate natural remedy.
Garlic, Onions and Mustard Seed
According to Zei Gezunt, when a cold was accompanied by a wet cough, “Onion Juice” was a common folk remedy. The recipe basically consisted of diced onions and sugar in a one to one ratio. The mixture was then put in a pot, covered with water, and boiled with the lid on for 45 minutes. After the mixture cooled, the sugared onions were placed in cheesecloth and squeezed to obtain the juice of the onions. The recommended dose was two tablespoons of onion juice every two hours until the cough disappeared.
When a sore throat signaled the beginning of a cold, Zei Gezunt states that some of “Bubbe’s remedies” were to eat garlic cloves or onion, or to use a mustard pack on the chest. The Wellspring explains that a mustard pack is effective at treating congestion because mustard is a rubefacient, which means it stimulates blood circulation through dilation of the capillaries. Therefore, when applied over the lungs a mustard pack helps to open them up and produce expectoration of trapped mucous or phlegm. Granny Med gives detailed instructions for making mustard packs, and explains that they were recommended by doctors and nurses in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The site warns that the mustard seed can sometimes burn or irritate the skin.
While chicken soup is known as the Jewish penicillin, guggle muggle has been referred to as the “Jewish echinacea.”
According to the New York Times, the use of guggle muggle goes back to the shtetl era, and one can find references to it in Russian literature. It is known to soothe sore throats, shorten the duration of a cold or flu, and provide comfort to someone suffering from those ailments.
There are many variations, but most classic recipes call for a vigorously beaten egg yolk mixed with sugar and hot milk. Instead of milk, some recipes use alcohol such as brandy or rum. There are also versions with butter, honey, lemon, and cocoa, and sometimes the drink is finished with a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon. Kveller states that some versions of guggle muggle (or gogle-mogle or guggla muggla) contain tea and even schmaltz. Ed Koch attested to its curative effects, and you can find his recipe here. A warm concoction with three types of citrus juice, honey and brandy, the former Mayor’s drink is sure to bring tasty comfort. For a less appetizing alternative, Zei Gezunt recommends gargling with white cabbage juice to relieve a sore throat.