The Home Remedies, Old Wives Tales, Sayings and Superstitions We Turn To During Sniffle-Season

Which home remedies work, where did they come from, what Dorset superstition stops your kettle from boiling and why did Dorset become the health destination in the Georgian era?

Everyone I know has a cold. Everyone. I don’t just mean everyone who I socialize with, because that would make sense if we all have the same cold. I mean friends, family and work colleagues up and down the country. For some, it is a cold that comes with a really sore throat, for others it is the one with a pounding headache and stuffy nose, for others it’s the one with the chesty cough and then there is the variety pack cold that sprinkles it all in there. Recently, I was prescribed antibiotics for a chest infection and at the same time, a friend was prescribed absolute bed rest by their Doctor, for the remainder of their pregnancy. Both remedies are steeped in medical science but only one sounds scientific and the other more like some sort of antiquated folklore. Similarly, I was previously told by my Doctor to literally eat more red meat to increase my low iron levels, as well as friends being told to switch from an entirely vegetarian diet to one that includes some meat and fish, because they too needed to supplement their iron levels. These are very old-fashioned prescriptions, and yet they worked. Yet, they feel as outdated as when nurses would hand out bottles of guinness to the women on the maternity wards. These types of prescriptions feel reminiscent to the home remedies that have been passed down throughout history and the sayings that are the result of old wives tales and maxims that are hundreds of years old. But, how many old-fashioned prescriptions, sayings, remedies and tinctures still hold true today? 

One of the most recognised maxims recommends that you should, “feed a cold, starve a fever.” However, this saying is actually over 400 years old. It dates back to the, “1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that fasting is a great remedy of fever.” In reality, eating food is necessary for helping fuel your body with the resources and energy it needs to fight off both a cold and a fever. Even more essential, is to stay incredibly well hydrated. When your body is battling against colds and fevers, hydration is key. Even if you lose your appetite and want to eat less, medical advice today stresses the importance of staying hydrated. 

This is probably why chicken soup has become synonymous with home remedies to make you feel better when poorly. As long as it isn’t too salty, the liquid of a chicken broth will help keep someone hydrated, whilst the chicken and vegetables in a soup will provide some nourishment for the body in a way that is easy to consume when you have less of an appetite. The warmth of a broth can further help soothe a sore throat.

But, have you come across one of the more singular home remedies like popping onions into bed socks to ‘draw out a virus’? This method has been around since the 1500’s and is still used today. In theory, “according to the National Onion Association, it was widely believed that placing raw, cut-up onions around your home could protect you from the bubonic plague.” The folklore at the root of this remedy suggests placing onions on the feet, allows the onions sulphuric compounds to infiltrate the body and therefore, kill the bacteria and viruses. Is there any truth to this ancient method? Not really. According to Medical News Today and Health Line, “no studies have specifically assessed the benefit of putting onions in your socks or anywhere else on your body.” However, even if sleeping with raw onions in your socks won’t actually help rid anyone of their flu, eating onions has many health benefits. In fact, “They are a low-calorie, high-fibre, high-nutrient food and contain vitamin C.” Some medical studies and reviews have also linked eating onions to reducing cancer, reducing depression and supporting the body’s skin and hair health. So there you go, it really is worth knowing your onions – just not wearing them.

We may not all go around popping alliums in our socks but many of us have probably thrown spilt salt over a left shoulder, saluted a single magpie, skipped over the cracks in pavement, avoided walking under a ladder or winced when mirror broke because of the “seven years bad luck”. Perhaps we have not done all of them or don’t do it every time but there is something about superstitions that just seem to stick. Each superstition is steeped in ancient folklore and foreboding. Some are linked specifically to certain places, customs and cultures. According to Historic UK: “Many housewives believed that food would be spoiled if it was stirred ‘widdershins’ – that is, in the opposite direction to that of the sun. Everyone knows that ‘a watched pot never boils’ and in Dorset it is common knowledge that a slow-boiling kettle is bewitched and may contain a toad!”. I feel pretty confident that particular superstition hasn’t stuck around and that the toads of Dorset aren’t actually stirring up witchcraft.

Dorset has been a popular tourist destination since the 1700’s when the medical scientists of the age declared that sea air and sea bathing were good for the health and would prescribe various ‘water cures’. Just as the social scene of the same Georgian period flocked to Bath in Somerset. People had visited Bath since Roman times and ‘benefited’ from the natural warm spring water they found there and built their Spas upon. However, it was in the 1700’s that people began to not just bathe in the mineral rich spring water but also to drink it. Known as taking ‘the cure’, they believed that the foul, eggy tasting spring water was a cure-all for ailments, ranging from gout to infertility. The Pump Room became the fashionable place to be and we could say sipping its sulphuric waters became the first wellness industry trend. Jane Austen once described how, “every creature in Bath was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours”. You can still visit the same Pump Room in Bath and sample the water just as the Georhians did – just don’t expect it to cure anything or to taste nice.  

The other wellness trend of the period was sea bathing and once King George visited Weymouth in Dorset in 1789, the town became the most desirable and celebrated sea bathing destination to visit. By the Victorian era it was not just the social elite visiting Weymouth for sea bathing and sea air but with the arrival of the railway in 1857, Dorset became accessible to more tourists. Year round sea and cold water swimming has become popular once more, with many people touting its many health benefits. The lengthy list of benefits are said to include: boosting the immune system, Increased circulation, reduced inflammation, improved cardiovascular health, as well as relieving stress and anxiety. 

Dorset Adventure Park won’t claim to cure you of your gout but what you will have is a great time. I may not be sure what Jane Austen would have thought about this particular water park near weymouth but with a five star rating on trip advisor, it is definitely the place to be for visitors to Dorset this summer. Treat your friends and family to a great day out and purchase a gift card to Dorset Adventure Park thai Christmas. Splash, swim and slide your way across the wibbit inflatable course across the two lakes or battle your way through the mud trail and concur the 50 obstacles along the bath and make your own Dorset legend this summer.

Words by Olivia Lowry

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