Treasured Greek Home Remedies

My mother-in-law Vera passed along to me some valuable home remedies that really work when you don’t have access to store-bought medicines.

Upset tummy:  Swallow a few olive pits (have someone else eat the olive, rinse the pits, and swallow). My mother-in-law gave them to her four children when they complained of an upset stomach.  My friend Pamela Schoenewaldt used this remedy in her soon-to-be-published novel When We Were Strangers (HarperCollins, 2011). In a critical scene in her novel, the protagonist Irma is sick with typhoid. Her love Niko takes care of her and outrages Irma’s Irish friend by having the delirious Irma eat olive pits, and…Irma gets better!

Fever:  When I was 6 months-pregnant with Antigone, I came down with the flu.  My mother-in-law peeled and sliced a potato into 3 round slices about 1/2″ thick. She placed them onto my father-in-law’s diagonally folded handkerchief and tied the handkerchief (with the 3 potato slices next to my forehead) around my head. The potato slices remained cool, unlike wet washcloths that quickly heat up), and Mama said the potato “drew” out the fever.

Nausea: Burn a piece of toast! Scrape off the burned black crumbs into a glass of water (about 1/4 cup or less). Drink. I know this works because when I had flu another time, I could not keep even chamomile tea down.

Headache: If you are unable to take aspirin or other pain relievers for a headache, try this.  Again, lay out a man’s handkerchief diagonally folded. Place cotton batting on the middle portion of the handkerchief and douse the cotton generously with rubbing alcohol. Sprinkle black pepper on top of the cotton, too.  Place the cotton batting-alcohol-pepper side at the base of your head in the back and tie the handkerchief in front. Soon the cool/hot will provide relief from your headache.

Diarrhea:  Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a small glass. Add one teaspoon of instant coffee. Drink. Believe me it works as well as it tastes bad!

Universal Cure-All: Brew a cup of chamomile tea for all of the following.

  • a newborn baby’s thrush,
  • a cut or abrasion (antiseptic),
  • hair rinse for blondes,
  • feminine douche,
  • sleep-aid for the elderly and newborns,
  • calm the nerves,
  • colds, flu, upset tummies.

I published “Chamomile: A tea of choice for gods and newborn babies” in the Knoxville Writers’ Guild’s, Literary Lunch: Food Anthology of Poetry, Essays, Shorts Stories & Memoirs (2002):

Having grown up in Roswell, New Mexico before “new age” teas of every herb became common, I knew only the standard black tea that my elderly disabled neighbor across the street made me in her fancy pink and gold cup after I vacuumed her house. I was twelve years old. Mrs. Bickford served it to me with a little pitcher of milk and some sugar cubes on the side and told me how to hold my pinkie finger when I lifted the cup. I thought she and the tea in such a fancy cup were the height of sophistication. But I grew up and found other teas.

The best tea came from a Greek god. A couple of months after meeting this god, I came down with an intestinal flu. I was a freshman in college a thousand miles from home and sick on my own for the first time. My roommate called my god, and told him I was sick. He told her to stand by the side door of our all-female dormitory, and he would meet her in ten minutes. She soon came to my side with a thermos of hot chamomile tea and a bag of yellow lemons. Chamomile to soothe my tummy, and a lemon to suck on after my nausea attacks. The lesson to my daughters will remain: don’t marry him until he brings you lemons and chamomile. Then you’ll know he’s the right one.

After our move to Greece to live happily ever after, I discovered more about chamomile tea. This small plant with tiny daisy-like flowers grows in a dry sandy soil. On our walks in the countryside with my mother-in-law, we often picked chamomile to take home. She placed the flowers between her cupped fingers and pulled off only the flower heads. She spread them out on a white sheet and placed them on a sunny tin roof to dry. After drying, we put them in a white cloth bag with a draw string. Before zipper-lock plastic bags, women made cloth bags from worn sheets or pillow cases to store herbs. To make the tea, she placed two large tablespoons of the dried chamomile flower heads in a little wire strainer and poured boiling water over the flowers, letting the strainer sit in the water a bit. A fragrant dark yellow brew emerged.

I soon became a true-believer in chamomile as a universal healer, soother of tummies, wounds, and bruised souls. When our second daughter, Antigone, was born in Athens, Greece at Elenas Hospital, the midwives-in-training gave her sugared chamomile tea between breast feedings. Chamomile is given to newborn and colicky babies as a calming addition to mother’s milk. Shortly after she and I returned home, Antigone developed thrush. My pediatrician told me to make a strong chamomile tea and, with a clean gauze pad, wipe out her mouth after each breast feeding. The thrush soon disappeared.

A Greek friend of mine used chamomile as a feminine douche. Another friend rinsed her natural blonde hair in chamomile after every shampoo to enhance the blonde highlights. When my son Niko was a toddler, he fell on the corner of our coffee table cutting a slash clear through his ear lobe. Fearing a permanent scar, I took him immediately to our pediatrician. Instead of a stitch, he told me to make a strong chamomile tea and bathe his ear lobe with the dark yellow liquid 3-4 times a day. Healing occurred with no scar. Chamomile doesn’t sting like alcohol, iodine, mercurochrome, or hydrogen peroxide when touching sensitive cuts and scrapes. Alexia fell on her bike scraping the underside of her arm–quick, make some chamomile tea. Vera fell on the gravel and punctured her knee–out came the chamomile tea. When we feel a cold or flu approaching, we brew a cup of chamomile. The amber elixir soothes nerves at the end of a hectic day and serves as a natural sedative, much like warm milk before bed time.

I cannot find chamomile growing in East Tennessee, and the white cloth bags my mother-in-law gave me are lying empty and folded in my kitchen drawer. But in our kitchen we always keep boxes of store-bought chamomile tea bags– and fresh lemons.

Stay healthy in 2011, my friends, and always keep some chamomile tea in your kitchen cabinet!  More about lemons in another post.

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3 Responses to Treasured Greek Home Remedies

  1. Amanda says:

    a beautiful post — such wonderful information!! i will forward to my sister who is interested in all things organic and herbal remedies…

    btw when i was in greece i drank lots of tsai apo ta vouna — even brought some home with me!! i think it might have a little chamomile in there…..!

  2. Tsai tou vounou is a great tea–very good for a chest cold. I love these home remedies, and I'm thrilled you do, too. I always bring tsai tou vounou back to the US with me.

  3. Fabulous, out of this world…great man, you have proved the world that innovation is not lost from the universe. I am so influenced by your way of expression; I think I will work to improve mine…great going dude!!!

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