“I have the perfect cure for a sore throat: cut it!”
It shouldn’t be surprising to learn this quirky advice comes from none other than suspense-guru Alfred Hitchcock. Although at times it may seem the only viable alternative, the actual act is illegal, immoral, messy and, bottom line, not very practical. This leaves me still unable to find relief for my oldest son who’s currently suffering from a cold and an accompanying violent sore throat. I haven’t actually spoken to him, felt his forehead or peered in his mouth—he’s off at college, living in a dorm—but I do get updates on his life from his facebook status. Modern technology may not be able to cure the common cold, but it can certainly keep us informed when a loved one is sick.
After I learned about his illness, we exchanged a number of text messages. I sent condolences, encouragement and suggestions. He sent lists of symptoms, failed remedies and complaints. I offered the usual proposals—tea with honey, gargling with warm salt water, advil. He hates tea, salt water is disgusting and advil didn’t work. Sleep was rejected. He has term papers to write and exams to study for (funny, he had enough free time for facebook and texting!) Besides, his throat hurts so badly that sleep is impossible.
Since he’s rebuffed my modern home remedies, maybe I should offer a few from the 19th century. After all, my characters use them all the time with fairly good results. Granted, these are fictional characters… but the homeopathic solutions are real and since nothing else has worked, I figure it’s worth a try.
The most common herbal therapy was bark from slippery elm trees. The inner bark apparently contains a substance called mucilage that swells when mixed with water and will coat the throat to soothe a sore throat. I’m guessing my son would nix any preparation involving slime.
Another popular remedy was marshmallow root tea. (This is an herb, not the fluffy white item common in s’mores.) Add 1 tablespoon of dried root to 8 ounces of boiling water. Herbalists recommend drinking up to three cups a day.
For a tonic that doesn’t necessitate a trip to a health food store, (a foreign concept to my son who exists on Chef Boyardee, Nerds and energy drinks), he could prepare a concoction of lemon, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper and honey. And drink four cups a day.
He declined conventional tea. I doubt he’ll go for these.
The other popular 19th century remedies are, needless to say, now illegal… at least without a prescription. As recently as the turn of the century (1899 to 1900, that is!) there were a plethora of common tinctures available to treat every ailment from infant teething to sore throat and cough. One of the most popular and widely used was Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. The NY Times (October 5, 1861) published an advertisement/article with testimonials by parents whose suffering children had finally found relief with Mrs. Winslow’s magic. The article endorsed this wonderful elixir “sold by druggists throughout the world for only 25 cents/bottle.” Unfortunately, the ‘magic’ is a hefty dose of morphine. In fact, most of the elixirs back then contained one or more of the following: morphine, heroin, opium, alcohol or cannabis. I doubt the sore throat actually went away, but I’m guessing the afflicted patient no longer cared.
As Hitchcock’s advice is impractical, and Mrs. Winslow’s is both illegal and, in all likelihood, harmful, I suppose he’ll have to do what the rest of the world does… tough it out. In the absence of either modern or ancient cure, he’ll just have to allow time and mother nature to heal it. Then again, he’s probably feeling better already. I just haven’t had a chance to check his facebook status for an update.