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For every piece of medical advice that will cure and alleviate minor ailments and illnesses, there is an alternative solution. From garlic up the nose to cabbage on the breast, here are eight alternative Russian remedies that claim to cure everything from colds to hair loss to hangovers.
Garlic is a common home remedy, frequently used to help fight off pesky colds. In Russia, this can be done by eating it for general immunity, stringing together several cloves and wearing it around your neck to kill off a virus, or, used as a nose drop. It is said that an effective cure for a head cold is to mix garlic juice with water, which can then be used as nasal drops once or twice a day. Parents also have been known to pop a clove in their child’s pocket to ward off colds.
Thanks to Russia’s long, cold winters, there are several home remedies that are said to cure poor circulation. Sunflower seed tea claims to help with circulation, as well as improve liver function, hair and bone quality. Simply steep a handful of the seeds in half a litre of boiling water and let it sit for a couple of hours. Drink a cup of this tea every morning on an empty stomach to get that blood flowing again.
Although the astringent Solyanka – packed with pickles, capers, lemon and meat – is the go-to soup for a hangover, any delicious Russian broth will revitalise the sorriest of folk the day after the night before. Solyanka is the soup of choice for its sourness, and so it is no surprise pickle and sauerkraut brine (and pickles and sauerkraut actually) are also recommended remedies to soothe the body after a session. It is believed that these sour foods are gentle on the digestive system and replenish fluids and electrolyte balance.
Russians believe a good steam will see you through winter in good health. For an easy but awkward way to fix a cold, try steaming your elbows and knees over buckets of hot water. Or, for a full body steaming try a banya. Russia’s sauna culture include veniks (a bundle of tree twigs), which are used to swat the body when it is particularly sweaty at the end of a steaming session. They are used to give an all over body massage and depending on the type of tree the twigs are taken from, veniks can assist in tightening pores, improve the condition of the skin, or be used for their anti-inflammatory or antibacterial properties.
Three to four carrots is all you need if you’re worried about thinning hair. Wash them, grate them, then rub them into your scalp and roots. Leave the grated carrots on your head for 15 – 20 minutes and then wash off and shampoo and condition as normal. Use the carrot mixture before every hair wash and supposedly the hair-fortifying qualities in the carrots will work its magic. Also, it is common to wash hair in the water that is used to soak birch veniks in a banya. This is believed to prevent baldness.
Gargling with salty water is a common home remedy for sore throats. Russians take half a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of baking soda and mix it with a bit of room temperature water. This is then gargled and spat out until the liquid is finished (this mixture can also be taken through the nose for a full sinus flush). However, for more persistent irritated throats, or to calm down tonsillitis symptoms, try a beetroot and vinegar concoction. Grate a raw beetroot and add a teaspoon of vinegar (apple cider vinegar is ideal). Stir well and let it sit for around 20 minutes, squeeze the liquid out of the beets, discard and sip the juice.
This is another alternative remedy for colds, and one that is based on the anti-inflammatory properties of raspberries and far more delicious that cough syrup. Home-made raspberry jam and tea is said to help alleviate the symptoms of a cold. It is taken by the spoonful, along with a cup or two of hot black tea, which can have a slice of lemon in it if you like.
Breastfeeding mothers might serve themselves well by keeping a head of cabbage in the fridge just in case. Known to have anti-inflammatory properties, cold cabbage leaves are a home remedy for women with mastitis. This is a condition most commonly occurring during breastfeeding when milk ducts become blocked and breasts become sore and inflamed. It is also used to soothe general irritations that occur when feeding a child. Keep the cabbage cool in the fridge, wash a few of the inner leaves under cool water when necessary, and apply them to the breast like you would a plaster.