Folk medicine — touted by grandmas all over the world — sometimes offers good advice, just like your grandma. My grandma, a sweet and salty Romani woman, says things like, “Girl, get it while you’re young,” and, “You only get one body, so keep it healthy and fine.”
I listen because she has serious survivor cred. This woman, born in Germany, lived through the Holocaust as a persecuted minority, and came to the States alone at 19. In honor of grandmas everywhere, here are a few traditional medicine practices that are backed by science. As always, check with a doctor if you’re having serious problems, and keep your body fine. Grandma says.
Lemon and warm water to aid digestion and prevent kidney stones
Lemon and water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, usually 20 minutes before a meal, is a popular Ayurvedic health tonic used to aid in digestion and boost immunity to disease. It’s also a tradition I grew up with, both on my father’s Italian side and my mother’s Romani side. So you could say it’s double-grandma approved.
Aside from the healthy dose of vitamin C and potassium, there’s some evidence that the citric acid in lemon juice and the lemon rind really are helpful for a number of uses, including aiding in digestion, and preventing kidney stones. Grandma starts the day with a mug of hot water (not boiling), the juice of half a lemon, and a little (organic) zest. I like adding a spoonful of honey for its antimicrobial properties and a pinch of turmeric to aid in digestion and reduce inflammation.
Salt water gargle for a sore throat
When I feel a sore throat coming on, grandma tells me to gargle with salt water in the morning and before bed. It turns out that a saltwater gargle is recommended by health professionals too, not in place of treatment, but to reduce uncomfortable symptoms from illnesses like the common cold. You can try a scant teaspoon of salt dissolved in a glass of warm water to soothe a sore throat.
Honey as an antimicrobial
Since ancient times and across cultures, honey has been used to dress wounds and burns, sustain blood sugar, relieve sore throats and coughs, treat allergies, and more. Honey is a natural antimicrobial; grandma also recommends a spoonful of honey before bed for anyone over age 2 to ameliorate a cough (infants shouldn’t be given honey because their underdeveloped digestive tract may make them susceptible to infant botulism). You can also apply honey directly to clean burns or wounds. Delicious!
Meditation as an immunity booster
A 2012 study looked at whether mindfulness meditation, shown to help reduce stress; an exercise regimen; or a control group. Those in the meditation group were more resistant to colds than the others and though more research needs to be done on the physical side, you really can’t go wrong with the mental benefits you’ll get, too.
Chamomile for anxiety and depression
Chamomile has been used for thousands of years throughout Europe and other continents to ease anxiety, sleeplessness, and gastrointestinal complaints. It’s also applied topically to soothe skin ailments. The most common variety is German chamomile, which my grandmother used to gather as a little girl in Germany to make teas, salves, and tinctures like a child in a cozy folk tale, but in a war zone.
I don’t love the idea of being unconscious for hours at a time, in the dark, so you could say I’m a nervous sleeper. When I spent weekends dancing and learning our trades with my grandmother in her little trailer in rural New Hampshire, her cure for my white-knuckled nighttimes was a steaming pot of chamomile tea served in pretty green teacups with a touch of honey. While we sipped, she’d tell me stories about the wild things she used to do, like how she learned English by watching old Western flicks, and called her kids in for dinner by hollering, “Git in here, ye yellow-bellied varmints!”