25 Western MA Folk Remedies for Colds & Flu

Colds & Flu

"One home remedy that has really worked for my husband when he feels like he’s coming down with a cold or flu is Elderberry syrup. The trick is to take a tablespoon of the syrup as soon as you feel you’re coming down with a cold or flu and not wait until you are ill." - Blanche Cybele Derby, Northampton, MA

Dar Williams, Singer/Songwriter, writes:

“The Pioneer Valley is positively folkloric when it comes to the cure for common ills. Go to a dinner party and describe the exact nature of your cough. You’ll hear an unparalleled range of spiritual and anatomical folk wisdom.

“Perhaps this is because our prehistoric lake bottom valley left us with rich soil and contemplative scenery, well suited for agricultural and metaphysical concerns alike. Perhaps it’s the New England legacy of self-reliance in the face of hardships that no technology can conquer. Or perhaps it’s all those women.

“All I know is, my friends have literally brought gnarled roots to my doorstep and made me chew on them. Echinacea from their own gardens and burdock from their own yards. They offer tinctures made from plants they wildcrafted and prepared themselves. They have shared countless inventive suggestions for internal and external applications of garlic.

“The valley is blessed this way, and A Cure For What Ails is a compilation of all our cultural richness, not to mention the kind of advice we desperately need when we’ve got a common cold or uncommon cramps. Sure it’s a little weird to live in a place where a five year old can ask for oscillococinum, but when a friend lays a warm, neighborly hand on my shoulder and says my lymph is draining sluggishly, I know I’m home. And when she then pushes down firmly to facilitate the drainage of toxins, I know I’m loved.”

Folks Remedies: Colds & Flu

“When coming home chilled to the bones and feeling sickness coming on. Take a medicinal shower. Turning up heat as high as you can take it, getting used to it, and then slowly cranking up heat, until the room is steamy and you forgot you were ever cold and steam is rising from your skin. Then bundling up. Make and sip a strong cup of fresh ginger tea sweetened with honey. That usually does the trick.” — Chris Marano

“Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I breathe deeply into my shoulder blades, imagining the relaxing of muscles and releasing of blood from all the eddies and knots that form with stress.”— Dar Williams, Singer songwriter

“Peach pit tea is one of my favorite home remedies to strengthen the immune & lymph systems and to help to ward off colds and flu. It is totally safe and delicious, great for children too. So start to collect and dry the pits from all those locally grown juicy peaches you eat during the summer months. To prevent them from molding, wash the pit thoroughly in water before drying. — Here’s how you brew it. Pour 1 quart of water over 6 peach pits. Simmer for half to 1 hour. Strain out the pits & drink this naturally sweet tea. The pits can be reused 2-3 times before returning to the earth.”   — Submitted by Tony(a) Lemos with thanks to my friend and teacher, Kate Gilday, for this remedy. For many years Kate was a community herbalist in Wendell Ma, before moving to upstate N.Y.

“When I start to feel sick I just do the standard stuff, I take Echinacea tincture and vitamin C, drink lots of fluids and go to sleep. Sometimes I use a hot water steam to clear my sinuses. Or I make up a batch of red sauce with lots of garlic, an “Italian Chicken Soup.” — Jeff, Paradise Copies

“Illness coming on is always helped when we feel some love – maybe in the form of a massage from a friend, or simple reassurance from someone close to us that it is really okay to be out of commission for a little while, and that they will take time to make us a healthy meal and bring it to us with a smile and some healing tea. If there is a cold coming on, and that meal has cooked greens in it, the cold may very well u-turn. One thing that I always mention to people is yarrow tincture — it elevates the body temperature so that the body can efficiently do what it is already trying to do — remove waste from the body. Hemlock (from evergreen trees) tea is also warming, full of vitamin C, readily available and free. I also find that when a full blown cold takes me over, if I swerve into the skid (let myself feel deathly ill for a couple days — stay in bed, avoid commercial pharmaceuticals) that there is some lovely gem of transformation going on — some sadness that I’ve been holding onto that I have time to face and answer to in my life once I’m up and out of bed again. So, not resisting, and letting oneself enjoy being sick can be medicine in itself.” — Michelle Wilde, woman of the earth, dreamer, singer, and sacred artivist.

“When I feel myself having problems with regular nosebleeds or sore throats or something, that is the time I just check myself and figure out what is outta balance in my life – whether I am not getting enough sleep or whether I am too stressed out about work or having troubles. I try to address those problems before I do any external remedies.” — David Fisher, Conway, Natural Roots, CSA Farm

“My mother would put me under cozy warm covers and bring me hot chamomile tea. She would rub my feet, my back, hold me and she would ask with a special loving sparkle in her eyes ‘would you like any treats?'” — Leela Whitcomb-Hewitt, Child of the Valley

“In winter when I am sick (or not) my mom makes me hot chocolate. When I am sick I usually rest in bed and do quiet activities.” — Sam Robbins, Age 11

“In winter if I am sick my mom spends money on me to get me medicine. In winter if I am sick my mom gives me shelter.” — Mary Robbins, Age 9

“Whenever my son has a fever and I need it to go down, (I generally let it ride for a couple days to see if it will break on it’s own) but if he’s burning up or it’s low grade and stagnant for a while I give him either a 1/2 dropper of Elder flower tincture in warm water and have him sip it or I give him Elder flower tea 1 tsp./8oz. water. You can administer it by a teaspoon or dropper for younger children and babies. It works like a charm every time.” — Carrie Desmarais

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