Russian Language Blog

Cold Remedies – Tea and Onions and Mustard Posted by on Nov 1, 2010 in Culture, Russian life, when in Russia

The approaching winter brings not only «холод» [cold weather], but unavoidable «простуда» [cold].

Everyone around you is sick. «Как дела? Что новенького?» [How’s life? What’s new?] you ask and a friend replies «Всё по старенькому, вот только я, кажется, заболеваю» [Things are as usual, but I think I’m coming down with something].

A passerby, rushing past you, «кашляет, прикрывая рот рукой» [coughs, covering his mouth with his hand]. Another one «громко сморкается в носовой платок» [blows his nose loudly into a handkerchief]. «У него насморк» [He’s got runny nose].

Then a friend calls to cancel a long-planned «девичник» [girls’ night] and you don’t recognize her «хриплый» [hoarse] voice. «У меня самой горло болит» [I have a sore throat myself] say you and jokingly remark that it’s safe for the two of you to hang out since «зараза к заразе не липнет» [lit: contagion doesn’t stick to contagion]. But you’re only half-earnest since you «неважно себя чувствовать» [don’t feel so good] – «болит голова» [head hurts] and you’ve got «температура» [temperature, implication -mild fever]. You just hope it doesn’t turn into «жар» [fever].

Russian terms for seasonal illnesses can be very confusing. In addition to «простуда» [cold], one might have «грипп» [flu]. If your main symptom is sore throat, then you’re likely to have «ангина» which is not angina, but tonsillitis. However, if you have a bad chest-cold, you’re most likely to be diagnosed with «ОРЗ» that stands for «острое респираторное заболевание» [acute respiratory ailment].

Of course, the exact diagnosis is something best left to «врач» [doctor] or rather «участковый врач», a doctor at a local «поликлиника» [policlinic, outpatient clinic] responsible for a particular district.

But if the symptoms are mild, who needs a doctor. «Самолечение» [self-treatment] is pretty popular in Russia (as it is in the US, but probably for different reasons). Here we have two choices – stop by «аптека» [pharmacy] to pick up some «безрецептурные лекарства» [over-the-counter drugs] or to rely on «народные средства» [folk remedies] and «нетрадиционная медицина» [alternative medicine].

The OTC drugs are the same the world over, I suppose. Aspirin is available in Russia and is called «аспирин».  And you probably won’t need a dictionary to understand what «анальгин» is for – a generic name for analgesics.

Folk remedies are much more interesting and unheard-of outside of Russia. You start with «тёплое молоко» [warm milk], but add «сода» [baking soda] and «мёд» [honey] to it. Next, if your throat still bothers you, start gargling with warm «соляной раствор» [brine, salty water] or with «настой ромашки» [chamomile infusion]. To clear up stuffed nose, don’t forget «ингаляция» [inhalations] over a basin of hot water with garlic, sage and more chamomile. Now, this actually feels good, kind of like a day at a spa.

The next part is a lot less pleasant – «закапать нос» [putting drops in your nose]. If you are sticking to the home remedies, the drops would be home-made, using juice of «алое» [aloe plant], «лук» [onion] or «свёкла» [beetroot].

Here in the US we reach for orange juice at the first signs of a possible cold. However, Russia, with its cold climate is not the land of «апельсины» [oranges]. But «лук и чеснок» [onion and garlic] grow well. So forget orange juice and reach for a big onion instead. Grate it, mix with honey and sugar, cook for a few minutes on low heat just ‘til the smell gets really intense. Now make sure to swallow 1 teaspoon of this mixture every hour on the hour until you feel better.

Whether you’re chilly or hot, don’t forget to put on warm socks. After all, as every Russian knows «держи голову в холоде, живот в голоде, а ноги – в тепле» [keep your head cold, your stomach empty, but your feet warm]. Besides, socks are where you sprinkle some dry «горчичный порошок» [ground mustard] into your socks for added warming effect.

It’s time to make tea with even more honey, «мята» [mint], «шалфей» [sage], «анис» [aniseed] and «гвоздика» [whole cloves]. Spread a thick layer of «малиновое варенье» [raspberry jam] on dark Russian bread. That is, if you don’t feel like having some «горячий куриный бульон» [hot chicken broth].

Then put a slightly wet «горчичник» [mustard plaster] on your back and calves, rub your chest with «согревающая мазь» [heat rub], and try to get as much rest as possible since «сон – лучшее лекарство» [sleep is the best cure].

If such as aggressive regiment fails to restore you to good health in the morning or if you feel exhausted by following it or if you smell too strongly of onion and garlic, in short if you need a day off, stop by your «участковый врач» [district doctor] for «больничный лист» [a sick-list].

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  1. Minority:

    Wonderful.) I know almost every of these methods, but usually do not follow most of them. I’m getting ill not very often.

    When I’m ill, I’m trying to drink a lot of warm things – tea &honey, клюквенный или брусничный морс [cranberry or cowberry drink] (add some berries in your cup, add hot water; spread berries for getting some juice, add sugar or honey), отхаркивающие и прочие грудные сборы [expectorations and other pectoral gathering – hope i’m right about translation] (usually expectorations contain солодка [liquorice], душица [Origanum], мать-и-мачеха [coltsfoot], багульник [wild rosemary], календула [calendula], мята [mint]).

    Of course, it’s not the only thing I used to do, but it seems it’s main part of my treatment 😀

    Btw, what’s the difference in reasons of not going to doctor? 🙂

  2. Oxygen:

    Once my granny tried to do me inhalation with smoking garlic’s stalk. Of cource, I refused to do it. I use alternative medicine only when understand that it will help me 🙂

  3. Natasha:

    Minority, that’s because in US you have to pay for every visit, and pay A LOT…

    • yelena:

      @Natasha Minority, Natasha is right. Plus there are so many different over-the-counter meds available here in the US for cold and flu that going to see a doctor for this is not necessary. Oh, and no sick list is required by the employer. You just call in sick and use up your alloted sick days.

  4. Yelena:

    Smoking garlic stalks – sounds intense 🙂

  5. Minority:

    Yes, reasons are different… We’ve got not very good service in our clinics, though it’s for free. As we often say – залечат до смерти [will heal you to death]. Not everything’s so bad, but every visit to doctor is such a pain… There’re USSR in our free clinics… Long queues to every doctor, to go to every specialist, for blood test or something like that – you have to come to 7 am to your clinic, and may be they will register you for it.. usually not for this day… So when we can we try to go to private clinics for money. 🙂

  6. Muhamed:

    well…still here in Egypt people do cupping…they even say that in some kind of cupping little blood comes out, this blood is causing health problems because it is polluted…to be honest i am tired of chemicals..i wish we go back in time to nature and experience!

  7. Vasuda:

    My russian granny used to give us piping hot milk with a tsp of honey and tsp of butter during peak winters. This would clear the chest and our cold and cough used to be cured.