Chilean Cures for the Common Cold


Image by foshydog via Flickr

Ergg, chhjk, hack, cough, cough, wheeze, ergg, chhjk, sniffle…
Sorry, excuse me, cough, don’t come too close…

Yep, Eileen at bearshapedsphere isn’t the only one battling the bug this week. I swear I read her post on all the ways to name a cold and came down with it myself the next day! We’ve since compared symptoms, and while a certain degree of misery is shared, we’ve each maintained our own personal relationship with our viral foes.

Given our common focus these days, I thought I’d write on these winter woes from a different angle. She gave you the vocabulary you’ll need to be able to talk Chilean when you’re sick, and now I’ll tell you how to get better.

I’ve gotten a lot of advice about cures for the common cold; in fact, my mother used to make us take aspirin and gargle with Listerine before she slapped mustard plasters on our chests. Believe me, we did NOT want to get sick! I couldn’t swallow the aspirin, so had to let it dissolve in my mouth (ick), the Listerine made me gag (ick) and the mustard plasters burned like hell (ow)…

Fortunately, the treatments I’ve come across in Chile have been much less hostile. Check these out–and please add more to the list!

Palto-miel (Avocado-honey). This is a popular over the counter syrup-like remedy that can actually be made at home. When I first came to Chile I had bronchitis and the women I rented from made me drink a tea made from avocado leaves and honey. Seemed to work and most people swear by it.
Someone recently told me to steep the leaves in milk instead of water, although that seems a bit counter-productive to me.

Agüita de tilo: Tilo (tilia cordata) is Tilia in English, and is apparently both lime and linden and brewed (especially the flowers) into a soothing medicinal tea for colds and all their symptoms—from coughs and fevers, to headaches, inflammation, and more—oh, and it’s a sedative too.

Pisco sour with (or without) salt. I’ll skip the salt, but have long thought this would be a better bet than the favorite OTC Tapsín, which is a powder stirred into hot water for a soothing hot lemonade. I figure the natural version should work just as well (or better): lemon juice for vitamin C and alcohol as an antiseptic!

Beer with lemon and salt. I’ve heard this one a number of times, but frankly, I’m not likely to try it. Somehow being not only sick, but bloated from salty sour beer doesn’t sound very comforting.

Gargle with warm water, vinegar and salt. Many people swear by this one, so I’ll have to give it a try…

Ginger-lemon tea with honey. Grate or slice ginger and steep in hot water for 10 minutes then add lemon and honey. It is said to fight inflammation and be good for all kinds of “itis” (bronchitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, etc.)  Singers use it for their throats.

An anthropologist friend offered a cure that he admits is “ordinario” (crude):

Catrenal: Explanation: in the past people used to take “Dominal” brand aspirin (which no longer exists). It’s a play on catre (cot, though stretched to “bed” in this case) and Dominal and means, he says, not just going to bed, but, er, let’s say with company… in other words, a suggestion that sex will make you better.

And one of my old favorites: Many years ago, an anthropologist I was working with, many years my senior, told me this cure:

Go to bed with a big pitcher of hot rum and milk. Put a hat at the foot of the bed. Slowly sip the drink, and when you see three hats, you’re cured. (What you need to know is that in Spanish, “curado” means both cured and drunk!)

I’m sure I’m missing dozens of great cures—would love to hear yours!


30 responses to “Chilean Cures for the Common Cold

  1. Glad to see you back Margaret. When I lived in Chile I also used one of those home remedies whenever I got a cold. It seemed to work every time. Here it is. Go out and do a heavy workout for at least 45 minutes. In other words, you need to work up a good sweat. When you are done, mix a bottle of beer with the juice of 2 lemons, a bit of salt. Drink it. It tastes AWFUL. Take a shower and go to bed. The rationale behind its effectiveness is that each ingredient kills a different set of bugs. Aa-choo!

  2. Forgot one more ingredient! Add 2 aspirins.

  3. Our recipe for beer and lemon includes honey, and is best served warm.

  4. I am also fighting off a bad cold/sthroat infection. My daughter and baby granddaughter was due today and had to delay their holiday until next week
    😦 And before I read this have just had honey, lemon and hot water to easy the throat plus a glass of freshley squeezed oranges for vi C. Bah humbug to colds and sore throats and it’s middle of summer here in Portugal!


  5. You forgot Piscola!!

  6. John: really sick and a 45-minute workout? Sounds like cruel and unusual punishment and one lousy beer (lousy as in mucked up with lemon and salt!) just isn’t going to do it! Then again, it sounds kind of like my mother’s brand of nursing!
    PiP: Sorry to hear you got the summer version of this thing! I join you in your bah humbugging!
    Lorenzo: Piscola for a cold? I do like them, and it’s true they’ve got pisco to kill the germs, but I’m stick with the sours for the added vitamin C (even if it’s just mental trickery!)

  7. that last joke is awesome, haha. My chilean mother in law did the mustard heated cloth thing too once!

  8. Mustard plasters are torture! For anyone who has never had the experience: they’re made by mixing powdered mustard (Coleman’s was the brand of choice)with water to form a thick paste. Lay out a clean, damp cloth out flat (she used old cloth diapers in those days), spread a thick layer of the paste (being careful not to touch it or breathe the fumes), lay another cloth on top, and then place it on the chest or back of the sick person. Leave it there for about 20 minutes (or until they scream too loudly). Warning, it will leave a big red burn mark when removed. And no… I never repeated this with my own daughter! (she should really thank me for that!)

  9. Mi receta sería lo ya mencionado: Cerveza, limón, sal y miel. Aplico mentolatum en el pecho y ropa extra para dormir (la idea es sudar), mucha agua y/o té de menta.

    La receta de mi abuelita para la tos era asquerosa pero efectiva, recuerdo que dejaba hervir un poco de leche con ajo molido y una vez frío lo tomábamos, es realmente malísimo pero el alivio era casi al instante.

  10. Gracias Ivan–buenas ideas (quizás agregando un poco de miel a la cerveza ayudaría)… Yo también tomo mucha agua, pero con limón–como una limonada muy débil. Rico–y aporta Vitamina C.
    Parece que tu abuelita asisitió a la misma escuela de enfermería casera que mi mamá! Me imagino que eso del ajo tenía otro beneficio–como nadie se acercaría al enfermo por el olor al ajo, ¡no se enfermarían más gente!

  11. Tapsin caliente is my BFF when I have a cold. I don’t trust in any natural medicine or “secret”. Tapsin rules!!!

  12. Interesting… another friend told me just the opposite! She doesn’t trust manufactured drugs and prefers natural remedies!

  13. I’ve heard the following recipe: one bottle of pisco and one lemon for juice. After that, perhaps go to bed.

    One more thing: in the 1960’s there was a kind of aspirin called Cafrenal; Catrenal this must be a variation on (very Chilean, of course).

  14. Hi Raúl– a whole bottle of pisco? and then MAYBE go to bed? (as in if you can still crawl to it?) !!!
    Ah! He told me Dominal, but I bet you’re right, Catrenal must play off that because the similarity is just too close! Thanks!!

  15. Welcome back, Margaret! For some reason, I haven’t had a cold in years. Allergy problems, yes, but a cold? No! Now that I’m wearing my nuez moscada around my neck 24/7, I’m even managing to breathe the Santiago air without too many allergy issues. I hope that you are “curada” soon!

  16. Hi there Thorny- thanks–and Lucky YOU! No colds at all? Fantastic.
    And I had forgotten all about nutmeg on a chain! I had never heard of it before I came to Chile, but many people here swear by it. I always thought of it more for allergies, but you think it might help for colds too? I swear at this point–now that it’s turned to full-blown bronchitis–I am just about desperate! Time to start looking for that nuez moscada!

  17. Don’t know about nuez moscada vs. the common cold. Probably couldn’t hurt, unless of course, you’re allergic to nutmeg! (Disclaimer: I’m no doctor. I’m only playing one on the internet.) Someone gave me my nuez moscada, but I’ve heard that you can buy one, already on a string, at the persa.

  18. The first time I heard about nutmeg for allergies was many years ago from a student of mine a young man just starting his career in business. He enthusiastically showed me a whole nutmeg dangling from he white cotton string around his neck. I had to smile when I noticed the following year he still had the nutmeg, but now dangling from a gold chain! Obviously his career had taken off!

  19. Jajajajajajajaja, mi abuelita would fancy this very much, specially the Catrenal……..jajajajajaja.

  20. I don’t have a cold, but I’m thinking Pisco-Sours are pretty much a remedy for whatever ails you… and at the moment, I’m feeling fatigued from work. Can you send some Pisco? Please. Oh, okay, I’ll settle for the Chilean wine. 🙂

  21. @Marcela–sounds like you have a fun abuela!
    @Kathleen- yes, good for just about anything but a hangover! If you have a big liquor chain near you check to see if they have pisco–they just might! Otherwise you’ll just have to wait til the next time I’m in town–or you come here!

  22. Have you hear these chileans jokes for cures the common cold ?

    these words sound like pills, but in fact if you separate the words it means …..

  23. Gracias Roberto–ya estaré atenta la próxima vez que algñun fresco intenta “recetar”!!
    Parece que es de la misma escuela de medicina que el “Catrenol”!

  24. Margaret,
    Hi! I just found your blog. I am teaching an undergraduate course in Anthropology at a Christian College in Missouri. I was thinking about Sapir-Whorf and how it relates to Spanish. I was thinking of the difference between an up-front, accept my own responsibility for something that “I forgot,” as compared to the it-can’t-be-my-fault-nuanced “se me olvidó.” For what it’s worth, I lived in Santiago from 1977-1994, and have returned to visit several times. I hope to spend several weeks there in 2012, hopefully, “post-dissertation.”

  25. Hi David- wow! You were here a long time! And yes, although the Sapir Whorf theory has largely been discredited, I can’t help but think of oh so many ways that it really does seem to apply!
    And with respect to se me olvidó, I have to add “se me cayó” (it fell from me) instead of “I dropped it”. I’m sure we could find many more examples along this line. For more language fun, click on the “Language * Idioma” category button from the right hand column–oh here, let me just do that for you:
    Hope you’ll stop by again (love comments from other anthros!)–and good luck on that dissertation! (signed, ABD for life… sigh)

  26. My grandmother used to give us warm milk and garlic .. it works wonders! .. also she’d cut an onion in half and leave it on a plate with honey … the onion facing down .. allowing all the juice to come out .. next day she’ll give us the honey and the onion juice.!

  27. Garlic and onions- wow! Was that here in Chile? It would be interesting to know the scientific reason behind these 2 remedies. My guess is that there’s something beneficial in the onion juice and the honey is just to make it taste better (and to ease a sore throat) I bet the garlic has something powerful in it too! Thanks for adding these!

  28. A “common” remedy for the earache, at least in the south of Chile is make a “cucurucho”(cone) of newspaper and introduce the point of the cone in your ear. In the other side of the cone you must to turn on fire on the newspaper and just let it burn. So the heat start to go up through the cone and enter to your ear (smoke included) and when you feel in your ear a noise like if something exploded inside your ear(no kidding), that’s the moment to take out the miraculous cucurucho. I received that medicine when I was a child by my grandmother, a uncle, even by myself! Now with a little more of common sense, I think never would do something like that again, not for me or anybody.

  29. I’ve heard of this before! I don’t remember if it was someone in Chile who told me or elsewhere, but the idea of putting burning newspaper in someone’s ear is pretty scary! Although the idea of getting heat right into the ear does make sense. Wonder what the “exploding” noise was?

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