Some home remedies are worth a try

    Many years ago, during a visit with my parents, I observed a covered glass jar sitting on the kitchen counter. It contained a colorless liquid with golden raisins nesting at the bottom. My mother said, “It’s gin.”

    My parents were nondrinkers, so that comment got my attention. She indicated my father was soaking the raisins and then ultimately eating a few every day to reduce arthritic pain. My mom thought it was “definitely working.” I queried my dad and he thought so too. At this point, it may be important to note that my father continued to have multiple late-in-life physical ailments, but arthritic pain was seldom an issue.

    That visit with my folks was an introduction to “kitchen cures.” There’s not much in the way of evidence to support a belief in the benefits of gin-soaked raisins, but my folks believed it worked, and a positive attitude carries its own curative effect.

    The possibilities presented by kitchen cures interests me. But I always feel it’s advisable to have a research base when it comes to taking medications. That may be hard to do with home remedies. For instance, historically there was relatively little solid data involving cranberry juice. There are still some disbelievers, but research has determined drinking two 8-ounce glasses a day or eating 1/3 cup of dried cranberries prevents urinary tract infections. But you must do it on a regular basis, not just when you suspect an infection is looming. And keep in mind that there can be a lot of sugar in cranberries.

    A recent Harvard Medical School publication offered a few common-sense comments about “home remedies that may be worth a try.” One idea is the daily application of Vick’s Vapor Rub for toenail fungus. If you have that problem and have not considered this option, maybe you could entertain it. Always wise to check with your health provider on stuff like this.

    That said, I am told that prescription medications for nail fungus are expensive. Using Vicks to cover the nail on a regular basis is estimated to cost 6 cents per day. And that is one of the reasons we look for home remedies. They tend to cost less. And even if they don’t work, they’re typically believed to do no harm. But like all the health-related decisions you make, those too need to be thoughtful.

    Here are a few more examples. Let’s start with chicken soup for nasal congestion. Great for overall hydration, as well. The only downside might be high sodium content. What about duct tape for warts? I had a wart on my hand a few years ago that bothered my granddaughter when she held my hand. I went to my dermatologist to have it removed, and do you know what was recommended — yup, duct tape.

    What about flax meal or prunes and prune juice for constipation? Measured amounts, of course. Overdoing will bring regret. Baking soda? Soaking in a tub with a cup or more of this versatile white substance is very relaxing for old and achy muscles, but ingesting too much it for stomach upset or acid reflux can land you in the emergency room.

    Like most things in life — “informed choice” is the best remedy.

    Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at

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