We’re in the midst of a snowstorm that has dropped 15 cm. since last night and continues to fall, its effects compounded by strong winds that quickly cover over any shoveling and snow removal efforts. It’s the first real Winter day in Montreal, and my thoughts quickly turned to home remedies for various cold-related afflictions.

My grandmother had a fantastic set of remedies, guaranteed to cure you almost immediately of any complaining, if not of the actual cold or flu.

If you had fever, she would bring out a set of glass jars, wrap some cotton wool around a spoon-handle, dip it in alcohol, light it, swish it inside the glass to remove the oxygen, and then plop the now evacuated containers on your back. After a few seconds she would rapidly pop them off…the idea being to remove the bad “humors” that were causing the illness. This is a well-established ancient remedy called “cupping”.

If you had a sore throat, she would open a bottle of what I can only assume at this point was some toxic blue dye like methylene blue, once again wrap cotton wool around a spoon, dip it in the dye, and swish the spoon handle at the back of your throat. To describe the taste as loathsome, horrific, and gut-wrenching, would not even begin to approach the reality of what it was like. The theory behind this “treatment” was that the poisonous dye would “cauterize” the infectious agents that were causing the sore throat.

If you had muscle aches as a result of the flu, she would dip some cotton wool into the fuel oil that filled the tanks in our shed (we used a central oil stove to heat the apartment). She would then rub the heating oil on the afflicted areas, which would in fact result in quite a warming sensation, due no doubt to the highly toxic nature of petroleum.

I mentioned earlier that these treatments were highly effective; no amount of fever, sore throat, or muscle ache would ever make me actually complain to my mother or grandmother! And the fear of the treatments was so intense that the very thought of trying to miss school by feigning illness was inconceivable.

Nowadays, any of these treatments would be considered child abuse, punishable by jail time. But of course, they were never ill-intended, they were simply the result of the “traditional” remedies my grandmother had grown up with. Funny enough, she lived to age 93 and my mother to age 89, both in robust health until the very end.

The only negative effect on me has been a rather intense fear of cotton wool :-).