My books are set in the first decade of the 20th Century, the first of the series in 1912, and the fourth in 1915. As you can see, Dear Reader, I am slowly working my way toward the 1918 flu epidemic. I’ve already begun keeping a file on the epidemic, its effects, the way the government and the U.S population reacted to it. I’m especially interested in remedies people used to keep from getting the flu, or to ease its course. The 1918 flu was extraordinarily deadly, as I’m sure you know, but it did have some similarities to our 2009 swine flue. Both affect mainly healthy young people, both cause a bluish tinge around the lips, both are incredibly infectious. Of course, our N1H1 is much milder, and even if it weren’t, medical science has advanced exponentially since 1918.
For days, I’ve been planning to write about 20th Century home remedies for the flu in today’s blog, since I would not be surprised if some of them are actually helpful, and besides, it’s fascinating to see what people resorted to. And then, lo and behold, I received an email this morning from my sister-in-law Dolores on this very topic. Here is an excerpt:
My Grandmother always baked an onion for a head cold.It loosened the congestion. I had forgotten about it until I read this email (I liked the smell also~)
In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor who visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of the farmers and their families had contracted it and many died. The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria, therefore keeping the family healthy.
This email is circulating around the web, and I expect it’s apocryphal, but I was interested because in my research I have found several home remedies that involve onions, and this fits right in. In fact, all the allium plants - onions, shallots, leeks, especially garlic - have volatile oils that seem to be antibacterial and/or antiviral.
We didn’t have much garlic around the old homestead when I was a kid, but I from what I have read, garlic is truly useful for fighting disease. Research shows that garlic builds white blood cells, thus boosting immunity. Besides, it’s delicious.
If you’ve never baked a head of garlic, now is the time. Trim off the top of the garlic head to expose the cloves, drizzle a little olive oil over it, wrap the head in some foil or place it in a clay or ceramic baking dish. Bake the head in a hot oven for about 30 minutes, or until the cloves are very soft. Squeeze the baked garlic out of the cloves into a small bowl and mash it up with a fork. At this point you can add oil, herbs, a little salt, whatever appeals. Or you can just spread the garlic on a cracker like butter and chow down. Even if you are not a garlic fan, I can assure you that well-baked garlic is infinitely milder than the raw stuff.
And speaking of the raw stuff, remember that Roman gladiators used to chew cloves of raw garlic to make them strong. You bet it did, in more ways than one.
So, place a few raw, unpeeled onions around the house and chow down on some garlic. It may help you avoid the flu, if for no other reason than your friends will keep their distance. And you won’t be bothered by vampires this Halloween, either.
More home flu remedies next week.