Kerli's traditional Estonian remedies for the common cold

Kerli's traditional Estonian remedies for the common cold

Source: Näljane Nelik

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Like the legends about Estonia's healing springs, traditional healing remedies for the common cold have been passed down over generations in Estonia. In other countries, these methods have been tossed aside for a quick fix from the pharmacy, in Estonia you can still find people who swear by these DIY cold remedies. In the article below, Kerli lets you in on the secrets passed down to her to her by her family. With the viruses going around this season, it might be worth giving one of these traditional Estonian cold remedies a try! 

The season has arrived. Everyone around me has been getting a cold. So I thought I would share with you some quirky (but totally tried and tested) tricks and tips that the people of Estonia have historically used to get better or to prevent catching a cold in the first place. This stuff is no-frills and, although some of these might sound a bit whacky to the modern human, I can stand behind them. These have been passed down from generation to generation in my family and have been helpful every time. If nothing else, they are fun to try out as an experiment.

Vodka socks

Woollen socks go a long way in winter

Photo by: Toomas Tuul

You heard it right. My grandmother considers this to be the most powerful way to fight off temperature and cure infections. What you need to do is just soak a pair of socks in vodka and put them on. Then put a pair of woollen socks on top of the vodka socks and go to bed. By the morning, the vodka socks should be dry and you should be free of fever. Grandma also says that a whole-body vodka rub is good for achy muscles so maybe instead of a massage, couples can give each other tension relieving vodka rubs on a special occasion. Woolen socks can be found at almost any handicraft shop in Estonia, so stock up if you want to give this remedy a try.

Goose fat chest rub

I asked my grandma where one would get goose grease and she said that "some people sell it at the market," meaning old ladies from local forest farms who set up little stands in small towns. I remember these rubs from when I was a kid, it's basically like the Vicks of the old times. Apparently, it is used for the exact same symptoms as well — to open up the chest and help with a cough. Nowadays, you can get a properly packaged version at most any pharmacy in town.

Hot foot bath

This one is so simple and an absolute killer when fighting off a cold. I remember receiving this treatment a lot as a kid. How this works is that you make yourself a foot bath as hot as you can handle and keep your feet in it until the water starts feeling cooler, which means about 30 minutes or so. After that, put on some warm socks and go to bed. When doing this for a few nights in a row, you should feel better in no time. A hot foot bath isn't recommended when you have a temperature though, as it might make the fever worse. So use this remedy with simple cold symptoms like a runny nose and a cough. Grandma says she adds ground mustard to make this bath a super-duper cold-fighter but you can also add Epsom salt for further healing properties.

Healing marigold tea

Beautiful in a vase, tasty in food, and a trusted health booster

Photo by: Marju Randmer / CC BY-NC 2.0

This tea is very popular in Estonia, even amongst young people. It fights inflammations and has all-around healing powers for different diseases. Grandma recommends doing a five-day marigold tea ceremony where you take little sips of the tea the whole day and therefore consume several cups of it during 24 hours. It's best if you can gather the flower at noon and dry it with love and care, therefore creating a real relationship with the plant.

Warm salt bags

Salt bags are awesome. What you do is you get Epsom salt or sea salt and make little sachets filled with it. You can use socks to make the sachets or any kind of little fabric pieces. You then heat up the oven top just a little and place the salt bags straight on the heat to make them hot. You might also use a pan but watch out as it only needs a moment to heat up (otherwise it might catch fire). Then place the salt bags on any area that needs healing, like on your cheeks close to your nose for sinusitis. Salt bags also make for a good tension reliever for achy muscles. You could even add a little local dried lavender for some added aromatherapy.

Potato vapor therapy

The nation's favourite veggie has many uses.

Photo by: Marju Randmer / CC BY-NC 2.0

Potato steam is basically the old school version of modern vapor therapy and it's so easy to do. Grandma used to boil the potatoes and then make us hunch over the steaming potato pot while covering our head and the pot with a towel so the steam wouldn't escape. It works with cough, runny nose and congested chest.

A brisk wash with nettle water

Nettles are attributed with many healing properties

Photo by: Maksym Kozlenko / CC BY-SA 4.0

In the ideal world, you would take the nettle to the sauna and soak it with the sauna whisk, which is a bundle of young birch branches that we use to give our body a toxin eliminating beating. True story.

You would then take the water and wash with it as nettle is considered a mean cure-all and is actually proven to burst with an insane amount of vitamins and nutrients. For energetic protection and healing, plant nettles around your house to create an invisible defence barrier against bad vibes that can cause illness.

A beautiful blue scarf

I remember going to the school nurse because I had throat problems and she told me to wear a blue scarf to get better. I must try this one as I do believe in manipulating vibrations with colour. Blue is believed to promote healing and interestingly enough, light blue is also considered to be the colour of the throat chakra in Eastern energy systems.

Surround yourself with love

Good thoughts heal the spirit

Photo by: Marek Metslaid, Visit Estonia

There's nothing more powerful than the good old feeling of someone caring for you when you're sick. My mother and grandmothers believe in the healing power of thought and touch so they would hold us and read little mantras to help with the healing process. The most famous one goes: "Varesele valu, harakale haigus, meie laps saagu terveks!" which translates to "Pain to the crow, illness to the magpie, make our child be well!"

Last updated : 01.02.2024

In category: History & culture, Activities & Adventure, Health & Wellness