Via My Students: Uncommon Cures for the Common Cold


katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

I’ve been sick. Very, very sick. We all get sick, I know. This Fall semester, though, the weather seems especially chaotic, and my students have been particularly sniffley (that’s when they even come to class). The result of all the sniffles is that, yeah, I catch a lot of what they have. Most semesters I manage to only get one head cold or flu; this semester I’ve been sick since the beginning of October and I’m still not 100 percent. My students tell me, though, that I am much funnier on cold medicine than not. Maybe it’s a plot, perpetuated by the sneakier of my darling students, to keep me from actually teaching and testing them?

Besides sharing all of their contagions my students also want to share their weird remedies.  Some of these really scare me.

We’ve all heard about chicken soup for a cold. Well, according to this article it actually works. My father and I are the only members of my family who will eat chicken soup (they’re all vegetarians here), but I am dedicated to this remedy.  In fact, I’m eating some from my favorite drive-thru right now.

A few years ago, when I’d first started teaching, one young mother told me that she believed in clearing head congestion with wet socks. Yes, I exclaimed “what?” when she said this, and she answered: “first you warm your feet in hot water, then soak a thin pair of socks in cold water, wring them out really well and  put them on. I told her I would likely catch pneumonia, and so I would pass. But she insisted that if I covered my wet socks with a pair of thick dry socks, well, the wet socks would force blood into my feet, boosting my circulation. Uh, I passed on this.

Last summer, when I was dealing with a dry cough and had lost my voice, a student printed out an email he had received that touted Vicks’ Vapor Rub on the feet, as a sure-fire cold fix. My favorite Urban Legend debunking website,, calls this one a hoax. My student insisted that it worked, though, and refused to believe it anything else.

If my cold does turn into pneumonia, another student told me that I could treat myself to a chocolate candy bar. She insisted that the Theobromine, which is found in cocoa, suppresses the sensory nerves and soothes the throat. This one I employ even when I don’t have a cough.

Now, last semester I had a student from Canada who gave me all sorts of help in pronouncing words in one of my textbook chapters that deal with the Tlingit peoples of the Northwest. He also told me his Great Aunt’s Never Fail Cold Remedy: “you place your hat on the table and drink well from a large bottle of whisky until you see two hats. Then you get into bed and stay there.” He volunteered that this dear lady was always extremely jovial. No doubt.

Hot Toddies (also spelled totties) are another favorite. I’ve been given so many different recipes over the years (here’s an easy recipe and a video), but I am always afraid of the dehydration affect. Of course, after enough hot toddies who cares, right?

Less well known, and with reason, is the garlic and milk combination. One young mother who had grown up in Arkansas swore by this. She crushes an entire bulb of fresh garlic and soaks it in milk overnight, then serves it warm to anyone who’s ill. I don’t think I could choke it down, even if I were dying. But I do make a nine clove garlic soup (using chicken stock, rather than milk) and this seems to help. Back in 2001 the BBC Online ran this story about the benefits of Allicin (found in garlic) and cold misery reduction.

Yesterday, in one of my religion classes, a very concerned young woman suggested that her next-door neighbor’s remedy might help. She waited until all of the other students had left and then solemnly explained: “he swings a chicken over his head three times.” I told her thank you, but that I think this year I’m just going to stick with Vitamin C and bed rest.

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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