Top Folk Remedies from Around the World
We asked our international editors to share their popular home health treatments. Here are the ones that check out with scientific research.
1 PORTUGAL Garlic for Warts, Corns, and Calluses
In Portugal, garlic isn’t just for flavoring food. Many people use it to get rid of corns and calluses (the thickening and hardening of skin at pressure points on the hands and feet) and warts (the small growths caused by the human papillomavirus, or
HPV, that can occur anywhere on the body). In fact, research from 2005 published in the International Journal
of Dermatology showed that all warts treated with garlic extract disappeared within two weeks, and corns disappeared for 80 percent of subjects after three weeks. Garlic capsules could also provide some overall antibiotic protection.
Evidence It Works: The main component of garlic, allicin, is said to have topical antibacterial effects. But be careful not to allow raw garlic to touch healthy skin for prolonged periods, as it can cause burning and irritation.
2 FRANCE Vinegar to Aid Digestion
French folklore has it that during a plague in the 17th century, a gang of four thieves would rob corpses yet never catch the plague themselves. Supposedly, rubbing a concoction of vinegar and herbs (including garlic, rosemary, sage, cinnamon, mint, camphor, and more) on their heads and hands protected them. Today, the French vinaigre des
quatre voleurs (“four thieves’ vinegar”) has many uses, including as a type 2 diabetes treatment and an appetite suppressant.
Evidence It Works: Though more research is needed, studies have shown that vinegar can affect blood sugar levels by delaying the rate at which the stomach empties, which reduces the blood sugar spike after a meal. But if you have type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor first, as the vinegar could drop your blood sugar too low.
Vinegar may also prevent overeating. A small Swedish study found that individuals who consumed vinegar with a meal reported feeling more satiated than those who didn’t. However, it’s best not to drink vinegar straight, as its acidity could damage tooth enamel. Instead, add one or two tablespoons to water or tea.
3 GERMANY Marigolds for Inflammation
Not only do Germans use marigolds (called calendula) as a topical treatment for insect bites, acne, and dry skin but they also have their own recipes for balms. Popular formulas include combining the flowers with warm pork fat, petroleum jelly, beeswax, or olive oil and allowing the mixture to steep for a day or more.
Evidence It Works: High levels of antioxidants in the dried petals help prevent infection and reduce cell damage caused by free radicals. For people with venous leg ulcers who
were treated with either calendula ointment or saline solution dressings, the marigold-infused treatment helped ulcers heal faster. Laboratory and animal research has shown that the flowers contain anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial components and that they heal wounds by helping form new blood vessels and tissue.
4 NETHERLANDS Licorice for Sore Throat
Licorice-based candies called dropjes are as Dutch as wooden shoes, but while few farmers still wear wooden shoes, everybody eats dropjes, especially in the winter. They come in all shades of brown and black and can be sweet or salty.
Evidence It Works: A 2013 randomized double-blind study of 236 people by the Medical University of Vienna found that patients who gargled with a licorice solution before being intubated for surgery had fewer sore throats afterward.
5 FINLAND Sauna for Circulation
Saunas are a way of life in Finland. In a country of 5.5 million people, there are an estimated 3.2 million saunas. Last year, UNESCO added Finnish saunas to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage markers. Not bad for a 150-degree F (and higher!) room designed to make you sweat.
Evidence It Works: Finnish research published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 showed that sitting in a sauna two to three times a week lowers the risk of dying from any cause by 24 percent. Another study showed that 15 minutes a day in a sauna five days a week may help ease mild depression.
Sauna newbies should start with five or ten minutes; 20 minutes is the maximum. If you have heart disease or high or low blood pressure, speak to your doctor about whether a sauna is safe.
6 SLOVENIA Saint-john’s-wort to Soothe Skin
Saint-john’s-wort is a plant with yellow flowers that’s native to Europe and other parts of the world. Slovenes mix it with olive oil to treat sunburn, insect bites, and bruises.
Evidence It Works: A 2010 Iranian randomized double-blind clinical trial of 144 women published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that those who had undergone cesarean sections and applied a Saint-john’s-wort ointment three times a day for 16 days had improved wound healing and less pain and scarring than those in the placebo and control groups. Animal studies out of Turkey in the past few years have shown that the plant heals wounds and burns; rats treated topically with Saint-john’s-wort four times a day experienced more rapid healing than those that weren’t.
7 SPAIN Olive Oil to Soften Earwax
Spain produces more olive oil than any country in the world. Among its nonculinary uses, the Spanish (and others) warm it and use it to dissolve earwax.
Evidence It Works: A University of Southampton review of 26 clinical trials found that earwax softeners, including olive oil, are effective, and that side effects are rare. Nevertheless, it’s recommended that you check with your doctor before attempting selftreatment of ear issues.
8 BRAZIL Marcela for Cough
Marcela (Achyrocline satureioides) is a plant in the daisy family. Brazilians steep it to make a bitter tea.
Evidence It Works: A review of several studies published in 2014 in the Brazilian Journal of Pharmacognosy found that marcela appears to be antispasmodic and helps relieve coughs.
9&10 MEXICO Arnica for Bruising; Aloe Vera for Burns
Arnica, from the sunflower family, is sometimes called a mountain daisy and is a popular anti-inflammatory in Mexico. For burns, Mexicans have long turned to aloe, or sábila in Spanish, which grows in the wild there.
Evidence It Works: A 2013 review of 174 people with hand arthritis found that arnica gel improved pain and