Every time Crystal Ramirez comes down with a cold, she thinks of Cancún—and the mouthful of hot peppers she ate there on the advice of a waiter.
“He arrived at the table with a bowl of habaneros and asked me to eat a whole one—a cure that his mother taught him as a child,” says the New York–based account executive, remembering aMexico trip that saw her sick. Initial tingling turned to “full-out mouth-burning” and—after the eye-watering, nose-running pain—eventual relief.
“It didn’t completely cure my cold,” she says, “but I could smell the wonderful aromas of the food again.” Turns out, capsaicin helps thin mucus and clear clogged nasal passages.
Getting a bug while you’re traveling may be a letdown, but it offers one intriguing opportunity: to try a local home remedy, an international answer to good ol’ chicken soup. A few ingredients may seem universal—hot teas, ginger, honey, garlic—while others verge on bizarre, such as snail slime, dehydrated lizards, or scratchy coins. All have hundreds of years of tradition behind them.
Of course, quirky remedies aren’t exclusive to other countries. Folk cures in Texas reportedly used to include rubbing beef tallow on your feet or a little cow manure on your chest (which indeed might really open up the sinuses).
So this cold and flu season, stifle those sniffles with a glug of onion juice, then suck on a salted kumquat for your sore throat. Or do as they do in India and regain your strength with a nice warm glass of turmeric milk. Some of these international cold remedies may sound strange, but rest assured, they’re Grandma approved.