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Wednesday, January 18, 2017


When award-winning author Donis Casey stops by for a visit, I know she’ll bring with her interesting tidbits about the early 20th Century. Today she comes with with home remedies for the flu.

Donis writes the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s and featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children. The ninth book has recently been released. The first book in the series, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, is currently available as a free download on iTunes. Learn more about Donis and her books at her website.

Your Mother's Home Remedies for the Flu

When I was writing my latest Alafair Tucker novel, The Return of the Raven Mocker, which is set during the great influenza pandemic of 1918, I spent a great deal of research time gathering old flu remedies, as well as early 20th Century recipes for foods and drinks for the sick. At the time of the pandemic, there were a lot of weird remedies in circulation in America, and more than a few people died from being dosed with turpentine, coal oil, mercury, ox bile, chicken blood, and other unmentionable home remedies they were given by their well-meaning caretakers. Some of the deaths in the epidemic were probably caused by aspirin poisoning rather than the disease. Aspirin was relatively new on the market, and folks may have figured that if a little aspirin was good for fever and aches, then eating whole handfuls every hour was even better if you were really sick.

My mother used to give us kids 7Up when we got sick, and I dearly wished I could have included that suggestion in my book, but of course 7Up wasn’t available when Alafair’s kids were young, so she had to make do with ginger tea. She could have given her patients ginger ale, but knowing Alafair, she wouldn’t buy soda pop when she could make something just as effective at home.

Ginger tea is practically a cure for nausea. Boil a slice of fresh ginger in a cup of water until the water turns golden and sip it hot. I like to sweeten mine with honey. Our foremothers knew all about the medicinal qualities of food. In early 20th Century America, every housewife had her arsenal of remedies for common ailments, and many of them worked. In fact, some of what I learned has come in handy over the past winter.

Garlic really does have antibiotic properties and was used a lot as a treatment during the 1918 flu outbreak. I found a recipe for garlic soup in an early 20th Century cookbook that was guaranteed to cure the flu. It called for 24 cloves of garlic to be simmered for an hour in a quart of water. That will kill any germ that dares to try to infect you.

Dry burned toast is excellent for an upset stomach and diarrhea. Well-cooked, soft rice is easy to digest, and if you simmer one part raw rice in seven parts liquid for forty minutes to an hour, the rice ends up creamy and soft and practically pre-digested. 

Onion is antibiotic as well. My great-grandmother swore that placing a bowl of raw onions in a sick room would absorb the ill humors that were floating around. (She also liked to put raw eggs in the corners to soak up bad juju.) Here is a story that was told to me by the man to whom it happened:  when he was a young boy, he developed such a severe case of pneumonia that the doctor told his mother that he was not going to survive. In an act of desperation, his mother sliced up a raw onion and bound it to the bottoms of his feet with strips of sheet, then put cotton socks on him. In the morning, his fever had broken, his lungs had cleared, and the onion poultice had turned black. Is that what saved him? I don’t know. But that didn’t keep me from using the idea in my novel.

In fact, I found a number of remedies that called for binding something to the feet. An 1879 cookbook that I've owned for years recommends taking a large horseradish leaf, placing it on a hot shovel to soften if, then folding it and fastening it to the hollow of the foot with a cloth bandage. I also found foot-poultice recipes that used burdock leaves, cabbage, and mullein leaves. All the above are guaranteed to “alleviate pain and promote perspiration”.

Chicken soup really, really does help. Your mother says so, and so does science.

The Return of the Raven Mocker
An Alafair Tucker Mystery
Raven Mocker is a Cherokee legend, an evil spirit who takes the form of a raven and takes wing at night to possess the sick and elderly and torment them until they die. When the Raven Mocker returns to Boynton, Oklahoma in the fall of 1918, he brings with him the great influenza pandemic that claimed fifty million lives all over the world. World War I is still raging in Europe, but Alafair Tucker is fighting her own war as the epidemic sweeps through like wildfire. What a perfect time for someone to commit murder. Who’s going to notice?

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Angela Adams said...

That was an interesting tidbit about the aspirin, Donis. What's that saying about learning something new every day???(lol). My grandmother and mother always insisted chicken soup was the trick to getting better. Actually, I don't know if that;s the truth, or just a habit I grew up with. Thanks for the post.

Donis Casey said...

I think chicken soup really does help, Angela. The CDC (I believe it was) did a study and found that there is something in chicken soup that boosts immunity. Or maybe it's just the fact that your ma fixed it. Or Campbell's, in my mother's case.

Carol Crigger said...

Our newspaper runs a column that mentions current off-beat remedies. Rubbing Vicks Vaporub into the soles of the feet (wear socks to bed) works to fix a bad cough--or so they say. Worth a try! Thanks for the post, Donis. I'm looking forward to the new book.

Donis Casey said...

Thanks, Carol. I don't know what it is about the bottoms of your feet. I'm going to try the Vicks trick for my next cough.