Traditional home remedies you’ll be tempted to try

Vinegar socks. Picture: PA Photo/Hardie Grant.
Vinegar socks. Picture: PA Photo/Hardie Grant.
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STEP away from the pharmacy shelves - there might be an old-fashioned DIY solution for that cough or fever instead

Whether it’s in the form of a ‘natural’ supplement, a sweet, sugar-laden syrup or a drug in a brightly-packaged box, these days, there’s an over-the-counter solution for just about every common ailment you can think of.

Conker bathing essence. Picture: PA Photo/Hardie Grant.

Conker bathing essence. Picture: PA Photo/Hardie Grant.

But there was a time when folk had no choice but to rely on home-made ‘remedies’, with - often mysterious and mind-boggling - recipes passed down through the generations.

Some have stood the test of time (hot water, lemon and honey, for instance; wonderful for soothing colds and sore throats), while others haven’t (anything involving frogs? Think we’ll pass, thanks!)

And how about ‘vinegar socks’? Basically, this involves popping on a pair of socks soaked in a vinegar solution, and for Karin Berndl, growing up in Austria, this was common for treating a fever.

Now, the London-based photographer, along with art director Nici Hofer, has produced a book inspired by the weird and wonderful DIY ‘cures’ of times gone by.

While some of them don’t sound particularly appealing - or likely to work - it’s an amusing dose of nostalgia, and the remedies are so beautifully presented, at the very least they’re a sight for sore eyes.

Tempted? Here are three traditional home remedies from Vinegar Socks to dip your toes into...


Traditionally used in Austria to lower fever

This home remedy is one most of us in Austria would have come across as children. As we lay sick in bed, our mums would have applied these socks to our feet - no questions asked - to lower the fever. It might sound strange, but this is the first thing we would think of if someone was sweating and suffering from a high temperature. We recommend using unpasteurised, organic cider vinegar.

Important: If the patient is shivering, this recipe is not appropriate, and you should seek medical advice.

Things you’ll need:

500ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) cool water

1-2 tbsp vinegar

1 pair of long, woolly socks

1 or 2 towels

Get started:

The patient should be in bed, resting. Take a bowl, fill it with cool water and add the vinegar. Soak the socks in this solution, wring them out slightly, keeping them nice and wet, and slide them over the feet and calves. Put a dry towel around the socks to prevent the bed from getting wet. After 45 minutes, if the patient’s temperature hasn’t gone down, replace the socks with freshly soaked ones.

Remove the socks if your patient’s feet or hands are cold, or if the patient starts shivering.

Why we believe it works:

Vinegar stimulates blood flow and has a fever reducing effect. It also boosts the immune system and helps waste products to break down more quickly.


Try it for sinusitis and head colds

Make up this little parcel of relief whenever you have blocked sinuses or a numbing head cold.

Things you’ll need:

Fresh horseradish root

Small square of thin cotton cloth, such as muslin

Piece of string

Get started:

Clean the horseradish and grate it as finely as possible (you’ll need roughly one teaspoon). Place this on the centre of the piece of cloth and draw up the sides to cover it. Tie into a small parcel with the string. Now place the horseradish parcel just above the nape of your neck, but don’t leave it for longer than three minutes. Keep an eye on the time to avoid skin irritation.

Why we believe it works:

Horseradish loosens phlegm, is antimicrobial and encourages blood flow. It could be exactly what you need!


For rheumatism and gout; encourages blood circulation

On some playgrounds of the world it’s all about conkers and string, but it is conkers and toothpicks in Austria... Conkers are used as heads and bodies, with toothpicks for necks and legs - there are no limits to the extensive conker zoo you always dreamed of! But calm yourself, the only ‘conkimal’ you’ll need for this recipe is a conker-duck to replace your loyal rubber bath companion.

Things you’ll need (for a full bath):

Half a bucket of ripe conkers, around 900g

Enough water to cover the conkers

Get started:

First, remove the spiky shell from the conkers. Cut the conkers into small pieces and soak them in a large saucepan of water overnight, until soft. The next day, bring the conkers and water to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid into a clean bowl. Add the strained liquid to your bath. Give it a little stir - this should produce foam because of the saponins. My grandad took this relaxing bath once a week during chestnut season.

Why we believe it works:

Conkers (also known as horse chestnuts) are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, astringent and antispasmodic. They also cleanse the blood.

• Vinegar Socks: Traditional Home Remedies For Modern Living by Karin Berndle & Nici Hofer is published by Hardie Grant, priced £12.99. Available now