For years, “Take 2 aspirins and call me in the morning” was a phrase jokingly attributed to medical advice given by doctors when patients complained of a sore throat, cold, earache or other mild ailments. My father was a doctor and he took his practice very seriously. Not one to joke around, he often mentioned olive oil. In our family, we used it as the cure-all for almost every malady!
How can olive oil be used to treat common winter ailments?Just as Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, referred to olive oil as the “greatest therapeutic”, my father and his Italian-immigrant parents, believed the same. Our family’s traditional treatments for sore throats, coughs, colds and earaches were passed down through generations and many treatments involved olive oil. Here are just five for some common winter ailments:
1. Treat a Sore Throat
Winter months on the Italian Riviera are very cold and damp. Years ago, I remember visiting my grandfather’s sister, Zia Lena, during the month of March. She owned a pensione, with a trattoria on the ground floor and apartments above. Like many homes in Italy at the time, hers did not have central heating. She told me how she often warded off colds (and probably other people!) with her olive oil and crushed garlic recipes. However, I prefer the following sweeter Sore Throat Remedy:
- In a pan, mix 3-4 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 cup of honey and ½ cup extra virgin olive oil.
- Warm for 5 minutes over low heat on a stovetop.
- Take 1 tablespoon every 2 hours, as needed.
2. Quiet That Cough
Whether you have an irritating tickle in your throat or a full cough, extra virgin olive oil is your best friend. Keep a flask handy and take a sip of olive oil throughout the day.
3. Soothe an Ear Ache
As many of you read this article, you may remember your mother putting warm olive oil in your ears when you were a child to help with earaches. This natural oil soothes the pain.
- Put a few drops of warm olive oil in the affected ear.
- Lie down on your side (with the affected ear facing up) for a few minutes with your head on a terry cloth towel.
- Then turn over on your other side so that the olive oil can seep out again onto the towel.
- Caution: Never put anything liquid in your ear if you think there is any chance at all that you may have a perforated eardrum. Check with your doctor immediately.
4. Make Your Own Vapor Rub
Mix two drops of eucalyptus oil into one teaspoon of olive oil and massage on the chest or back to relieve congestion.
5. Get Pain Relief
Extra virgin olive oil is a natural pain-killer because it contains the compound oleocanthal. According to scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and published in an article in Nature*, oleocanthal acts in the same pain-relieving way as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Of course, even better than treating a cold is preventing a cold. Good nutrition plays a key role in keeping the immune system healthy. Making extra virgin olive oil, rich in vitamin E, a mainstay of your healthy diet helps reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections like the common cold.
As we begin to understand the science behind many natural remedies, including olive oil, we will have a new understanding of what others have known for thousands of years. And more people will come to believe, as I do, that extra virgin olive oil belongs not just in the kitchen cabinet, but in the medicine cabinet as well.
* Beauchamp, G. Nature, Sept. 1, 2005; vol. 437: pp 45-46. News release, Monell Chemical Senses Center.