Home Remedies: Belarusian Style
This article first appeared in Moscow’s Passport magazine.
When travelling to Belarus, it’s best not to let on that you are suffering from a runny nose, athletes’ foot or any other form of bodily malady. You’re likely to find yourself inundated with medical advice and before you know it, you’ll be agreeing to sit on a cabbage poultice or sticking beetroot into all available orifices. Of course, I exaggerate – but only a little.
Belarus’ ancient Slavic legacy is evident in its festivals, customs and superstitions, and never more so than when it comes to old wives’ folklore. Most ‘babushka’ remedies are so awful, you can’t help but think they were invented to stop children (and husbands) from whinging about feeling ill. You’d have to be truly desperate to want to try them. A case in point is a delightful (though not particularly popular) remedy for hiccups. Be brave and rub mustard and vinegar onto your tongue then rinse off after two minutes. Undoubtedly, it’s holding your breath in horror that cures the attack of hiccups.
Cursed with hemorrhoids? Help is at hand. Cure your nether region troubles and fix lunch at the same time. Simply boil a large pan of milk and add a few large chopped onions. When steaming nicely, pop a toilet seat over the pan and make yourself comfortable. The kitchen is a veritable pharmacy of useful potions. Trickling warm beetroot juice into your ear is a sure-fire way of curing a touch of earache. Just try not to dribble the juice down your shirt – it’s a menace to get out.
Dare to walk down the street without your hat, scarf, gloves and heavy coat anytime from October to April, and bustling Belarusian grannies will approach to berate you on your foolhardiness. Leaving more than a few square inches of skin exposed is tantamount to inviting flu germs to descend on you according to local lore. Once you’ve succumbed to a sniffle, the obvious answer is to stuff a piece of garlic up each nostril for 15 minutes three times a day. Frog lovers with sore throats might enjoy popping one in their mouth for a while. Besides the immediate pleasure of such intimacy with your small green friend, your tonsils will soon be feeling as good as new. Moreover, as long as you don’t inadvertently swallow him, your frog will emerge with his own croak enhanced. If froggy snacks aren’t your cup of tea, just breathe heavily on him for several minutes. It’s far less effective, but at least you’ll be spared the aftertaste of a murky pond.
Beauty is all in the eye of the beholder and one person’s wart might be another’s beauty-spot, but help is at hand. Find a potato (an easy task in Belarus – since around 170 kg are eaten per person per annum) and rub it on the offending area. Then, bury the potato. As it dissolves, so will the wart. Spotty teenagers don’t need to fork out their pocket-money on expensive acne creams; collect some birch sap next time you are in the woods and slap it on your pimples; they’ll soon dry up.
Cats, meanwhile, are the animal world equivalent of an extra-strong aspirin – a wonderful cure-all. Beg, borrow or steal a feline companion and place your purring pal on whichever part of you needs help: wear her as a stylish hat if you have a headache, wrap your kitty round your neck if you have a sore throat, place her on your feet if they are throbbing from having tottered around in stiletto heels all day. What could be easier? Who knows… a cure may be on its way!