Ginger repeatedly turns up in international remedies.
In the case of South Africa, it comes in the form of ginger ale -- combined with honey and lemon, one of the most commonly used combinations for a cold, said Adri van Eeden, corporate communications manager for the South African Medical Association.
It's made by combining one or two teaspoons of honey and lemon juice with or without a few drops of eucalyptus oil. About one cup of ginger ale is added to this mixture, which is then heated, and sipped slowly like a tea.
It's both the healing powers of the ingredients and the soothing warmth of this golden-colored beverage that has made this folk remedy endure from generation to generation in South Africa. The drink is often used by adults along with some aspirin.
Ginger ale is a home remedy frequently used to ease an upset stomach, which may accompany a cold. Lemon might also tame mucus production and honey could relieve a sore throat. Eucalyptus is a fragrant medicinal oil with a strong menthol-like smell, and its vapors are thought to help reduce nasal congestion and coughing.
Some people in South Africa might also use a bitter medicinal herb called perdepis, which loosely translated means horse urine, a reference to the strong smell of its leaves. The herb, whose botanical name is Clausena anisata and may be called Horsewood, is used as a remedy for cold and flu.
Perdepis root is boiled in water and then strained. A couple of cups of the tea are drunk about twice a day, with or without the ginger ale combination previously described.
Humble and hardy, the turnip has a reputation as a filling and nourishing peasant food. But in the highlands of Bolivia and other parts of South America, people use this root vegetable for healing as well.
Clare Sammells, an anthropology instructor at the University of Chicago, described a local remedy for sore throat made by cutting a hole in the center of a turnip and filling it with sugar. The moisture from the turnip is combined with the sugar into a thick syrup that is drunk.
"It's very viscous and sweet," Sammells said. "It coats your throat."
Though it may not last long, the turnip syrup can form a thin layer over the mucous membrane of the throat, soothing the area, said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School. The protective layer can give the body a chance to heal itself.
"It's a reasonable notion, and just for a few minutes," Schaffner said. "Maybe not to help cure [sore throat] but to give symptomatic relief."
Turnips are high in vitamin C, an important nutrient that helps boost the immune system, which may leech into the syrup. And sugar has antiseptic properties, acting as a germicide to destroy microbes and reduce the possibility of infection.
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Radha Chitale contributed to this report.
Uhaloa Photo Courtesy: Gerald D. Carr, Oregon State University