Home remedies for flu

The Home Remedies In Russia

Winter is the season of colds, sore throats, cough and flu. Drugstores are bursting with anti-cold remedies of all kinds, pharma companies are investing millions in TV advertising. But Russians still do not trust flu shots, prefer self-treatment and go to the doctor only in extreme cases. Here are the most typical recipes (think twice before trying some of them at home!)

Belief In Self-Treatment Starts In Childhood


Goose-grass heals small wounds

When you are a kid – stuff happens. You fall a lot and often have scratched knees. Every Russian kid knows how to heal that fast – you take a leaf of goose-grass and apply it to the injured skin. Goose-grass is a part of urban flora and it magically heals small wounds. Some pharma companies already sell band aids with the extract of the goose-grass!

Self-treatment with goose-grass is usually the first home remedy experience in kid’s life. Kids also experience a variety of other more or less effective home remedies, usually administered by moms and grandmas. By the time the kid grows up, she believes that it is possible to treat almost anything with the right home remedy.

Home-remedies Against Cold

Tea with raspberry jam

Tea with raspberry jam

The typical treatment of any cold starts with hot tea with home-made raspberry jam before going to bed. Raspberry has the anti-inflammatory and heating effect and works like aspirin, but is much more tasty. Best to have 2 cups of tea and only then have a cup of tea with raspberry, so that you are not dehydrated when you sweat. That is especially important for kids.

Breathing over boiled potatoes

Breathing over boiled potatoes

Healing with food is quite typical – people use lemon, garlic, onion. Lemon provides Vit C. Garlic and onion have phytoncides – volatile organic compounds, which ave anti-microbial effect. One does not need to eat onion and garlic to get the effect – you can mince them and inhale for 5 -10 min. Inhaling onion will make you cry though. Another very popular inhalation, when you have cough – to breathe over boiled peeled potatoes. Boil some potatoes, drain the water, cover the pan with a towel and breathe underneath the towel for 10 -15 min. Be careful to control how hot is the steam, so that you do not burn the throat and bronchus.

Russian chicken soup

Russian chicken soup

Honey is also a popular home remedy. Some people use honey for their tea instead of raspberry jam, some have milk with honey and butter, some put honey in the center of black radish and then have a tea-spoon of honey a day (honey + phytoncides). And of course, Russians, as any other people, have chicken soup (usually a clear bouillon), when they feel sick.

My personal recipe to quickly get well when sick also relates to food. Normally, if you are sick, you do not want to eat, but if you can – have some red caviar (white bread with lots of red caviar) and a cup of tea with lemon and home-made raspberry jam. It is absolutely non-scientific, but I feel that it helps my body to fight. And red caviar is really affordable in Russia and you can find it in any grocery store.

Star balm Zvezdochka

Star balm Zvezdochka

Finally – if you have a nasal cold – in Russia you usually use natural remedies instead of a chemical nasal drops. We have a saying though that if you have a runny nose and do not treat it – it will go away in one week, if you do treat it – it will go away in 7 days. People use warm salt in a cloth bag to warm the area (be cautious with that one – could help, but could also do harm, depending on your case). People rinse the nose with warm water (sometimes with added sea salt), use aloe juice (many people grow aloe at home) as nasal drops and inhale pine oil. Some people also use pine oil as nasal drops, but it is a bad idea to use undiluted pine oil for that purpose – you can easily burn the epithelium and it will be very painful. (my high school friend once did that to me – she wanted to help me heal fast, but I still remember that time as not a pleasant one). One rather effective “home remedy” that Russians use a lot is “zvezdochka” (little star). It is a Vietnamese balm with a very strong menthol aroma. It was exported to the USSR, so all Russian people know it and believe that it has only natural ingredients such as oils etc. Zvezdochka does not cure the nasal cold faster, but it certainly helps to breathe. The smell is so strong that one jar (of the size of a large coin) usually lasts for years.

Weird Home Remedies In Russia

I guess the above-mentioned home remedies are more or less typical for other countries as well. But this blog always tries to show the unusual and different things and there is plenty of that in the home remedies topic!



Let’s start with the scratched knees. Most Russian households have a tiny bottle with the emerald color liquid in it in their medicine cabinets. This green stuff is called “zelyonka” (from the Russian word – “zelenyi” – green). Zelyonka is an antibacterial treatment, that you are supposed to apply in small doses on scratches. It does not exist in the US and I doubt it exists elsewhere in the world, except from Russia.  It is even banned in most countries since it is a chemical anilin coloring which, according to some research, might be cancerogenic. I am not sure how true is the last statement, but I would not suggest using it for both this reason and because you do not want to paint your skin green for a long time. If you ever come into contact with zelyonka (for example if you rent a flat in Russia and have found zelyonka in the medicine cabinet) – be super careful with this liquid. You can paint the entire apartment or even the house with one drop of zelyonka and you will never be able to wash it off from clothes or furniture.

Iodium net

Iodium net

The other rather weird, but VERY popular home remedy is to draw iodine nets on your body. People usually do that when they have a back pain (and against 100 other illnesses – from bruises to colds). It is believed that such treatment stimulates blood circulation and replenishes the need for iodine in the body. It is questionable whether this treatment is effective or the effect is more of a placebo. I just do not have enough information on that. Most likely it will not harm you though.

Stimulating blood circulation and heating the body is usually central to most treatments in Russia. That is understandable – we live in a cold country! And living true to the stereotypes – quite a few people believe that vodka with black grounded pepper is exactly what you need before going to bed if you are sick. I never tried that (as you know from my other post – people of my age do not drink vodka in Russia). And I would caution from trying such a home remedy if you already feel unwell. If you really want to use vodka to heal you – start with vodka compresses and see how that goes.

Mustard applications - home remedies

Mustard applications – “gorchichniki”

Or if you want  – you can put some dry mustard in your socks before going to bed. Dry mustard is supposed to keep your feet warm. Not sure if that could cure the cold, but probably would not do any harm. And if you are really adventurous, you can try hot mustard applications. That does not involve spreading real mustard (the one you put on your hot dog) on your body though! Compresses are made of real mustard, but this mustard is attached to the sheets of paper. In Russian it is called “gorchichniki” (from Russian word “gorchitsa” – mustard). Here is where to place them:

Where to apply mustard applications

Where to apply mustard applications

Putting mustard applications on calfs is the most typical. Prior to application – place “gorchichnik” in warm water, then apply on the skin for 5-10 min and cover the area (or the entire body) with a blanket. You should feel hot sensation, but it should be pleasant, not burning. Do not use mustard applications if you have a fever.

If you are even more adventurous – you can try “banki” (glass jars). I never tried this method myself but a few people say it is very effective (and some doctors recommend this treatment, although many doctors do not suggest it). This home remedy came from the ancient China. Jars are relatively small. Person, who administers the treatment, heats each jar with something like a big match and places it on the skin on the back of a patient. Jar is supposed to stick to the skin very tightly and pull in some of the skin inside as shown on the picture:

How to administer glass jars photo

How to administer glass jars – “banki”

The idea behind it is in stimulating blood circulation. Beware – it leaves your skin bruised! And please do not try that treatment at home if you do not know how to administer it. I have a lot of respect for the ancient Chinese medicine, so I am not going to say that I question this treatment. But you would not do acupuncture with needles at home, right? Same thing here!

But best – try to prevent cold or flu! Here is my post about the Russian way of preventing colds and flu. See for yourself whether any of that makes sense to you. Have a flu shot a month before the start of a flu season. And either avoid subway and other crowded places or use a protective mask. I do the latter now and most people stare at me and probably think that I am sick! But I do not really care much – it just amuses me! And I agree – it does look funny!

UnderstandRussia blog writer wearing a mask in Moscow subway

UnderstandRussia blog writer wearing a mask in Moscow subway

 Wishing you a great and healthy year! Take care!!!

Leave a Reply

  • kathy - 7 years ago

    all russians seem to love raspberries equally to dill
    growing up our basement had preserves of all kinds in it. One weird one was mason jars of canned raspberries. The juice was a magic cure for EVERYTHING I remember drinking the heated up juice manytimes after throwing up as a child. I even had bags of raspberries from my mothers garden in the freezer in order to make otvar all summer for my kids or in case I needed a quick batch of raspberry juice at 2am for my own kids after a bought of throwing up. To this day my life is not complete if there are not some frozen raspberries in my freezer.

    • Tanya Golubeva - 7 years ago

      You are so right!!! We think that there is nothing better than raspberry jam when you have a cold! We drink tea with a home-made raspberry jam to feel better! That actually has some science proved benefits – it works like an aspirin (you have tea with raspberry jam and go to bed and you feel much better next day!)
      In general – Russian people make a lot of preserves for winter even now – pickled cucumbers and tomatoes, various jams (strawberry, raspberry, gooseberry, black and red currant etc.) But raspberry jam is the most important! Even I make several jars of raspberry jam every year (although I do not make any other preserves). But I know that when I will have a cold or flu in winter – I will be happy I have them in my fridge!

  • Brooke Lorren (@Brookelorren) - 6 years ago

    It seems like the Russians know a lot of things that us Americans have forgotten and are only now relearning. It seems to be getting more popular in the US to prevent illness through healthy foods, and to use food to treat sicknesses. Since pharmaceuticals are so prevalent though, it’s something that a lot of us are just learning.

  • osmajasmin - 5 years ago

    Raisins are effective in enhancing the body’s immunity to fight infections. They also assist in reducing the temperature of the body.

  • Anonymous - 3 years ago

    How true. Having Russian parents, I still remember milk and honey to fight a cold. Rubbing garlic on black bread etc. Thank you for the memories and happy new year.
    P.s. also love dill in chicken soup, mashed potatoes and of course borscht.