Q: Now that it is cold season, you might be interested in my favorite remedy. When I was a kid, my German mother would chop up an onion and boil it in wine and honey. She would then strain the liquid and boil it down some more. When that concoction cooled, it was our cough syrup.

As for herself, at the first sign of a cold or sore throat, she would make an onion/tomato sandwich on sourdough bread and eat it.

A: Thank you for this reminiscence. We have heard from a number of readers who were given onion syrup for coughs when they were kids. There are multiple versions, some using honey, while others sweeten the onion with sugar.

Nigerian scientists reported that onion extract is active against several types of bacteria that cause respiratory tract infections (West Indian Medical Journal, September 2003).

Sadly, we have found no clinical trials on onion syrup. Readers have offered stories like yours, though. Here is one:

“My grandmother (who would have been 99 at the end of this month) used to make this remedy for us when we were kids. I remember onion and sugar but thought there was something else in it. Nope, that’s it! I just made it for my 5-year-old son, who got a bad cough at school (not COVID). It still works like a charm. I switched it up a bit and used raw local honey as the sweetener.”


That is probably smart. A review of six randomized controlled trials found that plain honey relieved children’s coughs better than placebo (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 10, 2018). Don’t give raw honey to babies under a year old because of the risk of botulinum toxin.

Q: Several months ago, you wrote about combining juice and pectin for a sore knee. Back then, I didn’t need to know anything more about it. Now, though, my knee aches, and I’d really like the recipe.

A: This classic remedy is usually described as Certo (liquid fruit pectin) in purple grape juice. No one has studied this as an arthritis treatment. However, recent research shows that a combination of bilberry and red grape juice lowers inflammation in blood and body tissues (BMC Nutrition, Nov. 22, 2021). Bilberries are closely related to blueberries.

To learn how to make this and other nondrug remedies for alleviating joint pain, we offer our eGuide to Alternatives for Arthritis. This online resource can be found under the Health eGuide tab at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q: I went to pharmacy school and worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative. I was also married to a pharmacist for decades. Pharmaceutical companies have far too much power. To fight back, we need scientific tests of herbal cures and vitamins. Big pharma will never do this, because there is no money to be made from herbs.

However, as an 80-year-old who takes only magnesium and a vitamin, I can attest to beet juice and red hibiscus tea for lowering blood pressure, and magnesium to strengthen bones and eliminate bedtime muscle cramping and restless leg syndrome. I have been badgered many times to take blood pressure medicine when I was sick and my readings were a bit high. By resisting, I am still healthy with 120 over 76 average readings.

A: You are right that hibiscus tea and beet juice can lower blood pressure. So can magnesium (Magnesium Research, Aug. 1, 2021).