Folk First Aid for Winter - Part 1

Photo by  Jana Brunclikova

By Jana Brunclikova

Not every winter illness requires a trip to the doctor’s office. The following time-tested folk remedies offer effective, inexpensive treatments for minor health complaints. These remedies were traditionally used back home when I was growing up in the hills of the Czech Republic - and I still use these as a first aid kit for the winter cold and flu season.

Note: Please consult your doctor if your condition persists or grows worse, or contact me for a naturopathic consult, where I can create a wonderful personalised herbal blend to support  healing and recovery or strengthen your immune system.


The average adult contracts between two and four colds each year, mostly in the chilly winter season. The following folk remedies can help ward off colds, ease symptoms and possibly shorten the duration of colds if you should become unwell. 


Garlic contains allicin, which has been shown to reduce the severity of a cold. Eat four cloves of freshly crushed raw garlic three times a day until you have recovered. 

Raw Onion

Putting onions in your socks might sound odd, but some people swear that it’s a remedy for cold or flu.  According to this folk remedy, if you come down with a cold or flu, all you have to do is slice a red or white onion into rounds, place them on the bottoms of your feet and pop on a pair of socks. Leave the socks on overnight as you sleep. In the morning, you’ll wake up cured of your illness. Also if you leave raw onion next to your bed or around the house, it will absorb microbes in the air and ward off sickness. 

Honey Onion Syrup

This is a beloved cough and cold remedy from my childhood. Simply down a tablespoon of syrup when you feel a cold coming on and to soothe coughs and sore throats. To make the syrup: take one large organic onion and slice it into rings. Layer these onion slices in the bottom of a small saucepan and pour in just enough raw organic honey to cover the onion. Heat on a very low temperature for around 30 minutes, until your honey is nice and warm and the onions begin to soften. Pour the syrup mixture (onions and all) into a jar, seal and label. Store your syrup in the fridge for up to six months. 

Chicken soup

Garlic, ginger and turmeric are must-have additions to chicken soup if you want to ensure your next batch of "Jewish penicillin" is a true flu-buster, rather than a mere folk remedy. A properly prepared pot of chicken stock is also essential. Chicken protein provides an ample source of cysteine - an amino acid chemically similar to a drug known as acetylcysteine, which can clear mucus. The gelatine in real stock also adds a velvety texture, rich flavour and supports gut health. Overall, food is medicine and that applies especially in winter. Make sure your evenings are filled with lentil stews, broths and healing, spicy Indian curries. Dedicate a couple of hours in the kitchen and make cooking your winter meditation.

Garlic and cognac tincture

A shot of cognac is a popular flu remedy in Germany or back home in the North of the Czech Republic, where it’s thought to ease symptoms and help the body cleanse itself. Garlic helps clear mucus, among other benefits. To make the tincture: Peel and dice half a kilo of garlic. Add one litre of 90-proof cognac and seal the mixture in an airtight bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Strain out the garlic and reseal the liquid in the bottle. Prepare a new batch each year. To treat the flu: Add 20 drops to a cup of water. Drink three glasses a day, one before each meal. For prevention: Use 10 to 15 drops, instead of 20, per cup during flu season.
Important: This treatment is not advisable for people who avoid alcohol or for children.


Sauerkraut is another one of my favourite folk remedies from back home. It’s a must in every household through winter. Sauerkraut’s concentration of lactic acid bacteria may weaken infections. Have two tablespoons of sauerkraut juice or about half a cup of sauerkraut each day during flu season to reduce the chances of infection. It will also keep your gut nice and healthy, so important for strong immunity. 

Healthy Oils

Cod Liver, hemp, flaxseed or however you get your healthy oils – autumn and winter are the time we ensure these are a key part of our healthcare regime to support immunity and ward off infections. 

Jana Brunclikova is a naturopath and plant based chef living and surfing in Bondi, Sydney. You can visit her in the beautiful Orchard St clinic in Bronte.