Winter 1995 (3.4)
Raspberry Jam and Quince Flowers
How to Treat the Common Cold Azeri Style
by Christine Cannon
Cold season is here. And it's not unusual for at least one member of the family to be down with a cough, sore throat, cold or fever. Home remedies and folk medicines are still the most popular cures in Azerbaijan due to the exorbitant price of medicine and antibiotics and the difficulty in finding them at the local Aptek (pharmacy).
When I first came to Baku, it didn't take long to learn that people are very quick to offer remedies when you're sick. They'll come to your house with jars of honey and ultra-violet lights tucked under their arm. Their concern is overwhelming. It's almost like the whole world stops and everyone rallies around if you're sick. People stay home from work to care for family members with a cold. Even children take care of their parents. Utmost care and attention is given around the clock until health can be restored.
Of course, there are numerous treatments. Clearly, there's a hierarchy. Some are more popular than others. And treatments, naturally, vary from region to region according to the availability of natural herbs, ancient traditions and economic status.
Sweating It Out
For colds, it seems the basic principle is to assist the body in throwing off toxins through heat, sweat and elimination. Scientifically, it's the right thing to do. Often, in the West, we tend to mask cold symptoms with decongestants and cough suppressants which only makes colds linger on.
Sweating is induced in many ways. One of the most popular is called "banka" which takes it name from the small, thick glasses which are made hot by burning paper or cotton inside them. Then, the "bankas" (as many as possible) are placed on the patient's back. A vacuum forms inside the glass forming a suction which supposedly draws out the infection. It's a very old practice that has been carried down many generations and is known throughout the region, not just in Azerbaijan.
Another method is to soak your feet in hot water. Many people prepare a mixture of hot mustard from powder and spread it on their chests or add it to the foot bath. Afterwards, they pull on thick wool socks and wrap up in warm thick robes and blankets, then head off to bed to rest and sweat it out.
Lots of Liquids
Lots of liquids, preferably hot, are prescribed. Drinking warm milk is an absolute must with many people (maybe it's the protein in milk that strengthens the weakened body). Some people drink almond milk. There seems to be many varieties of tea. Black tea with honey, or with lemon, or with raspberry, blackberry or quince preserves, or sour jams, just to name a few. In some regions, they prepare a tea made from basil and mint leaves with honey. Of course, there are many kinds of soups. Some with lots of pepper. Some with garlic or vinegar.
For stuffed nose and blocked sinuses, steam inhalation works well. Lean over a pot boiling potatoes or boiling rice. Then wrap up in warm clothes and blankets from head to toe.
Some people prefer the "honey on the chest method" which gets massaged and beaten into the chest. Others put a mixture of honey and mustard on a cloth and place it on the chest. Then add a hot towel on top and wrap up.
Turnip Juice and Quince Flowers
If you're coughing a lot, turnip juice should do the trick. Take a white turnip, bore a hole and pour honey inside. Three days later, you'll have turnip juice. That's what you drink. If the turnip juice doesn't work and coughing persists, then go find some pigeons' eggs. Or milk from a donkey or goat.
In the region of Shamakhi, boiled milk with turmeric is popular. They also have the custom of warming the yolk of an egg and swallowing it-probably for the protein. A cooked cereal made of ground wheat and milk coats the throat. Boiled "heyva"-quince flower or quince seeds have been found to soothe persistent coughing.
For sore throats? Gargling with salt water is a must. Sometimes, they take a dried fruit roll made from sour plums, soften it in water and wrap it around the sore throat.
High temperature? Massage the body with a mixture of alcohol, water and vinegar. That's supposed to cool you down.
In speaking with a folk medicine practitioner in Shamakhi, I discovered a textbook on folk medicine called, "Follow the Path of Folk Medicine." It seems researchers went to the regions and asked people their methods of treating common illnesses. Then they compared these remedies with manuscripts written in the Middle Ages and currently kept at the Academy of Sciences. They discovered that many of the ancient treatments are still in use today throughout Azerbaijan. And so, from generation to generation the practice of folk medicine continues, using nature as the tried and true healer.
Chris Cannon, an American, has lived through two cold seasons in Baku.
From Azerbaijan International (3.4) Winter 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.