Readers submitted their favorite home remedies recommended by abuela herself, then we asked an expert to tell us if her healing claims are for real or folktale.

By Diana Aydin
Hispanic grandmother and daughter playing with grandchild on changing table
Credit: Monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

When you were growing up, did your abuela have remedios caseros for seemingly everything – a sore throat, the flu, colic, even hair loss? If so, you’re not alone.

Here's how a few of abuela's most popular healing tips stack up in the eyes of Edith Bracho-Sanchez, M.D., a pediatrician in Philadelphia.

#1 Use Vicks VapoRub everywhere for just about anything.      

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “I love Vicks so much! I too grew up getting massaged with it when I was sick and was actually crushed to learn it has never been proven to reduce a fever, improve a cough, or ease a migraine. A 2010 study did however show that families who applied Vicks to their kids before bed when they were sick got more sleep! Please don't use it in kids under two, though. It can actually be dangerous for them.”

#2 Treat a bee sting with the saliva of a pregnant woman

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “This one is folktale. There are no magical properties in the saliva of a pregnant woman.”

#3 Place a red string on a baby’s forehead or nose to stop hiccups.

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “I’m laughing just thinking of all the times I did this to my younger siblings! But, sadly, it will not work. Hiccups happen when the diaphragm, or one of the breathing muscles, is irritated. The good news is that hiccups only last a few minutes!”

#4 Eat caldo de pollo for a cold. 

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “Yes, yes, yes! Caldo de pollo is perfection. It has salt, other electrolytes, nutrients, and is a great way to stay hydrated and nourished (in a way that is easy to digest) while your body fights a cold.”

#5 Drop a little breast milk in your ear canal for instant relief from an earache or swimmer’s ear.

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “Maybe. In theory, breast milk has antibodies that help fight infection. These antibodies would not cause instant relief, though. Infections in the middle ear (the kind most small children get) happen behind the eardrum, where breast milk cannot reach. Infections in the external ear could theoretically be helped by breast milk. But for that type of infection, keeping the ear canal dry is key. So I don't tell my patients not to use breast milk if they think it could help. But limit it to a few drops and otherwise try to keep ears dry.”

#6 Put lard with salt on your baby’s belly and cover it with a handkerchief to relieve colic.

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “Colic is one of the most frustrating things for both parents and babies. And nothing (not even drops you buy at the pharmacy) are scientifically proven to work. But, rubbing a baby's tummy does bring some relief. If parents want to do that with lard and salt and then put a handkerchief on it, that's fine by me! Just don't forget to rub the tummy and do bicycle exercises.”

#7 Spritz or massage rosemary water into your scalp for hair loss.   

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “I've met people who swear by this. Sadly we don't have research to tell us for sure whether it works. But, this home remedy is free of side effects, which treatments for hair loss are plagued with. So I say give it a try!”

#8 Dab morning saliva on a pimple or acne scar to help it heal more quickly.

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “Maybe. We don't have sound scientific evidence here. But, in theory, saliva does have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that could help. Don’t put saliva on pimples once they've popped, though, because saliva also comes with high concentrations of bacteria that could start an infection.”

#9 Add cabbage leaves to your socks for a fever.

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “Sadly this one too is a folktale. There is no feasible way cabbage leaves could reduce a fever.”

#10 Eat garlic with honey, a radish with honey, or an onion with honey for a sore throat.

Dr. Bracho-Sanchez says: “I'm all about this! I'm a huge believer in honey for sore throats. And, guess what? We have sound scientific evidence that it works. However you prefer to have your honey is fine with me. But no honey for babies under one year of age because of the risk of botulism.”