Tips From My Yiayia (Or How To Survive Without Health Care)

When I was growing up, my wonderful yiayia had a tight routine for keeping us kids healthy and rosy cheeked. Imported from the village where she herself grew up, she bestowed certain wisdoms upon us with the enigmatic knowing of an ancient apothecary. Not only did I thrive in health throughout my childhood, I continue into adulthood with the habits my yiayia engrained in me from my earliest youth. And now, I pass the secret to life onto you, gentle reader, in the hopes that you might benefit from my yiayia’s home remedies…

Doctor? Who needs a doctor?

What a waste of money! Back in the village, we didn’t even have doctors! If we wanted to go to the doctor, we had to take a donkey and ride 3 days to get to the next village and then we’d have to bring an offering as payment, and we only had one goat! One! Are you dying? No? You don’t need the doctor; I once dislocated my own arm and put it back myself! Besides what’s a doctor going to tell you—rest? Rest is for when you’re dead!

A spoonful of cod liver oil…

Whenever my yiayia babysat me I’d be forced to swallow a spoonful of cod liver oil, and if she didn’t have cod liver oil she’d feed me a spoonful of olive oil instead. For reasons that are unnecessary to enumerate here, I used to square myself against her in protest, at which point she’d bend me across her knee and peg my nose between her thumb and forefinger until, unable to hold my beath a second longer, I’d have to open my mouth. Gasping for air, she’d shove the spoonful of foul tasting stuff down my throat and be done with it, bless her cotton socks. I still take cod liver oil on a daily basis, but thanks to modern technology I now take it in a taste free capsule.

… meat…

You need more meat. Lamb, chicken, beef, pork… And if you can’t afford it, grow it. My yiayia keeps both rabbits and chickens in her inner-city back yard in Melbourne, and I’ve seen her de-feather/ skin both, right before she served them up for our dinner.

… and cheese

Here’s a bucket of feta cheese, no take it, I insist! Oh and if you’re going to take that you should probably take this block of cheddar and this kilo of haloumi I picked up at the market. Don’t be silly, it was a bargain, I got it from Con who has the little stall between the Australians, you know him, he was at your Christening—he gave me a really good deal, his theia is actually from the same village as cousin Dimitri… My yiayia always sends me away from her house with enough cheese to catch a human sized mouse—and I love her for it.

These are the three food groups according to my yiayia: oil, meat and cheese. If you eat all of these in ridiculous proportions and still start to feel sick (meat sweats and cheese dreams don’t count)…

Kiss the forehead

My yiayia and my mamma always kiss our foreheads when we’re feeling sick in order to accurately gauge if there’s a fever. Who needs mercury when you have the lips of a Greek woman?

Warm some booze

Is your throat feeling scratchy? Warm up two shots of whiskey over the stove and chuck them down while they’re still hot. This will kill the germs in your throat (I can attest to this method completely clearing phlegm) and if you do it twice it won’t only alleviate your pains by getting you good and tipsy, it will send you right into a very cozy sort of sleep.

Rub methylated spirits on your chest (or vinegar)

When I’d be full of snivels and blockages yiayia would rub my chest with methylated spirits or a white vinegar for sending me to bed. The fumes would clear me up and probably made me sort of high, which, like the whiskey, helped with the sleeping.

An oily cotton bud in your ear

This is probably the most ingenious thing my yiayia ever did to soothe an earache. As a child I had a sensitive inner ear and struggled with constant ear infections. Mum and dad would often run me to the 24-hour clinic in the early hours of the morning when I’d wake sobbing with pain, but no doctor or medicine could ever cure the pain like my yiayia could. She would warm up some olive oil in a big spoon over the stove and once it was hot she’d soak a cotton wool ball in it. She’d then tuck the oily cotton wool ball into my ear and press it gently in, instantly relieving the unspeakable pain of an inner ear infection.

Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea for everything. Put some lemon and honey in it and you’ve got yourself a miracle drug. Your foot hurts? Chamomile tea. You have heartburn? Chamomile tea. Your boyfriend broke up with you? CHAMOMILE TEA. My yiayia went the extra mile by growing it, drying it and straining it for us.

Rice soup

Peasant food, a????????? is my favourite thing about being sick. Made of chicken stock (which yiayia would brew herself), beaten eggs, rice and lemon, with a dash of pepper, the soup is a God-send to a sickly one. Living overseas I always try to make it for myself but I can never get it quite right, even though I have her exact recipe. There’s just something about yiayia’s touch…

Have an amazing yiayia

I realize that half of not getting sick/ recovering quickly is having someone wonderful to care for you. When I was small I remember having the chicken pox, and at the time my mamma and I were living with my yiayia and papou. At night I would sleep in my yiayia’s bed, and she’d lie awake beside me all night, holding my tiny hands to make sure I didn’t scratch my sores. There’s nothing like having someone committed to your well being, and I think that, in turn, having someone love you gives you a reason to be committed to looking after yourself. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

  • Niall McGuinness

    Fantastic tips, I’m under the weather myself  (chesty cough, headache, not to mention the woeful amount gunk up my snoz… perhaps it’s the flu..?) and must give some of these a trial, thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/abashina Asya

    Sounds strangely similar to the Russian grandmother…

    • Guest

      And the Serbian grandmother

    • Amissa

      Essentially the culturally non-Western grandmother. Mine is Liberian. Same same

    • Katgeorge

      Let’s hear it for ethnic grandmas! Although I know some Australian grandmas who have some wonderful pearls of wisdom too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1415031788 Sharif Youssef

    Hope you’re not taking cod liver oil pills every day. You don’t want to vitamin A overdose. They’re not the same as regular fish oil pills.

  • Aelya

    What is it about grandmothers? They’re amazing. I have fond memories of my childhood rummaging through my nani’s drawers and parading around the house in her expensive shoes/clothes/jewels. When it comes to medicine, old-world grandmas (like yours and mine) are the best

  • ahealthyeuro

    i think vegetables and fruits might be great ones to add to the list. I think a diet heavy in oil, meat and cheese will definitely send you straight to the doctors office here in America.

  • Loljame

    dude i thought this article was gonna be about something else entirely. did anyone else read yiayia as slang for er, ladybits?

    • http://twitter.com/MissKimball misskimball

      yes, I thought it meant that until I got to the comments and it made the whole thing pretty funny

  • http://twitter.com/nestevian888 AlesGirl

    Very nice read. My grandmother was from a village in Guatemala but some of these remedies are the same as hers.   

  • Jessie

    Awww, this is a cute article. My grandma swore by honey. 

    • http://fastfoodies.org Briana

      the words ‘awww’, ‘honey’, ‘cute’ and ‘grandma’ take up 37% of this comment

      seems unbleak

  • Craig Duncan

    “My yiayia keeps both [dogs] and [cats] in her inner-city back yard in Melbourne, and I’ve seen her de-skin both, right before she served them up for our dinner.”

    Isn’t it fucked up how this little change would spell all manner of outraged comments? I think so. And it’s because we live in a world where chickens and rabbits didn’t win the “moral consideration” lottery; instead, they were born on the wrong end of a culture with radically inconsistent views toward animals, where references about skinning them and serving them up for dinner are met without the slightest trace of shame or disgust.

    • Katgeorge

      They weren’t skinned alive. They were killed first. And I’m guessing much more humanely than in a factory.

      • Craig Duncan

        Having old Italian family members myself that keep rabbits, I suspect that your yiayia most likely bludgeons them over the head with a rock, or cuts off their heads, or something along those lines. An improvement over skinning them alive? Perhaps. One worth trumpeting as a defence for this kind of morally appalling behavior? Absolutely not.

        And saying that they are treated “more humanely” than animals in factory farms just puts on the display the dazzling array of Orwellian rhetorical gymnastics that is employed to sanitize the methods by which one goes about killing animals. “More humanely,” in this case, means little more than saying: “Well, at least when their brains were bashed in with a rock they didn’t have to get dipped into a vat of trisodium phosphate afterwards.”

      • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

        bro this is not a vegan forum, k

      • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

        bro this is not a vegan forum, k

      • Craig Duncan

        Apparently it’s not a place for “thought,” either.

      • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

        ooh burn, how will i ever survive

      • CD

        Much like a cat or dog, and much unlike chickens and rabbits. Bada-bada-bing!

      • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

        okay that was actually pretty nice. +1 for you, CD.

      • Katgeorge

        I’m pretty sure she breaks their necks with her hands.

        So I suppose all people from 3rd World countries who are taught to survive in this way are inhumane assholes. WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO. NO SERIOUSLY? WHAT?

      • Craig Duncan

        At this point, I sincerely hope that your yiayia is not in a situation where she needs to snap the necks of innocent animals just to survive. Much like my grandparents, your yiayia did that to survive way back when. And that’s unfortunate. That she had to resort to that to survive is a sad commentary on the times in which she lived. My point is: If your yiayia is still doing that today and has the means not to, then she is doing something that ought to be deemed as morally impermissible, but because they’re “only” rabbits and chickens, snapping their necks and skinning them seems so quaint and interesting, doesn’t it? 

        And I wasn’t implying that those individuals from 3rd world countries that have no alternatives and don’t get to choose what they eat are inhumane assholes. Frankly: you’re pulling that right out of your ass. I’m saying that we shouldn’t be glorifying the old survival habits of our grandparents and acting as if most of us need to kill animals to survive in this day and age. But, whatever, it’s hard to actually engage with you when you keep caricaturing what I said.

        Anyway, tell yiayia to loosen her grip. I bet she gives one hell of a handshake.

      • Craig Duncan

        At this point, I sincerely hope that your yiayia is not in a situation where she needs to snap the necks of innocent animals just to survive. Much like my grandparents, your yiayia did that to survive way back when. And that’s unfortunate. That she had to resort to that to survive is a sad commentary on the times in which she lived. My point is: If your yiayia is still doing that today and has the means not to, then she is doing something that ought to be deemed as morally impermissible, but because they’re “only” rabbits and chickens, snapping their necks and skinning them seems so quaint and interesting, doesn’t it? 

        And I wasn’t implying that those individuals from 3rd world countries that have no alternatives and don’t get to choose what they eat are inhumane assholes. Frankly: you’re pulling that right out of your ass. I’m saying that we shouldn’t be glorifying the old survival habits of our grandparents and acting as if most of us need to kill animals to survive in this day and age. But, whatever, it’s hard to actually engage with you when you keep caricaturing what I said.

        Anyway, tell yiayia to loosen her grip. I bet she gives one hell of a handshake.

      • TO

        You’re being too harsh.

      • Guest

        God you suck. Being a vegan/ ovo lacto is a luxury that, for the most part, is afforded to those in richer western cultures. We are aware of poorer, smaller cultures, and even some more refined ones, that survive without consuming the mass amounts of meat that we do but meat is a necessity in our society. We should treat all of our food (including non-animals) with more respect and understand where it truly comes from. Your whining will not change minds but will just make people resent you and your cause. I respect vegetarianism and veganism and was vegan for the 2 years that I was the head chef at a vegan restaurant, but I do not have any respect for idealogs who chastise people for eating meat. You sir are a giant twat and I really hope that you learn to appreciate those of us who make different life style choices than you do.

        Oh yeah, Meat is also fucking delicious.

      • Anon

        Cat doesn’t taste good. Deal with it.

    • http://maaaaaan.tumblr.com/ wackomet

      no it’s not fucked up, it’s a curious aspect of human nature. just because you, personally, don’t understand something doesn’t make it meaningless.

      also just btw if you are at all sincere about wanting people to stop eating animals, the tone you’re employing is basically the opposite of what will be effective, i promise

      • Craig Duncan

        By saying it’s a “curious aspect of human nature” you do two things: first, you present an essentialist view of human nature by suggesting that these actions are somehow cemented in the fabric of certain human beings (in this case, the act of killing animals) rather than presenting them as cultural values that are always subject to change and paradigm shifts; second, you mask the brutality involved in killing animals by using the word “curious” like it’s some kind of exotic quirk, something that is quaint, something that, because it has been done for so long in certain cultures, ought to be respected without further qualification. Neither of these options seems particularly appealing to me.

        Also, I never said that I didn’t understand this practice—and I never said that it was meaningless. Where are you getting this from?

        About my tone. There’s not much that can be done about it. I’ve tried. I really have. In my experience: If anyone brings up animal rights it’s going to come off as confrontational, the main reason being that we live in a society that ontologizes most animals as “food” or “consumable” and instrumentalizes them as being here for our benefit. When someone comes along and disrupts that narrative they are carved out as an aggressive Other. This has little to do with tone, and everything to do with ideology.

      • Vegan

        as an abolitionist vegan i have to ask: does this really pertain to the article?

        yes i agree with what you’re saying but there’s a time and a place, man.

      • Craig Duncan

        What prompted me to discuss this was the absolute and totalizing manner by which animal suffering was glossed over–as if it had a perfectly smooth surface. Deconstructing her article was necessary to show what the suppressed premises were, to show that there was something to be said for the kind of ease and complete ignorance in which she dealt with the subject. Everything was to be found in what was not said; everything was to be found in the marginalia of her discussion.

        I do appreciate your concern, however, but this venue is certainly more hospitable for this type of investigation than at the dinner table, where vegans usually have to find the heart to defend their decision to abstain from animal flesh.

      • http://maaaaaan.tumblr.com/ wackomet

        Bullshit. I know plenty of vegetarians and vegans who aren’t self-righteous assholes towards strangers

        Please forgive me if I have been “masking brutality.” How’s this: Chickens and all kinds of other animals get mercilessly slaughtered all the time in order to sate my apatite. They lose their lives forever so that I can heat up their bodies and eat the flesh from their bones. I accept this.

    • Kannibal <3

      But what if we replaced the word rabbit with……
      …..
      …..

      HUMAN?!?!?

  • Sally Jenkins

    Tips From My Vagina

  • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

    my nana is the same way! old ladies rock :)

  • http://goldenday.tumblr.com Kia Etienne

    my nana is the same way! old ladies rock :)

  • dav

    ive never had any type of person in my life that is floky and old-wordly.  just a fat grandmother that desnt give a shit

  • http://twitter.com/Dee_Robinson Danielle Robinson

    Very cute.  Grandparents always have the best DIY wisdom.  Thinking back on it, they were quite right about a lot!

  • http://maaaaaan.tumblr.com/ wackomet

    thank you and good job for letting me vicariously live a greek childhood via your writing

  • http://twitter.com/blingless Dave P

    yum yum bunnies

  • Elle

    My Turkish grandma to a T. Any sickness can be cured with her chicken soup. She beats lemon and eggs together and whisks it in to the soup tothicken it. Plenty of parsley, and some little noodle pieces too. Mmm. Also, did anyone have newspaper shoved to cover their back and shoulders in their pajamas when they were sick? Still don’t get this one…
    Also, my mama still kisses my forehead when I’m sick to gauge heat. Which means I can never pretend. “But it’s not hot at all, Elle…”
    And that time I fell off my bike by flipping over the handle bars? Dad gave me a cup of orange juice and told me to sit in the sun.

  • Maria

    Ahhh! Chamomile!! How I miss my yiayia’s homegrown chamomile! (Even as I write this, I’m saying it in my head in Greek)

blog comments powered by Disqus