In the early 90's, a friend of mine went to South America to perform community service. As part of her stay, she lived with a host family. One day, I received a letter from her in which she told me that she had been ill. I don't remember what was wrong with her (she recovered, thankfully), but I do remember the prescribed cure: she was supposed to drink her own urine.
Which brings to mind an important tip: try home remedies at your own risk!
How popular are home remedies? If you conduct an internet search on the topic, you can unearth over one million pages devoted to these "sure-fire" cures. Barefoot Lass has compiled a list of unusual (although slightly more palatable than my example above!) home remedies, including wet tobacco compresses for bee stings, banana peels for bruises, and rubbing 1/2 of a lime on your head to cure a headache.
Do these cures work? I'm not sure. Overall, I suspect that a small number of home remedies are truly effective, a large percentage do nothing, and a few are downright dangerous.
But some home remedies have actually undergone scientific testing to gauge their effectiveness. For example, Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center conducted a 1993 study that showed that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that help you recover from a cold.
More specifically, chicken soup with vegetables was shown to inhibit the activity of neutrophils (white blood cells that fight infection), which in turn was thought to retard the spread of the cold through the upper respiratory tract. Interestingly, the broth alone did not have this property, and the researchers couldn't isolate exactly which ingredient or combination of ingredients in the soup caused this effect. (Dr. Rennard also shares his wife's chicken soup recipe, but notes that other chicken soups have similar properties, although they do vary in their effectiveness.)
So, should you try a home remedy the next time you are sick? Always remember to use common sense and be careful out there!