As soon as temperatures drop, they show up at your doorstep: a sneeze and a shiver, or perhaps an unexpected cough. For some, it will include fever but for most of us it means, first and foremost, a snotty nose.
As we say in Portugal that’s fruta da época, literally meaning “fruit of the season” and obviously implying that these are symptoms that usually show up with the cold season.
All countries and cultures have their version of homemade medicines when it comes to treating the common cold and Portugal is no exception. And yes, we also did take and still do take both prescribed and over-the-counter medicine for things like flu, colds, and cough.
Before we go on to the most well known of these homemade medicines let’s do a quick pit stop for handy vocabulary:
– mezinhas – a word that means “old wives remedies”. It can be used in the context of colds and flu or any other common type of sickness, like sore throats or headaches, for example. Another common phrase with the same meaning is remédios caseiros (literally, homemade medicines).
– cházinho de limão – if you know any old Portuguese ladies and you tell them you have a cold, they’re likely to raise their eyebrows, shrug, and tell you muito cházinho de limão, meaning “plenty of lemon tea”. Another common reply is the above-mentioned fruta da época, which is also another way of saying “just deal with it”.
– resfriado / constipação – while “gripe” is the Portuguese word for flu, we have other words that stand for what in English you call “feeling under the weather”. Resfriado is one of them and the other, which often causes a lot of embarrassment / confusion / laughter, is constipação. A lot of Portuguese people tend to make a direct translation and say they’re constipated… when what they mean is that they have a cold. You can imagine the reactions this often gets. So next time you’re talking to a Portuguese who has a case of the sniffles and they tell you they’re constipated, instead of making them feel bad about their poor English skills, maybe remember how insecure you probably feel about your own Portuguese skills and deal with the situation gracefully. 😉
So without further ado let’s go over some of the Portuguese traditional methods for dealing with common wintertime illnesses:
Disclaimer: Obviously, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, and I’m not a health care professional in any way. I’m also not saying these will cure you of anything. This blog post is meant to be funny but also informative, as all the things mentioned here are part of Portuguese culture and have been traditional and very much beloved methods to treat colds, flu, and cough. Some of these are not so common today, but you may come across them (especially if you have elderly neighbours, for example).
– chá de limão com mel – lemon tea with honey, simple as that. Place freshly cut lemon peels in a cup, cover with hot water, and add a teaspoon of honey because life’s already bitter enough. Common additions include lemon juice, a cinnamon stick, and, in more recent years, a few slices of ginger. In Portuguese cafés, you can ask for the super simple version of this (lemon peel and hot water), by asking for a chá de limão or a carioca de limão.
– rebuçados Dr Bayard – the iconic go-to cough drops in Portugal. Made with a mix of medicinal herbs, the brand has its origins in the friendship between two men, a Portuguese and a French, during WW2. Every year, around 600 tons of these candies are produced and I’m pretty sure that, still today, there’ll be one or two of these cough drops inside the purse of many a Portuguese old lady. You can learn more about his brand on their website.
– rebuçados de mentol – mint drops, used for pretty much the same purposes as Dr. Bayard’s cough drops, but not so famous. The silver wrapper is still a classic.
– gemada – not used as medicine per se, but more like an overall tonic for ill people and recent mothers. Ask your Portuguese neighbours / friends / coworkers (especially those over 40 / 50 years of age) and I’m sure you’ll see quite a few nostalgic smiles as they remember when they were kids and faked a fever or an illness of some kind so their mothers or grandmothers would make them a gemada. Guess what, you can do it too: with a fork, beat an egg yolk with some sugar (or honey) until you have a nice frothy liquid. For a more traditional version, use brown sugar (açúcar amarelo) instead of white sugar, and make sure to add a bit of port. For an extra Portuguese touch, don’t forget the cinnamon powder.
– aguardente – I saw this being made a few times when I was a kid, although I never got to try it. I thought the whole thing was fascinating, including the blue flame in a living room with the lights out – but I digress. In a heatproof bowl mix 2 tablespoons of sugar with one glass of aguardente – use a normal glass, not a shot sized glass, because of the proportions. My source tells me this should be done with very good quality aguardente, which she used to get from her coworkers who had family in Central Portugal. Set the whole thing on fire (for obvious reasons a lighter is not a good option for this). Every now and then give it a little swirl with a spoon. When the flame dies out, wait until it cools down just enough for you to drink it – it should be drunk hot. Tuck up in bed right after you do to make sure you sweat. Quick sauna, anyone?
– red wine – mix about 2 tablespoons of sugar with one glass of red wine (for the extra Portuguese touch remember to add a bit of lemon peel and a cinnamon stick). Bring it to a boil in a small saucepan and stir until the alcohol has evaporated and the liquid has a sort of syrup-like consistency. Drink it up!
Growing up in Portugal in the 80s and 90s I got to try all of these except for the last two. Well, I did try the last one before publishing this blog post – for the sake of research, of course. But tell me: did you know or have you tried any of these? Which mezinhas does your country use to fight off wintertime sickness?
Excellent piece! A joy to read … to pick up some Portuguese … and to learn local remedies for this ailment we all suffer!
Glad you liked it! 🙂
Anything to clear a blocked nose! But for fevers I alway stick to my Dads advice. Go to bed and sweat it out! Don’t take anything that will artificially lower your temperature. The whole reason your body is getting achey and hot is so that the body temperature can work best to create antibodies and they are attacking the virus. let it run its course and your antibodies are far stronger. the last cold I had was long before the pandemic, and nothing since. That’s only if it is a cold or sniffle though, anything worse, and it’s a call to the health advice centre, just to check.
The last two things on the list are meant to do just that: make you sweat! 😀
I’ve tried them all, except the last one with the wine, which I had never heard of. But it sounds great too 🙂
Let me know how it goes if you give it a try! 😄