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Ye Olde Asian Home Remedies: 5 Chinese health hacks we swear by

By Nicole Hurip 2 July 2020 | Last Updated 31 August 2023

An apple a day keeps the doctor away—at least, that’s what they say in the West. But what do we say in the East? Turns out, a lot. From getting a fishbone stuck in your throat to the surprising uses for onions and boiled eggs, here are some of the best things we’ve heard from our Asian mums, dads, aunties, and uncles growing up.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be taken as actual medical advice. If you’re feeling unwell, please consult a medical professional instead of stocking up on onions.

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Swallowing a fishbone

If you’ve ever experienced the discomfort of being impaled in the throat by a piece of fishbone, you’ll know the desperation and anxiety that comes immediately after. According to Chinese folklore, all you need to do is to place a bowl on top of your head, take a chopstick, and bang it repeatedly against the bowl while chanting, “骨落!” which translates roughly as, “Bone, go down!” If your ears are ringing but the bone is still obstinately stuck, you can try chugging some vinegar to soften the bone or chowing down mouthfuls of rice or potato!

Rubbing eggs on your bruises

High-fived the floor with your face? Tested a table corner with your shin? Don’t fret: All you need is a pot, a working stove (very important), some water, and an egg. Take the peeled boiled egg (be careful, it’s hot!) and roll it against the bruise, or take the unpeeled egg and wrap it in a towel, then hold it against the sore spot. Apparently, this can make bruises go away faster. Make sure to try this after 24 hours of incurring the injury though—otherwise, the heat might exacerbate it. Pro tip: It doubles as a protein-packed snack after!

Cold and flu symptoms

There are plenty of over-the-counter options available for quelling a cold or the flu fast. But did you know that the humble onion can work just as well? Slide a juicy slice of raw onion in your sock and keep it on through the night to fight a low-grade fever. Just remember to wash your feet before you venture out the next morning unless you want to envelop people with the pungent scent with every step. 

You can also boil onions in water to make a tonic to boost immunity. Sip on the delicious vegetable cocktail to fight a stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, or fever. Additionally, there is also the practice of using onions to kill cold bacteria and germs in the air by leaving an open jar of cut-up onions in a room. Onions have antibacterial properties, so the idea is that the juices can be used to purify the air as well.

Another antibacterial vegetable can also be used as a flu-fighting potion. Boiling Coca-Cola and ginger together is a commonly-used method for people with the sniffles or scratchy throat. The phosphoric acid in the soda, which gives it a slight tang, soothes the stomach and aids digestion. The sweetness offsets the spiciness of the ginger—the quintessential spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. Ginger warms you up from the inside and clears a blocked sinus. Add lemon slices for an extra dose of vitamin C, another go-to for cold and flu prevention and remedy.


For those who menstruate, cramps are the common enemy that unites us, on par with the universal unbridled hatred for mosquitoes. Scientists still do not have a clear idea of what causes cramps or dysmenorrhea, and those suffering from this unnecessary anguish can only resort to painkillers or prayer.

Asian folklore dictates that cramps are indicative of a “cold” uterus, brought about by literal cold temperatures or the more abstract “cold” foods. In traditional Chinese medicine, foods can be broadly classified as “cold” or “hot.” Some examples of cooling foods are bananas, soybeans, coconuts, green tea, and cucumbers, which are to be avoided during menstruation. Cold foods like ice cream and iced drinks are to be avoided as well.

Dark circles

Apparently, sleeping with damp hair causes those pesky dark circles under your eyes. It can also make you more susceptible to migraines later in life, so make sure you thoroughly dry your hair if you wash it before bed. Besides, it might cause your pillow to mould, especially in more humid climates, and that’s just nasty.

Bonus: Miracle cure for all ailments!

If you grew up in a traditional Asian household, you would probably already know this. This elixir can be made in an instant and is widely available anywhere in the world. It’s versatile, affordable, and essential to life. The answer is simple—hot water. Want better skin? Drink hot water. Sore throat? Drink hot water. Upset stomach? Drink hot water. The secret to eternal life? Probably more hot water.

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Nicole Hurip

Travel editorial director

Never content with sitting still, Nicole has turned her passion into a career. Hong Kong is her home, but she’ll always have a soft spot for L.A. and London, where she spent her college years. She loves exploring hidden places, hunting for cool vintage pieces, and talking to interesting people. Her vices include consuming excessive amounts of wine and cheese, a debilitating weakness for sparkly things, and spending too much time on Instagram.

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