Although I grew up in Australia, there is no escaping Cypriot culture when you have a Greek Cypriot mother! Aside from the wonderful Cypriot cooking that filled our home (and the neighbourhood) with traditional aromas, my mum is also a fountain of old wives’ tale remedies that she swears by. They all have their basis in how Cypriots used to live in a time before modern medicine, but over the years I have heard some that sound a bit odd or far-fetched (and which I won’t be suggesting!). There are also a lot of sensible remedies that are still widely used around the world, and these are the ones that I use with my own family.
Here are my top five, tried and tested Cypriot old wives’ tale remedies!
Cypriot coffee for wounds
Mum remembers her family using Cypriot coffee to stop wounds bleeding (in a time where there were no plasters) and to speed up the healing process. And it does actually work! In fact, I did some research and found that ground coffee is quite a common remedy to stem bleeding.
Zivania as medicine
Zivania is the island’s strong, national spirit. It was particularly useful in the colder months (before heating) for drinking to keep warm, but as mum tells me, it was used in many other ways too, and was considered an essential part of the medicine cabinet. Dabbing a little on a tooth can ease toothache, and the high alcohol content sterilises wounds. It is also used to massage sore body parts.
Yogurt for burns
I have vivid memories of visiting Cyprus when I was very young and seeing sunburnt backs slathered in yogurt! Yogurt (the natural, full-fat variety) is a natural healer because it has enzymes and probiotics, and greatly soothed sunburn in a time when there were no other remedies. If you would like to try this, leave the yogurt on until it starts to dry (15-20 minutes) then rinse gently with lukewarm water.
Elderflower infusions for eyes
Elderflower tea (zambouko) was used to treat eye infections and soothe allergies. I have to admit that I do use this as my first option when we have eye issues in my household. In the olden days the plant was steeped in hot water to make an infusion, but it is much easier to use teabags nowadays. I always pick up some boxes of zambouko teabags when in Cyprus as they are cheap and made from locally grown elderflowers.
Olive oil for ears
Mum always used a few drops of warm Cyprus olive oil for our ears to soften wax and for pain relief. Olive oil was used because it has antibacterial properties and has always been in abundance on the island (since the wild olive trees of ancient times). I must add a disclaimer here: use extreme caution when heating olive oil and make sure it is only ever slightly warm and never, ever hot!