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. 

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