Can olives stop sea sickness? Strange cures from your kitchen

When Coca Cola was first put on sale in 1886, marketed as a cure for morphine addiction, indigestion, nerve disorder, headaches and impotence

My dog Daffodil is one of the co-owners (in her mind, anyway) of a park near our house that we chill in at least once a day. She meets a lot of her pals here, and one of her friends, Bailey, is a sweet golden Labrador who loves a good roll in fox poop. Our little park seems to be in healthy supply of it, thanks to our nighttime neighbours (the foxes, I mean) who make use of the park while we are asleep in our beds.

Fox poop is a scourge for many dog owners, as a lot of dogs have an unstoppable appetite for rolling in it. On its own, that’s pretty gross, but it’s the accompanying smell that torments owners, particularly as certain dogs, like golden Labrador, have fur that seems to hang on to strong smells.

“Daffo doesn’t seem to like fox poop,” I chat with Bailey’s owner in the park one Saturday morning. Dog owners tend to talk about canine poop quite a lot. “Count yourself lucky,” Bailey’s owner tells me. “It stinks. Tomato ketchup is the only thing that gets rid of the stench.”

It turns out that a renowned cure for fox poop stink is giving your dog a bath of sorts in tomato ketchup. Bailey’s owner reckons the vinegar of the ketchup must cut through the oiliness of the fox poop, relinquishing its power over Bailey’s coat.


This got me thinking about food and the strange cures that it can be linked with. Historically, food and medicine have been closely linked. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” said Hippocrates, apparently, though it’s been contested for a long time about how literal he actually intended this statement to be taken.

I don’t want to get into the arguments that surround traditional and natural medicine today, so instead, I’ve been looking into foods connected to unexpected claims of cures and natural remedies. There are a host of online articles claiming the power of onions and olive oil for earaches, asparagus as a hangover cure and vodka as a tonic for smelly feet.

Some foods were originally invented and billed as medicine, like Coca Cola. John Pemberton was a Confederate veteran of the American Civil War who had become addicted to morphine, and he came up with the first version of Coke, a sweet alcoholic drink infused with coca leaves. It first appeared on the market as Pemberton's French Wine Coca in the 1880s. When prohibition laws were passed in Atlanta, Pemberton developed Coca-Cola, a non-alcoholic version of his wine tonic, and it was first put on sale in 1886, marketed as a cure for morphine addiction, indigestion, nerve disorder, headaches and impotence. It was another 20 years before The Coca-Cola Company sweetened and carbonated the drink, and the identity that we know today of the world's most famous soda began to emerge.

I'm stretching the food and drink subject by including Listerine, the ubiquitous mouthwash, but the story is a good one. Inspired by the work of Louis Pasteur, a British doctor called Joseph Lister found that using carbolic acid on surgical dressings helped reduce post-surgical infection. An American named Joseph Lawrence was inspired by these findings to develop an alcohol-based formula for a surgical antiseptic made up of eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol. Lawrence named this antiseptic "Listerine" as a tip of the hat to Joseph Lister, which is pretty sound. Listerine was introduced as a surgical antiseptic in 1879, and it wasn't until the 1890s that it was introduced to dentists as a potential for oral care. In 1914, it became the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the US.

This year, I’ve spent a lot of time on Inishturk Island, which is an hour’s ferry journey off the coast of Mayo from Roonagh Pier. It’s home to about 58 people and it’s a beautiful place that instils a different perspective on the mainland, literally and figuratively. While on the island, I learned, luckily not through personal experience, that vinegar can be used in the treatment of jellyfish stings, as it prevents the nematocysts, the stinging cells in the jellyfish’s tentacles, from releasing their toxins.

Vinegar also works on wasp stings, I know this from personal experience.

I tend to suffer from motion sickness and even on the calmest of days, I take a travel sickness tablet before stepping on to a ferry. I read online, on a number of websites including, that lemons and olives are attributed to alleviating sea and motion sickness. It appears that sea sickness causes excess saliva, and that tannins in lemons and olives help to rebalance that. Perhaps this is why a cup of sweet tea is often prescribed to soothe a sick stomach after a difficult ferry crossing?

An islander recommended chewing gum for seasickness. When I asked her why she thought it worked, she said she figured it keeps your mind off feeling sick and provides a good distraction. That certainly worked for me.

It also turns out that chewing gum has been linked with reducing stress. A 2009 study by the NICM Collaborative Centre for the Study of Natural Medicines and Neurocognition at Melbourne’s Swinburne University called “Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress” introduces findings by researchers who investigated, in a controlled setting, the notion that gum can relieve stress.

"During both levels of stress the chewing gum condition was associated with significantly better alertness and reduced state anxiety, stress and salivary cortisol," states the report. The researchers were unsure of the reasons behind these results, but they offered up the explanation that chewing may improve cerebral blood flow, which in turn lowered anxiety and increased alertness.

So the next time you find yourself on a ferry, or suffering a bit of motion sickness in a car, try a bit of chewing gum. At the very least, it might take your mind off feeling sick, even if just for a moment. Aoife McElwain