It's interesting that world over, different cultures have different home remedies for the same old ailments. In India, as always taking diversity to the extreme, it often seems like each family has their own unique set of remedies that are passed on.
Four years ago, when my son was a few months old, I was visiting my relatives in Bangalore when he developed a streaming cold. I didn't want to give him allopathic medicine without his regular paediatrician's advice, and somehow I have never found homoeopathy to work for me - too impatient, I guess. My atte ( mama's wife) came up with something that literally dried up his cold that same day. It's so simple too, and works wonders on small babies. Just take 1 tsp of milk, put 3-4 strands of saffron into it, heat it and leave aside for a little while. It will thicken and turn yellow as the saffron is absorbed. Just apply this to your infant's nose periodically. The runny nose will stop in a couple of hoursw. After a few hours, out will come a big sneeze, and that's it!
My dad's side of the family used to brew up a tasty kashaaya for coughs, and given that I almost always had a cough, bronchitis and asthma when I visited them as a child, I sure had a lot of this. Interestingly, I recently discovered that many of the ingredients used are found in ayurvedic OTC cough mixtures:
Boil together - a few leaves of tulsi, 1 inch piece of ginger, 1 few cloves and whole black peppers, 2 inch piece of cinnamon bark and a 1 inch piece of atimadara ( jyeshtha madu - called licorice root in English) - in a litre of water. Keep it simmering for a good 10 minutes after it comes to a boil. Serve it hot ( and if serving to adults, adding a tot of rum won't go amiss:)). It really soothes the throat, and tastes good. If you like, you can add a spoon of honey to this mix for older kids, though the licorice root adds sweetness on its own.
Over the years I've tried a variety of strange home remedies for my asthma, and found that many of them do provide at least temporary relief. One really bizarre thing that worked quite well was having black tea with salt. Another recipe from my ajji's kitchen was roast garlic. I remember her bedtime concoction for my coughs used to be hot milk with haldi and a tsp of ghee, which used to help me make it through the night.
Of course, the age-old remedy of steam inhalation is something that helps adults and kids with coughs and colds. I was really scared about my ability to be able to hold my child securely enough over boiling water so our doctor came up with an easy solution. We now just plug in an electric kettle filled with water under my son or daughter's bed, and make sure the doors and windows are tightly shut. All we have to keep watch for is that the water doesn't evaporate away!