5 Old Wives’ Tales That Actually Work—And 4 That Don’t

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Before Google, people actually had to talk to each other to pass along information (gasp!). And the number one source for helpful tips and household remedies? Old wives’ tales.

Part tradition and part superstition, old wives’ tales got their name from how they were passed down in oral tradition—from grandmother to mother to child. Some of them are more outlandish than others (like “frogs will give you warts”), but there are a few that hold true even under the scrutiny of modern medicine. Read on to find out which of these common sayings actually work, and which are basically than fairy tales.

1. Chicken noodle soup makes you feel better when you’re sick.

This one is true. A 2000 study out of the University of Nebraska found there’s more to the chicken noodle soup cure than just the comforting aroma. Researchers discovered that chicken noodle soup has a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can actually help relieve symptoms of the common cold. Grandma was right!

2. Yogurt banishes bad breath.

This unusual use for dairy is also true. You might be familiar with the friendly bacteria called probiotics—they’re bountiful in yogurt, and can push out the bacteria that cause bad breath.

3. Olives can cure motion sickness.

Though olives might be the last thing that you want to eat when you’re nauseous, this remedy is true. Motion sickness happens when your inner ear gets off kilter, causing nausea, dizziness, sweating, and just feeling horrible in general.

Feeling motion sick can also cause you to produce more saliva, which in turn makes you feel worse. Eating olives can help your mouth calm down on the saliva, thanks to compounds called tannins in the olives.

4. Drinking cranberry juice can prevent urinary tract infections.

This remedy is also true. You might have heard of the common home remedy for a urinary tract infection: cranberry juice. The science shows that certain compounds in the cranberries actually prevent bacteria from sticking around in the urinary tract.

Be careful when you’re shopping for juice, though: Research shows the benefits only come from natural, no-sugar-added cranberry juice.

5. Peanut butter can get gum out of your hair.

Anyone who loved bubblegum as a child knows this trick is true. If a bubble mishap results in a wad of gum hopelessly stuck in your hair, don’t reach for scissors—the solution is a gob of peanut butter. The natural oils from the peanuts will loosen the gum and let you scrape it off the follicles.

If you don’t have peanut butter around, any kind of nut butter will do the trick.

6. Feed a cold and starve a fever.

Let’s call this old wives’ tale half true. The idea behind this saying is on point, but in practice, it doesn’t quite work out. If you have a cold clogging up your sinuses and making you cough, your immune system does need more calories to work overdrive. But when you have a fever, you also need to keep your body going with nutritious food—fasting won’t help you recover any faster.

7. Eating cayenne pepper will cure a headache.

This is another half-true home remedy. Capsicum—the scientific name for cayenne pepper—does have some pain-relieving properties, but eating spicy food probably isn’t enough to cure you. Applying cayenne pepper inside your nose might relieve your headache, but then you have to deal with another problem—a burning nostril.

8. Tomato juice removes skunk odor.

Though many dog owners have turned to this trick to get the stink out of an unfortunate pet, tomato juice doesn’t really remove skunk odor.

Tomato juice only masks the smell of a skunk—you just smell like tomatoes instead. For pets, a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda will fully remove the smell.

9. That you can tell the gender of a baby by the shape of the mother’s stomach.

This one is patently false. Legend has it that if you’re carrying your baby high, it’s a girl. A lower baby bump supposedly means a little boy is coming your way.

There’s really no way to tell the gender of an unborn baby without seeing a doctor.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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