Sick In Croatia? Here Are Croatian Cures Of The Alternative Kind

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

So, you’re sick in Croatia. What do you do? Go to the doctor? Pharmacy perhaps? Nope, you head to the local farmers market and liquor store are purchase these items:

  • A bag of onions
  • Cloves of fresh garlic
  • Fresh sage leaves – none of that dry stuff
  • Rakija or Pelinkovac
  • Blitva (swiss chard)


Cough, cough, whinge, whinge… this post is being typed up in bed while I am sick. I hate being sick. I know everyone hates it – but I am such a sook. I need to be taken care of. So, being home alone with an energetic toddler while sick is pure hell.

I’ve talked before about how I want to be a Croat and obtain my Croatian citizenship, and in a bid to study, I’ll be bringing you up to speed on all things Croatian. Today, I present to you what to do if you get sick in Croatia. As for which of the five categories this valuable information falls into for my upcoming test, I think the minister will have this in #5 – Everyday Life.

After all, you can’t go about your everyday life if you are sick and do not know the traditional way to be cured.

Cold And Flu

A friend named Mikki here in Croatia sent me this recipe as a cure for my flu.

Take four onions of any kind and cut them in quarters. Place 1 in the kitchen, 1 in the living room, and the last one in your bedroom closest to you. That’s it. Then you’ll be cured.


If you’re feeling really poorly, you should lay in bed for at least 1 hour, with the slices of one thinly sliced onion in a pair of socks, while the socks are ON.YOUR.FEET.  Her tip: Make sure the onion slices are touching the soles of your feet.

All of Mikki’s advice was not totally crazy new to me; she insisted I sip on lots of warm water to help.

Warning: Mikki also warned that the color of the onion you left in your bedroom overnight would be black, but the ones in the other rooms won’t be. Spooky. This ridiculous new health information led me to ask people I know here in Croatia their opinions.

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Stomach Aches And Pains

I had heard this one back in Australia from my father-in-law (God rest his soul). You have a stomach ache; perhaps you overate? Maybe you have heartburn or some other kind of digestive issue… Never fear Rakija to the rescue.

Take one shot glass, fill it with rakija (remember that Croatian kind of brandy), and add a dash of pepper. Drink. Now your stomach ache should be gone. Or perhaps it’s actually got worse, and now you feel so sick you have to lie down.

Bonus: You can substitute the rakija for pelinkovac and subtract the pepper if you so wish.

Uses For Rakija

While we are talking rakija, what else can this magic liquor do? Lots, let me list just a few.

  • Rub on mosquito bites. Itch be gone!
  • Drink to help a sore throat
  • Rub on your forehead to cure a headache
  • Lightly soak a cloth with rakija, and place the fabric over your (insert any pain here) & fevers
  • Use rakija to wounds that need disinfecting
  • Removes limescale from tapware and glasses
  • Drink to help relieve a toothache
  • Also, many believe it improves depression, anxiety, and even menstrual cramps.

Warning: This drink is lethal. No, seriously, it’s so potent; I recommend only using rakija under the guidance of a fully-fledged Croatian, such as your Baba or Dido (Grandma & Grandpa). No ex-pats such as myself should administer it. Stay safe, people.

Home grown onions #Croatia- Chasing the Donkey
Mr. CtD with the homegrown onions


Just like rakija, sage leaves here in Croatia are medically approved and are said to have magical healing properties also. But do not even suggest to your Croatian friend or relative you plan to use dried sage leaves. They’ll laugh at you as if you were some weird hippy. Fresh sage leaves cure:

  • Coughs
  • Sore throats and
  • Any mouth pain, especially gum pain


Grgo, who lives in Dubrovnik, told me that his Mama has an excellent remedy for a dry cough. She would cook some sugar in a pot, and when it started to crack, she would add water. This would make a caramel-like (but clear) sugary mixture to which she would add milk.

Edit: This is known as spinano mlijeko, according to blog reader Neo, who commented below.

Cough cough… I’d have a cough every day if I were a kid in her house growing up. YUMMY.


One blog reader told me his friend had a toothache and was advised to put finely chopped garlic on their wrist.

She did, and the toothache really did pass.

Warning: However, the guy forgot to tell her to keep the garlic in place for a short period. She kept it overnight and ended up with big blisters on her wrist.

Mr. CtD with the home grown garlic - Chasing the Donkey
Mr. CtD, with the homegrown garlic

Blitva (Swiss Chard)

My buddy, Grgo, told me that his Father’s family on the island of Mljet uses blitva to resolve issues relating to constipation and also to lower blood pressure.

So, given I am too sick to care, I have drunk many cups of sage tea, kindly made for me by my Teta {Aunt} downstairs, as well as sitting here with a rakija-soaked cloth on my forehead, in the hope this banging headache will just go away.

Disclaimer: If you’re really sick and in pain, don’t be foolish and go to the doctor, and if you’re an ex-pat, make sure you have Croatian Health Insurance.

What other cures can I add to this list of ways to get better once you fall ill in Croatia? (Be sure to read the comments from Neo, who has a bunch more tips for you)

Comments (37)

  1. Vinegar gets a lot of use on bug bites. People will splash the vinegar directly from any restaurant table – everyone understands the “wine” stains on shins and arms. I’ve had a couple of colds there and had to explain to locals how to make a hot whiskey, a remedy from my Irish side. And Mt. Donkey is a “rock star” in the garden, I see. That beli-luk looks perfect!

    1. Oh vinegar, never knew that one. Irish and Croatian… what a firey mix :)
      Ohh and that luk was grown by his cousin. Mr. CtD just gave moral support….

      1. Irish and Croatian is not an uncommon mix in the US – all Catholic, of course – and I would guess it’s also not uncommon Down Under. Pop singer Lorde is the same mix. And Mate is great at moral support, I’d say :)

  2. Haha, a great post! Of course rajika cures everything but the onion-in-the-sock thing is just a bit too weird for me…

  3. I love these tips. There are some great ones on offer in Italy too, such as putting smelly socks on your neck to relieve a sore throat!

  4. I’ve been in Moroccofor 6 weeks now and recently had tonsillitis, normally I would go to the doctors get the antibiotics on prescription and that was it, here I was advised by the pharmacist to drink honey and lemon with hot water, gargle salt water and only if it persisted to go back for medication. I went back and was prescribed two sets of antibiotics setting me back the equivalent of £30! People definitely take the NHS for granted xx

  5. Oh I really love this!!! I bet all of these work a charm – when I was travelling around the Czech Republic/Slovakia for 6 weeks I was ill and a local told me to try a local tea and it was amazing, I still to this day try to work out what was in it.

    Laura x

  6. Tip:
    any pain anywhere suddenly moves to your thumb, if you hit it really hard with a hammer :-)
    don’t be shy, give it a try.
    (great test too for checking your knowledge of less common Croatian words).

  7. Ha, these seem really helpful!In Poland, it is bread with butter and garlic for colds, cloves for toothches, sage for a sore throat, honey for a sore throat, onion with sugar (put onions in a jar, cover with sugar, wait until the juice comes out, drink a spoonfull of juice), thyme syrop (which you can GASP! buy at the pharmacy), marjoram paste (also from the pharmacy) is used for… well if your nose is so hurt from being wiped off, you use that paste- it heals the sore skin under your nose and the smell helps you breath better- marjoram tea is also good for sore throat!

  8. Fantastic post SJ. I think every ailment is cured by rakija (you got to use it for something)!! I had a swollen knee, the answer, “rakija”!

  9. Lol, this is so Russian. Onions and garlic cure everything! And vodka and honey of course – especially together. Maybe with some garlic.

  10. So rakija is a wonder drug – but may kill you if you’re not a local? We’ll do the gargling salt water or taking a spoonful of honey for the sore throats, but that’s as natural as my home remedies get. Otherwise, I prefer to suffer through it and whine.

    Hope you start feeling better! And that the little guy isn’t getting into more trouble since mama’s down and out.

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