USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk medicine
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

“Worms in Your Stomach”

Context & Analysis

The subject used to swim competitively in high school and often had to deal with having wet hair. Her mother used to tell her the belief below to frighten her into keeping her hair down. Even though she recognizes that it is a folk belief, the thought of getting worms in her stomach was a deterrent to tying up her hair (and potentially damaging it). The subject stated that her mother most likely learned the saying from her grandmother, and she is uncertain if it is a belief that is shared by anyone outside of her family. I find it interesting that she continues to heed her mother’s warning despite not believing it herself.

Main Piece

“So my mom tells us that we’re going to get worms in our stomach if we tie our wet hair—not joking. Not joking. Yea. So when I was younger and started swimming I used to see all of the older girls in the locker room tie up their hair in really tight buns after swimming because obviously you don’t like the feeling of wet dripping hair on your back cuz it’s really gross. So I started doing it and my mom was like ‘[Subject’s Name] not only is this going to damage your hair, ‘cuz you’re going to rip it out—’cuz wet hair is weak hair or whatever— but you’re also going to get worms in your stomach’ and I didn’t believe her. But when my grandma was in town she started saying the same thing, and I thought ‘If this old lady is saying something, chances are she knows even more than my mom, so I probably shouldn’t tie it up anymore’ and I’ve never tied it up when it was wet since.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Vitamin C

Subject: Folk Medicine. EmergenC and ice cream.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So… I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately and like I feel like a cold might be coming on. Do you have any recommendations for which to proto push off this impending illness?

Interviewee: Ice cream and EmergenC… It totally keeps you from getting sick though. When you were in your junior year and I forced, well, uh, convinced you to take it every night before you went to sleep, you did not get sick and everybody else was. It’s true. And it’s more- it works better if you take it at night because you’re- it gives more time for your cells to absorb it.

Interviewer: That’s not how the body works…?

Interviewee: Yes! Because you’re- you’re not putting any more food in so you’re not like, your cells can take all the nutrients out of it. It’ll keep you healthy.”

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who both believed in the natural healing powers of alternative medicines. C. Taylor has worked at a chiropractor’s office and still receives frequent adjustments. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This story was shared over dinner with my mother and father. While she initially insisted she did not know any folklore, I prompted her with the hypothetical situation included above and received the answer I expected since this is how she treated all my colds growing up. While I had experienced her treatments, I had never asked her about her reasoning behind giving them. She started out using EmergenC in her adult life, but as a child, was forced to drink orange juice by her grandmother to keep from getting sick and to help fight off a cold once it had caught on.

Analysis: Vitamin C is a popular form of alternative medicine, used more in preventing illness than treating it. As the recipient of EmergenC in this story, I can say that while I did not get sick often while drinking it at home, since moving to college I have not continued drinking it and have only gotten sick twice. I think it is more likely that I am not very susceptible to illness in the first place, but perhaps the beverage did provide my system with the extra push it needed to make it through high school. However, when I return home, I always ask for a glass of EmergenC before I go to bed since, to me, it now carries connotations of home and the comforting feelings of being loved and cared for. I would venture to guess that maintaining the tradition of using vitamin C from her grandparents gives my mother a connection to the women who cared for her.

Health is a subject that scares many people since, when we are healthy, we often take it for granted and good health can be stripped from us at any second. It, therefore, makes sense that people turn to readily available products like EmergenC to practice having control over their health (also, orange juice, Vitamin C gummies, or immunity-boosting teas). Keeping the family healthy is of increased importance which manifests in the ritual of taking EmergenC every evening. It helps sooth anxieties of getting others sick by bringing a virus into the house and anxieties of ourselves losing our own good health. The idea of comforting oneself through these self-administered remedies is supported by my mom citing ice cream as having healing properties. Ice cream is satisfying and so when someone feels their worst physically, it makes sense that they would turn to a food that brings them happiness.

 

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Wet Socks Fever Remedy

The informant is marked EL. I am CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine practices she has learned over the years.

 

CS: “So are there any other remedies or folk medicine you can tell me about?”

EL: “Hmm yeah let me think. Oh! Ok…there is another super weird one, but I actually kind of think it works.”

CS: “Perfect, can you describe it for me?”

EL: “Yeah so it’s a remedy for when you have a fever. You basically take a pair of socks and put them under cold water, and put your feet in hot water. Then, when you go to bed, you put the wet socks on your feet and I guess it like increases circulation and blood flow? Sounds kind of weird, but the next day it supposedly relieves like congestion and your fever.”

CS: “And you’ve done this before?”

EL: “Yeah my mom always made me do it when I was younger. I got fevers all of the time.”

CS: “Did you notice any results from it?”

EL: “Honestly, yeah. I always felt better the next day. Weird how those things can sometimes really work.”

 

Context:

Met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

Background:

EL is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

 

Analysis:

I find this remedy interesting because I have never heard of it before, and the method seems bizarre, yet I understand the purpose behind it. I personally remember whenever I was sick with a fever doctors would tell me to cool myself off instead of warm myself up. I never used to understand the logic because I believed if I was struck with a fever and my body wanted heat, then it makes sense to give it heat. However, warming yourself up does prolong a fever’s duration, and essentially is just another catalyst to making you sicker. So off of this medical point, this method does seem to be logical and probably soothing. Compared to many over the counter drugs and doctor’s diagnoses, I enjoy learning of other methods that could similarly take care of the problem without all of the extra legwork.

 

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Onion Sleep Remedy

The informant is marked EL. I am CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine she has learned over the years.

 

EL: “There’s this other remedy too I always used to tell my friends about. Obviously in like high school everyone always has a hard time falling asleep, so my mom always made me put onions in a jar to help aid sleep deprivation.”

CS: “Interesting, where did you put the onions?”

EL: “We’d cut them up and put them in a jar and leave the jar on the nightstand. If you still can’t sleep in the middle of the night you are supposed to open the jar and breathe in the scent of the onions. Not exactly sure what it really does it help you sleep, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to try, right?”

CS: “Right. How long have you been doing it for?”

EL: “Probably from like late elementary school to high school. Obviously I’m too lazy to do it every time I have a hard time sleeping. That’d just be a waste. But here and again I do it and I still am not sure if it really works.”

 

Context:

Met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

 

Background:

EL is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

 

Analysis:

This remedy was fascinating to me because I can’t possibly understand how it works, but it makes me even more curious to try it. It seems to be such a bizarre form of folk medicine that I can’t help but wonder its origins and subsequently if there are other variations to this so-called “sleep aid.” It would be interesting to see this remedy’s specific origin and if it is linked at all to heritage or particular cultures.

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Peppermint Oil Remedy

The informant is marked EL. I am CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine practices she has learned over the years.

 

CS: “Any other folk medicine you can think of?”

EL: “Yeah we also did this one that helps with anxiety. I think it is Peppermint essential oil that does the trick.”

CS: “How long have you been doing it for?”

ET: “Whenever I’m stressed my mom makes me do it, so yeah…it’s been a while.”

CS: “Does your entire family follow this folk remedy?”

ET: “Definitely, we all do this one. It’s nice to do before like a test or something to detox after. It helps kinda clear and cleanse your mind.”

 

Context:

Met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

Background:

ET is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

 

Analysis:

I thought this remedy was not only interesting but something I personally would love to try. There is nothing too odd about it, and it seems very likely to work. It would be interesting to research and try to discover other similar essential oils and if they have different effects than peppermint.

 

 

Folk medicine

Spoonful of Honey Folk Medicine

The informant is marked EL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine practices she has learned over the years over coffee.

 

EL: “Yeah, so…my mom is super into homeopathic remedies and there’s a couple of weird ones that like, supposedly relieve colds.”

CS: “Great, can you tell me a few?”

EL: “So the first one I’m always told is to always take a spoonful of honey in the winter time. I get really bad allergies, and I guess the spoonful of local honey allegedly has some of the pollen we breathe in during allergy season. So, when you take a spoonful of it, it kind of counteracts the allergies, like another method to getting an allergy shot. Not sure if it works, but I do it so often, I’m not sure if I’d even notice the difference. Can’t hurt though, right?”

CS: “Absolutely. How long have you been doing it for?”

EL: “God, it’s been forever. Probably since, like, elementary school I wanna say?”

CS: Is your entire family into homeopathic and folk remedies?”

EL: “Oh yeah, my grandmother is also super into it. She’s the one who hooked my mom. I swear it’s like a never ending tradition in our family.”

 

Context:

We met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

Background:

EL is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis:

I found this remedy to be quite interesting because I had never heard of it, and my mom is also interested in many homeopathic remedies and folk medicine so I know quite a few. This one is also a remedy I could use myself, and I think is a remedy that many people could try without any potential harm. It seems to be one of those “it doesn’t hurt to try” forms of medicine.

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Circumcisions are Cheaper in the Philippines

This friend of mine is one of the sweetest guys I know. He’s quiet, but has a great sense of humor. One day, late at night, he blurted out, “is it normal that I was circumcised in the fifth grade?”. I knew I needed it for my folklore project. Most of the background information is contained in the transcript below.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“What is there to talk about? I guess you guys are my friends… so… eh? I don’t know if it’s like a cultural thing here, but in the Philippines it’s really looked down upon if you’re not circumcised, like you’re just kind of like a dipshit, you know? You get made fun of. So then like it’s kind of like a rite of passage thing – which is really strange – that like somewhere around like, um, I don’t know like end of elementary school to middle school. You, like you should do it, you know? Yeah, so then, um, we had like a Philippines vacation and my dad was like, ‘oh yeah, you should do it’ cause it’s cheaper in the Philippines, so then I was like, ‘okay, I’ll do it dad’. And I was like really scared. It was just, I don’t know. It was really weird. And then, okay. My dad would explain what would happen and I’d get so scared. Because like, ‘oh, there are scissors involved’. Hahahahaha. People in the Philippines can get superstitious that you’d get infected if you did it too young or something, so you wait. Also, because the healthcare system there is really bad, so they’re afraid that like babies will get sick and die if you do it then. Anyways, then. Um, uh, I’ll just jump to when it happened, because it was really scary. I was just really scared and I kind of just let it happen. But, basically when I went there, it was like- it was really strange.

“Like I said, the Philippines healthcare is really bad, so they didn’t knock me out or anything. I was awake when it happened. Um, yeah, hahaha. They put me in the room, and my dad’s just outside. And the doctor – like I’m lying there, and it feels like a really bare room, like probably no bigger than this room, and it was really strange, and it was just a lot of lights and stuff, and it didn’t even really feel like a proper.. like… surgical place. There were just some beds and stuff, and needles and everything. So, like um, the doctor… the doctor dude he gets a towel and is like, ‘oh, I’m gonna put this over your head. Because you’re gonna be traumatized if you see what happens. You know? So they blindfold me pretty much, as it happens, and then he pretty much walks me through in like Tagalog – which is Filipino – what’s gonna happen. I don’t even remember much of it, I know I didn’t pass out. But like, they definitely numbed me in that area, you know? No needles going anywhere. They just, I don’t know, stuck a needle around your … groin? Area? Basically, the entire time, I couldn’t really feel – or like I couldn’t feel any pain, but I could definitely feel … things moving around. And like, being cut off. Just saying, and it was really strange. And it was just a lot of pressure, until like, afterward. Um, and I just remember going, ‘whoa, it’s not that bloody’, when they took the towel off because there wasn’t that much blood. And it was just really strange. And it took like two weeks to heal. And that’s all I remember. There were stitches that like, melted off. Because that’s like medicine. It’s not really a Filipino tradition – I don’t know if they do it so much anymore cause like, the Philippines has been getting a lot better, since back then. This was fourth or fifth grade. It was just kind of interesting. I don’t know how old I was, I don’t want to remember hahahaha.

“You know that Twilight Zone episode? Eye of the Beholder? I was kind of like that. Except there was no pig on the end, yeah. It wasn’t that bad. Just a lot of gauze and pills.”

This piece really sheds some light on the overlap between modern medicine and folk medicine. Circumcision is an ancient tradition, however the advent of modern medicine has propelled it further into the mainstream. This friend of mine describes how even to this day, modern Filipino circumcision are influenced by folk belief in that it is considered bad luck to get it down as a baby. Later, he mentioned to me how the timing of the circumcision (around the age of 9 or 10) was also meant to be a sort of ritual celebration of adulthood, although his family did not really celebrate it. Rather, they viewed it more as something that just happens without imparting a significance related to maturity.

 

Customs
Folk medicine
Material

Family remedy

I asked a fellow classmate in my Marketing class if he had any home remedies that he has picked up on for when he is sick, or wants to prevent getting sick.

 

Tommy said that his grandmother taught him that when he is sick he should, “Take a shot of apple cider vinegar mixed with lemon and honey, this usually helps your throat and helps prevent, I also take 1-2 wellness and vitamin C pills”

 

Background Info: Tommy is from Arizona, but his grandparents are from Sicily, Italy. He says that this remedy is something that his grandmother would always give him when he was little if he was showing any signs of being sick, even very minimal ones. It usually helps prevent his sickness and also provides health benefits.

 

Context: Tommy told me about this home remedy while on the way into our classroom when I asked him if he had anything to share.

 

Analysis: A personal remedy that my mom taught me is lemon water and honey which is kind of similar to Tommy’s, but not the apple cider vinegar. I am interested in trying this remedy now next time I feel that I am getting sick.

 

I decided to look up the benefits of apple cider vinegar because I had never heard about using this as a remedy before. For another version of the benefits of this product see:

 

https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/apple-cider-vinegar-benefits/

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Una Limpia

Main Piece: 

Raul: When something or just everything goes wrong for a long time, you need a limpia (cleaning). Limpias help take away all the bad vibes you have around you in order for things to go good. A typical limpia is done by someone who is experienced and knows their way with bad spirits or vibes which is a curandera (healer). When you go to a curandera, they have cosas que usan (things that they use) to scare the bad vibes. They like pray and rub an egg around you. Then they move on to hit you with some leaves from a tree called el paraiso. After the curandera is done with this, all the bad vibes should have been scared away and your goodluck should come back. This means that things will not go bad for a couple of months until you need another limpia.

 

Me: How did you first learn about it?

 

Raul: Well… my mom would always talk about it with my aunts. They would always say that they needed a limpia because they were not able to get the job they wanted or they just felt that there was some evil spirit around them that they couldn’t do anything right.

 

Me: Did you ever see how a limpia is performed?

 

Raul: I actually did. At first it was really weird with the curandera pretty much smacking someone with some leaves. But in the end it was pretty cool.

 Context: The participant walked into the kitchen when I was interviewing his mother on a piece of folk medicine. After I concluded with her interview, he asked what we were doing, and I let him know I was collecting folklore Background:  Raul is a 27 year old who was born in Mexico but what brought to the United States when he was 17. He is fluent in Spanish and learned roughly learned English in the few years he attended high school. Analysis:  Una Limpia is an example of folk medicine. It is based on curing a “folk sickness” of having bad luck. It is interesting to see how people believing that performing these acts, they can be cured from an abstract thought created by humans such as luck. I am curious as to how someone diagnoses themselves and determines whether they need a limpia or not.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk-medicine “Se Empacho”

Context:

 

This piece of folklore was collected on April 19, 2018 around 6 pm. I went over to my girlfriend’s parents’ house for dinner and I overheard a piece of folk medicine and was intrigued. My girlfriends mother was telling this piece to my girlfriend, so I interviewed her. This is a rough translation of the conversation because she only speaks Spanish and I did not go prepared to record the interview as this was a spontaneous interview.

 

Main Piece:

 

At my girlfriend’s parents’ house, I overheard my girlfriend’s mother say that the baby, a 2-year-old, she babysits “Se empacho”. She said that she already had cured him by “sobandolo” (massaging). I was bit intrigued as to what sickness could be cured with a massage, so I asked if I could interview her on the topic.

 

Me: “Que significa que se empacho”. (What does “empacho” mean)

 

Teresa: She replied that sometimes when a baby eats something “se queda atorado en su estómago” (it will get stuck in their stomach). The baby the shows symptoms such as “no comiendo y estando triste” (not eating and being sad). Teresa : “Solamente… ninos se pueden empachar, o tambien adultos” (Can only kids get this sickness, or can adults get it also” Teresa: “Todo la jente se puede empachar” (Everyone or Anyone can get this illness) Me: “Oooh… ok, y como se dice… como se cura. Ay una manera specifica que se tiene que sobar. Pues como… adonde se tiene que sobar y tienes que usar algo cuando lo sobas” ( Oooh… ok, and how do I say this… how do you cure this. Is there a specific way you need to massage then? Like how… where do you need to massage them and is there anything you need to use when you massage them.) Teresa: She replied that you have to massage their stomach downwards to get the whatever is stuck to go downwards and get dislodged. Then you have to pull their loose skin from their back. Background: My girlfriend’s mother is Mexican, born and raised in a small ranch in the state of Nayarit. She is 47 years old and was a nurse for the ranch. She tended to most small illnesses for the people of the ranch. She moved the United States when she was 33 years old. She said that she learned most of her remedies, including the cure for when someone is “empachado” from her mother who was also lives in the ranch. Analysis: This piece of folk medicine is a prime example of how people transfer share their own remedies to sicknesses. Although I have never heard of this sickness before and could not find any specific studies to what this sickness could be or how massaging one’s stomach could cure it, it is still a significant part of one’s culture. When interviewing my girlfriend’s mother, I saw how serious she was about the sickness and the pride she had for curing it. Although traditional and scientific medical research shows no evidence of how this sickness is possible or how the cure works, it is widely believed and practiced in the small ranch.

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