USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk medicine
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Mexican Cure for Hiccups

The following is an interview between me and of friend of mine, Anthony, over at the Caruso Catholic Center. He was getting ready to help host an event, but said he had a few minutes to talk about some folklore that he remembered was passed down through his family.

Anthony: “Um– Growing up… if we got, um, the hiccups… my mom would put a paper bag down my shirt.”

Me: “A paper bag?”

Anthony: “Yes, a paper bag. This was like, some kind of folklore passed down… kind of, like, I mean it’s– it’s like, you know, from her… from my great aunt, you know, they used to do it and they used to… it was something they did– it was, it was a Mexican thing, you know, like, ‘This is gonna fix it’ kind of a thing.'”

Me: “Oh, okay, so it was– it was a Mexican thing?”

Anthony: “Yes! it was, it was like, ‘Oh, hiccups! You gotta put a paper bag down your… down your shirt.’ It’s bizarre, but that’s… that’s what we used to do. It was like a family folk kind of thing.”

I have to agree with Anthony about this one being bizarre. I just found it fascinating how non-intuitive this specific cure was. I would have never thought of paper bags curing hiccups.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cure for Illness Supposedly Caused by Evil Spirits

The following is from an interview between me and my friend, Elizabeth, at the front desk of the Caruso Catholic Center. She told me about an odd cure for illnesses which are supposedly caused by evil spirits.

Elizabeth: “Okay, so when I was 3 years old, I got very, very sick to the point where everybody in my family thought that I was gonna die, like I was having night sweats and, like, tremors, and I, like actually had the physical signs of sickness. And so, we went to– my parents took me to the the best doctors and they just couldn’t tell what was wrong with me. So, they really couldn’t do anything for me and we went back to see one of my aunts in–(laughs) in Mexico. I was also very, very sick, so, um, my parents did this just because it was, like, their last hope. And, what my aunt did was some kind of, like ritual where she took an egg, um,  a raw egg, and she, like, just shook it all over my body, and, like, rubbed it all over me. And then by doing that, when they cracked the egg they could see, like, what the spirit was that was, like, possessing me, or so they thought. So when they cracked the egg it was, like, the image of an evil eye, so they thought that somebody, like, casted an evil eye on me and that’s why I got sick. And then after she did that I was, like, (snaps) miraculously better the next day.”

Me: “Whoa. That’s amazing.”

Elizabeth: “I know, isn’t that crazy?”

Me: “Does that, like, belongs to, like, any specific culture?”

Elizabeth: “I don’t know if it’s, like, a cultural thing. I have no idea why my parents would have even thought to go, like, take me to Mexico when I was very ill. Maybe they thought that there was something there that could help me. So, I don’t know if that’s a hispanic tradition. I don’t know if that’s anything to do with, like, witchcraft, or anything like that. But, um… my aunt is not a witch. She is (laughs) definitely not like a, you know, a spiritual healer or anything, but she knew to do that. So, I don’t know what to make of that. But, here I am today (laughs).”

I always love it when crazy folk medicine miraculously cures people of their ailments when nothing else can. Because of this, Elizabeth treated her explanation of the cure with a lot of reverence. Even though she knew it was crazy, she still talked about it with a kind of awe since it was the thing that cured her.

Folk medicine

A conjestion remedy

Informant: My mother was told by her grandmother

Original Script: Take a sock and put clothes of garlic in it, then put it around you neck to clear the sinuses

Background: This was used before Vick’s vapor rub to cure congestion in the chest

Thoughts: My mom said it never worked it just made you smell bad.

Folk medicine

Chicken Soup

Informant was asked if she knew any good cold remedies.

Informant: So if you’re not feeling well, you should have a lot of fluids and mostly chicken soup, if you can.  Water and what have you is for the birds.  And sweet stuff won’t help unless it’s orange juice.  Fresh squeezed.  But soup, soup is what you really should be having.

Interviewer: So just a can of soup is okay?  Like Campbells?  Do you add anything to it?

Informant.: You know better than that.  You don’t open a can of it.

You need the vegetables, you need them to cook together.  Just opening something doesn’t give you anything.  It’s the making of it that makes it do for you.

Interviewer: Okay, so–

Informant: So you know, you start with a pot of water and what they used to call soup herbs.  Soup herbs, you’d get at the green grocer tied up together in a bundle and it was a little parsley, a little dill maybe, a parsnip, a carrot, some celery with the leaves, and you put that in your water with enough salt to make the water taste like something.

And then if you have it and you have the, you know, you feel you can do it, you put in a whole chicken and you just put it on the low fire.  And you let it go.  You don’t want to boil it all the way up, you want just small bubbles, you want to keep it clear and it keeps the meat from being tough, if you don’t, you know, if you let it boil and what have you.

So you don’t have a chicken, so you use maybe bones leftover from your roast chicken or I don’t know you can still, if you can, if you can get them, but chicken feet make a very rich-tasting soup, and depending on the butcher, maybe you don’t pay for them at all.

But you put these all together and you cook it for a couple of hours and you put maybe a little pepper or lemon juice in it if you want something more to it, rice or kasha [buckwheat groats] if you want it substantial, and then you throw away your soup herbs and you shred any meat you want to have with the soup, or you save it and you make chicken salad, but you can put more vegetables and heat them through and let them get soft before you eat it.

And don’t skim off the fat, that’s the best part.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Old age

How to Live a Long Life, According to a 102 Year Old

Informant is 102 years old, and has become quite practiced in answering the question, “what’s your secret for living so long?”

She was recently hospitalized after an operation, and the interviewer was able to record the following instructions for living to an old age:

Well, the thing is this, it’s all about the moderation.  And being consistent.  You don’t let anything fall by the wayside.

So everyone knows you move around every day, not to little and not too much, I like to climb stairs when I can and take walks.  Everyone knows about exercise  And you eat some vegetables every day and more is better than less, everyone knows that, but the thing my mother really believed in and that she learned from her mother who learned it from her mother and that I haven’t yet gone a day without doing is every day you have a little bit of chocolate, just a piece of it or chocolate ice cream or something.

Used to be we would come home from school for lunch and there would be maybe some cabbage soup or something, kasha and mushrooms or what have you, but always there was a piece of plain chocolate cake and a big glass of milk, and you don’t go back to school until you’ve had your cake and milk.  And on the weekend it was for breakfast.  But every day it was very important to my mother because her mother taught her, every day, you have a little bit of chocolate.

My mother was hit by a car so we don’t know if the chocolate would have kept her alive so long or not, but her mother, she lived for a long time, and she did it every day.  And I’m 102 and I do it every day.   And my sister, she’s 97, and she is in very poor health, and she never ate the chocolate because she didn’t want to be heavy.  But I tell her you can’t live on bread alone and she tells me that’s not what that means and I tell her who’s to say what’s living?

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

“Gua sha” or “Coining”

“My uncle used to use a coin to scrape his skin whenever he wasn’t feeling well.”

The informant was born in the United States, but her family moved from China and celebrated Chinese holidays.

After thoughts: “Gua sha” is a traditional Chinese medical treatment where the person scrapes their skin to produce light bruising. This is believed to release the elements from injured areas and stimulate blood flow and healing. This can be seen in other societies such as in Vietnamese and Indonesian cultures.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine


“When I was young, whenever I had a stomach ache, my mom would always press on different areas on my stomach and tell me it will feel better because of “qigong.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: “Qigong” which means “Life Energy Cultivation” is a holistic system of breathing, and body posture used for health and spirituality. It has roots in Chinese medicine and philosophy and is viewed as a practice to balance the energy in the body. It dates back to ancient Chinese culture, especially in traditional Chinese medicine for preventative and curative functions.

Folk medicine

Tortillita Song

Una tortillita para mama, una tortilito para papa, hechos a huego por que ya se van.

A little tortilla for mommy, a little tortila for daddy, put them on the fire because they are leaving.

The informant was taught this song by her mother-in-law. The song is sung to kids that have fallen hurt. You massage the injury a you sing the song.

My informant is a service coordinator. She likes to help people. She also migrated from El Salvador to the United States. Most of her stories are from her mother or personal experiences.

I talked to my informant over coffee in our house.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Mal Ojo

In El Salvador there is a belief in the evil eye or mal ojo. When giving it to someone it can cause harm. Babies are more susceptible to getting sick from the evil eye. The mal ojo goes hand-in-hand with “vista fuerte” or strong sight. If you have a string sight you can cause harm to others especially babies. This is why everyone is required to hold the baby, in order no to accidently kill it with the negative energy. Babies are also protected with a red string. (See a different part of this under evil eye)


My informant is a building engineer. He migrated to the United States form El Salvador when he was 16 years old. He grew up in a city in El Salvador. Lots of the folklore he has heard has come from his family.

This is interesting because the evil eye can either be  used as protection or to cause harm. The various ways that the evil eye is used is truly remarkable

Folk medicine

Pregnant Women in red

During a full moon or eclipse a pregnant women must wear a piece of clothing that is red. This is to prevent the baby form being born with a cleft lip. The red color is supposed to prevent negative energy from hurting the baby.


My informant is a building engineer. He migrated to the United States form El Salvador when he was 16 years old. He grew up in a city in El Salvador. Lots of the folklore he has heard has come from his family.

He heard this from his mother and other female relatives.