USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk medicine
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 medicine

How to Cure a Stomach Ache

Main Piece: CR: When I was a kid and had an upset stomach, my mom would tell me to drink flat, like un-carbonated soda, and immediately eat a pickle right after. This was supposed to fix my upset stomach.

 

Context: This performance was done over the phone, but this practice was done every time CR had an upset stomach.

 

Background: CR learned this from her mother, who she assumed also learned it from her mother, and used to apply the soda portion of this remedy to her daughter when she was young.

 

Analysis: Research has shown countless times that there are few, if any, scientific results from drinking a flat soda to cure an upset stomach, and even fewer exist regarding the pickle. But, oddly enough, CR reported that everytime she was given this remedy for an upset stomach, it worked! This is a huge example of the success of the placebo effect: while there is no reason for this to work, the simple idea of it working allows for it to help relieve a stomach ache.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cure for the Common Cold

Main Piece: KK: My grandma used to say that if you were sick, you should put Vicks on the bottom of your feet… which DOESN’T work, but I still do it sometimes! Because when you’re sick, you’ll do anything to be not sick.

 

Context: This tradition was used whenever KK or a family member was sick.

 

Background: KK’s family is fairly low-income, which is of particular interest with folk remedies, as people with less financial stability are more often going to resort to different sorts of ways to cure themselves, as opposed to going to a store and just buying some medicine.

 

Analysis: Vick’s is used quite often in folk medicine– many times it is put directly under your nose to clear it up. I think this is particularly interesting because KK clearly states that this doesn’t work at all, and yet she still does it. This is an interesting example of tradition in families– even if logically, KK knows that putting Vick’s on the bottom of your feet to make yourself feel better should not work, the thought that her grandma told her it does can often make her do it anyways, as a memory of her grandmother, and because she was raised to do this.

 

Folk medicine

Turmeric as a Medicine and Cleanser

  1. The main piece: Turmeric as a Medicine

“Okay, so. Whenever we had a sore throat or were sick, so my mom would boil milk with turmeric, sugar, and pepper. And we had to drink it.

“For all festivals, the women put turmeric on the feet, and then you put turmeric at doorways and thresholds to ward off infections. Before the wedding, we put turmeric…uh…all over the body and take shower. As a means of purifying, before the auspicious wedding ceremony. What is it in English? Whatever.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“It happened a lot when I was growing up. It’s the most effective way to treat illnesses and common cold that we know of. And we follow it even today. Recent medical research…actually it’s funny, now the same turmeric comes in tablets in the aisles of medical stores. Looks like there must be some truth in the folklore. There’s ginger tablets, and there’s turmer

  1. The context of the performance

“Turmeric has antibiotic properties and anti-inflammatory properties. Who told me this? I don’t know…hmm… my grandmother, maybe? My mother, my grandmother. Oh, I said antibiotic but actually I meant antiseptic. It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Ancient Indians probably didn’t know about antibiotics.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The use of turmeric in Indian society is extremely widespread. Indian food is known for its yellow-orange coloration from turmeric, turmeric is used to paint statues of Gods at Hindu temples, and it is used in this folklore piece medicinally and for purification purposes. Turmeric root is a common root in India, and its establishment in many folk practices incorporates a fruit of the land into the hearts of the people. The folk belief in turmeric’s medicinal and cleansing properties has long been established in India, and scientists are now starting to study its healing and protective properties and confirm that the folk belief has scientific truth to it. Scientific journal articles such as Kuttan, et. al.’s 1985 “Potential anticancer activity of turmeric” published in Cancer Letters, and Egan, et. al.’s 2004 “Curcumin, a major constituent of turmeric, corrects cystic fibrosis defects” published in Science, support the folk medicine belief.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Yerba Buena

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KA) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you know any like remedies for a cold that maybe your parents told you? Or just other thing like that…

KA: Um, we always have like yerba buena. Which would… I would have to look up what it is… It’s an herb. It’s a plant that we grow. And then so, just like boil that in water and then we’ll put that like on our forehead, on our chest, and then we’re big on like, um, Vicks.

ZM: Wait say the name again?

KA: Yerba buena. Which is like, “good herb.”

ZM: Is it specifically for… something? Is there something that it’s supposed to help?
KA: No. Nothing.

ZM: Like what do you use it for? You said you put it on your head for…

KA: Like you can put it on like your head maybe… Well I guess if you have like a headache. You can put it like on your stomach…you can also drink it. Like people make tea out of it. So it’s like if your stomach hurts, if kinda you just don’t feel well… It’s kinda just like a go-to. Also, with like Vicks. And um, we’re big on soups… healing-wise. Um, if you have like a… your throat hurts, ehh lemon and honey. Like in a spoon. So we’ll have that. Growing up, if my stomach hurt, my mom would chop off, um chop little bits of garlic and then I would just like swallow it. And then, it’ll go away.

ZM: Magic!

KA: It was magic, yeah. It really was. I don’t know if it was like… If it had some like physiological effect, or if it was just like I thought that, “this is medicine. It’s supposed to help me, so it cured it,” but… It would always help. It would always help. It would always make my stomach ache go away.

 

Context: I was talking to KA about their childhood when this conversation was recorded.

 

Background: KA was born in El Salvador but raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a junior at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought the combination of commercial product and traditional remedy was interesting. They don’t rely completely on one or the other, rather a mixture of both.

 

 

Folk medicine

Cold Remedy

Main Piece:

Participant – “If you’re sick you put… you get hot water…. And then put honey in it and you put like a quarter of a lemon and you squeeze the lemon but then you also put the lemon in it and then a little bit of cayenne pepper and it gets rid of your cold. It actually works, I mean it doesn’t actually work but… it works… it makes you feel better.”

Context:

Participant and I were sitting in her dorm, sharing random personal home remedies.

Background:

Participant was born and raised in Mill Valley, California and is currently a second semester freshman engineering student at the University of Southern California. Participant was given this advice from her mother who has always made this for her when she was sick as a child. Now the participant makes this for herself and her friends to help them feel better.

Analysis:         

I have heard many home remedies similar to this one in order to help sooth someone’s throat while they are sick. Although the recipe varies slightly from person to person as everyone puts their own spin on it, many people, especially online, claim this folk medicine works.

Folk medicine

Acne

Main Piece:

Participant – “Mix apple cider vinegar and water in a little bottle… and then put it on like the little cotton pad thing and rub it on your face like a toner and it gets rid of your acne”

Context:

This was collected after the participant and I were with our friend who began complaining about her complexion, the participant offered her this piece of advice.

Background:

The participant was born and raised in Mill Valley, California and is currently a second semester freshman engineering student at the University of Southern California. This acne remedy was passes on to the participant by a friend from home.   

Analysis:

Acne cures are another large sector of the folk medicine category. Though many of them are not recommended by real dermatologists, they are extremely popular and often attempted anyways. These remedies can often be completely false and randomly made up by someone that ended up spreading it around, or they can occasionally have some sort of logical scientific basis.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Carrots for Eyesight

Main Piece:

Participant – “My mother told me as a kid that I should always eat all my carrots so that my eyesight was fantastic, but she probably just told me that because I had terrible eyesight just like everyone else in my family.”

Context:

The participant was having a discussion with me about what we liked to eat as a child and what we refused to eat. This led her to bring up the ways her mom would influence her to eat her vegetables.

Background:

The participant was born in and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana and is currently a second semester freshman at the University of Southern California. She is a Law, History, and Culture major with a minor in Art History.           

Analysis:

This is another common phrase told to many children in order to get them to eat their vegetables. I was also told this as a child, as were most of my friends. Although eating carrots does not directly improve one’s eyesight, there is some scientific basis behind this belief. This is often how folk medicine and folk beliefs comes to fruition, they stem from some place of truth and develop into something more elaborate.

Folk medicine

Hiccups

Main Piece:

Participant – “In terms of hiccups, you… um, take water… from like a water bottle… and then drink it upside down.”

Context:

Participant and I were sitting in her dorm, sharing our home remedies, she shared this one with me directly after sharing another piece of folk medicine about curing a cold. I then shared with her my own personal hiccup remedy.

Background:

Participant was born and raised in Mill Valley, California and is currently a second semester freshman engineering student at the University of Southern California. This piece of folklore was shared with the participant buy her aunt.

Analysis:

There is a very large section of folk medicine centered around curing hiccups. I have come across a multitude of different approaches ranging from scaring someone, to laying upside down. I learned a similar hiccup remedy as a child having to do with drinking water upside down, but mine had slight variations from the participant.

 

For other hiccup remedies see https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9896.php

 

Folk medicine
general

Getting a Cold with Wet Hair

Context:

Madeleine Hall is Junior at USC, studying Communications. When I set out to explain folklore to her, for some reason my mind went straight to folk remedies and I gave her several examples of these, and then got into general folk beliefs around sickness. Obviously, my niche explanation led to this piece of folklore she then provided.

Transcript:

Madeleine: There are two parts of it, though. The first part is my Mom used to say that you can’t go outside with your hair wet because you’ll get a cold when it was cold out, or really hot out, doesn’t really matter, you’ll just get a cold. Uhhm, annndd, the other one is that you can’t go to bed with your hair wet, which really makes no sense, uhm, but now I dry my hair before bed every night, because I’m not gonna go to bed with my hair wet.

Interpretation:

This is something I investigated to see if there is any scientific truth to it. It seems that there is no science behind this claim, but I had also heard it before. Many people had, it seems, because after typing only a few words into Google, Google auto filled the rest of my search. Like drinking eight glasses of water a day, or the above wet hair folk belief, many people often hear these things over and over. With the Internet, people can finally seek out their validity.

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