Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Medicine, El Salvador

For a bad cough and a sore throat:

Mix lemon juice and honey;

Roughly three spoons of honey to five spoons of lemon juice

I was suffering from a very painful cough when Jorge suggested I try this remedy. It is something he learned from his mother in El Salvador, and it is used as a quick way to soothe a sore throat, and also to alleviate the coughing itself. According to Jorge, Salvadoreans will use lemons and lemon juice as medicine for all sorts of ailments—“even if you get a dog bite! Even if you have an eye infection—I swear—they’ll put lemon juice in your eyes!” Jorge believes that it works; he does not know why, but from experience he has seen lemon juice to help. He pointed out that lemon juice contains a lot of vitamin C, and also that it stings—which can make it seem like something might be healing, or at least, being sterilized.

I think this brings up an interesting point—that often people do associate mild stinging and bitterness with medicine and health. I’ve even heard “if it stings, it’s working!” I actually decided to try this lemon juice/honey concoction. It was difficult to drink something so extremely sweet and sour, but when it slid down my throat, I could see why it was a convincing remedy. It almost felt hot and fiery going down my sore throat, and reminded me of other folk cures for the cold that involved alcohol or spicy foods, such as rum or ginger tea. I do not know if it had any lasting effects, but while I was drinking it, it did make my throat feel better, and seemed to suppress the urge to cough for some time.

Although I have high doubts of the effect of lemon juice for an eye infection, I do agree that its crisp, stinging citrus-ness, and the idea of vitamin C is probably what makes the lemon such a popular folk ingredient. There seems to be something about the sour, stinging juice that people associate to sterility and purity. People still often use lemon juice to clean surface, and lemon juice is often squeezed onto seafood to compensate the ‘fishy smell.’ Jorge said that some people in his country would even hang a necklace of lemons around the neck for health—it does seem as though there is a belief in purification powers of the lemon.

Honey also seems to be a popular ingredient to battle the cold. Koreans will sometimes drink hot honey-water (simply, honey dissolved in hot water) and another friend recommended I try honey with a bit of vodka. Perhaps people have noticed a kind of strengthening, reviving effect of the high levels of sugar in honey that made it helpful for those weakened with the cold.

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