Tag Archives: folk medicine

Folk Medicine in a time of crisis

The following is a transcribed interview between me and interviewee, MH.

Me: How are you protecting yourself against the coronavirus?

MH: OMG, well I’ve been crushing up garlic and taking it like a shot in the morning with some hot black tea with honey in it to chase it. And all our stores are getting completely wiped out of garlic because everyone is upping the garlic to boost their immune system. Our stores are also getting drained of all our kombuchas because everyone is upping the probiotics. But I thought it was pretty surprising how fast the garlic has been going, it is like never before.

Me: Thanks so much.

Background:

Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trader Joe’s, along with many other supermarkets have been essential businesses during the pandemic and the community of food service workers have been impacting daily life because they are one of the few who are still working. Further, supermarkets are one of the only in-person businesses still running, where many people will interact. 

Context:

This piece of folklore was collected from a quick phone call when interviewee had just gotten off of work. The setting was very casual, as we were just talking to catch up and share some folklore.

Thoughts:

Garlic is a well-known and established folk medicine for colds. However, I think it is interesting how popular this remedy has gotten with the coronavirus since there aren’t any known medicines that work for it yet. I think that it is the lack of medicines for the virus that is leading to a large surge in natural medicine and ancient eastern remedies. However, most popularly is simply raw garlic cloves being ingested or eaten. And, even more interestingly, since the interviewee works in a supermarket chain, she says that their stock is diminishing across America. And so, maybe it is possible that all over America, people are desperate and trying anything that may help them fight off this virus. Their first source of medicine seems to be reaching for the tried-and-true garlic cloves. 
For some more history on this remedy, here’s a quick, easy-to-read source with some interesting information on the growth of this remedy: https://home.howstuffworks.com/garlic3.htm

Home remedy for hiccups by drinking a glass of water covered by a napkin

Main Piece:

Informant: Basically, you get a full cup of water, and you put a paper towel over the top of the cup. It has to be thick, so like a paper towel or a napkin. And then you have to drink through the paper towel, ten gulps without breathing. Like, big gulps too. 

Interviewer: Has it worked for you?

Informant: Mhmm, it has. It didn’t work last Friday though, but it usually works haha. 

Interviewer: Where did you learn it from? 

Informant: My mom, she always has us do it if we are hiccuping around her.

Interviewer: Do you know where your Mom learned it from?

Informant: I wanna say my grandma, my grandma has told me to do the same thing before so it was probably her. 

Background

My informant is a good friend and housemate of mine from USC and is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention with a minor in Health Care Studies from San Dimas, CA. She says that a lot of her mannerisms and sayings come from growing up in San Dimas which she describes as being a very small town outside of Los Angeles that feels more midwest than the West coast. She attended summer camps throughout most of her life, starting as a camper and becoming a counselor in high school. 

Context

At a birthday celebration out house threw for my informant, she drank some alcoholic beverages and got the hiccups as a result. When I offered her my advice, she told me not to worry and that she had a trick to remedy the cure that was passed down in her family. She went upstairs to her kitchen with me, and I saw her drink the water from the cup. During our interview, I brought it up and she discussed it further with me. 

Analysis

From experience with my family and interacting with friends from back home, hiccup remedies differ from family to family and cultures. Essentially, all hiccup cures aim to do the same thing by controlling the diaphragm to stop it from producing hiccups. Usually, these are different methods of breath control, and drinking a glass of water without stopping is a good way to control breathing. Doing more research, I found this method also listed in the following article listed as number 6.

The article explains this method as a combination of breath control and the fact that “you’ll have to ‘pull’ even harder with your diaphragm to suck up the water.”

Russell, Elaine, and Reader’s Digest Editors. “How to Get Rid of Hiccups: 18 Home Remedies \That Actually Work.” Reader’s Digest, www.readersdigest.ca/health/conditions/7-ways-get-rid-hiccups/.

Vaporub to Calm a Cold


The main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from an interview about the informant’s use of Vaporub to cure cold symptoms as a child. 

Informant:  You had a cold. And grandma would go get the Vaporub and then I’m pretty sure it went in three places it went into your chest it went directly beneath your nose, and then it went on both your feet. But for the one on your feet that one’s special. Not only was it Vaporub it was also salt and then you’d have to wear socks to sleep to keep it all in. Oh, wait. I forgot before you put the socks on grandma would rub your feet back and forth on the bottom creating friction? Or I guess I don’t know why. It makes your feet all hot for the sock.

Interviewer: Why the feet and why the socks?

Informant: I have no fricken clue!

Interviewer: Do you remember it working? 

Informant: Ahya— I’m pretty sure it was the placebo effect but it worked! 

Interviewer: Do you still use it now?

Informant: Not on the feet anymore, but ya on the chest, and below the nose ya. And I think we only did it below the nose because we actually like the smell of it. 

Background: My informant is a young adult who credits her knowledge of Vaporubs healing powers to her Mexican culture. Here she describes a ritual/ form of folk medicine that her grandmother helped her with when she was young and had a cold. Now that she’s older she skips the more ritualistic aspect of rubbing her feet with salt and Vaporub and simply chooses to add the product to her throat and nose area. My informant believes that this is mostly the placebo effect at work, but she doesn’t deny that the method is successful.  

Context: This piece was collected over a FaceTime call in the evening. The informant and I were having a casual conversation about our childhood and the things we did that felt unique to us as Mexican Americans in the west suburbs of Chicago. 

Thoughts: I am very familiar with this Vaporub practice as the informant and I share the same Grandmother. I, like the informant, still use Vaporub when I’m sick as I believe it does help with my colds. However, the informant did illuminate for me the fact that I have no idea why it works to ease cold symptoms. Or rather, the science of using Vaporub the way we do. This makes me believe that part of the reason the informant and I believed it so wholeheartedly as children, was that fact that it was coming from someone who we also believed would never steer us wrong. The idea of family is intertwined with this antidote which adds to the continuation of this method from not just me and the informant, but also from other Latino communities. 

Arnica and Linaca Mixture for Healing

EA: Arnica is a tea it is like a natural herb, arnica and linaca and it is supposed to be like a a homeopathic remedy you can use for like swelling and just kind of instead of like a Neosporin type thing. It helps to heal a little bit better. Back then when they would make it when you know they did not have modern medicine so they would take it with like leaves or whatever and they would put it on and then they wrap it and then that helps with the cut of whatever you have. 

Interviewer: Did she say how she boiled it?

EA: Yeah she boiled it and lets it simmer for like a while on high heat and then she lowers he heat and lets it simmer. Ten minutes I think she said and it boils it and then you turn it off and then you just let it sit and  then that’s when it gets that vava, which is kind of like a vasiline type texture and then it just like sits there. 

Interviewer: That’s when you know it is done?

EA: Yeah, like a little thick.  

Context: EA is my mother mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me and my sister was also present. She was referring to an ointment that my aunt made for her son when he had a really bad insect bit and gave to us when our dog had a rash. 

Analysis

In Mexico, even know it is difficult in many places to see or either afford a doctor. This has given rise for the necessity of home remedies. Arnica is in many supplements and gels that are sold in pharmacies. Thus, showing the ability for homeopathic remedies to transfer to modern medicine and being legitimizd by being formally sold in stores. However, people would likely still feel that something like Neosporin is inherently more effective than something homemade when this is not inherently the case. Accordingly, when recommending these home remedies it is often accompanied with an anecdotal success story to prove it’s merit. would be It also shows the versatility of the homemade treatments because they are made with natural ingredients and how it can help your family and having advice when another person you care about is having a difficulty. 

Quarantini Recipe

Main Piece: 

Informant- “In my quarantini I like to combine orange juice, vitamin C, and tequila. So the vitamin c and orange juice give great energy and revitalize your immune system. And of course, the tequila kills germs! It’s a great way to relax and cleanse after a day in this quarantine.”

Background: The informant is the mother of three daughters, 54 years old. She lives in Northern California. The quarantine described above is a recipe created by the informant and represents her vision for an alcoholic beverage styled for the quarantine.  The beverage is a fun way to drink alcohol and disguise it as a medicine for the quarantine. 

Context: Here, the informant shares her recipe for a quarantini. I collected the information while watching her make and talk about the quarantini. 

Thoughts: The combination of the word Martini and Quarantine is an interesting way for people to bring some humor to a liminal uncertain time period. This time of quarantine is very liminal, allowing for many new adaptations of folklore. This new phrase ‘quarantini’ is popular because it brings lighthearted humor to an at home bar scenario. This new drink can change from house to house and usually incorporates alcohol, to protect from virus bacteria, and vitamins, to boost immune systems.  Alcohol sales have seen an increase during the quarantine and possibly because everyone is eager to make their own qaurantini folk medicine. 

The Healing Touch

Context:

The informant and I were talking about an injury he had since high school and shares with me a particular healing practice he received during his time recovering.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: As a Christian family, my mom believes in spiritual gifts. Specifically, the gift of healing. She goes to this church in downtown LA and goes to the elder whenever she’s in pain. The elder lies my mother down on the table and proceeds to gently touch and poke different places. The elder touches the area that hurts as well as any area that may connect to the afflicted area. My mom says the elder’s hands are warm, with spiritual fire. After praying for my mom, the elder runs her hands over my mom while my mother cries out in pain. The elder does this a few more times and my mom is still in pain. However, once the elder finishes, my mom says she is beginning to feel better.

My mom strongly believes that this woman has the art of spiritual healing as she’s gone to doctors with internal organ pain before and their medicine has done nothing. This elder has helped her with that internal pain and much more.

My mom now takes my brother and me to the elder when we are in pain. My brother is a firm believer now in what she does even though he is always in pain. I still struggle to see that it’s real, though I have gone many times as a result of my mom forcing me after my many knee surgeries.

 

Analysis:

Traditional medicine lives among the people as a part of their culture. Many believe in and adopt older medical practices and choose to prefer them over popular medicine backed by science. Although the validity of these practices is up to debate, many people turn to these practices when they are in need of medical care. The idea of the healing touch is an intriguing idea that places a special importance on the powers and skills of elders. In general, both forms of medicine often interact with each other. In many cases, people employ the help of popular medicine with other medical remedies that have been passed down in a culture or family. We can’t simply say that it is a placebo effect and dismiss the notion that the practices may actually yield results. Maybe it is the combined effects of both that help one recover from their ailments.

Disease as a result of Possession

Text:

BH: “So when I got chicken pox in like 7thgrade, no wait 10thgrade, yeah, and I remember we came back from the doctors’ with medicines and everything and my mom called my aunt and said “she has chicken pox”, which implied uske andar mata aa gayi hai [she’s possessed by the mata] so for the first three days, I was only allowed to have sponge baths and on the fifth day, the uh fourth day or the fifth day, a pandit [priest like figure] came and he put some oil and coins in a [bowl] and did something – I don’t fully remember but he performed some sort of ritual, uh he touched that oil on my feet. And then – uh it was only then that I was allowed to fully bathe in proper water. Before that I wasn’t allowed to bathe, and they all just saying “uske andar mata aa gayi hai” which like I don’t even know what that really means. And I asked my mom, and she didn’t really have an explanation either.”

BH: “Oh yeah, and I also wasn’t allowed to have onion or garlic because that is what apparently what you do when the mata [possesses you] and I wasn’t allowed to eat non vegetarian food also.”

BH: “I was only allowed to eat all this after 14 days when I wasn’t contagious anymore.”

BH: “The person [affected by the disease] is already in isolation – the family members are already treating you like some sort of untouchable and you’re basically being discriminated against at that point of time – it’s just not a good headspace to be in because you can’t go meet people, and people who visit you can’t come close…And on top of that you hear these terms that you don’t fully understand but seems negative so it just makes you feel even more low. I mean if there was some scientific basis, I would understand, but I just wish there was better terminology for it than using such words.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

It is interesting how even now cultural practices and beliefs like possession as an explanation of a disease like chicken pox, which is pretty well understood scientifically, persist. The informant talks about the feelings of isolation and prejudice she faced from her family which put into perspective the harmful effects of such folk beliefs when they are forced on people who don’t understand them or do not want to partake in them. Her confusion also arises from the fact that even the people around her whole seem to truly believe in this tradition don’t have an explanation for it. Often, folk beliefs are so integral to identity that they are not questioned by people who are involved in them.

Coffee Enema Can Clear You of Worms

Background

Informant: K.M. – 21 year old female, born and raised in Los Angeles

Context

When talking about health remedies and ways to eat better, K.M. presented this wives tale that has gained more attention due to the internet and the claims about this “healing treatment.” Told to the informant by a friend, she then researched and found multiple variations of the treatment and the benefits, even expressing that she herself would like to try it. I have transcribed her telling below:

Main Piece

“So I’ve heard that humans have a lot of toxins in their bodies and that due to all of the processed food we eat, most of us actually have parasites living in our intestines. So then I asked my super health freak friend about it and she showed me this thing called a coffee enema. I was super skeptical at first but then she showed me all this stuff about how it’s an ancient technique used to clear the body of the toxins. And then I started watching all of these videos of people who did it and got rid of their worms, so now I’m not sure if I should do it.”

Thoughts

This is an example of a homeopathic remedy, which are quite common both in folklore and in a number of cultural communities. Using natural techniques to clean the body and rid it of toxins and outside invaders is a common folk belief that has recently surged again due to overall consciousness of our health and the things that we put into our body. However, most science actually states the opposite, that there is no method humans can use to clear the body of these “toxins” and that the liver and kidneys actually physiologically do this already, as long as they are healthy. However, this specific belief  and others like it may be a call back to the times of widespread spiritual cleansing. Many believe in the power of burning sage to clear bad energies and spirits, perhaps the coffee enema is an extension of that desire to create a pure state for ourselves. An enema quite literally forces the body to expel waste, and this could be seen as a parallel to a spiritual cleansing ritual. However, what was interesting to me was the spread of this belief among our group of friends after she shared this folk belief, with most of us in the group initially believing the claims and then sharing it with others in our community.

Jewish Penicillin – Chicken Soup

Genre: Folk Food/Medicine

 Abstract: Jewish penicillin is chicken soup. It spans across all religions, but is known as Jewish tradition that is used to heal injuries and illness. The recipe appears to be passed down through the mother’s lineage and is said to make people feel better and heal the soul and mind.

 

Background: The interviewee, referred to as RD, is a Jewish-American mother living in the south. She grew up in a Jewish household and has not strayed from the religion. She practices conservative Judaism and attends Temple on a monthly basis. The item of folklore in topic is chicken soup, also known as, Jewish Penicillin. The topic came up when a member of a household came down with a head cold and RD suggested she make chicken soup, a tradition she learned from her mother. A couple days after, the interview occurred.

 

Interview:

S: Okie dokie, I’m going to start with where did you first like learn about how chicken soup was Jewish penicllin?

RD: From my mom. Yeah passed down. Whenever I was sick, she always made chicken soup.

S: Do you see this as something common across like the Jewish religion?

RD: Oh definitely. Even when my kids go to go to college, Hillel1 sends notes out to the parents: if your kids get sick, and you wanna send them chicken soup with matzo balls. Let us know and we will send it to them. It’s universally known to every Jew and non-jew, actually. It spans religions.

S: So do you see this in Christianity at all?

RD: Well it’s not in Christianity, but even Christians know about chicken soup. I mean when (mentions Christian friend) had back surgery and stuff, I brought him chicken soup and he was like “Oh, Jewish penicillin this will make me better.” So it’s definitely, it’s outside of just the Jewish religion, but, I don’t, I mean if you’re asking if Catholics are making chicken soup, I highly doubt it. (laughs)

S: All right. But if there is a traditional way to prepare this Jewish chicken soup, that’s different than regular just chicken soup. What is it?

RD: Yeah, well yeah. You use a kosher chicken. I’m just trying to think what else is, uh, I never made a I never made a not kosher traditional chicken soup. And then a lot of time people put the matzo balls2 which regular chicken soup doesn’t have.

S:  Do you think that it actually works or is it kind of just like a a thing that you know, it’s kind of placebo effect?

RD: (3 seconds) I don’t know, but every time people are sick, chicken soup always makes them feel better. (laughs) In their soul and their mind. It does work. Yeah. There’s been so many like articles I’ve read ya know, how does chicken soup help so much?

 

1: A place for Jewish collegiate students to worship and attend synagogue and services throughout the year.

2: A traditionally Jewish food that is unleavened  to replace noodles during the holiday of Passover when only unleavened food can be consumed.

 

Interpretation:

While RD can not track the origins of Jewish penicillin beyond her mother, she does acknowledge that it is very well known across all religions but especially prevalent in Jewish families. She mentions how her mother passed it down to her which is an interesting point to bring up because Judaism itself is passed through the mother’s bloodline. The matrilineal culture of being Jewish and feeling the need to take care of her family might influence a Jewish mother to use a recipe to take care of her family.

RD also mentions how the term itself, Jewish penicillin, transcends religion and is universal. While she acknowledges that Christians know about the idea of it, she almost guarantees that they do not cook it the same. So why is chicken soup associated with Judaism? In the 12th century, a “Jewish physician, Maimonides, started the chicken soup-as-medicine trend when, in his book, On the Cause of Symptoms, he recommended the broth of hens and other fowl to ‘neutralize body constitution.’” and claimed that it played a role in curing diseases like asthma and leprosy (Koenig). This could be the main root of why chicken soup as a healing aid is known as Jewish penicillin. Most of the people reading Maimonides’ work were most likely Jewish, thus, they were the ones to use his remedy on a regular basis. The popularity of the soup within Jewish religion and its magical healing powers are so closely tied due to the advice of a physician that the Jewish people trusted because he was relatable and shared the same values.

RD also mentions that it heals the soul and the mind and it works as a remedy pretty much every time. So, is it a placebo or does it actually work? Physically, according to a study by Dr. Stephen Rennard, “the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection” (Parker-Pope). So, scientifically, it does work. Beyond the heat of the soup breaking up mucus, there is a chemical effect of the soup causing patients to feel better. Mentally, knowing that the food that is being consumed should make one feel better, people are more apt to buy in and use it as a remedy. Whether it be heartbreak, physical ailments, or illnesses, Jewish penicillin seems to have the power to cure across religions and cultures.

 

Citations:

 

Koenig, Leah. “Chicken Soup Around the World.” My Jewish Learning, My Jewish Learning, 15

June 2009, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/chicken-soup-around-the-world/.

 

Parker-Pope, Tara. “The Science of Chicken Soup.” The New York Times, The New York Times,

12 Oct. 2007, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/the-science-of-chicken-soup/.

Lemon Juice and Salt Water — Healing

Text

The following piece was collected from a thirty-year-old Mexican-American woman. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Mi mama used to tell me us to squeeze lemon juice onto cuts my brothers and I would get.”

Collector: “To clean them?”

Informant: “Si. She said it hurt because it was cleaning. She would make us put salt water in mouth when throat hurt.”

Collector: “Did it work?”

Informant: “No se. We did it because she said.”

Context

            The Informant learned this unique way of healing small ailments from her Mexican mother. The Informant remembers because she would always try to hide some small scratch or sore throat from her mother so she wasn’t forced to pour lemon juice on the cut or gargle salt water. She never liked it, but she believed they worked, mainly because from a young age, her mother would tell her they would.

Interpretation

            When I first learned of this method, I was reminded of another method of helping small hurts. I was once told to rub mud on a bee sting to make it stop hurting. While I believe that the lemon juice and salt water have more legitimate healing properties, I think that the intent behind both practices is similar. I think the purpose of these processes is that within the application and resulting sting of lemon juice and salt water, the hurt is more in that moment of application. But following the short but intense sting, the pain itself has lessened. More than simply helping because healing properties they both may have, they are used as a distraction method, a way to lessen the pain in the long run.