USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘folk medicine’
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.

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.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative

One Way to Scratch an Itch

My maternal grandpa was from the poorest part of Birmingham, Alabama. His birth father died in a dynamite factory explosion when he was two years old, and his mother remarried a few years after that. Even with a new man, their family was poorer than poor. Some winters, they’d resort to eating shoe leather out of desperate hunger. He had one pair of overalls, and later became an expert marksman out of necessity (he could hit a squirrel between the eyes from 30 yards out). He climbed out of poverty via the GI Bill which he used to get an education here at USC, and then a job as a salesman of medicinal gasses to airline companies and hospitals. He didn’t much like talking about when he was poor – it was not his proudest moment. The one thing he did enjoy talking about from back then was family. Even when you have no money, you have family. As his sister June put it, “it never felt like we were poor. We had so much love in the household.”

 

My mom imbued this same sense of family on me through different stories she’d heard as a small girl from her dad, my grandpa. I’d heard this story before, but it had slipped to the back of my mind. Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

 

When your great uncle – great, great uncle – had… his leg amputated, it was itching itching itching, the stump was itching.  So his family said, ‘go dig up the stump and see if there’s anything wrong with it.  And he did and it was covered with ants.  And so he properly buried it and the itching stopped.  And that was a common belief of the time, in Alabama among Christians a couple generations ago.”

 

I love this story because it plays on so many different levels. On the one hand, it’s a story of a very strange folk belief that has found its way into mainstream medicine.  Phantom pains are a common phenomenon in the paraplegic world. To stop it, many doctors put a mirror up to the intact limb, making it look like their missing limb is still there. Almost immediately, the pains stop, and even when the mirror is removed, the pains are not felt. On the other hand, this story works through the familial lens, as it provides a rather sincere snapshot into life in rural Alabama so many years ago.  In a strange way, it makes perfect sense to dig up the withered limb and clean it off to stop the itching. It’s not like there was any other information out there, they just did what they thought would work and it worked.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Hong Ahn (Egg Rub Remedy)

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

So whenever I like fell down or had a nasty fever my mom would put this egg—she would boil an egg and she’d cut them open and then you’d have to slice it and then you take out the yolk and then you put a real silver coin in it where the yolk was and then you put the egg in a like cloth like hanky and then you twist it and then you rub it against wherever you‘re hurt like if you got a headache you put it on your forehead and then if you have like a bruise on your knee you’d put it on your knee and then you’d have to keep rubbing it and then the coin would suck out all the bad vapors from that area all the negative stuff and then the coin would turn to different colors so like it depends on what color it is. It means like different things. So if the coin turns black or blue it means you have too much like cool air and red and orange it means it’s too much hot air or like yi-hei and then that means like you’ve been eating too much fried food instead—you’ve had like too much hot air. Well that’s it, so the coin sucks out all the bad stuff that’s been making you hurt.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first learned of this Chinese remedy when her mother performed it on her when she was sick as a child. She felt much better laying on her mother’s lap and feeling the pleasant warmth of the boiled egg gently rubbed on her face.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

This traditional Chinese medical treatment involves continuous pressured strokes over the skin with a rounded tool. It has been practiced by practitioners, who believe the treatment releases negative elements from injured areas, stimulates blood flow, and encourages healing. Nowadays, Chinese parents often use this remedy on their children whenever they have a fever or a cold or whenever they feel depressed.

My Thoughts about the Performance

This is a remedy that my mother has also practiced on me when I was sick or unhappy. Common spots parents rub the boiled egg on are the forehead and eyes. The warm sensation of the egg, while laying on one’s parent’s lap, gives a sense of security and calm to the child. I find it fascinating how this ancient folk medicine maintains a continued presence in today’s world, passed down by generations of families. In the past, this treatment seemed to have a more respectable and legitimate status. Now, it is generally treated as a placebo effect to comfort people, specifically children.

Folk medicine

Cabbage medicine

Cabbage medicine

 

Informant: TF was born and raised in Villa Park, California. His father works in commercial real estate and his mother working as a manager for Choc Hospital. He has one older brother, a twin sister, and one younger brother. TF is half Lebanese and strongly connected to his Lebanese background. He is a first year student at USC. The informant heard this type of medicine from his grandmother who used this kind of medicine all the time when she was a child.

 

In the beginning of this semester a friend injured his knee. He fell on it while carrying heavy weight. The next day he came to practice and his knee was all swollen. He told us what happened and than my informant TF suggested to put cabbage on it. Both my friend and I were confused thinking he must be messing with us, but then he explained:

 

“Cabbage is used to reduce the swelling. If you hit or injure yourself, you can remove the swelling and bruises with the help of this old folk medicine. Just wrap around two cabbage leaves onto the beaten spot.”

 

This folk medicine sounded really strange. Putting a vegetable on your swollen knee will make the swelling go away sounds ridiculous at first, but if the cabbage leaves are able to absorb the fluids it would reduce the swelling and in that case it makes perfect sense. Of course our friend didn’t try this method, but it is an interesting method and if it happens again I would like to try it and see if it works.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Rakija-Croatian Brandy that burns like Hell

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Rakija is a type of fruit brandy that is popular in Croatia and in other surrounding nations. As a young boy, FV grew up in a traditional Croatian family who upheld their culture through a variety of cuisines and spirits. Growing up, he was taught that Rakija is a natural remedy that kills any kind of bacteria, relieves stomach or muscle pain, and helps disinfect wounds:

“Rakija”or “Rakia”

What kind of drink is Rakija?

FV: “Rakija is an alcoholic beverage that I would say is an equivalent to brandy. It generally has a fruity taste to it.”

What areas are known to have Rakija?

FV: “Rakija is a very popular drink that is served primarily in Croatia, but also in neighboring countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Montenegro. It is usually served with ‘smokve,’ which are dried figs at the beginning of a meal. One of the most popular flavors in Croatia is called “šlijvovica,” which is made of plums. I prefer šlijvovica (shlivovitza) because it has a sweeter taste to it and it goes well with the dried figs or mixed nuts.”

When did the belief begin that Rakija could be used as a medical aid?

FV: “Oh who knows exactly when that came about. Ages and ages ago, but it has been a long known belief that it has helped heal certain types of pain if used correctly.”

What could you use Rakija for besides drinking?

FV: “Well, if you have severe stomach pain or the flu and you take a shot of it, the ingredients within Rakija help subside the pain. If you have an open wound and you rub a little bit of Rakija onto it, the Rakija will act as a disinfectant. It burns like hell but it gets the job done.”

Where did you learn this trick about Rakija?

FV: “Oh you learn about these remedies from family members and friends. It is a pretty common thing to know in Croatia. I learned about because I would always be doing something that consisted of me getting hurt, whether I was out playing with my friends or getting into some kind of trouble. Those who use Rakija for medical purposes agree that it does help with certain medical issues if used properly.”

Does Rakija have any importance to you specifically?

FV: “I enjoy drinking Rakija on special occasions, like on Christmas or Easter with figs or nuts. It’s a strong drink that is meant for certain occasions. Even though it is a type of spirit meant for drinking, it has serves as a medical aid. This belief that Rakija can cure certain things has been going on for ages and will continue to go on as it has shown to work.”

What context or situation is Rakija normally used in?

FV: “Well Rakija is a alcoholic beverage served at special occasions like parties, festivals, or on holidays. It is an iconic Croatian spirit that people enjoy drinking at these events. Rakija also comes in a variety of different flavors, one being “šlijvovica,” which is the plum flavor. This one you’ll find in a typical party setting or household.”

Analysis:

It isn’t a party until there is a bottle of Rakija on the table. For most Croatians, Rakija is a popular spirit used at parties or special gatherings. Not only is it a common spirit that is accompanied by dried figs or nuts, it is known in the Croatian culture as a medical aid. If you have not tried drinking Rakija or putting it on an open wound, then you are not at all Croatian.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Protection

Mal de Ojo

The informant, LF, is a 45 year old woman who grew up in Panama. In Panama, there are a wide range of cultural influences, including American Indian, Spanish, Catholic, and Carribean traditions, each with their own superstitions. Here the informant tells a story about a superstition and a folk medicine tradition that affected her own family:

 

“So there is the belief that some people have what is called in Spanish, “Mal de Ojo”, and it means that you have so much intense energy in you that if you look at something that is weak, like, “Oh, what a beautiful flower!” that it will die. So “Mal de Ojo”, when it comes to babies, it is believed by some people in my country that is very dangerous because babies are vulnerable and defenseless. If you have that power in you and you look at a baby, even though you can be admiring the baby and thinking about how cute it is- if you have Mal de Ojo in you, you can kill this baby. Just by looking at the baby, the baby will get very sick, and they may even die.

So, I’m telling this story because it is so widely believed. And my parents say that it happened in my family- that it happened to my brother. I was really young when this happened so I don’t really remember. The only thing I remember is my brother getting a very bad fever and being taken to the hospital many times. He was really sick. They took him to several doctors and nothing worked. Finally, they took him to a witch.”

Your parents took your brother to a witch?

“Yeah, they were desperate! We are talking about people who believe in science! But they took him to a witch- the witch was a man- he said, “Lay him down on the bed.” And they did. The witch said “Do you see what I see?” My parents didn’t know what he was talking about. The witch said my brother was showing the telltale signs that he had been “hit” with Mal de Ojo- “one of his legs is longer than the other!” And when my parents looked at my brother, they swear- they swear to this day- that one of his legs was longer than the other.

At this point my brother was burning with fever. This man said that the only cure for Mal de Ojo was to go to the person with Mal de Ojo who had looked at the baby, and ask for a garment, like a shirt, and ask the person to urinate on the shirt. And while the urine was still hot, to wrap the baby in the shirt. He said that as the urine evaporated, the fever would break and the baby would get better. But my parents didn’t know who it was who had looked at him. My mom says that the day before my brother got sick, they had been at a public bus station with a lot of people and many people had been playing with him and looking at him.

I don’t remember the rest of the cure exactly. I know it involved a lot of praying and asking for Jesus to help the baby. They also had to get Holy Water from the priest and spray it on the baby. It involved all many elements from both official religion as well as from witchcraft. Eventually my brother got better, but what the medical doctor said was “Listen, there are so many viruses out there that kids get like stomach viruses or upper respiratory infections, and they get a bad fever for days. Since you can’t really treat a virus with antibiotics, you have to wait until the virus is over.” So I guess my brother had a virus like that and it was a coincidence that he got better right after they took him to the witch.”

So you heard this from your parents?

Yes, from my mom.

Was it something a lot of people did?

I do not know if a lot of people do it, but since there are witches who make a living out of this, I suspect it’s really generalized- the belief that you can go to one of these guys and tell them “my boy is sick and I need a cure” or “I’m in love with someone and I need a love potion”. So I suspect that many people believe in that kind of stuff, Personally, I don’t.

So what does this story mean to you?

It means that when people are desperate, they are willing to do anything and believe anything in order to get an answer, or get better, or to stop being scared.

Was this a story your parents shared with other people or was it kept in the family?

I think it was in the family. I think it was a bit of a secret. It wasn’t exactly a happy story that they wanted to share with everyone- it was very scary for them.

 

My thoughts: Before the Spanish came to America, many American Indian cultures had rich traditions of shamanism and folk medicine. Clearly, some supernatural beliefs and folk medicines still live on in Panamanian culture that have origins in the country’s native populations. While something like “Mal de Ojo” may not fit into Western medicine, I thought the commentary about the places where you might catch the illness- public, crowded spaces like bus stops- may have some truth to it. It is easy for an infant with a weak immune system to catch a contagious disease in a public place were many strangers are playing with them. So whether the explanation is founded in the supernatural or the scientific, there is definitely wisdom in this folk belief.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Put a cactus on your sunburn

Background

The informant is a first generation Mexican-American student. She said that she spends a decent amount of time in Mexico still (she usually visits a couple weekends during the school year and goes for slightly longer periods during the summer). She visits a lot of family in Mexico, including her grandma, a lot of cousins, and aunts and uncles. She learned this folk remedy from her grandma during these visits.

Context

The informant said that her grandma would use this folk remedy every time her or one of her brothers or cousins got sunburnt. She said that this was a fairly regular occurrence around her grandma, as she lived in a part of Mexico which was much closer to the equator where the sun was more intense.

Text

When we would get sunburnt, my grandma would take the green goop from the inside of the cactus and rub it on our skin. I don’t know if it actually helped or anything… I think it might have… Anyway, uh, she.. It was, like, very slimy. And she did it all the time.

Thoughts

This folk remedy for sunburn seems to come directly from the terrain of Mexico, where cacti are very prevalent. It makes sense that her grandmother would learn and perform folk medicine that is readily available in the region where she lives. Furthermore, when I was collecting this piece of folklore, I realized that the informant seemed to look very fondly on what good be unpleasant memories of sunburnt skin. For the informant, this performance of folk medicine probably also recalls for her some of the comfort her grandma provides to her.

 

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