USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Folk Remedy’
Folk medicine

Asian Pears with Honey Remedy

Background: Stella is a 55-year-old woman living in Cerritos, CA. She was born in Seoul and has lived in South Korea for the majority of her life until she moved here for college. She stays at home. Before that, she worked at a hair salon as a beautician. She is married and has two grown children.


Main piece:

So what do you usually do when you or your children are sick?

Stella: “I always always say eat some pears… Asian pears!.. with a little bit honey. It is cool… and feels good in mouth. It is soothing to throat and the best for when you have cold.”

Where did you learn this from?

Stella: “My mother, so your grandmother, tell me this all the time. It is old, old tradition.”

Does it work?

Stella: “Yeah! Always feels good. It has worked for generations and generations.”

Performance Context: I interviewed the informant over the phone, as she was in the Orange County area and I’m in Los Angeles. This folk remedy seems to originate from back when my mother was a child. She learned this from her mother and has passed it down to me.

My Thoughts: I love this home remedy – it reminds me of my childhood and maybe it’s also psychological, but this remedy always seems to work for me. I plan to pass this down to my children as well.


Folk medicine

Russian Sinus Remedy

The informant is a 19-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. I mentioned that homeopathic remedies were a form of folklore and she told me about this remedy her mom taught her.


Informant: “I got colds a lot when I was a kid, so I remember this one very well. My mom used to take eggs, boil them and then take the warm boiled eggs—two of them—in a towel. You use two because they go on either side of your nose so that your sinuses get released. It’s super weird sounding and it looks funny too. But it works! It actually felt really really nice. It was super comforting.

Interviewer: “Wow, I would never think to do that! But it makes sense.

Informant: “Yea, well Russians had them, the eggs, because chickens were a thing they had. Even in the Soviet Union where there was so much poverty and people had almost nothing. They still had chickens! So I guess this was a way to alleviate sinus pressure when it was cold as hell and people would get sick.”



What the informant said about eggs being something readily available to people in Russia during the time of the Soviet Union makes a lot of sense. Homeopathic remedies from different places often involve plants or food with similar properties, but that grow in different regions, native to whatever area the person giving the remedy is from. This says a lot about the nature of folklore, and once again reminds me of the film, Whose Song is it?, in the variety of folklore concerning one topic, or the variances of a particular piece of folklore.


Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

A Natural Cure for the Cold

“Whenever I’m sick, I usually just have a couple teaspoons of coconut oil each day and feel much better afterward.” 

The informant, despite spending most of her time in Boston, grew up on the small island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her dad still works there as a lawyer and she usually visits every Christmas and Spring Break when she’s out of class. After getting sick a few short weeks ago, she advised that I take some teaspoons of coconut oil to help knock the cold out. She explained that is has high levels of lauric acid which supposedly eliminate the coating of some viruses which makes them easier to be attacked by the immune system.

I asked her what made her think of something this random but she explained that it’s what people did when they got sick in St. Croix. Coconut farming is a huge part of life on the island and she also remarked that other parts of the coconut have many helpful healing qualities. I liked hearing about this remedy due to the fact that I think too many Americans are over dependent on antibiotics and unnatural substances to cure simple maladies. Something such as coconut oil is very natural and low cost and it was cool to hear that something so simple and unadvertised could help fix a common cold.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Remedy for Mosquito Bites

My informant is my 74 year old grandmother, who is a language professor born and raised in Mexico City, and currently living and working there. She heard of this folk remedy from her mother when they would go to Veracruz (her mother’s hometown), because the climate there is very hot and tropical and mosquitoes are a big problem. She likes it because it’s useful and reminds her of Veracruz and her older relatives, and she can pass it on to the younger generations as a useful thing.

The folk remedy is for mosquito bites, and consists of tobacco and rubbing alcohol. You’re supposed to steep the tobacco for a bit in the alcohol and then rub the combination gently on a mosquito bite; she’s done this for as long as she can remember and always reminds us to do the same.

Folk medicine

七彩豬毛釘 (Rainbow pig-hair nail)

Phonetic pronunciation of 七彩豬毛釘: chut choi ju mo deng
My mother grew up in a working-class family in Hong Kong.  On one hand, my mother’s family was living in an industrialzing culture; on the other hand, her parents came from Southern Chinese villages.  So there’s a lot of beliefs and practices that they carried over from their village lives.

My mother learned a folk medicinal practice from her mother when she had a fever as a child.  Her mother used an old folk remedy, the 七彩豬毛釘, to cure my mother of her fever.

The 七彩豬毛釘 is made of rice flour, hot water, and an egg.  The preparation of the remedy is really simple – you heat some water and add the rice flour and egg to it.  There is no specified amount of each ingredient that you have to put into the remedy.  You just have to create the right consistency that lets you knead the mixture into a piece of dough.  While it is still hot, you roll the ball of dough along the back of the sick person.

The person who prepared the 七彩豬毛釘 then breaks open the ball.  If the treatment worked properly, there should be tiny hairs of all colors stuck in the dough (七彩 means “rainbow” in Chinese – the hairs are also described as looking like pig-hairs, 豬毛).  My mother attests that she saw her mother break the ball open and found rainbow-colored hairs inside.  After the treatment, her fever reduced.
My mother recreated the treatment for me (I was curious), but since I did not have a fever, she was unable to actually apply the remedy.

What I find very interesting is that the remedy has a visual confirmation associated with it.  The remedy’s power comes from contagious magic — the illness of the patient transfers into the piece of dough when it contacts the patient’s skin.  My mother didn’t particularly remember any explanation as to why the illness would turn into rainbow-colored hairs, she just knows that it reduced her fever.  Nobody is allowed to eat the dough after the treatment either, which would make sense since contagious magic has transferred what’s causing the illness into the dough.


“For indigestion, prick your finger with a needle and let the bad blood out.”

“For indigestion, prick your finger with a needle and let the bad blood out.”
As my informant says, this is a remedy that is commonly used among Korean parents. Whenever someone is suffering from indigestion, the fastest and most relieving solution is to prick the tip of any finger and let a small amount of blood out.
Korean people believe in the existence of “bad” and “good” blood. Therefore, they believe that indigestion is a result of too much “bad” blood pooling in one life. In order to provide relief, the blood must be released so that the body can find some comfort.


“Take a shot of whiskey for a hangover.”

“Take a shot of whiskey for a hangover.”
Although this hangover remedy seems to have absolutely no basis in reason or medical knowledge, my informant swears by it. Every time he has a hangover, he takes a shot of whiskey–no matter how badly he wants to throw up.
Perhaps this remedy works for my informant because whiskey is so strong that it can probably force a person to momentarily forget about any nausea or sickness. In addition, Korean males firmly believe in the power of alcohol as a remedy for anything.

Folk medicine

Puerto Rican Folk Remedy for Laryngitis

A remedy for Laryngitis described verbatim by informant:

“A remedy from my Puerto Rican mother and it is using lamb fat, just lamb fat, put a little piece of lamb fat in a snifter, that is like brandy snifter and then you pour a little bit of brandy in it and you light it until it goes out, it burns up really all the fat and all the, pretty much all the alcohol. You have to do it at night right before you’re gonna go to bed, because you don’t want to speak after you drink it. You just go to bed, you wrap something around your neck to keep your neck warm, you drink it down like in shot, like you swig it, and the next day you always have you always have your voice completely back, your laryngitis is gone. I don’t know why, but it is. And it’s lamb fat—not bacon fat, not beef fat. Lamb fat, fat of the lamb.

I know in Puerto Rico in the 20’s and 30’s, in the Caribbean, there were not a lot of doctors usually, there was one doctor in the whole town, so there were a lot of remedies that were home remedies, herb remedies that people used. And it works! I love it because it works, and it’s from my mother. I love it because it’s Puerto Rican, it’s my mothers. I have used it with my own family, even when they were super little. Absolutely.”

I am not well versed in the science of how this remedy is effective, but my guess would be that since, as my informant said, people in Puerto Rico were often left to their own devices when they got sick, burning lamb fat in brandy is a pretty logical choice. The flambéed lamb fat might provide some soothing, coating quality to the throat while the alcohol or heated brandy probably provides some antiseptic quality. Doing this before bed makes sense because you don’t salivate in your sleep, so the medicine can “stay” in your throat and do its thing. Why it only works with lamb fat is not within my knowledge but my informants was insistent that that’s the only fat that works.

Folk medicine

Mint or Chamomile Tea: Folk Remedy

Mint or Chamomile Tea is a folk remedy for stomach ache:

“We use mint or chamomile for stomach ache. Those are the two popular things. Some people add a little bit sugar to make it taste better. But some people like the tea without sugar because they say it’s a medicine it shouldn’t have sugar.”

Sugarless mint tea and sugarless chamomile tea is a folk remedy my informant learned at a young age in León, Guanajuato, México. It makes sense that folk remedy would be used considering the difficulty buying medicine in the impoverished conditions my informant grew up in.

Folk medicine

Folk Remedy for Menstrual Cramp Pain

“When I was a teenager when my period start I always have a pain in my stomach and sometimes my mother warm a tortilla and she put a little bit of lard in the tortilla and make it warm and put it in the stomach to make it go away. You cover uh You put it on the stomach and you lie down for a while and its warm in your stomach. The lard keep your stomach warm.”

This menstrual cramp remedy is a folk remedy my informant learned at a young age in León, Guanajuato, México. It makes sense that folk remedy would be used considering the difficulty buying pain medicine in the impoverished conditions my informant grew up in. Lard and tortillas are basic to Mexican cooking, and heated together this way make for a home-made heating pad if you will, easing pain by relaxing overworked muscles in the lower abdomen.