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

Vaporub Cures a Cough- A Folk Belief

Main Text:

RB: I was told by my mom that if you put Vaporub on your feet and then cover your feet with socks then your cough is supposed to go away.

Context:

RB is a first generation Mexican-American. He said that he remembers this folk belief because every time when he was little his mom would get the Vaporub and socks and rub the Vaporub on his feet to help him feel better. Miraculously he said it works so that is why he believes in it and says he would tell his kids if he had his own to do the same thing.

Analysis:

Although VapoRub is not proven to cure colds, especially but putting it on one’s feet. Its presence in hispanic folk-medicine that I have encountered is a large one. I hypothesize that this belief continues to be passed down because of the context that it is associated with and not necessarily the affect it has itself. For example, most of the time when you little and you get sick in hispanic culture the mother is the one who takes care of you. If your mother is the one who carries this folk belief and she rubs VapoRub on you, you associate the VapoRub with the caressing and soothing touches of your mother. When someone who has experienced this and then goes on to have children of their own, they may pass this knowledge down to their child and rub VapoRub onto them, not necessarily because they believe that it works but because they associate this process with the gentle care and affection that they had received from their own familial member or whomever performed this act for them.

Another way to analyze why this folk belief is still being passed along and striving is the culture that many hispanic people have built around it. I have grown up around many hispanic people, mostly of Mexican decent, all of my life and am currently in a long-term relationship with someone who is Mexican. Having this background I have realized that Vaporub is used for almost any ailment in a Mexican household, even if there is no proof that it works. This is not limited to y boyfriends household either. I have asked many hispanic people about Vaporub and they all know exactly what I am talking about and even more so they usually have a a jar of it sitting around somewhere in their houses. They have built a culture that they share amongst themeselves because they all share common memories of being smothered head to toe in that stuff since childhood. Most of those who I have talked to also continue to use it to this day because of this shared memory that this is what people of Mexican or other hispanic cultures do. The use of Vaporub in Mexican households is such a common occurrence that the online realm has take hold of this belief and practice and have adapted it into hashtags, published poems, telenovela appearances, memes, emojis and even comedy skits. You can also buy t-shirts, paintings, cards and candles that all contain an appearance of Vaporub. These adaptations into the online realm and buyable objects just work together in order to strengthen the culture that many hispanics share with each other surrounding their common memories and experiences with this “magical” topical ointment. This resulting strengthened culture allows for stories and folk beliefs (like Vaporub and socks during a cold) to continued to be shared from family to family and household to household.

Folk medicine

Chinese folk medicine for sty

Main piece:

Me: So what are some other folklore that you have?

B: so, when you have sty, we usually don’t put on anointment, but we usually use a small part of our cloth, clutch the cloth by your hand, and pat your eyes with it.

Me: wow, a new form of cure! Have you ever tried it? Does it work?

B: well, I never got sty, and I don’t think it work.

Me: ok.

Analysis and context:

My friend is a lowkey superstitious person, partly because her hometown is a very small city near Nanjing. She wears special bracelets everyday which work as traditional Chinese amulets. Also, when she performs the folklore, she acts like it’s a very serious tradition. It’s fascinating that she knows way more folklore than I do.

So this is a folk cure. There are many folk cures in China, especially from smaller cities. There are many Chinese mystiques about sty. For example, they used to say that if you see someone naked, you will get a sty.

Folk medicine
general
Homeopathic

Running Faucets for Cramp Relief

Context: I came home one day at the beginning of this year to all of the faucets running and I asked my roommate what was going on and she told me this story. So I asked her to re-tell me why she does it.

Piece: So basically, I don’t know where my mom… well let me tell the long version of the story. So you know when you are you they tell you not to keep the water running when you brush your teeth? They’re like “turn off the faucet to save water!” Well I would always say that, and my mom always left the faucet running when she brushed her teeth and I would be like, “Mommy, you’re wasting water!” And she has always said, “I have to leave the faucet running or I’ll gag or like throw up.” And I never understood that until I started like, when I’m on my period or nauseous for any reason and so I turn the faucet on and leave the water running. It’s supposed to help you like feel like less nauseous. Something about the sound of running water can like ease nausea. I feel like it might have been something my mom got from my grandma. It sounds like something my grandma would do.

Background: The informant is a 19 year old USC student of Pakistani and Indian descent. She is very close to her family and shares many traditions and beliefs with them. She learned this from her mother and does it whenever she gets her period cramps.

Analysis: This tradition is something I have never heard of before. It is a sort of remedy/ homeopathic healing technique. It is often said that water sounds are soothing, but this is the first time I have heard them help with pain. I have heard of soaking in hot water to ease pain, but it is interesting that this piece refers to sounds, which tackles the mental state rather than the physical.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Wart treatment

Text

If you have a wart, cut an onion in half, rub it on your wart, and bury it in the backyard on a full moon.

 

Background

The informant learned this remedy from her mother and said that it was a very common one that she fully believed in when she was a kid. She said that not only did all of her friends know about this trick, but her husband who grew up on the other side of the country knew of a very similar remedy growing up. She believed it when she was much younger and practiced it frequently as she struggled with warts, but as she got older, she realized that it didn’t actually do anything

 

Context

The informant is a woman in her mid forties who grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 as of 2018). She attended public school and grew up in a very rural area where she worked on the farm that her parents owned.

 

Thoughts

Warts are certainly unsightly and could even be embarrassing for a young child. Children can be mean and a child may be teased for having something that made them stand out in a negative way like a wart. Warts are also something that happen for seemingly no reason at all and are uncontrollable. Freezing off warts is possible, but the informant may not have had access to a doctor who provided this service being from such a small town. Because of all of these reasons, it makes sense that the informant practiced this remedy even though there seemed to be no scientific reasoning behind it. It gave her a feeling of control over this fairly uncontrollable blemish.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Pasar El Cuy

Original
“En Peru, se dice que cuando las personas estan enfermas, les pasan un cuy, lo frotan por todo el cuerpo. Cuando matan al cuy y lo abren, la parte que tiene el cuy mas oscura es la parte que esta enferma. Por ejemplo, si tienes algun problema en el igado, cuando abren el cuerpecito del cuy, el igado se ve mas oscuro, como, enfermo. Dicen que scientificamente hay como probarlo pero, bueno, yo no se.”

Translation
“In Peru, they say that when people are sick they pass a guinea pig through their body, they rub it all over their body. Then, when they kill the guinea pig and they open it, the body part that is dark on the guinea pig is the sick part. For instance, if you have a liver problem, when they open up the guinea pig’s little body, the liver will look dark, like, sick. They say that there are ways to scientifically prove it, but I don’t know.”

Context: The informant is my mother, a Peruvian woman whose parents both come from villages near Cuzco, Peru. She grew up in Lima, the capital and the most metropolitan city in Peru. Peruvian culture, however, is deeply rooted in pride about their myths and legends, and these forms of folklore are widely known. I actually inquired about Inca creation myths on my own, but realized that this is a prime example of folklore.

Analysis: This custom is highly recognized and highly debated in Peru. As we learned, I believe that the belief rate for this technique is much higher in Peru, but there have also been scientific attempts to debunk or confirm the scientific element of this folk medicine strategy and they determined that it does work, but no one truly knows why.

Customs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
general
Protection
Signs

Rubor, Dolor, and Calor — Signs of Infection

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: My mother had a very specific way of checking her children for infections. She would always say to us: Rubor, dolor, and calor. Signs of inflammation.”

Collector: “What do they mean?”

Informant: “They translate to mean redness, pain, and heat. Basically you would check a cut or some injury to see if it was was, if it was giving off heat, and if it was tender. If it did, you would know it was infected.”

Context

            The Informant learned this phrase from her Irish mother, she claims it is just something her mother always said to the children. The Informant believes it to be a simple procedure of people to check for infection and inflammation for people who are not well equipped to handle any ailments. She remembers it because of the frequency of which her mother would mutter it when looking over the Informant’s injuries when she was young.

Interpretation

I loved this new piece. I had never heard of this before, but I was familiar enough with the signs of infection. I was intrigued so I looked up the origin of the phrase. The original definition of inflammation, set forward by Roman encyclopedist Celus in the 1st century A.D. The original definition also included the fourth sign, tumor, meaning swelling. I found it interesting that even though the signs are taken as canon for inflammation, when they are repeated, they are still said in their original Latin. Keeping the phrase in Latin might preserve its credibility in the eyes of some, everything sounds more official when said in Latin.

Adulthood
Humor

Haitian AIDS/HIV Medicine Joke

“So, back when I was doing HIV work I used to hear this joke all the time from my gay patients. It would go something like, ‘What’s the hardest part about having HIV?’ and the gay guy would say, ‘Convincing my mom I had sex with a Haitian. *laughing* ”

Context: This joke was performed at a dinner party whose guests were primarily family, with the informant being the father of the collector. The joke was said midway into dinner while the guests and informant had been drinking wine.

Informant Analysis: The doctor who said this joke had done much work during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 90’s. At the time, it was more of a secret for men to be gay since it was largely deemed “deplorable” by the average American. Today, this sort of anti-gay rhetoric has decreased. Many of the doctor’s patients were gay, had HIV, but also had a wife and children. They kept their sexual orientation hidden to their families and friends. However, when the HIV epidemic began to ravage America’s gay population, it was often difficult to hide the fact that you were gay since getting AIDS was considered a sign. Along with being gay being a sign of having AIDS, it was also common belief that Haitians also had it since there was and still is a high percentage of HIV positive people in Haiti.

Collector Analysis: The joke seems to play on the taboo topic of  coming out as gay to one’s mother. It seems to show that, especially during the 80’s, being considered gay was completely out of the question for many homosexual males. Instead of coming out as gay after being diagnosed with AIDS, the patient would rather say they got it from sex with a Haitian. The joke itself hinges on the fact that the highest percentage of HIV is found in homosexuals and Haitians. The humor also makes light of a situation which, especially during the 80’s, was considered a death sentence. Medical humor, including this joke, often contains this sort of dark humor to try to lessen the pain involved with such terrible situations.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Stomach Ache? Try a Needle in the Thumb

Piece:

Interviewer: “Do you know any folk medicine?”

R.B.: “…oh my god… actually yeah. My mom used to tell me if my stomach hurt to stick a needle in my thumb and the it will go away.”

Interviewer: “R.B, what that makes no sense… did it work?”

R.B.: “… I mean I guess. It lets out all the bad blood”

Informant:

The informant is  half-Korean, half- caucasian young adult female, who grew up in Seattle, Washington. Her mother is an immigrant from Korea and spoke to her frequently in Korean growing up, but was not surrounded often by her asian family as they lived in Korea. Her father is white American man of European descent who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. She spent a lot of time with her white side of her family growing up because they lived nearby.  

Context:

Informant R.B. and I were at dinner when I was interviewing her for the folklore collection project. When asked if she had any weird medicines, this is the folklore she remembered.

Interpretation:

Informant R.B. took this piece of folklore very seriously. And, when asked later if she would still use this method of treatment, she responded yes and that she would tell her friends to because it worked. R.B. received this piece of folklore from her mother her learned it from her own mother in Korea. For their family, this folklore represented more than a cure, but a lasting family tradition. I found this piece to be very interesting because it showcased how different cultures treat their illnesses.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cinnamon Toast

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as AO. I am marked as DG.

 

AO: Ok so basically, um like when I was a kid, whenever I was sick my mom would make me cinnamon toast. And um like, I don’t know why but she swore it would make me feel better. So um literally any time I didn’t feel good or had a sore throat, especially for a sore throat, um, like she would make me this. And like it always seemed to work! Not really sure, um, like how it would, tbh [to be honest], but like, um it always felt like it did [laughs].

 

DG: And when did you learn this?

 

AO: …. Oh I must’ve been like maybe 5 when she first made it? Um like honestly I don’t even know I just know she made it a lot.

 

DG: Do you know the recipe?

 

AO: Yeah! It was like, um first you toast the toast and then you. Oh wait no maybe you put butter on the bread first. And then I think um you maybe toast it. But you might put cinnamon on the butter before toasting it. Or not no I think that the cinnamon was put on after the bread and butter was toasted. Or was it brown sugar? No um like I swear it was cinnamon. Actually no there was brown sugar because that was my favorite part. Um, so yeah.

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while in the room of the interviewee. She was fixing up her room while I was sitting and listening to her folklore. This folk recipe was used in the context of sickness, most often made by the interviewee’s mother.

 

Background:

 

The interviewee was born in China but raised in Marietta, Georgia. She is a sophomore at the University of Southern California, studying Communication. Her mother and father are both from the United States, and have lived in Georgia for many years.

 

Analysis:

 

This folklore item is somewhat common in that most people tend to have a home remedy for when they get sick, passed down from their parents or grandparents. It’s also one of those folklore items where it must have worked at least occasionally, for the interviewee to keep believing in it. Although I personally don’t know if it works or not, I imagine that at the very least the treat of cinnamon and sugar would help cheer up any small child, leading them into a better mood during their cold.

Folk medicine
Foodways
Material

Caviar, raw garlic, hard toasted bread to get over a cold

Background information:

It is often considered that mothers know best, and this piece of folklore is in complete accordance to this idea. As an immigrant to the United States, my mom was certainly open to new ideas and remedies to help with colds and sore throats but found that this home-remedy that she had concocted was extremely useful in fending off bacteria and decreasing the amount of time that it takes to fight a cold and ultimately feel better. She had created this home-remedy when she was in her young adulthood when she had been stuck with a cold. Since she lived in Sweden at the time, she used ingredients that were common in Sweden, such as caviar and hard bread. When we moved to the United States, however, she was not able to find the same ingredients as were available in Sweden and therefore imported caviar and located grocery stores which sold the specific hard bread she was looking for, and therefore carried over this home-remedy to the United States from Sweden.

 

Main Piece:

Whenever I would get a cold or feel under the weather, my mom instantly knew what to do. Aside from being the perfect mother in always supplying me with cough drops, tissues, checking in on me, and overall tending to my needs, she shared with me a fantastic home-remedy to fight off bacteria and get over a cold quicker. I believe that she found this home-remedy herself and used some ingredients that are common in Sweden but not necessarily common in the United States. Her home-remedy consisted of a single piece of crisp, hard bread, which is very commonly found in Swedish grocery stores. On top of this piece of hard bread, she would smear on caviar to coat the entire surface, and then top this with raw garlic. In Sweden, caviar is very common as well, and is often stored in a toothpaste-like tube that is available everywhere in Sweden. Whenever she would give me this piece of hard bread with caviar and raw garlic on top, I would feel significantly better as the day went on. She claimed that the reason as to why this home-remedy was so successful was due to the raw garlic being so concentrated and therefore was good at fighting off bacteria. Additionally, she claimed that because the piece of bread used was very hard and crisp, it created friction with the sore throat, which helped the scratchy and uncomfortable feeling often associated with colds.

 

Personal thoughts:

I always thought that this home-remedy was very strange because the ingredients did not completely agree with my personal taste. When I tried it for the first time when I was young, however, I found that it was actually extremely helpful and aided me in getting over my cold. Therefore, I will always keep this remedy with me because it is a tried and true way of fighting off a cold.

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