USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘medicine’
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.




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.




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.




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

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.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Honey, Lemon, Garlic, and Onion Mix to Cure Colds

Background information:

My roommate is Colombian and is the first one in her family who was born in the United States since her relatives all live in Colombia except for her direct family. She actively engages in the Colombian culture, speaking Spanish with her family and celebrating Colombian events and traditions. Therefore, even though she was born in the United States, she holds onto her Colombian roots and treasures her Colombian culture as she believes that her Colombian roots are a large part of what shapes who she is.

Main Piece:

My roommate, who is of Colombian descent, has fantastic cultural traditions that she shares with me. When she was sick with a cold earlier this semester, she told me about a remedy that she had been exposed to her whole life. She said that she begins by squeezing a whole lemon, pouring this lemon juice into a glass, mincing garlic and onion, and putting this into the glass with the lemon juice. She later tops this concoction off with honey and mixed it all together, then quickly drinks it. She said that it is a horrible taste and needs to be consumed quickly because the taste is so pungent and concentrated. After drinking this, she recommends that one have a class of water to immediately flush down any excess of the concoction as the taste can linger for a while which can be very unpleasant. She claims that although this remedy is most likely one of the most unappealing drinks that she has tasted, it works wonders and immediately can make one feel better. The concoction, she states, has a large dose of Vitamin C which is crucial to bettering the immune system, has honey that is gentle and soothing to the throat, and contains garlic and onion which are key to clearing out any mucus. She said that this has been a key remedy to making her feel better throughout her childhood and adult life, and therefore used this remedy whenever she felt like she had a cold.


Personal thoughts:

My roommate shared a fantastic remedy for sore throats with me when she was fighting off a cold and it reminded me of certain cold remedies that I have learned from my family. Although we come from vastly different backgrounds with her being Colombian and me being Swedish, there is a connection between the cold remedies that we have learned from our respective cultures. For example, the cold remedies that we have both learned each involve garlic, which I would not consider to be the most common treatment for colds, therefore showing similarity and slight overlap between widely different cultures.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Nature and Garden Spirits

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as AD.

BD: So tell me about the spirits that live in nature.

AD: So, my mother, in her house’s yard, there’s a swing outside and some grass. They say that there’s something that lives underneath the ground. Every time you have to be careful and not step on the roots, or you have to say “excuse me,” which in Tagalog is “tabi tabi po.”
Anyway, spirits that live there, outside and underground, and if you accidentally step on them and you don’t say excuse me, bad things happen.

BD: Like what?

AD: People get sick. And doctors don’t know why. Bad things like that. But when this happens, and it’s unexplainable by regular medicine, they call a man from the community and he does “tawas.” I don’t know what the term is in English. But only certain people can do it. This person who knows how to get the sickness out of your system. They use a bowl with water, and they use a candle. What they do is put the bowl in front of them and the person who is sick, the bowl between the two people. They light the candle, and pour the wax into the bowl of water. And it forms a shape. Whatever shape it forms—sometimes it’s in the shape of an animal—that’s the spirit that is harming the person.


Analysis: Growing up, I heard this belief often, because I am Filipino, and my grandmother’s yard was rumored to have some of the spirits in it—all nature does. Even now, when I step on tree roots, I whisper under my breath “tabi tabi po,” in hopes I will not be cursed. A more personal, in-depth look at the process of tawas can be found at: The informant personally knows four people capable of tawas, proving it is not an uncommon practice, and many Filipinos still believe in both ideas—the initial superstition and the folk medicine that can cure transgressions by the superstition.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Broncollin Remedy

Broncolin is a all natural herbs and honey folk remedy that is used to treat colds and congestion in its folk method, but it’s actually a diet supplement. You apply the honey under your tongue and after that you give a small massage around the Adam’s apple area and you are supposed to wake up healed.


Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Vapu-Rub Remedy

Vicks Vapu-Rub remedy has been a trend in the Latino community. All you have to do is put the product on the soles of your feet and put socks on, as well as on your back and chest. Doing so, supposedly leads you to be cured by the morning.An addition to this remedy is also provide yerba buena boiled with some vapu-rub and then also massaged on your back and chest.


Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa.

Folk medicine

The Story of the Tenrikyo Miracle that Saved My Grandfather

Nationality: American/Japanese

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Japanese

Age: 23

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 13, 2017 (Skype)


Sammy is a 23 year old man, born and raised in New York who is a representative with the Tenri Cultural Institute of New York City.


Interviewer: Good Morning. I never heard of Tenri, can you tell me something about it and a tradition associated with it.


Informant: “Ok ok. The teaching of Tenrikyo (sp)”


Interviewer:  Can you spell it please.


Informant: “that’s T-E-N as in Nancy R-I-K-Y-O, Tenrikyo, ah basically we are taught that our bodies are something that is lent to us from G-D something that we borrow something from G-D The Parent and uh just our minds are our own ah our own. And basically depending on the way we use our minds G-D The Parent will ah show ah us ah the proper way to mature spiritually hum which means basically is to become selfless and in order to do that we basically have to keep our minds from becoming ah or getting rid of our egos basically. And ah what we are taught when we use our minds in selfish manners it is like we are accumulating dust. And when we accumulate dust, we are unable to see our goals as human beings um from what it should be basically. Um and so what we do in the Service the Tenrikyo Service is we ask G-D The Parent to sweep that dust from our minds ah but we are also responsible for our own, you know, how we use it individually. So we have to continue to keep ah fighting ourselves almost not others and fighting ourselves to not to be greedy or arrogant or selfish or anything like that. Ah but if you ever get the chance please read up on and the teachings of Tenrikyo ah it is native to the country of Japanese ah the country of Japan and there is a small town in Tenri where we call our home.”


Interviewer: When did you first become aware of this?


Informant: “Ah actually I was born into the church.  Ah My Father he ah he was I am a third generation Tenrikyo and basically my father he came to New York to spread the teachings of Tenrikyo and he so started at a church in Bayside Queens, and that is where I was born. My my original, my grandfather was the one who kind of started the faith and he ah he has suffered from ah tuberculosis and he was saved miraculously ah through ah missionary who was walking in Japan, a Tenrikyo Missionary and he was taught the same thing what I actually just said.  And ah realizing that it was his own mind that was the problem he kind of replaced his mind and ah decided that even though he was going to die from tuberculosis he might as well die you know saving others.  And when he, he firmly resolved that mind ah, he was saved from his tuberculosis in some way. My father was born and also I was born after that. So it is kind of nice.”


Thoughts about the piece: 

Faith healing belief systems exist in many cultures and modern medicine placebo testing is one way that the power of thought to promote health is being investigated. Tenrikyo is a matriarchal religion founded on miraculous healing. Background can be found here: Another testimonial is:











Rituals, festivals, holidays


TO told me about an unusual holiday her family celebrates:

“When I was maybe ten, I used to go rock-climbing at a YMCA in San Antonio with my family, and one day when I was on one of the walls, I realized all the people below me were rushing around and that something had happened. When I was finally able to get down, I saw my dad on the ground, and he was performing CPR on another man. He ended up saving his life, and so every year since our families have gotten together on January 18th to celebrate “re-birthday.” It was kind of weird the first couple years, but now are families have gotten really close, and even when we moved to Carmel both of our families have travelled back and forth for the holiday. Their family has three kids that are the same age as my sister and I, and we’re all really good friends.”

I asked TO if she thinks the tradition will taper off over time, especially as she and the other kids get older:

“I don’t know…so far we’re going strong though. When something like that happens, it can make people really close really quickly, and that’s definitely what happened to us. They’re like, practically family now.”

My analysis:

While this is a relatively new tradition for TO’s family, I think it has the potential to be a holiday – and piece of folklore – she shares for a long time. Her father, a cardiac surgeon at Stanford University, has inspired her to pursue her own career in medicine, and at a young age watching him save someone’s life clearly had an impact on her. Every tradition started somewhere, and “re-birthday” may become a story or full-fledged holiday TO, her sister, and this other family share or celebrate for generations to come. At the very least, TO can pinpoint it as a meaningful experience that influenced her to become a cardiac surgeon herself, and a story she passes down to her kids about the heroism of her father.

It’s also an example of a tradition threatened by geography, and while the families are now in other parts of the country, they still make an effort to come together.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Banana Peels and Sore Throats

The informant, my grandfather, is a 67-year-old man who was born and raised in the Sacramento Valley. His mother was also born in the United States, and is of Spanish, German, and French descent. While riding in the car on the way to breakfast, I asked if he remembered any of the home remedies his mother would use when he was sick.

“When I or any of my siblings had a sore throat, my mom would take a banana, peel it, and place the moist side of the banana peel against our feet. Then we had to put socks on. Apparently, whatever was left in the banana peel would heal your sore throat. Maybe it had to do with the potassium or something. I’m not sure if it ever really worked, but we still did it.”

I was a bit taken aback by this form of folk medicine, mostly because I could not imagine the sensation of having a banana peel forced inside of my sock. The informant did not initially tell me where his mother learned of this remedy. After I followed up to determine whether it was an idiosyncrasy, the informant said that his mother learned of the healing properties of banana peels from her mother, who was born in Spain, and that the tradition had been prominent within their community as doctors were scarcely available and most remedies were communicated orally. However, the informant decided not to continue the tradition and pass it down to his children because he felt there were better remedies available for a sore throat. Perhaps the idea of a banana peel having medicinal properties comes from the fact that fruits, and bananas in particular, are rich in vitamins and minerals. Banana peels are cool to the touch, and so may be capable of alleviating skin irritations or abrasions. It is unclear how these properties applied to the bottom of one’s foot would help to remedy a sore throat, but maybe the unfamiliar sensation served as a distraction from the pain that the child felt in their throat by focusing attention to a different area of the body.

Folk Beliefs

Don’t Stand Too Close to the Microwave

The informant is a 20-year-old college student. All of the informant’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, but both of her parents have lived in the United States their whole lives.

While I was heating up some leftover pasta in the microwave, the informant commented on the fact that I was standing too close to the microwave while it was running. I told her that I’d never heard of this being a bad thing to do, and she replied that her mother has always told her to stand far away from it, or else she will develop a chronic illness and die young. A second woman who was in the room confirmed that her mother has always told her the same thing. The second woman also has a South Korean mother whose parents were immigrants born and raised in South Korea.

While I had never heard of this belief before, I do not doubt that there is some truth to the idea that prolonged or continuous exposure to microwaves can create a higher risk of developing chronic illnesses like cancer. However, the risk is most likely rather minimal, considering that microwaves are lined with material that prevents radiation from leaking and affecting anyone in close proximity. It is interesting that both of the individuals who held this belief are of South Korean descent, which may highlight a prominent difference between Eastern and Western views on health and medicine. I asked the informant whether her mother had a specific viewpoint on keeping cell phones in close proximity to one’s body, since they are known to emit radiation similarly to microwave ovens, and the informant replied that her mother did not. This seems, then, to be a belief isolated to microwave ovens as cooking appliances, and may also reflect a more traditional viewpoint on food handling and preparation.