Tag Archives: folk medicine

Moxibustion (艾灸)

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Taiwanese American


Occupation: Technition

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Cantonese, Thai

(Notes-The informant will be referred AM to as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: AM a Taiwanese American techint8ion who was born and raised in California to Taiwanese parents, which is where she learned of this folk medicine. She also practiced it as a child and continues to do so today with her own family.

K: Ok uh what medicine are you going to be telling me about, where did you learn about it, and why or under uh what circumstances were this medicine used?

AM: Yeah it’s called uh 艾灸 or I’ve heard it be called Moxibustion in English. Uh, my mom would take me to the doctor to have this done when I started getting menstrual pain or if my Qi was uh blocked.

K: Ok! Whenever you’re ready you can describe it

AM: Yeah it’s simple uh so you lay down and then these uh little mugwort things are placed on your body, they kinda resemble uh incense cones. So they’re burned, and then this really smelly smoke comes out and you just lay there breathing it in, and then your pain goes away. It’s also just really relaxing because of the heat.

I wish I was able to hear about more traditional folk medicine because of how interesting it is. I wasn’t able to do much research on the actual scientific possibilities as to why this works, but the important thing is that it does help people. I believe at least that as long as folk medicine isn’t claiming to heal cancer (think of the fruitarian diet, for example), it’s incredibly useful and helps people. That is an important bias to note as well. Folk medicine is incredibly common in many East Asian cultures, and there are thousands of different traditions so it would be incredibly difficult to collect them all, especially (as the informant would later note) nearly every household as their own “concoctions” to treat common illness and pain.

El Vaporu Magico – The Magical VapoRub

Informant: My informant is my Mexican mom, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. While she stayed with her mom for about 16 years, she learned many remedies to keep herself away from developing colds, and flu, and even erase bruises. My mom stated that the reason why she turns towards magical Vicks/mentolato is that she has a stronger belief in home remedies than in actual prescribed medicine. 

Context:  This conversation occurred when I asked my mom why she always brought extra Vaporu, when we already had some at home. 

Main Text: Cuando yo crecí mi mama siempre me dijo que cuando me sintiera mal que siempre tuviera un vaporub a la mano. Ella siempre me decía que esto era mágico y de lo mejor porque siempre ayudaba a mi mama con sus migrañas, moretones, y cuando tenía síntomas de algún resfriado. Lo que hacía mi mamá específicamente es que nos ponía un chingo de vapor en mis pies y me ponía calcetines. Y luego me ponía detrás de la espalda y enfrente del pecho. Para mantenerlo caliente entre medio de mi ropa me ponía papel. Al final antes que nos acostáramos a dormir nos ponía un poco alrededor de la nariz para que pudiéramos respirar mejor. Sabes, mi mama no solo me enseño a usar esto para resfriados pero también para la piel y infecciones. Si te pones poquito de esto en tu barro es más que seguro que se te quite al otro dia, Por ultimo, si te duele el oído lo que tienes que haces es agarrar un algodón, ponerle un poco de vaporub y ponerlo en oído.” 

Translation: “Growing up my mom always told me that when I felt bad I should always have a vaporubby my side.. She always told me that this was magical and the best because it always helped my mom with her migraines, bruises, and when she had cold symptoms. What my mom did specifically is she put a lot of  thi product on the sole of my feet and with socks on me. And then she would put some behind my back and in front of myst chest. To keep the warmth, my mom would put paper between my clothes. In the end, before we went to sleep, she put a little around our noses so that we could breathe better. You know, my mom taught me not only to use this for colds but also for the skin and infections. If you put a little of this on your pimples, it is more than certain that it would go away the next day. Finally, another use was for infection. If your ear hurts, what you had  have to do was take a cotton ball, put a little VapoRub on it and put it in your ear.”

Analysis: It is interesting how this product, which was not initially created to be used for bruises, nor for infection has become a huge part of the Mexican culture. I believe it just showcases, how my mom and many other who use this product have become accustomed to use it and has become integrated so much into their health lifestyles. So much to the point that many rather than going to a doctor, now rely on VapoRub. I for one have no problem in relying in folk medicine, because I also have the belief that VapoRub fixes almost all. I myself, coming from a low-income family, rely on this product so much. Why? Because when a member gets sick, we pull out the VapoRub. VapoRub is efficient, cheap and lifesaver for many low-income families.

Coin Rubbing / Cao Gio

Main Piece: Coin Rubbing / Cao Gio

“It is a piece of traditional Asian medicine and the prospect of it is, you take a coin, usually a bigger coin such as a quarter or silver dollar, and you use some type of oil or liquid that you can apply like vaporub, take that and you apply it to your skin, not to the coin, and it is performed on somebody’s back when they are feeling sick or cold. You put the coin on the persons back and you kind of scrape. There are a few variations, but for my family it has been that you go along the spine and outwards on both sides of the back. It leaves streaks on your back and the more red the streaks are after doing it continuously, that is the level of sickness that you have. The purpose of it is to get the bad blood to rise to the surface which is supposed to heal the sickness.”

Background Information:

The informant learned this performance from his parents. Both the informant and his parents are Vietnamese and this is a traditional Vietnamese ritual for healing those who are sick.

Context of the Performance:

This is performed on a person who is sick or is cold. It is a traditional medicine, so this would not be performed on somebody who is not sick.

My Thoughts:

I think that this is a very interesting folk medicine and I am very curious to find out whether it works or not. There are many different folk medicines, some of which work and some do not. If a folk medicine is proven to work consistently, it is taken into the field practicing professional medicine. This folk medicine reminds me of bleeding a person to get rid of the bad blood inside of them, but that was proven to not be an effective way of curing somebody from a sickness. Both are aimed at getting rid of the bad blood inside of a person, although bleeding a person literally rids the body of blood whereas this folk medicine only brings blood to the surface of the body, but it still remains underneath the skin.


For more information and versions of traditional Vietnamese coin rubbing, please see below.

Yeatman GW, Dang VV. Cao Gío (coin rubbing). Vietnamese attitudes toward health care. JAMA. 1980 Dec 19;244(24):2748-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.244.24.2748. PMID: 7441861.

Northern German Cough Remedy


The informant, AH, grew up in a small village in northern Germany and learned this cough remedy from her mother.

Main Piece:

Mix crushed onions with brown sugar and let it sit until the juice is pulled out. That resulting juice helps with coughing.


This type of cough remedy seems to be pretty common in northern Germany, as I have heard other onion and brown sugar based cough remedies from people who grew up in different villages in the same area. This form of cough syrup is safe for kids and accessible, which makes it very convenient for rural mothers. I do not know how or why this remedy works, but I do recognize a sweet syrup base as a common form for cough remedies, usually paired with something very sour or bitter.

For reference, this piece of folklore collected is a cough remedy that uses lemon and honey, and contains additional insights about similar sweet syrup + sour or bitter ingredient cough remedies: “Folk Medicine, El Salvador,” Iris Park, USC Digital Folklore Archives, September 10, 2020, http://folklore.usc.edu/folk-medicine-el-salvador/.

German Wart Treatment


HH is a retired former housewife who lives in Westergellersen, a small village in northern Germany.

Main Piece:

“Knüpfe soviele Knoten in ein Band wie du Warzen hast. Dann vergrabe das Band bei Mondschein unter einem Stein. Wenn der Faden zersetzt (verfault) ist werden die Warzen verschwunden sein.”


Tie as many knots into some string as you have warts. Then bury the string under a rock by moonlight. When the string has decomposed, the warts will have disappeared.


This practice is a folk magic ritual that utilizes the Homeopathic principle. The knots on the string represent the warts, and the decomposition of the string metaphorically decomposes the warts along with it. An interesting note here is the need to perform the burying part of the ritual under moonlight. The moon is a highly magical and superstitious symbol in many societies, and is widely associated with magic, and especially women’s magic (though the moon is a masculine noun in the German language).

The rock under which the string must be buried does not seem to bring anything specifically auspicious or magical, but could serve multiple other purposes. First, placing the string beneath a rock would help speed up the decomposition process, as it creates an environment where organisms can more easily break down the string than if it was in an open space. Next, the rock weighs down the string and keeps it in place. If the string is anchored beneath a heavy object, it’s less likely to move around due to environmental factors like weather, or be taken and moved by an animal. Finally, placing the string beneath a certain rock makes the burial site easy to identify, which is helpful for tracking the decomposition of the string.