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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.