Tag Archives: illness

Soda as Medicine


The subject informed me that drinking soda could help someone recover from a sore throat or other kind of throat infection.  The subject was told that the carbonation from the soda was deadly to the viruses that cause sore throats, and that therefore, drinking a soda whilst having a sore throat could help them immensely with alleviating the symptoms and giving them some relief from the pain.  Furthermore, they were told that different sodas could benefit them more than other sodas when it comes to sore throats; while sodas like Dr. Pepper and Coke could help somewhat, Sprite and 7-Up helped significantly more, and even could help cure sore throats within a single day.


The subject, L.D., learned of this cure from their parents, and first learned of it from them when they were young and had a sore throat.  During this time, the subject was told that drinking some soda would be able to help with a sore throat, and that they can have some if they wanted to.  The subject also noted that they were often only given soda during these times when they were young, and that their parents were more lax when it came to them drinking soft drinks and eating junk food when they were sick as compared to when they were healthy.


It is likely that giving the subject soda when they were a kid was a way for the subject’s parents to provide their child some comfort and support whilst they were sick so that they would be able to feel better whilst being so sick.  Because of their desire to keep their kids from asking for soda more often, the parents likely told them that soda would help with their sore throats so that their kids would only expect them whilst being sick.  They likely also wanted to make sure that their kids had some kind of medication that they could accept that they’d know well, would believe that it would help them, and would be something they would want to drink, as opposed to medication they wouldn’t want. 

Mexican Sneezing Belief


The informant is my roommate who was is originally from Mexico, having spent the first eight years of his life there. His mother used to tell him and his siblings that whenever you sneezed unexpectedly – not from sickness or contaminants – it meant someone was thinking about you. This is a widespread belief in Mexico, but the informant’s family has added their own additional beliefs regarding the number of sneezes.


My roommate told me this after I sneezed unexpectedly one night at his house. His family had me over for his grandfather’s birthday, and after a lamb dinner we sat around outside talking. I sneezed and my roommate’s mother told said something in Spanish that garnered laughs from the other family members. My friend then explained what she had said.

Main Piece:

ML: My mother would always tell us someone was thinking about us if we sneezed randomly.

Me: Aren’t all sneezes random?

ML: It’s like, if you sneeze when you’re not sick. It’s the cause of the sneeze. If you sneeze when you’re sick, you’re sneezing because you’re sick and your illness is causing you to sneeze. If you sneeze just randomly, someone is thinking about you and those thoughts are intruding into your body almost, causing you to react and sneeze.

Me: And this is a common belief in Mexico?

ML: Yea, everyone… everyone’s mother would tell them this. But my mother told us that if you sneezed more than two times unexpectedly, it was because someone was thinking affectionately about you. Like they have a crush on you.

Me: So if you sneeze once, they’re just thinking about you in general?

ML: Could be. Could be talking bad about you to someone or thinking negatively about you. Or they could just be remembering something you said or that you two did together.


This was the first folk belief or superstition I’d ever heard regarding sneezing. Sneezing is a bit of a perplexing, spontaneous action, the cause of which is not always immediately discernible. Obviously, if one sick, the body malfunctions in a way, causing a sneeze. However, when illness or allergies can’t be pointed to as the cause, it leaves a bit of mystique and uncertainty as to the cause. This folk belief could be an attempt to playfully resolve the trigger of an unexpected sneeze. Sneezing from illness or allergies carries with it the negative association of being sick or deficient in health. This belief spins a sneeze as a potentially positive event, as someone could be thinking of one in an affectionate way.

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.


Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 


Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”


Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.


Cowlick Tea

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student who was enrolled in ANTH 333 during a prior semester, was eager to participate in my folklore collection. She shared some folklore with me that she has collected throughout her childhood and her time at USC. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant described a folk medicine used by her immediate and extended family.


Informant: So, one of the folk things my family does is that when I’m sick my father will give me this thing called cowlick tea, and basically it’s tea with cow droppings in it. I think it’s because cows eat grass, so their droppings are really good for you. And my dad’s grandmother was the one that started this apparently and she always insisted that my dad drink it. And now my dad believes in this cowlick tea because they’re from Oklahoma… and apparently that’s relevant. My dad’s grandmother was from Marshall, Texas, and she also has Native American Cherokee roots, so it could possibly be from that. But it’s used to alleviate the symptoms of sore throat, headaches, and other head colds. It’s also known for clearing nasal passages and it’s basically just made of cow droppings. And it’s given to anyone of any age to relieve themselves of the common cold.

Informant’s relationship to this item: Though the informant does not fully understand the proposed scientific benefits or the cultural origins of cowlick tea, the folk medicine is a practice she took part in growing up. The fact that the folk medicine has been passed down through multiple generations in her family makes her more inclined to take part in the family tradition and folk belief.

Interpretation: There are often folk medicines used for the goal of relieving people of symptoms of the common cold because there had not yet been a scientifically-proven method to cure someone of a cold. There is often a belief in American society that western medicine is a superior approach to other healing methods. However, many western medicines find their origins in folk medicines that have proven scientific health benefits. Additionally, western medicine is based on the belief in the mind body split, a theory put forward by philosopher René Descartes. The theory describes how a person’s mind and body are two separate entities and encourages people to think for themselves, rather than trying to find all of life’s answers in religious doctrine. While many folk medicines have proven health benefits, even the ones that do not point out a major flaw in the theory of the mind body split: the placebo effect. Sometimes simply the belief that one has been given healing medicine can actually improve their condition. Whether or not cowlick tea has any health benefits is not known by the informant. Regardless, her family members report feeling better after drinking it, and that could be a result of the placebo effect.



Papa Soup: Colombian Comfort Soup


  1. Long onions scallions
  2. Potatoes sliced in cubes
  3. Eggs
  4. Hot water

Boil potatoes add scallions mix eggs in add salt to taste.


“I learned this recipe from my grandmother. I was born in Colombia and raised by my grandmother there for the first several years of my life. She would make this for me when I was sick. It is also supposed to be a good hangover cure, but I was never hungover. I make it for my kids now whenever they are sick.”

The informant is 55, from Medellin, Colombia. She now resides in Southern California.

My Analysis:

This is a very simple recipe with nearly no instructions. It is easy to make, so easy that a sick person could probably cook it for themselves. The fact that my informant’s grandmother would make it for her and she now makes it for her family members when they get sick shows that the people who make this recipe value service. Even if it is not a grand gesture, this simple soup makes a meaningful gift to friends and family when they are ill.