Tag Archives: medicine


In a discussion about family health practices, a classmate shared a folk remedy rooted in his heritage. When a family member falls ill, his father employs a traditional healing method. This involves igniting a tissue, placing it on a glass, and then setting the glass on the stomach of the sick person. The belief is that the burning tissue creates a vacuum within the glass, which then draws out the infection from the individual’s body.


My classmate explained that this practice of using fire and a glass to cure ailments is an ancestral folk medicine technique passed down through generations in his family. They believe that the heat and resulting suction specifically target the sickness, effectively extracting it from within. He recalled this method being applied various times throughout his childhood, particularly for stomach-related issues. The ritual, though medically unverified, is deeply embedded in the familial tradition, and it’s a vivid representation of the intimate trust they place in their heritage and the natural methods of healing.


This folk remedy mirrors the principles of sympathetic magic, specifically of the contagious variety, as outlined by James George Frazer. Just as Frazer described how objects associated with a person, such as a lock of hair, could be used to influence their well-being, so does the use of a glass on the body in this practice suggests a transfer or extraction of ailment. While to the outsider it may seem a quaint or even irrational act, to those practicing, it’s a manifestation of a deep-seated belief in the tangible interaction between physical objects and one’s health. Furthermore, Hafstein’s notion of collective tradition plays a role here, emphasizing the importance of community and shared practices in the development of folk remedies. Rather than deriving from a single innovator, this practice is likely the result of communal beliefs and the collective wisdom of the family, passed down and adapted over time. It represents a lineage of knowledge and a tangible connection to their ancestors, imbuing the act with personal, cultural, and historical significance beyond mere “entertainment value” or rudimentary medical intervention. This traditional method, while not scientifically substantiated, offers a unique lens through which we can examine the interplay of belief, culture, and the human need to find solace in the face of illness.

Sick Foods

Growing up, when the informant got sick, his parents would always feed him the same boxed chicken noodle soup. He remembers it coming in small red boxes. He would also get biscuits, or crackers if they had no biscuits. What he was given to drink was always seven-up, though when he was older this was sometimes swapped out for Gatorade. Recently, he found some other people online whose parents had also given them Chicken soup with seven up when they were sick. He was also told to lie down on his left side, which he still does occasionally and it seems to work fine.

He has absolutely no idea why these foods were the specific ones that he always got. He can understand Chicken noodle soup and biscuits being good foods when sick, because they are warm and rather plain/simple when it comes to flavor/spices, but can’t for the life of him figure out why bubbly seven up was in there. He thinks the lying on his left side might be to help with digestion, but isn’t sure why it’s specifically his left side.

I think the informant is correct that the foods are chosen based on being simple and palatable for a sick stomach, as well as warm. I think always the same so that when a child is uncomfortable and sick, they can be comforted by having some structure and consistency returned to them via the food they’re given while they’re feeling weird and foreign. I’d imagine that the seven up is given to the children because it’s tasty but not all that hard to digest, so the value it brings the child through enjoyment of their meal helps them feel better more than any sugar in it would make their sickness worse. I have no better guess than my informant on why he was told to lie specifically on his left side.

Tayoon: A Botanical Blessing






There is no translation

The informant is a family member of mine that has lived in Lebanon for the entirety of her life and has grown up learning the significance of certain rituals and traditions with the world around her. 


The informant describes this medicine as a plant that is seen very traditionally “in many Arabic or Lebanese homes”. Although the plant has an original term and transliteration, it does not have a direct translation to the English language and is “similar to the leaves grown on herbal plants”. The plant is used to heal most wounds that include “deep cuts, scrapes and other physical injuries that required care” and is done by cutting up the leaves and making it into a “paste-like texture” and rubbing it into the wound. She states that it must be wrapped on the wound and left with no other ointments or medications as it is said to “clear the wound of any bacteria and also help it heal with the nutrient provided. The elder of the family, “usually my grandmother” my informant states will usually rub the plant into the wound and say a religious prayer to accompany the physical healing for general health and prosperity.


Although it is believed to have physical healing properties similar to aloe vera, it also holds religious significance as the plant was believed to have been the “Arabic blessing from god onto [their] gardens.” This is due to the plant not being seen anywhere besides the Levantine region and is seen as a gift that is only presented to them with its supposed healing powers physically and religiously. It is seen in most elders’ gardens as it was believed to have been the most “beneficial plant for bodily treatment”. The religious prayer was usually from the Islamic book, the Qur’an and would denote speeches from there to “help the kids who get hurt from their everyday activities”. The informant states that “it was important for me to do the same for my children and grandchildren because I still believe in this plant’s medicine and how god will listen to us” conveying its importance on her family and bloodline.


The plant is seen as more than a healing alternative to modern-day medicine as it seems to be still used to present the significance of culture on the healing and growth of children who get hurt and are treated with this plant. Religiously, the implications of the medicine being a gift from god allows the elders of the family to be seen as authority figures performing the acts of god on the children, healing and removing their worries from a situation through the use of plants grown in their garden. This blessing of the medicine in Lebanese culture plays a larger role as my informant still believes that it is the most suitable for most cases of harm, presenting it as a sort of ritual. It signifies the transferring of culture from one generation to another as she still uses it today on her grandchildren whilst teaching them the benefits. The life cycle of a plant may also be used to depict the human life cycle as it is also religiously associated and presents connotations of healing, allowing younger generations to feel connected to this certain folk medicine for the rest of their lives and offering them protection.

Folk Medicine – Ginger Ale and Crackers


“Ginger ale and crackers…mainly the Canada Dry ginger ale and specifically the saltine crackers. I forgot the brand but something premium… specifically those crackers. We use it I think more for nausea or if you’re vomiting and stuff but if you’re sick in general, like any type of sickness, and you can eat that’s going to be the first thing that your mom mainly is going to give to you…ginger ale and crackers”


One of my friends who is a part of the black community shared one of her folk medicine recipes. She does not remember where she came to learn of eating ginger ale and crackers, but she remembers it being passed down from her mom to her. She also mentioned how “it might be in the black community because [she] feels like if they’re black then they will know what [she’s] talking about.” She talked about how this technique “doesn’t really cure anything but it’s light on the stomach” and she thinks people continue to use this technique because “it’s comforting every time you receive it from someone.”


Folk medicine is often passed down from generation to generation. People enjoy sharing their little remedies to help cure some illnesses. Whether or not it cures anything is beside the point. I have not really heard of this technique of using ginger ale and crackers for an upset stomach, but I have heard of similar remedies. Oftentimes you’ll hear about eating bland foods for an upset stomach or that any carbonated drink could also help rid any feelings of nausea. Even though we have no scientific proof of these techniques we still use them because we hear the stories people tell us. We hear these stories of how someone used this technique and felt instantly better, so we want to try it out for ourselves. This is also because we usually hear these stories from people we trust, so that compels us to try these different remedies even more.

Lard for illness

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Costa Rican

Age: 47

Occupation: Unemployed

Residence: Los Angeles

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Spanish  

(*Notes: The informant will be referred to as GC and the interviewer as K. Many parts of this story were told in Spanish and appears here in its translated form, translated by her son)

Background info: GC is a mother of 2 who grew up in a small town in Costa Rica. She grew up poor with a Grandma who believed in natural medicine, so most of her cures for illness as a child were natural or cheap items.

Context: The informant told me this at her home in the daylight over drinks. I had mentioned how I felt like I had a cold, and she began to tell me.

K: Yeah, I think I’m getting a cold after nearly 2 years. I don’t wear a mask once, and this is what I get

GC: Ah! You know what my grandma used to do whenever we got sick? She would take uh…lard, like fat from a pig, ya know?

K: Mmhm, like the stuff you fry food in?

GC: *laughter* yes, exactly. She-she would take lard and uh rub it on our uh…back and chest to help us feel better

K: Like a fucked up Vicks vapor rub?

GC: *laughter* Exactly! It worked though, I always felt better the day after she did that *Informant smiles*

I think it’s interesting how many different cultures how a version of Vicks vapor rub. The informant grew up poor, so they had to use what they already had and they had to treat illness quickly, as they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor. Lard is also used heavily in Costa Rican cooking, as later noted by the informant, so using something that would always have made the most sense. The informant also noted that her feeling better may have been psychosomatic, but made it clear that even if it was, it didn’t matter.