Vaporub to Calm a Cold

The main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from an interview about the informant’s use of Vaporub to cure cold symptoms as a child. 

Informant:  You had a cold. And grandma would go get the Vaporub and then I’m pretty sure it went in three places it went into your chest it went directly beneath your nose, and then it went on both your feet. But for the one on your feet that one’s special. Not only was it Vaporub it was also salt and then you’d have to wear socks to sleep to keep it all in. Oh, wait. I forgot before you put the socks on grandma would rub your feet back and forth on the bottom creating friction? Or I guess I don’t know why. It makes your feet all hot for the sock.

Interviewer: Why the feet and why the socks?

Informant: I have no fricken clue!

Interviewer: Do you remember it working? 

Informant: Ahya— I’m pretty sure it was the placebo effect but it worked! 

Interviewer: Do you still use it now?

Informant: Not on the feet anymore, but ya on the chest, and below the nose ya. And I think we only did it below the nose because we actually like the smell of it. 

Background: My informant is a young adult who credits her knowledge of Vaporubs healing powers to her Mexican culture. Here she describes a ritual/ form of folk medicine that her grandmother helped her with when she was young and had a cold. Now that she’s older she skips the more ritualistic aspect of rubbing her feet with salt and Vaporub and simply chooses to add the product to her throat and nose area. My informant believes that this is mostly the placebo effect at work, but she doesn’t deny that the method is successful.  

Context: This piece was collected over a FaceTime call in the evening. The informant and I were having a casual conversation about our childhood and the things we did that felt unique to us as Mexican Americans in the west suburbs of Chicago. 

Thoughts: I am very familiar with this Vaporub practice as the informant and I share the same Grandmother. I, like the informant, still use Vaporub when I’m sick as I believe it does help with my colds. However, the informant did illuminate for me the fact that I have no idea why it works to ease cold symptoms. Or rather, the science of using Vaporub the way we do. This makes me believe that part of the reason the informant and I believed it so wholeheartedly as children, was that fact that it was coming from someone who we also believed would never steer us wrong. The idea of family is intertwined with this antidote which adds to the continuation of this method from not just me and the informant, but also from other Latino communities.