Folk Remedies: Real or Imagined Medicine?
When I was little and got sick with the flu, Mom gave me 7up and malts. I got to stay home from school in my pajamas and read comic books until I felt better. Do 7up and malts qualify as “folk remedies?” Grandpa Joe gave us kids horehound candy which tasted funny, but was supposed to make us feel better and cure sore throats and coughs. It was candy made from an herb. Was it a “folk remedy?”
My roommate from college took me to his parents’ home one week during summer vacation. His dad was a banker with arthritis in his hands. Every morning he stirred a couple tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar and some honey into a big glass of water and drank it. He wasn’t sure how much it was helping…but he never missed a morning dose of his “arthritis remedy.”
When I started working with Dr. Riordan in 1989, I was surprised when he had patients with questionable moles and even skin cancers mix organic castor oil with vitamin B6 powder, then use a Q-tip to dab it onto the suspected skin lesion several times a day. He said it would cause it to inflame…then drop off just like an old scab. Was Dr. Riordan prescribing a “folk remedy” for skin cancer?
Finally there was the woman who showed up at the Riordan Clinic in the mid 90’s saying she had drunk an Indian tea remedy that made her ovarian cancer go away. She said she was legitimately diagnosed with ovarian cancer which is typically fatal. She made the tea from bind weed. At that time, Riordan Clinic doctors had no idea of just how bind weed extract might work against cancer. A decade later, our research staff had scientifically proven this extract to have antiangiogenic (stops the growth of new blood vessels) properties. We published research data proving it had cancer-controlling properties. Did that disqualify bind weed tea as a bonafied Indian folk remedy? Was it now a drug?
Is it possible to define a “folk remedy”? “Folks” are common people like you and me… not necessarily doctors, scientists, or health experts. The word “remedy” is composed of two roots: re— “repeating,” and med—from mederi “to heal or correct.” So does the use of a healing or corrective measure used by people like you and me repeatedly over the course of time qualify as a “folk remedy”? If so, that’s a very broad category of practices!
Because the subject is so broad, I have organized this article into a series of tables. Each table is meant to trigger questions and ideas in your mind such as:
1. What is the nature of illness? How does the body heal?
2. What is the role of “the healer?” How does the healer participate in “the healing process?”
3. How do folk remedies differ from conventional therapies? How are they the same?
4. Are folk remedies valid? Are they safe?
5. How do folk remedies differ from First Aid?
6. In what circumstances are folk remedies inappropriate? When are they appropriate?
7. Is it possible to determine the true effectiveness of a folk remedy?
The first table to consider is the “folk understandings” of what causes illness. Many times it is your personal philosophy of “what causes illness” that will determine whether or not you will make use of a folk remedy. So, where do you stand?
Folk Understandings of What Causes Illness
It was catching
A powerful family of folk remedies is related to the effects of fermentation on certain common foods. By fermenting, certain healing and health maintaining properties are conferred to these foods. Which of these foods do you use to maintain or regain health?
Remedies Originating from Fermented Foods
Apple Cider Vinegar
Detoxification is now believed to be more important than ever as our planetary environment is exposed to ever increasing numbers of added chemicals, plastics, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and pollutants. Stress itself is now seen as a kind of “emotional pollutant” that has negative health consequences. Do you use any of these detox strategies as part of your own self care plan?
Remedies Involving Detoxification
Most religions imply or directly state that sin and evil doing is the true basis of disease. As such, it is common for “folks” to turn to a whole category of remedies that I will loosely classify as “mind-body” in nature. This means that the sick individual turns to one or more of these strategies to call upon a power higher than himself to deliver healing or reduction of pain and suffering. Are these remedies conferred by the higher power? Or has the individual simply tapped into a deep, innate ability of the whole human person to trigger a “human healing response”that is coded in our DNA, but seems to require some form of activation?
Water symbolizes life, cleansing, refreshment, healing. Is it a wonder that so many remedies involve the use of water or liquids that are imbued with special powers?
Remedies Involving Special Waters
Water turned into wine
Touch is also considered “the great healer.”There are many biblical stories where just touching Jesus’ garment conveyed instantaneous healing. Have we lost some of that particular mode of healing in modern medicine’s over-reliance on technology? Is this a reason why we see the resurgence of massage, chiropractic, and other “touch-oriented” therapies?
Remedies Involving Human Touch
Laying on of hands
Kiss the owie
Will folk remedies ever NOT be a part of culture, given this universal nature of life to result in brokenness and loss of health that is so evident in our day and age of rising health care costs and frustration with a sickness care system that is overly self-serving?
Universal Nature of Life
Are folk remedies really safe? Do people who use them run the risk of missing out on “evidencebased” medical therapies? Are folk remedies mostly placebo?
GRAS—Generally Regarded as Safe
Handed down by a powerful personage
Imbued with love
There are literally hundreds of named diets that our obesity prone culture is using. Does dieting do more harm than good, given the 90% likelihood of regaining any weight that is lost using the dietary approach?
Diets Acting as Remedies
Nothing points out the fickle nature of folk remedies as clearly as the amazing number of wart remedies…most which DO WORK, for certain people in certain circumstances.
E oil rub
Tea tree oil
A oil rub
D oil rub
Most conventional doctors dismiss folk remedies as “folklore” with no scientific basis. Are they right? What is your doctor’s attitude toward your favorite remedies? How do you feel about his attitude?
Conventional Doctors’ Attitudes towards Folk Remedies
No double blinds
Finally, here at the Riordan Clinic, our BioCenter Lab specializes in the accurate measurement of almost all of the essential nutrients necessary to sustain cellular health. Based upon these measurements, our patients are prescribed individualized nutritional plans involving the use of supplements as medical therapy. Thousands and thousands of published research studies document the importance of these substances for the maintenance of health and as adjunctive care in acute and chronic illness. But still, many doctors persist in their belief that nutrients are simply folk remedies. What do you believe?
Nutritional Medicine or Folk Remedies?
Join me on Thursday, December 13, at noon to carry on this important discussion
about key questions surrounding the modern use of folk remedies in the current
health care crisis. Folk Remedies—Real or Imagined Medicine?