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No one likes getting sick. As a kid, you may have had the opportunity to stay home from school a day or two when it wasn’t too serious, which was a gift more than a curse. But those times when I was burning up with fever or coughs or stomach aches, my abuelita, tias or mom would be right there with something to feed me, put on me or make me drink.
When growing up in the United States as Latinos, there is an undeniable bicultural nature of passing down what one knows to be true to newer generations, especially preventive practices and home remedies. There are many reasons for this. When living in smaller towns and rural areas, access to doctors or any medical assistance didn’t exist. The same can be said about ethnic communities from all backgrounds and even the rural southern United States. Health coverage was probably a different concept as well.
Additionally, many ethnic communities learn to use what they have around them to solve health issues such as plants and homemade concoctions. Such practices are known as traditional medicine.
Traditional medicine is defined by the World Health Organization as “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.”
While we may not be using molcajetes or visiting the local chamán every time a virus settles in our bodies, there are still some remedios that work—because abuela says so.
Breast milk: using breast milk for infections is common in different cultures. Breast milk is said to have tons of nutrients and “healing components,” especially for your baby. Using the milk for ear aches and even as eye drops for pink eye has been reported to work, although it wasn’t common in our household. However, it is wise to speak with your doctor before moving forward with this, especially if you are trying to help your baby.
Sal: “Grandma was a firm believer in her salt,” my mother said to me. She was. Every time I’d come down with a cough, my grandma would tell me to eat “un puñadito de sal.” Salt therapy has been a thing for years, says the American Lung Association, even though there are still speculations to how it actually works. We’re also not talking about hiding out in salt mines. However, according to mom and grandma, the salt dries up the mucus build up helping to relieve the cough.
Aloe vera: My abuela’s go-to herb for sunburn or a cough, “sábila” has been used for centuries in many parts of the world for skin conditions, digestive and many other problems. Whenever I was sick with a cold, my abuela would mix up her special cough syrup with honey, lemon, garlic and fermented aloe vera gel scraped from one of her plants. People with diabetes who use glucose-lowering medication should be cautious if also taking aloe orally because aloe may lower blood glucose levels.
Ajo: Not only does it make your food more delicious, but ajo, or garlic, holds so many health benefits, my tía used to make me take whole cloves every day—kind of like a pill. Besides its many health benefits, it is also used for ear infections in either clove form, warmed and wrapped in cotton or in garlic drops. In this article, Dr. Harriet Hall, MD says that Joseph Mercola, DO has recommended this.
Manzanilla and Yerbabuena: Known in English as chamomile and peppermint, respectively (it took a while for me to actually realize that there was a translation for them), these staples were usually introduced to us as children. In tea form, these herbs share similar effects such as curbing nausea, reducing inflammation and even helping you sleep. In other forms, such as oil or mixed in with rubbing alcohol (you know what I’m talking about), they can help with chest colds, chickenpox and eczema. Also, if you have somewhat of a green thumb, with minimal care you can plant these in your backyard for an unlimited stash whenever you need it.
Home remedies are part of our Latino culture and heritage, there is no denying it. Even though this list of remedies is only a few (we know there are a ton more), there are instances when going to the doctor for treatment is necessary. If you have a serious chronic condition, seeing a physician is your best bet. Many doctors do promote the use of secondary medical treatments such as home remedies to help your condition, however, depending on remedies can put your health at risk.
This article is not meant to be medical advice, only informational and insightful based on cultural experiences.
Aloe Vera: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/aloe/evidence/hrb-20058665
Salt: the American Lung Association
Breast milk: http://americanpregnancy.org/first-year-of-life/whats-in-breastmilk/
Aloe vera: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/aloe/evidence/hrb-20058665; https://nccih.nih.gov/health/aloevera
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