Folk Remedies: Curatives or Curiosities?

Were the Old Wives on to Something?

Posted Oct 22, 2011

Doctors are taking another look at folk remedies and saying that some cannot be dismissed as mere superstition. Now, I don't know if this one is old or new, but have you heard of the Raisins-Soaked-in-Gin remedy for arthritis? I'm not making this up.

An intelligent, otherwise rational friend told me about it. You take a package of golden (it has to be golden) raisins, put them in a bowl and pour enough gin over them to cover. Set aside for a week, while the raisins absorb the gin. The "dose" is nine (why precisely nine, I wonder?) raisins per day. I asked if I couldn't just drink a martini and munch a small handful of raisins at the same time, but she thought that wouldn't have the same effect. We also don't know how long you are supposed to stay on this regimen. Is one batch enough to do the trick? Or is it necessary to continue on it for the rest of your life?

My friend said she was trying this wacky concoction herself, and giving it a tentative thumbs-up. I have arthritis in my knees, so I decided to try it, too, and I have to say that I think it has helped. But here's the question: has it really helped, or do I just think that it has? Is it scientific or psychological (like the patient who gets the placebo in a medical study and swears that it's working)?

Why haven't I asked a doctor about it? Because, frankly, I can't see myself saying to a Board Certified Rheumatologist, "Tell me, doctor, what do you think about raisins soaked in gin as a remedy for arthritis?" (He might just refer me to a psychiatrist.)

But gin and raisins aside, some Old Wives remedies are now being accepted by the mainstream medical community. Many herbs, and even the lowly dandelion, are now thought to be beneficial by the same doctors who would have dismissed them as mere superstitions in the past.

And while we are on the subject, why can't doctors make up their minds?

Not so long ago we were told to stop eating eggs (especially the yolks) because they raised cholesterol levels in the blood, and that caused heart attacks. Now my doctor says that eating a (whole) egg every day is perfectly all right, and keeping cholesterol levels low has not been shown to prevent heart attacks anyway.

Also not so long ago, HRT (hormone replacement therapy) was touted as a veritable fountain of youth for women through menopause and beyond. It was supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Now we are told to get off HRT at the earliest possible moment because it actually causes the very things it was supposed to prevent.

How long have we been told to take daily multivitamins to maintain good health? Today doctors are saying they are not only unnecessary but may actually cause us to get too many of one vitamin or another. Now they say we should get our vitamins through eating a balanced diet, which is fine, but why has it taken so long to figure that out?

Then there's the question of chicken soup. The butt of many jokes, and long derided by the medical community as having no medicinal value whatsoever, chicken soup is now seen by some researchers as having real scientific benefit, in addition to being a source of warmth and comfort. (Something about one of its properties having an anti-inflammatory effect on the membranes.)

And so it goes. Many of the Old Wives cures will remain mere superstitions, of course -- such as tying an onion to the bedpost to cure a cold, or hanging a rhubarb stalk around your neck to prevent stomach aches. What about "an apple a day keeps the doctor away?" (Well, that isn't really relevant, is it? Doctors don't make house calls anymore.)

Incidentally, I don't know if blue bedsheets bring babies. I have not read the book (pictured above). I just like the title.

About the Author

E. E. Smith is a playwright and book author. Her new series of murder mysteries debuted in 2013. The first is titled Death by Misadventure. 

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