Folk Medicine. Spanish 1130. Objectives. Understand the origins and applications of Hispanic folk medicine Identify common Hispanic folk illnesses and their remedies
Diabetes mellitus is also a hot illness. While the curanderos will no doubt encourage consultation with a physician, various remedies may also be used. Nopal (or cactus), aloe vera juice, or bitter gourd can be taken. In some areas in Texas and Mexico treatment is started with maturique root infusion for approximately one week if the person is extremely hyperglycemic. Subsequently for maintenance therapy, trumpet flower-herb or root infusion (tronadora), brickle bush (prodigiosa) tea, or sage tea (salvia) are used. The proven safety and efficacy of maturique, trumpet flower, or bricklebush preparations are not known. Aloe vera juice is reasonably safe but aloe vera latex is a powerful purgative. Sage tea taken chronically can lower the seizure threshold and has been reported to cause mental and physical deterioration because it contains thujones and tannins.
A cold illness, Empacho (or tripida) literally means an impacted stomach or surfeit. While all ages may be prone to empacho, it is much more common in young children. The etiology is felt to be adherence of soft food and difficult-to-digest substances (such as popcorn or chewing gum) to the stomach wall. Symptoms are anorexia, stomach ache, vomiting, pain with diarrhea, and generalized abdominal fullness. The diagnosis is made by the healer noting symptoms and checking for direct (but not rebound) abdominal tenderness, feeling knots in the calves, and/or rolling a fresh chicken egg over the abdomen. Empacho is confirmed if the egg appears to stick to a particular area. Remedies include rubbing the stomach or back, popping of the skin, and purgative teas of wormwood (estafiate) or camomile (manzanilla). Lead (azarcón) or mercury (greta) powders are still occasionally given. Administration of these heavy metals can cause severe illness and death, but occasionally are still used despite a widely disseminated public information program.
Caida de la mollera means "fallen fontanel". The actual etiology may be any severe illness resulting in a 10% loss of body weight in an infant such as bacterial or viral dysentery, meningitis, or sepsis. Children with caída are commonly felt to be neglected and there is a high degree of maternal guilt (which may not be recognized by the health care professionals). The etiology is felt to be mechanical in origin--the fontanel being pulled down by the soft palate when the nipple is pulled too suddenly out of the infant's mouth or by a sudden jolt, bump or fall. Symptoms are dehydration, crying, inability to achieve sufficient suction while nursing, fever and diarrhea. Remedies include: pressing upward on the soft palate with thumbs or fingers, sucking the anterior fontanel, holding the baby upside down over water with or without shaking or hitting the feet. Poultices are applied to the fontanel with raw egg, oil, or liniment and the hair is pulled up (so that the roots will raise the skin back up). This is the most challenging and potentially fatal pediatric folk illness.
Mal de ojo means "strong glance" or "evil eye". Young children are most susceptible but all ages may suffer from ojo. The etiology of ojo is when a person with a "powerful" gaze glances or looks admiringly at someone without touching them. The symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, vomiting, headache, coryza, fainting, and sometimes convulsions. The diagnosis of "Ojo" is made by consideration of the patient's symptoms and an examination of a fresh egg broken after being passed over the patient's body. A positive diagnosis is made when the egg appears cooked, or the yolk appears to have the image of an eye. The most effective remedy is to have the perpetrator touch the patient as soon as possible. When that is not an option, an alternative treatment is as follows:
Susto is a folk illness with strong psychological overtones defined as a "fright sickness" and (literally) a loss of soul from the body. A more severe and potentially fatal form is called espanto. Studies have confirmed that those individuals suffering from espanto do indeed have a higher index of morbidity and mortality when followed for five years or more. Diagnoses at the time of death have included diabetes mellitus, carcinoma, or liver disease. Those most likely to suffer from "susto" are culturally stressed adults--women more than men. Occasionally children suffer susto as well. The cause is a sudden frightening experience such as an accident, a fall, witnessing a relative's sudden death, or any other potentially dangerous event.
Symptoms include nervousness, anorexia, insomnia, listlessness, despondency, involuntary muscle tics, and diarrhea. A diagnosis is made by the symptom complex and the associated history of a traumatic event. Oral remedies can be attempted such as teas of orange blossom, brazil wood or marijuana. An oral solution of figs boiled in vinegar is also felt to be advantageous. However the most effective treatment for susto is a ceremony known as the barrida or "Sweeping". The barrida should be done immediately after the traumatic event occurs and is optimally conducted by a curandero in his/her home. During the barrida, the patient recounts the details of the frightening event then lies down on the floor on the axis of a crucifix; the curandero may or may not have the crucifix outlined with aluminum foil or other shiny material. The patient's body is then swept with fresh herbs such as basil, purple sage, rosemary, or rue; an egg may also be used. While the sweeping is occurring, the curandero and other participants say ritual prayers in groups of three. The curandero exerts the frightened soul to return to the body. A single barrida is not enough; this ceremony is usually repeated every third day until the patient is healed. Wednesday and Friday are felt to be optimal days for barridas. In some areas, the curandero may also jump over the patient's body during the ceremony. Since an individual may be more susceptible to susto when away from home, a preventive measure is to carry a whole nutmeg during journeys.