''Folk Remedies''

We've all heard the saying ''An apple a day keeps the doctor away,'' or ''It's a bitter pill.'' But is there any truth in these old sayings, or had grandma just been sipping too much elderberry wine when she made certain claims for her cure-alls? Well, as with so many things, there were good folk remedies passed from generation to generation with their attached anecdotal stories -- and there were the ones that, well, Uncle Harry is buried in the back 40, killed by the cure!

As it turns out, it wasn't just grandma giving out folk remedies, physicians did it too. It's possible that grandma's remedies were less deadly than some, as many of her remedies were made with natural things from her kitchen and spice rack. When our founding father, George Washington, fell ill with a severe sore throat and called for a physician, the physician administered a petroleum based substance which further burned his throat. The other usual methods were employed as well. Leeches were applied and he was given a combination of lead and mercury as healing tonic. When that didn't work, they pulled a few teeth. Washington then asked for the physician to leave him if he had nothing better to offer that he might be left to die in peace. Which is exactly what he did!

Medicine and remedies were applied in a somewhat haphazardly way, but for the most part simple folk remedies made from simple ingredients may not have saved everyone's life, but they didn't kill anyone either. Today we can scientifically take apart some of these simple cures and see there is some basis for their ability to help the body heal itself.

Let's take a look. Will an apple a day keep the doctor away? What's in an apple that makes it such a cure-all? Apples are high in vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium and two other healing substances, pectin and malic acid. We know that vitamins A and C are vital for wound healing and fighting infection. Potassium is important for a healthy nervous system and a regular heart rhythm. It helps prevent stroke, aids in proper muscle contraction, and works with sodium to control the body's water balance. Magnesium is vital for proper digestive enzyme function and, more importantly, calcium uptake. Physicians familiar with the joint and muscle aches associated with fibromyalgia now suggest malic acid and magnesium in supplement form with seemingly good results. Pectin slows the absorption of food which helps diabetics maintain a stable blood sugar. It also helps remove unwanted metals and other toxins. When raw apple cider vinegar is combined with a tablespoon of honey in water taken before meals it gears up the digestive juices and helps us get the most from our foods.

The old saying about a bitter pill holds some truth as well. Some of nature's most healing plants and plant herbs are bitter. They help alkalize an overly acidic body and detoxify the liver as well.

Cayenne is well known for its ability to stop bleeding. (Always seek medical help for serious injury.) Apply it directly to the wound. Try it in your socks in the winter, it will help keep your feet warm.

Another good folk remedy is the garden sage plant -- used effectively for several common ailments. It has wonderful antifungal properties when used externally on the skin. It's a quick remedy for relieving the itching and swelling that accompanies insect bite. As a tea with honey it is good for sore throats. In fact this herb's botanical name, Salvia officinalis is derived from the Latin term, Salvere, which means ''to save'' -- a testimony to sage's early reputation as a cure-all.

Over the years there have been many good publications on folk remedies. Most folk remedies are simple and inexpensive and the ingredients are easy to find and use. Many times one has to look no further than the spice rack or the local farmer's market.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 3, 2000

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