Just a Thought – Folk Medicine

When a friend recently complained of a cold sore, I advised yogurt. Checking back, days later, he still had a cold sore. Turns out, he doesn’t like yogurt, so he had some applesauce instead. I couldn’t even think of why he substituted one for the other, but he interpreted my advice to mean that putting something cold on a cold sore would help. That makes sense, but it doesn’t help. 

I explained – the bacterial culture of the yogurt will interact with the bacterial imbalance of the cold sore, and that will help it heal. 

Herpes, both 1 and 2, are caused by a virus. Happily for me, it’s not one of my viruses, I am not someone who breaks out with cold sores when I am stressed, but I know that some people do. When you have a virus, it kind of has you. And stress has all of us. Stress is the big factor. 

Folk medicine, also referred to as ‘old wives tales’ often has an element of science layered over with many years of tradition. The yogurt cure really does work for a number of simple bacterial challenges in the body – eat some and wear some. A cold sore on the edge of your lip might need yogurt applied directly to the surface in addition to swallowing a couple of spoonfuls.

People often laugh when there’s some scientific study to prove something would seem to be obvious. In 2000, a study was published on the anti-inflammatory qualities of chicken soup. Testing was done in relation to the rhinovirus (yep, it’s a virus) that causes the common cold, and it was concluded that chicken soup will help you heal faster. The response by many was that this was just a waste of time and money; everyone knows that chicken soup will help you fight off a cold.

But fewer and fewer things in our lives fall into the category of “everyone knows.” Empirical evidence is always a good thing. 

While we all roil through the daily doubts and devastating data of the pandemic, I came back to the idea of folk medicine. There are some things that are just good for us. 

Sunshine, fresh fruit, music, deep breathing. Behind the physical challenges, most of the folks I know are suffering deeply from a lack of folks. The loneliness is getting intense. 

Wellness is more than not being sick. The ‘western’ approach to medicine tends to focus on the illness to the exclusion of the rest of the patient. The ‘eastern’ approach has much more to do with monitoring the energy in the body, and working to restore the balance. From the west – remove the illness, the body will recover. From the east – bring the body to recovery, and the illness will leave.

The novel coronavirus has thrown our entire global civilization into managing the one illness, but it’s also helped many to see just how sick our society is, and has been for a long time. 

When it comes to folk medicine, we need our folks to be our medicine. All the people around us, even if we can’t touch or talk right now, they are the energy that can help everything heal. Using the eastern approach; get some sunshine, eat yogurt, make phone calls, write letters. Reach out to old friends. Reach out to sympathetic strangers. Do what feels right to bring yourself back into balance. 

Oh, and register to vote by mail. Because removing the illness is also a crucial factor in healing.

We’ve got all the empirical evidence we need on that one. 

Judith Martin-Straw



The Actors' Gang

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