I was a sick child. Or at least that’s how it seemed given my familiarity with our local hospital and specialty clinics alongside my mother’s constant hovering.
I suffered from childhood asthma and had constant earaches that required frequent visits to the ear, nose, and throat specialist to get tubes put in my ears to help alleviate the pressure. Bi-weekly allergy shots, monthly orthodontic appointments, and all the check ups and vaccinations in between made me a very busy kid.
What I couldn’t understand at the time was how much my mother valued our healthcare system as an immigrant who came from poor roots where most health issues were resolved with home remedies brewed from herbs, plants, and recipes passed down through generations. She came to New York with close to nothing and claimed whatever benefits she could to get the best for her children.
As a kid, I didn’t appreciate her tenacity and her commitment to make the best of a difficult situation. All I could think was, “Another doctor’s appointment? I’m FINE!”
It wasn’t just the doctor’s visits that left me frustrated. My mom came here determined to take advantage of all the best that modern medicine could offer, but she didn’t abandon her roots completely.
I have vivid memories of drinking all sorts of strange jarabes or potions, blended from a variety of ingredients my mom had stored in cupboards and the windowsill garden in our living room. Between fish oil pills, teas, and shots of really pungent (alright, it was downright NASTY tasting and smelling stuff!) homemade cold cures, we had an ongoing ritual that usually involved me running away and hiding for a good twenty minutes until I was found and forced to throw back whatever concoction she’d blended up that week.
My least favorite remedy involved boiled oregano leaves that my mom would allow to cool before she made me lie down and turn my infected ear up so that should she could squeeze the warm oregano oil down my ear canal. Not. Fun. I protested, yelled, and cried, but there was no getting away from the traditions that my mother was raised with before she came to the US.
Now, as an adult who is fascinated with the world of health, nutrition, and the benefits of natural remedies as opposed to pharmaceuticals, I can look back on those memories fondly and with a deep appreciation for what my mother did for us. I believe that there were many colds, aches, and pains that were helped by these old-world solutions rather than whatever medications I was prescribed. The way my mother seamlessly blended modern medicine with a traditionally holistic approach was admirable, and it’s something I hope to mimic with my own family.
I no longer sneer at the jar of funny looking liquids in my parent’s refrigerator. I often ask my mother to brew me one of her teas when I’m feeling under the weather and I’m taking a harder look at those fish oil pills I used to be forced to choke down. Given that I no longer have the cushion of health insurance that I had as a child, I’ve become more willing to seek out natural remedies as an alternative that I find much more appealing for both my health and my finances.
With the rapidly declining state of our health especially in regards to our nutrition and poor quality of what we pass off as our diets, the mantra “food is medicine” has much greater appeal for those who find that doctors and prescriptions are not offering them sustainable solutions. People are beginning to turn back to the kitchen and their produce to round out their diets for better overall health. We still have a long way to go before we let go of the quick fix mentality that brought us to our current condition.
Sylvia Casabianca, a psychotherapist and writer for Saludify, recently wrote an article discussing the role of our grandmothers’ traditional natural remedies in the modern world. Reading Is there any science behind our abuela’s natural remedies? brought me back to my childhood and to look at my mother’s actions with a critically approving eye. Moreover, I can view this as both a celebration of culture and good health that I hope to perpetuate as much as possible.
It reminded me of Michael Pollen’s argument in In Defense of Food, that the way our grandmother’s ate was healthier than the way we eat today. You can dissect this even further and determine for yourself what you believe. But I think that we have an opportunity to take a moment and look back at the customs and traditions that make up our origin instead of continually looking forward with no regard for the past. Nature offers a world of benefits that only requires us to invest time and patience to learn more about how our bodies respond to those stimuli.
Casabianca shared this wonderful infographic highlighting some of these old-world remedies and their uses. Did you grow up taking home-made medicines made by your grandparents or older relatives? Do you use these holistic approaches in your own lives now?