By Milena Jojic
A warm ginger tea that soothes a sore throat, a vitamin and mineral taken before bed, or a turpentine bandage for a cut: home remedies. Home Remedies are an important facet of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), culminating from years of passed down medicinal knowledge. Yet, they remain an important aspect of healthcare in present day North Carolina. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines (CAM) as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine” (Leckridge 413). Biomedicine, society’s traditional and conventional approach to healthcare, excludes home remedies from its practice; however, if properly balanced with orthodox medical practices, home remedies could positively impact the health of North Carolinians. Moreover, it would provide an alternative to the way in which medical care is given and trust within the healthcare system is earned. Together, we are going to discuss and discover which home remedies are being used in North Carolinian homes, the successful outcomes of home remedies, as well as differing reactions to home remedies and CAM by exploring the Stories To Save Lives archive as well as outside research. Finally we will take what we have learned and create an idea of how to best incorporate home remedies into current day biomedicine.
Home Remedies In Action
Especially in rural counties, North Carolina has an abundant history of home remedies that have been passed on generationally and are still being used today. Although CAM encompasses much more than just home remedies, a study of “Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Rural Residents in Western North Carolina” by Thomas A. Arcury et. al, found that, “Home remedies are the most widely used CAM with 45.7% of the adult population using any home remedy” (96). While this percentage was taken solely from one study sample and does not show the extent of all home remedy users within North Carolina, it does reveal the importance of home remedies within CAM use. Additionally, this study illuminated that the home remedies were being used to treat over 1058 different conditions, and that “honey-lemon-vinegar-whiskey and herbs” were most commonly used among rural western North Carolina residents, where approximately half of the population engage in home remedy use (Thomas A. Arcury et al. 93). This reality was also reflected in the Stories to Save Lives archive. Ysaura Rodriguez, a resident of Harnet County, shared her experience using lemon as a basis for a home remedy during an interview for the Stories To Save Lives archive.
YR: “My sister, I remember one time we were jumping from one bed to the other and we were separating the beds more and more, and then my sister got hurt. She cut her eyebrow with the side of the bed, because it was wooden, and then we mixed dirt with lemon juice and ashes and put it there to stop the bleeding.
JR: Why did you mix the dirt with the ashes and the lemon juice?
YR: Because my grandfather used to do that. He used to mix the dirt with lemon juice and ashes and even spider webs.” (Rodriguez).
The power of home remedies comes from more than just the healing properties of the substance used; it is rooted in family and culture. As Rodriguez mentions, her first memories of home remedies are linked to her grandfather, creating a sense of trust and meaning that biomedical doctors are unable to attain in the short 20 minutes they have during appointments. Rodriguez is not alone in her experience of the intersection of family and medicine. A similar story was shared by Ebony Talley-Brame.
“They [Grandparents] used to make this stuff, some type of a ritual with alcohol, like a liquor or something, and it would put some type of honey and lemons in it, and we would have to drink it for colds. And believe it or not, it allowed us to go through a deep sweat overnight, and the morning came, we didn’t have a cold anymore” (Talley-Brame).
Medicine, family, and culture are connected, and in order to achieve optimal healthcare, it is integral to acknowledge and understand the intersection of each of these factors.
Home remedies elicit varying reactions depending on an individual’s beliefs and experiences. This causes a spectrum of belief to be created, bookmarked by a belief in either CAM or western biomedicine alone. From the Stories To Save Lives archive, the consensus among interviewees who use home remedies was that they seemed to work and be helpful. When asked whether or not her grandfather’s lemon and spiderweb concoction worked to stop bleeding cuts, Yasura Rodriguez responded with: “It did. It worked for us.” Furthermore, Alice Alston, a resident of Warrenton County, remembered always feeling better after her father used home remedies on her bruises.
“My father used to do that. He used to go out in the backyard and get some kind of leaf. I don’t know what was wrong with us, and he would make it—bruises, and he would rub it on us and we would feel better” (Alston).
Amongst those that use them, home remedies are seen as legitimate cures that are useful and trustworthy.
Although the prominent medical narrative often puts home remedies like the ones above down, there is growing evidence showing the power of home remedies and CAM. The Cochrane Evidence Database shows successful outcomes of numerous home remedies and instances of CAM: ginseng for erectile dysfunction, probiotics for preventing gestational diabetes, and zinc supplements for improving pregnancy and infant outcomes (Cochrane Library 355). Antithetically, the traditional world of biomedicine teaches the opposite: that western medicine such as pills and surgeries are the only successful form of treatment for a variety of symptoms and diseases. This traditional narrative has led to the mistrust of health systems among those who practice CAM, causing many detrimental outcomes. For example, an analysis of data completed by the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), found that, “42.3% of eligible respondents who reported using CAM did not disclose their most used CAM modality to their primary care physicians” (Jou, Judy et al. 545). This disconnect speaks to the lack of communication and honesty between patients and doctors — a familiar pattern. Moreover, the lack of published research and conversation regarding CAM has made it easy for the narrative to present home remedies as an outdated and historic practice. However, The Stories To Save Lives archive has shown that this assumption does not hold merit.
DS: “Do you use any of those old remedies now?
EB: You know, sometimes I do. I find myself drinking that—they had like a lemon and honey and this—I don’t know if it’s more—I want to say corn liquor, but it wasn’t that…And drinking it, it helps us go through this deep sweat, so to speak, and gets all the cold out of you (Talley-Brame).
Although her initial experience was only with her grandparents giving her home remedies to treat colds, Talley-Brame took what her family taught her and still uses it in her daily life. Home remedies change overtime; however, they are still present today. The reaction narrative that CAM is out-dated and ineffective is directly contradicted by the lived experiences of users and research.
Incorporating Home Remedies
Incorporating home remedies into the biomedical field will lead to increased trust between patients and doctors in North Carolina, while simultaneously improving the experience and health of patients. The first step to include home remedies and CAM into biomedicine is establishing trust between patient and doctor by expanding, recognizing, and respecting different explanatory models. Explanatory models are “The notions that patients, families, and practitioners have about a specific illness episode” (Kleinman 121). Explanatory models will dictate the course of treatment desired as well as understanding the effects on the body and the desired outcomes. When explanatory models incorporate CAM, doctors show respect for the patients’ other treatments and can ensure that they are best treating them. When CAM and biomedicine are pitted against each other, both sides tend to dismiss the other entirely. This is seen when patients choose to avoid the doctor, and when doctors choose to ignore home remedies as viable treatment options.
Dismantling the gap between these two models would look like patients being honest about their desired home remedy use, and doctors making space for their patients to do so. This could be done by including a questionnaire that allows patients to answer questions such as: Do you have something you have used or done before that has helped? What form of treatment makes you most comfortable? Do you have any past experiences or beliefs that you think will help me better help you? Rather than sticking solely to pain scales, doctors should incorporate all aspects of the patient narrative. Honoring both understandings of medicine could ensure that optimal care is given, and all resources are used. Medicine is more than just surgery and pills, it is the combination of family, culture, and experience. And by prioritizing these aspects of patient health, we will see the improvement of patient trust, the increase of accessible treatment options, and an overall better health for the residents of North Carolina.
Home remedies are at the intersection of medicine, family, culture and ethnicity. They have the power to connect people to their bodies through healing measures, and have been a frequently used treatment in North Carolina. The success of home remedies combined with the need for improved patient doctor trust has led to the conclusion that home remedies must be further incorporated into the biomedical world through increasing respect and communication about all Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
MK: “So would she take you to doctor right away or would she try something first?
AC: She would take us to the doctor usually right away. She would, mm-hmm.and also her mother and grandmother’s remedies such as castor oil, magnesium citrate, Karo syrup, warm apple juice, and mixing baby formula with rice cereal” (Crower).
As seen in Crowder’s narrative, home remedies should complement traditional medicine, not antagonize it. Both are necessary to create the optimal healthcare system in North Carolina.
Arcury, Thomas A., et al. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine use among Rural Residents in Western North Carolina.” Complementary Health Practice Review, vol. 9, no. 2, 2004, pp. 93-102, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1076167503253433.
Jou, Judy, and Pamela J. Johnson. “Nondisclosure of Complementary and Alternative Medicine use to Primary Care Physicians: Findings from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey.” JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 176, no. 4, 2016, pp. 545-546, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2500061.
Kleinman, Arthur. “Conflicting Explanatory Models in the Care of the Chronically Ill.” The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition, 1988, pp. 121-136, https://sakai.unc.edu/access/content/group/132851ab-32c2-42c8-8a66-0192416dfd3e/Unit%201%20Readings/Kleinman%2C%20Conflicting%20Explanatory%20Models%20in%20the%20Care%20of%20the%20Chronically%20Ill%2C%201988.pdf.
Puga, Maria Eduarda Dos Santos, and Álvaro N. Atallah. “Cochrane Library: The Best Evidence within Everyone’s Reach.” São Paulo Medical Journal, vol. 138, no. 5, 2020, pp. 355-358. MEDLINE, https://www.cochranelibrary.com/searchdoi:10.1590/1516-3180.2020.138527102020.
Stories to Save Lives. “Alice Alston – Stories to Save Lives.” Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 10 July 2018, dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sohp/id/28268/rec/316. Accessed 2 May 2021.
Stories to Save Lives. “Yasura Rodriguez – Stories to Save Lives.” Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 29 June 2018, dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sohp/id/28268/rec/316. Accessed 2 May 2021.
Stories to Save Lives. ” Ebony Talley-Brame- Stories to Save Lives.” Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 28 June 2018, dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sohp/id/28268/rec/316. Accessed 2 May 2021.
Stories to Save Lives. “Albrea Crower – Stories to Save Lives.” Southern Oral History Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 15 June 2018, dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sohp/id/28268/rec/316. Accessed 2 May 2021.