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Author Biography: LILLIAN M. BEARD, M.D., a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is a practicing pediatrician in Silver Spring, Maryland, and an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.
LINDA LEE SMALL is a freelance writer specializing in family issues and the author or coauthor of eight books. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines.
MANY YEARS AGO, while I was advising a young mother on how to manage her baby's facial rash, I was surprised by a question from the baby's great-grandmother, who was in the exam room with us: "Ma 'dear," as she was called, piped up: "When are you going to tell my granddaughter about the urine paste?" I did not have the slightest idea what she was talking about--and the idea of urine on a baby's face was definitely not appealing. But the older woman proceeded to educate me about her rural Alabama custom of using a baby's own urine to treat various rashes.
Later, when I heard tales of Hannibal's armies collecting and using their own urine to treat their war wounds, I began to make the medicinal connections to "Ma 'dear's" advice. And then the pieces came together: While I was comparing labels of some widely advertised facial creams in a drugstore cosmetics section, I noticed that urea (a component of urine) was a major ingredient of many of the costliest ones. Great-Grandma had known just what she was recommending, even if she didn't know exactly why.
As a pediatrician, I am doubly blessed; I get to see not just my patient--the child--but also the child's family. One of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of my practice is the opportunity to become a virtual member of my small charges' families, learning their traditions, sharing their joys, and participating in the family's growth and development. As I now care for my second generation--the children of my original children--I continue to be amazed by and learn from all "my" families.
Often as I examine patients and listen to their parents' descriptions of the child's illness, the families will usually sharewith me what they've tried at home. I've learned to ask for families' recipes for healing. I am convinced that most of these home remedies actually do something positive. Some represent ancient folk wisdom that science is only now beginning to test. Others allow the user to feel as though she is participating in restoring and protecting her child's health. Some of these home-based prescriptions represent such a deeply felt part of a family's cultural heritage that if I were to frown upon or challenge them, it would create a climate of doubt and mistrust. As I listen, I have learned to keep a straight face even when my initial reaction--as with first hearing about the use of baby's urine--would be to say that the practice is gross or unsanitary.
I have found that some families, although politely accepting my scientific wisdom in the form of a prescription, will not follow my advice or even return for a follow-up visit if I don't incorporate their own beliefs. So if I am working with a Pakistani family, for example, along with giving traditional medical-school advice and reassurance for their baby's jaundice, which is not uncommon in newborns, I will let them know that I have heard that a little diluted beet juice (2-3 teaspoons mixed into 2 fluid ounces of water) just might help.
As the healing pendulum swings, we have traveled a long way from leeches to lasers--with much in between. There are many closely held family and home remedies introduced in past centuries and still practiced around the world. Although these may not have been taught in medical schools, they have been used successfully, managing to survive and thrive through the age-old folk traditions of oral and written history.
I have discovered that there is definitely a place for folk medicine or natural healing in my practice. However, I always caution the parents of my patients to use common sense and never rely solely on these remedies without checking with me first. Some of the "cures" are just helpful ways to make a child feel better until a doctor can treat the little patient; they should never be a substitute for your doctor's advice and care.
Salt in Your Sock evolved over many years as I listened to thousands of families as their pediatrician. I've also asked friends and professional colleagues from various medical and health disciplines to share their therapeutic treasures from their families' histories. Whenever I travel for business or on family vacations around the globe, I pick up "sure-fire" family remedies from the people I meet.
Through the years, as I listened and observed, I began to recognize some familiar themes. Many of the practices not only were cross-cultural and transcended time but also sparked my own recollections of some family remedies from my childhood. This book documents the remedies I've heard, reflected though the prism of my medical knowledge and experience. I sometimes like to think of these remedies as the equivalent of "Doctor, have you heard the one about...?"
Although many of these practices seem to have some biological and physiological basis for effectiveness, others are just fascinating, such as drinking beet juice to help erase jaundice. (Although I'm still not sure about the restorative benefits of beet juice, I know that a couple of teaspoons will not be harmful.) Most have never been tested in a laboratory. But others, like the proverbial chicken soup for colds, have been proven to work. Grandma was right: There really is a penicillinlike substance in chicken broth.
I've listed the most common childhood ailments from A to Z, including the health concerns most parents ask me about. I didn't include some concerns, such as knockknee, because I hadn't heard any "natural" remedies for them. I haven't included any of the formerly common childhood diseases such as mumps and measles, because vaccines have virtually wiped them out. Nor have I included folk remedies for any life-threatening or otherwise devastating diseases. As with a number of behavioral issues such as stress and depression, I strongly believe that these are best addressed by your doctor or other health professional.
Under each heading, you'll find a brief description of the ailment, the most common or conventional treatments, and then a "parents' report" of what works. Many of these remedies and practices have survived the test of time because so many parents have found that they offer some relief and comfort. For some, I can theorize a biological/physiological basis for their effectiveness. Others I've included even though I cannot offer any current recognized medical explanation for any results, but they can't hurt. And lastly, when appropriate, I issue a warning. I've mentioned some folk remedies that should not be followed because they're dangerous.
Not surprisingly, you'll find a special emphasis on food and nutrition; even the father of medicine, Hippocrates, wrote extensively about the therapeutic use of diet. The "recipes" fall under a large umbrella of categories: nutrition, vitamin and herbal therapy, acupressure, gemstones, aromatherapy, and more. You'll also find some remedies that I frankly find baffling--putting raw potato slices on a belly to cure stomachache?--but they make me smile when I hear about them and seem to cause no harm. However, I recommend parents take these remedies with, well, a grain or two of salt!
how to use this book
SALT IN YOUR SOCK is not intended to be a substitute for your physician's advice. Always check with your physician before using any herbal or other family remedy. There is scientific documentation that some commonly used herbal medications may cause problems if combined with prescribed medicines. Recent medical literature also cautions that using herbal or other less traditional therapies can increase the risk for unexpected complications if surgery is performed. Many herbal remedies stay in the body's systems for weeks after use, or may interfere with heart rate, blood pressure, bleeding tendencies, or the effectiveness of anesthesia during a surgical procedure. So always tell your doctor before giving any supplement to your child.
The "New" Medicine Cabinet
If you want to stock your cabinet, I've listed the most frequently mentioned foods and herbs below. The much-quoted "Take two aspirins and call me in the morning" can be replaced with: "Peel some potatoes for a headache, cut up some onions for fever, and then call me in the morning." Every culture cooks up its own cures, often based on what's growing out in the fields. My version of a natural medicine cabinet is one filled with foods, teas, herbs, and, as you'll see, plenty of onions and garlic!
Stock Your Pantry
_Ginger--fresh or powdered
_Fruit juice--only naturally sweetened
_Yogurt (with live cultures; look for Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus on the label)
_Black tea bags (orange pekoe, Earl Grey)
_Pineapple (fresh fruit or natural juice)
Herbs are nature's medicinals. From ancient times, there have always been herbalists who relied on the power of plants and their extracts. Following are the herbs and natural ingredients most frequently mentioned by parents.
_Activated charcoal--for food poisoning, gastrointestinal distress
_Aloe vera (gel or juice)--for minor burns, such as sunburn, cuts, scrapes
_Arnica ointment--for strains, sprains, and muscle aches
_Bentonite clay--for insect bites and stings
_Calendula cream--for cuts, scrapes, skin irritations, and bruises
_Chamomile (tea, tincture, and essential oil)--for stomachache, insomnia, and relaxation
_Clove (essential oil)--for teething and toothache
_Echinacea (tea, tincture)--for colds, flu, urinary tract and yeast infections, and acne
_Eucalyptus (essential oil)--for nasal congestion
_Eyebright (tea)--for eye infections
_Fennel (tea, seeds)--for gas and stomachache
_Goldenseal (tea, tincture)--for colds, flu, and gastrointestinal infections
_Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus--for yeast infections and gastrointestinal distress
_Lavender (essential oil)--for cuts, scrapes, insect bites and stings, minor burns, insomnia, and relaxation
_Marshmallow (tea)--for sore throats and cough
_Peppermint (tea)--for stomachache, gas, and nausea
_Slippery elm (tea, lozenges)--for sore throats and cough
_Tea tree oil (essential oil)--for nail fungus, yeast infections, and acne
_WARNING: It's important to note that herbs can have side effects. As of now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbs. That means they are not held to the same standards set for foods, which require accurate labeling, or medicines, which must demonstrate their safety and effectiveness. Without regulation, they can easily be misused. Herb labels can proclaim a wide variety of results and cures without being substantiated. When an herb is good for an adult does not always mean it's safe for children, even when taken in smaller doses. Just because a product is described as "natural" does not make it synonymous with "healthy." Herbs need to be respected--they contain potent chemicals that function as medicines. When mixed with other substances, they can reduce or boost some drugs' efficacy. Always check with your pediatrician first before giving your child any herbal supplement. Look for herbs labeled "certified organic." This means that they are grown without pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. This makes the herbs safer for ingestion. Also check for standardized preparations--this means that every dose contains the correct (and same) amount of active, therapeutic ingredients. With nonstandardized preparations, even with measured amounts, it's just a "guesstimate" for getting too much or not enough of the herbal remedy. I recommend you avoid the bins of loose herbs found in many natural food stores, or preparations that do not list the specific amount of each ingredient.
Also keep in mind that many preparations that are safe for use on the body (say, in a poultice or inhaled during aromatherapy) are not safe for ingestion. Most essential oils, for example, can be harmful if swallowed.
Definition of Terms
Infusion is just another word for tea. However, for therapeutic purposes, these teas need to be made stronger than the usual brew. Medicinal teas should steep for ten to twenty minutes to get the full effect of the herbs. These days most medicinal herbs come in ready-made tea bags that you can find in health food stores and supermarkets.
Tincture and Liquid Extracts
Tinctures and liquid extracts are more potent than teas, because they are more concentrated. Consequently, you need a smaller amount to get the job done, and they tend to work faster than teas. They can be stored for a longer time in your medicine chest. Even better, they're easily portable, so you can toss them into a diaper bag or travel medicine kit if you're going on the road. Tinctures are made either with alcohol or glycerin. You can make your own by putting fresh or dried herbs into a lightproof container with a tight-fitting lid. Aim for 2 ounces of dried herb or a handful of fresh herbs per pint (16 fluid ounces) of alcohol. Vodka works fine. Fill the container with the herb and the vodka. Allow the mixture to sit for a week or two, shaking it every once in a while and topping off the alcohol that may evaporate. After a week or so, strain out the plant material, then store the liquid in another dark, lightproof container, preferably one with a dropper. However, you'll find it much easier just to buy tinctures at the health food store. Note: If you want to avoid alcohol-based tinctures, you can make or purchase those with glycerin.
Poultices and Compresses
Poultices are very effective for cuts, scrapes, and other skin irritations. You can use fresh or dried herbs to make a poultice. If you use dried herbs, moisten them a bit. Simply crumble or crush (bruise) the herbs a bit to release the active ingredients, then apply gently to the affected area and hold them in place with a bandage. A word of caution: Unless you are a knowledgeable botanist, do not pick plants from the wild to use on your child's skin. Many plants look alike, and you may choose the wrong one. Also, plants from the wild may be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or car exhaust fumes. It's safer to buy certified organic herbs, either from a health food store or through reputable herb suppliers.
If you don't want to prepare a poultice or you don't have the fresh or dried herbs on hand, compresses work just as well. Use them hot or cold. To make a compress, simply brew a medicinal tea or infusion or put a few dropperfuls of tincture into some water. Then soak a clean cloth in the liquid, wring it out, and apply it to the wound.