My Blog

November 24, 2017

Elderly Mothers and going Herbal

There is certainly nothing to lose.

Anyone who has ever been to a country market in Mexico has seen the old Curanderas (women who cure) sitting behind their small wooden boxes of herbs and potions, happy to offer any number of herbs or oils to cure everything from a broken toe to a broken heart.

These elderly practitioners have been in a business that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. And if practice makes perfect, they have certainly been practicing medicine for a long, long time. No better way to find out if something works than to try it on lots and lots of patients. And they have.

For those of us raised in Mexico, we are used to hearing recommendations from the maid or the gardener or the old witchdoctor from down the street. I remember when my younger brother fell out of a tree house when he was about five or six. By the time my mother got home, the maid had brought in a Curandero who was busy applying all sorts of potions to my brother’s back. Mom, an Anglo, was horrified. But my brother seemed to benefit.

There is little doubt that the Pharmaceutical companies have been wise enough to investigate the efficacy of those old herbal remedies. Many of the essential elements of the herbs have been put to use in the highly expensive drugs with all their myriad side effects. They just won’t tell you that.

The benefit of having a Hispanic caregiver is that she knows many of the herbal remedies. She comes already preprogrammed with the knowledge that we need and an acceptance of the unorthodox methods that herbal medications require.

And the Hospice nurses, bless their little pea-picking hearts, are perfectly willing to go along with any strange cures and unusual treatments that we would like to try. They have been busily writing down the names of the herbal treatments we are using to learn more about them, especially after they see that they seem to be having a beneficial effect.

Huntsville, and I’m certain every other town in the world, has its own Health and Energy stores that cater to those interested in the herbal alternatives. Each store owner, an Anglo version of the Curanderas, has reams of knowledge or recommendations about herbs. Just ask them. They will give you data on their latest pills, ointments, oils or rubs. And be happy to sell you bottles and jars of whatever they are touting.

Do we doubt the efficacy? Of course. In our society we are taught to be cynical and questioning. Especially now-a-days with accusations of “fake” this or that. But what’s the harm in trying?

So, I’ve been to our health and energy store and brought back a bag full of cures. Butchers’ Broom pills to be taken twice a day for blood flow, I think. I got so many bottles, I’m not sure which is which. Small Arnica tablets to put under the tongue four times a day. White Willow for pain and ground up Marsh mallow root for blood flow, decrease swelling and healing the sores.

Veronica has a book, in Spanish, which I need to translate. It suggests several herbs for the sores and for improving the blood flow. I’ll have to see if I can find them, once I figure out what they are.

So, I am busy cooking pots of Marsh mallow root, draining the herbs, giving Mom some of the tea to drink and soaking her foot in the rest. We were supposed to do it four times a day, but I’m doing well to soak her foot twice a day. Then I apply the triple antibiotic, our one nod to modern medicine. I’m also giving her pills by the handful to take throughout the day and rubbing oils and Cayenne pepper on her foot to stimulate blood flow.

Now, all that said, I am not suggesting you try any of this at home. And I fully accept that these attempts are not going to magically reverse gangrene or suddenly increase the blood flow to Mom’s foot. But if the soaks and rubs decrease the swelling and help cure the open sores, then why not try it?

I will be the first to admit that I ask myself, does all this effort do any good? At 98, who knows? I don’t. Why not just let her vegetate? It’s a lot of work and Veronica and I end up sweating with strained backs from the effort. But, both the Hospice nurse and the weekend caregiver agree that the swelling in the foot has gone down and there is evidence of healing around the sores. Would that have happened anyway? Perhaps.

But it is for certain Mom is not ready to go. Several years back, her sister had ended her own life by stopping eating. It took her six weeks to die. When the same was suggested to Mom, so she could reverently “pass into the Light,” she assured us she didn’t want any damn “Light.” She had a lot of living still to do. Demented though she is, she said she would get a job so she could buy her own beans. A wheel-chair greeter at Wal-mart?

As long as we are following the physician’s dictum of “Do no harm” then there is every reason to keep on soaking and rubbing and giving pills and offering tea. If Big Pharma can’t help, then the Curanderas can. Keeps us caregivers busy and gets Mom in and out of bed on a regular basis.

At this rate she will, indeed, live to be 100.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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