25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
There is this fear for sickness, and for every little thing some people rush to the doctor. Today there is a fine clinic, good doctors and fine drug stores, but with all that I want to assure you that there is nothing wrong with trying some home remedies before you get to the doctor, or in the middle of the night when you can’t get to a doctor for a little headache, a toothache, a cut, a nail puncture or a belly ache. If these remedies worked for people of the past, I am sure they could work today also.
A DEEP CUT OR WOUND: How do you stop the bleeding? Yes, direct pressure and elevation of the arm or leg was done as is done today. Now hold on to your seat; kerosene oil was poured over the wound and it would clot the blood and stop the bleeding.
NAIL JUK (Creole for nail puncture) This was a very common injury because the dump site was very close to town and children loved to roam on it looking for something usable. Also all Sanpedranos walked barefooted, and a nail puncture was very much more possible. Up until today I am surprised that not many people lost their legs due to gangrene. The home remedy was to immerse the foot with the injury into a pail of very hot and steaming water. Sounds cruel, but it was done for as long as one could take it. Up until today, every time I remember my grandmother, I remember those times she would practice this therapy on us. Then at night you lit a candle and poured the hot melted candle over the injury. This was repeated for about ten times and you could guarantee great results. Great home remedy when there were no tetanus shots back then.
SEVERE PAIN ON CUT OR PUNCTURE: A nail puncture on the sole of the foot hurts a lot. Even after treatment with hot water, the pain thereafter could be intense. What was the home remedy 25 years ago? You took a roach, yes a cockroach, and you fried it crispy in a small frying pan. No you did not eat it! You applied it and tied it right over the wound. Whatever the scientific explanation, trust me, the pain did go away.
TOOTHACHE: What was done about severe toothache discomforts 25 years ago? There was this medication, a liquid in a bottle by the name of “Castro” by one Doctor Castro. You soaked a piece of cotton in the “Castro”, and you kind of placed it right over the pain area and bit on it. The process was repeated three or four times over a 30-minute period and after that you could sleep like a baby or as they said in San Pedro, “like a log”. Please note that Castro might have had some alcohol in it, because alcoholics used to steal the Castro from their wives and drank it. So it might have had an effect on a hangover too. Also, but not too often, mother would have us puff some cigarette smoke to heal a toothache. Years Ago in San Pedro mom and dad quickly resorted to a cigarette for the smoke of the tobacco. You have to take a deep puff and keep the smoke in your mouth for a while. And also, but not too often, mom would have us chew on the cigarette tobacco as a remedy for toothache. You can take the tobacco and stuff it in the tooth cavity and ‘Bingo’ the horrendous toothache will be gone shortly.
HURTING TUMMY OR BELLYACHE: That was, and probably still is, the number one ailment, especially among children and especially gluttonous children. It was believed that most bellyaches were the result of overeating, or eating junk food, or eating green fruits with salt and lime and pepper. The solution for a bellyache was one tablespoon of warm water with a few droops of this “Castro” solution. The process was repeated every 2 hours. Please note that Dr. Castro’s solution clearly reads on the label, “For external use only”. My mother was a great exponent of Castro; in fact, as late as last year I got a dose of Castro for some bellyache I had. She said, “It is not only good for children; it is good for old men like you too.”
MORE HOME REMEDIES next week if the author has not been sued for malpractice by a doctor or some parent who tried one of them and it did not work.
Well, no lawsuit yet, and still not in jail
for malpractice. So I have a few more home remedies (medicinas
caseras) that were popular 25 years ago. It is not suppose to
discourage you from going to the doctor, but to give you an
alternative in case no doctor is available or your pocket is
CHEST COLD: A very common ailment of all times,
which our moms used to treat with honey mixed with lime juice. Two
or three spoonfuls every two hours did produce good results by the
end of the first day. Adults, however, had the habit of curing the
chest cold with a straight shot of white rum, or tequila if
available. If that shot did not work, then 3 or 4 shots did, or at
least it made you forget that you had a cold.
ACHE: Now tell me about a very painful ailment and what to do in
the absence of a doctor or any prescribed medication! Well, twenty
five years ago people grew the tobacco plant in their backyards. You
warm one leaf over a fire and squeeze the juice out of the tobacco
leaf. Apply a few drops into the ear, and bingo! Now if there were
no such leaves, then father would be called to make a few puffs of
cigarette smoke directly into the ear and this would sort of ease
the pain to allow some sleep of the
HEADACHES: Tylenol or Advil? Forget it. The
pain killers in those days came from Mexico and was called
“Mejoral”. However, all families had this plant in the backyard near
the wells- “Siempre Viva” (translated literally as Always Alive).
The very fleshy leaf of this plant was kind of smashed and applied
to the forehead with a piece of cloth. It really works wonders.
Another remedy was to use a very sharp thorn known as “cinanche”.
Whenever dad went to the bush up north, he would bring some
“cinanche” for the home. With it one would pierce the forehead, sort
of an acupuncture, and then tie the forehead with some “siempre
viva” or just a wet cloth. According to “las viejas” (the old
ladies) one should never pierce the forehead with a needle because
it is not sterile. The “cinanche” is a thorn.
OR LOOSE BOWELS: Any Pepto-Bismol for the cagalera? Forget it.
But there was one sure good stopper. You boil 2 or 3 small or young
coconuts for a few minutes. You then drink this liquid by spoonfuls
every so often all day long and by evening time you should notice
the slowing down of the flow of the river. Another remedy for the
cagalera was to boil the bark of the sea grape tree and it worked
but not as efficiently as the young coconuts.
I’ll get to your ailment soon. I have some good home remedies in
store for your individual needs, so stay in tune with Twenty Five
Years Ago for some more good home remedies.
If you have not yet tried any of the home remedies discussed so far, chances are you never get sick or you like to run to the doctor as your first recourse. You never try anything at home as a first attempt to alleviate the ailment or perhaps cure what would have proven a simple ailment. However, you can cut these pages and keep them for that emergency. You never know when you will be caught in the middle of the night with no doctor at hand.
COUGHS: There was a very simple remedy for this- Vicks. Vicks has existed for as long as you know yourself. Well, do not worry if the bottle reads “for external use only”. Dip the finder into the pot of Vicks, carry it to the mouth and wash it down with hot milk. Or put some Vicks into your cup of milk, allow it to dissolve and then drink.
Another home remedy is the “cebo”. Everyone in San Pedro knows this stuff. You might know it as this fatty substance, which is actually the product of animal fat, namely beef fat. The “cebo” is formed into small pellets or capsules and drunk with hot milk. In a short moment, your cough will be gone and you will be able to sleep like an angel. (No pun intended)
FEVERS: This is a very common ailment; therefore there are many remedies. Apply a wet or cold cloth on the forehead, neck, armpit and sole of feet. Along with this you can drink some “cebo” pellets, or Vicks with warm milk.
On the herbal side, “las viejas” (the old wise ladies) used the Santa Maria leaves. Nine Santa Maria leaves were applied on the sole of each foot. They absorbed the heat of the body and the fever diminished quite rapidly. On a friendly note, you might want to know the Santa Maria plant (Holy Mary Plant). Go over to doña Marina Graniel, who shared a lot of thoughts with me and verified my notes. She has some Santa Maria plants in her garden.
SAND IN THE EYE: As you can expect living on an island with a lot of sand, you often got sand in the eye, especially on windy days. This remedy works for sand, dust, sawdust, pollen, any small object that irritates the eye. In the backyard of most homes 25 years ago, there was always an “albajaca” plant. There is one at my front garden, right now where you can get some seeds or know the plant.
The plant produces hundreds of small black seeds on the flower stem. One of these seeds inserted into the sick eye would do the trick of removing the irritant overnight. The seed sort of travels under the eyelids and collects all foreign and disturbing particles. Somehow the “albajaca” seed would find its way out and the next morning you will find the seed at the inner corner of the eye. Of course, it would be whitish as it was covered with all the “eye trash” in the eye. The eye would then look cleaner and the annoyance or disturbance would be gone. Sounds incredible? No, I have used the “albajaca” seed many, many times and it never failed anyone that I know of.
MAL DE VISTA: This is not to be confused with “mal de ojo”, which according to superstition was caused by the strong eye of a person. Mal de vista is an eye infection, which causes the eye to be partially closed with pus. Now listen to the cure- breast milk. Yes, breast milk, fresh and warm. Any recent mother who was breast-feeding would do your child the favor if he has “mal de vista.” Ah, one more remedy is “te serenado”. Te is actually tea. Brew some tea by boiling some tea leaves. Leave it outside and overnight in the “sereno” (dew of night) and next morning apply it to the infected eye. That worked quite well also.
Well folks, a lot of home remedies in one issue. Hope you can get to use anyone when there is a need. I hope you adults do not irritate your eyes so as to go for some breast milk treatment. You can actually get some milk in a clean test tube and apply it with an eye-dropper. So long, and enjoy your remedies of 25 years ago.
Lots of young people have expressed interest
in some remedies of 25 years ago. Some seem funny and some seem
unbelievable, thought some methods seem to have logical
explanations. Whether you try them or not, I do want to assure you
that most of them work, if not all. Still some people might also
have different and even more effective methods. Here are the last in
Fogaje: A “fogaje” can be caused by an
infection of the mouth. Sometimes you are brushing your teeth and
you injure the inside of the mouth and a “fogaje” develops. It has
this hurting and annoying feeling which even prevents you from
Well, no more pain; get rid of your “fogaje”.
Boil the small tender leaves of the sea grape tree. Use this
yellowish liquid as a mouthwash. Repeat and gargle for several times
and very soon your fogaje” will be gone, the pain will be gone and
your appetite will come right back. If you swallow some of the sea
grape mouthwash liquid, no problem! I have personally checked all
sea grape trees on the island and none of them said “Poisonous
Materials”. I have also checked the bottle of hydrogen peroxide and
it clearly stated that if swallowed the doctor must be called
immediately. One more thing, do not bottle sea grape mouthwash
liquid. It must be a fresh supply every time.
Sole of Feet: Sometimes you step or jump on a stone while
walking barefooted and you get a hurtful swelling on the sole of
your foot. Even medical doctors have a problem with this one. No
more sweat; check this recipe of 25 years ago. Did I say recipe or
Put black salve ointment, honey, flour,
apasote, albajaca and siempre viva leaves all in one small bowl,
crush and mix well. Then apply over the injured area, which we all
call in Spanish “un Mayugon” or “an hinchazon”. This mixture surely
heals the swelling and pain. If you want any of these herbs, check
with dona Marina Graniel, who is my herbalist
Surface Tumors: These develop at the armpit,
the arm or at times at the neck. The cure is to let it open a
“mouth” for the pus to leak out. Twenty five years ago, this black
salve ointment did the job. It quickened the opening of the “mouth”
and thus the healing process.
Flojo: (laziness) Now
this was and still is a very strange ailment that affected the lower
part of the leg. The leg got swollen and extremely red. The leg got
lazy and it was very painful to move it. The same mixture as the
above for the swelling of the sole of the foot was an excellent
Worms: Now, who isn’t infected with these worms
in the stomach? Watch the size of your belly. If not pregnant, it is
probably worms. Kill them and expel them. The method - drink “purga”
or that horrible castor oil. It is not the most pleasant tasting
medicine, but if you hold your nose and shove the spoon way into the
mouth, you can usually swallow it. In two or three hours you will
start going to the bathroom and every time you do so, you will be
passing out dead worms that were once living in your intestine. You
will go to the bathroom some ten times that first day, so while you
are parading to the bathroom, be sure to replace your liquids by
drinking Gatorade, juices, and chicken soup. I never enjoyed the
castor oil, nor going to the bathroom so frequently, but I did enjoy
the chicken soup, bearing in mind that we used to eat chicken five
or six times for the year.
That’s it, folks. If anybody calls
in for any special home remedies, be sure to get them for next week.
Until then, pleasant reading and enjoy the breast milk treat and the
chicken soup treat as well.
A new friend of mine living in the United States mentioned the other day on an email the treatment for a sea urchin sting and I recalled a few more home remedies that I had denied you. I will not charge any special royalties or late fees, but here they are just in case you are in a situation where you do not have the modern medication and you need the home remedies of twenty-five years ago.
SEA URCHIN STING: Whenever you were diving by the reef, you were bound to be stung by a sea urchin for these animals abound by the reef. When you step on a sea urchin, it breaks several of its bristles into your skin. This is really, and I mean really, painful. The quickest and only remedy we knew 25 years ago was to apply urine to the injured area, usually the feet. But they could hurt you on your knee or even your butt if you sit on them. And how do you apply urine to it? Well, you simply urinate on it. Some boys got a kick out of this process- urinating on a friend. I never saw a girl urinating on a sea urchin sting, but I imagine they did it too, after all their urine has the same medical ingredients.
MOSQUITO BITE: Oh yes these do hurt just as much as they do today except that back then there were more mosquitoes and less repellents. If one did not have any alcohol to apply to the area of bite, then a bit of spit did calm the stinging sensation.
WASP OR BEE STING: These little insects were really dreadful little animals. With no doctor on the island, we really feared them because we thought that they could kill you. For this the all-purpose medication was used and that was Vicks.
COUGHS: When one’s cough was really bad people used to say that you had “tos de perro”, or that you coughed like a dog. I’ve got the best thing for that. You make a cup of milk by dissolving some powdered milk in a cup of water. Then you heat the milk over the stove. Add one teaspoon of Vicks into the milk and let it dissolve. Now drink the hot mild with the Vicks and it is a thing of the past. I do want to remind you that the little bottle of Vicks clearly reads: “For External Use Only”.
POISON WOOD: There are several kinds of this around the world. There is the dreaded poison ivy which is a vine. Here in San Pedro we have a poison wood known locally as “Chechem”. Sorry, but you can go to 100 hundred doctors and they will never cure your chechem. I have been to many doctors because I am terribly allergic to chechem and they have all failed. To cure it I use what I used 25 years ago and that is to take a bath with another leaf bath. Boil the leaves of a plant known locally as “hooloop” and wash the body with the water. After one day you will see the improvement. After three days you are totally healed. Hoolooop is no superstition. It is real. You can get it at many places on the island and I believe everyone should have one in his backyard.
DANDRUFF: Dandruff was as common back then as it is today, if not worse. Back then there were no shampoos. People simply used soap. There were no special shampoos to prevent the dandruff either. There was a special comb, a fine-toothed comb that was used to remove the dandruff. Your mom would have to sit there for an hour or so passing that comb through your hair until all the dandruff was removed. This process was repeated every two days for up to a month. If it did not cure it, at least it removed the excess dandruff. But hey, there was a sure medication- kerosene. I know this might sound dangerous or cruel, but I guess everything is valid when there is a need. They say that in the game of love, everything is valid.
HEAD LICE: Do you like these little beasts? If you had them, nobody liked you. Nobody would even want to sit near you at school. Some boys left their girlfriends because they had too much head lice. Can you imagine you having all your wedding gear and your fiancé leaving you because of head lice? Well, no need to worry for I have the perfect remedy and cure. Bathe your head with the magical kerosene. No do not light a match nor lighter near your head. Simply rub the kerosene oil over your scalp and sooner than later, it will kill these little insects before it kills you. The extreme remedy that one or two parents took was to shave the child’s head. (girl or boy) Wouldn’t be too bad today when it is a fashion to shave one’s head, but many years ago in San Pedro, that was considered an atrocious thing to do, but if that got rid of the pediculosis capitis, well so be it. This awful name, pediculosis capitis, is the awful scientific name for this awful pest, the head lice. So now let’s move on to the first best method to remove all head lice- ‘marfil ‘or a head lice comb. It is a very finely tooted comb that was used to rake the head/hair to remove them one by one or three by three depending on the intensity of the infection. This process was not painful, but after a while it was and it was long and tedious. I caught it at least once and I remember crying as my sister Annie Eiley combed my head with the marfil. “Angel, you better get rid of these animals or else, nobody will want to sit beside you at school,” my sister suggested to scare me.
A lot of parents used the extermination method, more or less as we would use an insecticide to get rid of all kinds of insects, mosquitoes, flies, roaches etc. Therefore they would rub the head with kerosene, yes kerosene, until it was fully moist. Not oblivious of the fact that kerosene was sort of a harmful chemical, some parents opted to use Dettol, a brand name of a disinfectant. Dettol was used to disinfect hospitals and homes, the floors and walls of bathrooms as well as the basins and toilet bowls. Imagine walking about with smell of Dettol coming from your head.
LARGE WOUND: Whenever we get a large wound like a gash with a sharp conch shell, or a deep cut with a sharp knife or machete, if there is severe bleeding apply direct pressure or tourniquet but that is because we have some knowledge of First Aid. Not so Years Ago in San Pedro. To stop a profuse bleeding we used to apply kerosene (some people call it gas) directly on the wound. This would start coagulating the blood and the bleeding would immediately commence to slow down.
Another thing that would help in stopping a severe bleeding was coffee. Yes simply apply some granules of coffee directly on the wound and stuff some into the cut. Like good caulking preventing any leakage, this coffee serves like a caulk and stops the bleeding considerably fast.
PAIN: Now the injury you got earlier in the day is beginning to cause quite some pain. So what do you do? You immediately go to the doctor and an injection of some pain killer (analgesic) will have you smiling again shortly. Not so Years Ago in San Pedro. What we did was try to catch a scorpion in the debris in the yard. Fry the scorpion and smash it to a fine paste. Apply this paste like an ointment directly on the wound that is causing the pain, and in minutes the pain diminishes and vanishes. Magic? No, but it works; my dad applied it several times on my adventurous feet that loved to be meander about in the bush, the seaside, the garbage dump site, and other “child attractive places”.
TONSILS: Without a doubt today you get a shot plus a four day dose of some medication. Years Ago your mom would take a chicken feather, peel it off except fore the very tip, dip it into some iodine (three types- purple, red and clear) , and proceed to paint your tonsils as far into the mouth as the feather would reach. Because iodine is intended for external use only, people were told not to swallow for some five minutes until the iodine had dried. And Bingo! By the next day the swollen and aching tonsils would show great improvement. You might ask, why use a feather tip? Simple- because there were not fine factory-made Q-tips back then. Some people also took a tooth pick and rolled some cotton on the tip to make a nice swab.
PASMO: This is a dangerous ailment. Once a person had ‘pasmo’, there was no known doctor to cure it, and people died of ‘pasmo’ due to ignorance of the home remedy and cure for it. ‘Pasmo’ meant that the blood coagulates and clot or is too thick for circulation. The fever is high and the temperature just won’t decrease. Two or three persons on the island knew how to handle a pasmo. They used a bush thorn and pricked your vein at the joint between the upper and lower arm. Once the thick blood would be extracted, they found out what material would dilute it and whatever did so, you were required to take a few doses of that same ‘stuff”. Some known things that did the trick were ashes, urine, limestone, lemon juice, or a mixture of two such items.
HIGH FEVER: Of course we all know of the cold towel compresses applied on the forehead, neck and armpits. However at times this did not work so plan B was to use the method called Estomaticon. A fresh chicken egg is rubbed all over the stomach, the palm and the sole. After a few minutes, the egg is cracked and one would notice that it has been partially cooked. This is a sign that it worked and the fever is already leaving the body.
Finally let’s cure the TUCH, or the navel scar on the baby after the umbilical cord is cut. I am not sure how the nurses deal with this when the baby is in the hospital but all the midwives who delivered babies and several older ladies had the expertise for this. It consisted of a balm- an ointment made using ruda leaves and an oil, aceite de copaiba,” which is an oil that is derived from an oily wood. The ointment is heated and placed over the navel and then tied firmly with a piece of cloth. If not cured properly the navel would heal but it would bulge.
And there you have it folks, a few more remedies that served us well 25 years ago and I am sure it can serve you if you by any chance do not have the modern medications, and trust me, for some of these, there is no modern medication? By the way, is there a modern medication for head lice? What did you use the last time when YOU HAD LICE? DID YOU HAVE LICE?