Toothpaste, sage, thyme come to the sick’s rescue

As I gulp down whatever green, weird-looking drink my mother handed me, I would say, “It stings and makes me want to throw up.” Her reply would be, “Good. It means it’s working.”

While this may seem like a conversation no two sane people should have, its philosophy is the root of all home-remedy-based medicine in Jordan.

If it hurts, or if it tastes weird, then it’s taking effect. If you like it, then we must be doing something wrong.

My family – and many families in the Middle East – trust in and rely on old traditional recipes and ingredients to cure common illnesses, like a cold or a stomachache.

That is not to say that we rely solely on them. We – in Jordan at least – have an excellent health system that is more than sufficient in curing our sickness and disease. And while it’s quick and easy to pay a visit to the doctor, the practice comes second to trying old wisdom transferred through generations.

Some of the cures are founded, of course, in the medical field, too. But before making that trip to the pharmacy, we stop by the fridge or the herb cabinet first.

For example, you don’t need a doctor to tell you that if you’re having problems in digestion and are spending a little too much time in the rest room, you need to eat more fiber. That is, green and leafy vegetables. A piece of information my grandmother passed to my mother many years ago.

Being the self-inflecting danger that I am, I was bound, and continue to have a few mishaps here and there as I go about my daily chores. These incidents mostly take place in the most dangerous place you could place me in – the kitchen.

One of these little incidents is a recurring one: a burnt hand. Whether it’s touching a hot tea pot or accidentally brushing against a hot pan, I know only one product to ease my pain. Tooth paste. I’m sure it contains an ingredient commonly used to treat burns, but we all know that’s not its primary function.

Another “healing substance” I guarantee is present in every Middle Eastern kitchen is the most powerful of them all: sage.

Never have I laid my hands on an ibuprofen or an Advil painkiller before – or after – boiling a few sage stems and drinking the hot water to rid myself of a stomachache. I used to hate its smell when my mother used to make it for me when I was younger, but as I grew older, I can’t think of a tastier component to add to my tea.

The herb grew on me.

Sure, explaining why I have it to the TSA officer at the airport gets a little awkward, but no friendly officer will stop me from bringing that sacred herb with me here – I hope.

Other gems transferred through generations suggest using thyme, anise or honey to cure problems with lung and throat; i.e. the common flu. We also use castor oils to heal scabs, and – weirdly enough – to grow hair, too.

Alternative medicine is a science of its own, I’m sure, and I could write a book about my mother, the family’s doctor. But if the medicine she describes doesn’t do the trick – or if it tastes good – then know that I’m on my way to the real doctor with the medical degree.



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