Remedios (a guest post)

Mi gran amigo, Joe Ray, is back with another entertaining guest post. (You may remember his first guest post here on, “Spanglish…El bad boy de linguistics“.)

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

El Remediosphere®
by Joe Ray

My mother was raised on a rancho in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. When you got sick, you had remedies that worked for everyone, you went to a sobadora or a curandera. And if things were really bad, you were taken into town.

This is old school. No pinche WebMD for research. If you wanted to know something, you asked your comadre about it. You were part of the Collective Comadre Network.

One common herbal remedio is yerba buena. Yerba buena’s great stuff, it’s used for everything from stomach ailments or flavoring mojitos. My mom also kept around a glass jar filled with rubbing alcohol that contained marijuana, which she would rub on her varicose veins. Aloe vera was always around as well.

Having asthma as a kid, my mom would rub Vicks (AKA vaporu, vivaporu, or el veex) all over my chest, usually along with other very nasty smelling herbs/weeds. Not yerba buena but my guess is that it was probably more along the lines of yerba mierda. After rubbing it on my chest, she’d make me put on a heating pad over my shirt and blanket. I can’t stand Vicks. I knew some kids ate the stuff. I like the smell of eucalyptus, which she would also boil leaves into a tea but I still find Vicks to be quite repulsive.

Growing up in Arizona, we were only 2 hours from the Mexican border, so we would go visit family, shop and so forth. I recall going to a yerberia for dried rattlesnake strips to eat daily in order to cure my asthma. Never having seen a snake cough, this made perfect sense to me. The meat tasted okay (like jerky), but didn’t really cure me.

Prior to that trip, Doña Yoya in San Luis once gave me a little black bunny. I think the rabbit was supposed to absorb the asthma and I’d be cured. She lived a couple of houses away from my aunt and was a curandera who had a bunch of animals. Anyway, that didn’t work. This rabbit was the first pet I ever had. The rabbit proved to be quite the trouble maker, and eventually we ate it

I also remember one family friend using bleach for everything from ant bites to other skin ailments. That always had a nasty smell to the rub. Every once in a while I smell bleach and think of that. But it still doesn’t repel me the way Vicks does.

I went online the other day and asked friends a little about what type of remedios they remember from their childhoods.

Here’s a small sampling of what I heard back:

Suzi: We all know what cures-VICKS and 7-UP!

Veronica: I thought all cures came from a lil shot of tequila

Tony: Lemon honey and tequila for coughs-Mexican Nyquil. Olive and castor oil after a hot bath in the winter.
Note- Tony also remembers his father using the pot in the alcohol for arthritis.

Celeste: Vaporu. That with some salpicot y una limpia con huevo and whatever weeds grew in the backyard. Santo remedio! Anything that was sting related had saliva in it: aver que te pongo ajo, con un poco de saliva.

Gennaro: Mi madre used to pull the skin on our back really hard to cure empacho, until today I don’t know wtf that was about.

Lonnie: Mentholatum smeared under the nose. My suegra would shove it up her nose. I think she used a couple of tablespoons.


Culturally, we have a lot of herbs, beliefs and rituals that we relate to. These range from lighting candles, to a limpia con huevo (go ask about that one), to rhymes. Think of that little kiddie healing rhyme:

“sana, sana,
colita de rana…”

Before the internet, before WebMD, there was the Collective Comadre Network, which will always be around. Many of us continue these healing traditions. They are part of who we are and where we come from. It’s all part of the Remediosphere®. What are some of the remedios you remember?

Author Bio: Joe Ray is a Latino painter and printmaker living in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as Creative Director and President of Estudio Ray, a visual branding/marketing agency in Phoenix.


  1. Well, I grew up in an Anglo household, so the whole “remedios” thing was not as prevalent. My mother relied on doctors and antibiotics for the most part. (Of course, now that we know antibiotics were pushed too often back then, now resulting in lower natural resistance and stronger mutated germs, I think some Vaporub and marijuana rubbed on my chest might have been nice. LOL.)

    That being said, my Mom knew how to handle common colds and stomach bugs without the doctor. Homemade chicken soup was always a staple for colds, saltine crackers and Ginger Ale for upset tummmies, but sore throats were the best because she would buy us “Italian ices” (a form of popsicles), which is something I do for my children. My Suegra finds this to be completely irresponsible parenting as most Latinos I’ve met have a superstition regarding eating cold foods when sick.

    Another remedio I was fond of was “cola syrup”. I’ve always gotten nauseous easily and car trips almost always resulted in me tossing my cookies. My Mom sometimes gave me “cola syrup”, which was much more pleasant than Dramamine.

    My husband and I have been married for more than 10 years now, so I’ve gotten to see plenty of the Latin American remedios you remember. Suegra is always cooking up home remedies for everything imaginable. The other week she stained her legs all up rubbing the leaves of a tomato plant on them to cure these little white spots she has. Also, my husband and Suegra are big fans of the 7-up and Suegra sticks that vapu thingy up her nose. My husband makes me honey lemon tea when I’m sick, (which helps for a little while.)

    The funniest one I remember is my husband told me on his way to the United States, a lot of people had bottles of Pepto Bismal. They sipped on it “to calm their nerves”. Someone asked my husband if he was worried. He said that he was and he was offered a swig of Pepto.

  2. This post takes me back. My mom loves yerba buena and even grows it herself. Although, now I’ve got her grown tomatoes and bell peppers but that’s a different story.

    Anyways, for colds she would make up some Aguapanela. Panela also known as: piloncillo, un-refined sugar cane juice. Great Article here:

    A little lemon in the aguapanela and it is good to go. It is also good cold and refreshing, like iced tea.

    I believe the Vics bottle says right on it to not stick it in your nose or even right below it but it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares about it and does it anyway. I remember going to bed with the stuff smeared all over my chest.


    • @ Luis – We’ve got yerba buena in our yard, too. I love that plant because no matter how neglectful I am it not only survives but thrives, and it smells so good and looks so pretty… I boiled a pot of it yesterday for a cough I can’t get rid of.

  3. My husband taught me one when our son was about two….our dog had kind of bit Joaquin’s ear…it looked torn and like it might need stitches. But my husband cracked open an egg, pulled a piece of that little skin on the inside of the shell off, and stuck it over the cut. It worked just like that liquid glue the doctors use, and it healed his ear right up. I still remember trying to keep it dry while giving him a bath….he held his little hand up over his ear and said, “Watch out for my egg ear, Mom.”

    • @ Susan – “egg ear”! I love it. So cute, and that is just awesome. That is a remedio I’ve never seen/heard of before.

  4. Great responses and memories. I’ve seen many people chugging or sipping el Pepto to calm their nerves.

    I like the huevo ear story. sounds like it worked great. I know that eggs have also been used to cure el mal ojo with a cleansing. I always heard it had to be a freshly laid egg though.

    Great feedback!

    • @ Joe – I’ve also heard the same about using eggs to cure mal de ojo, (“evil eye”). I don’t know about whether it must be a freshly laid egg or not, but I’ve heard that the egg is passed over the person’s body and broken into a drinking glass. It’s then set under the bed for the night.

      I hope others will comment with some more. Great topic!

  5. That post was like a piece of my childhood! Even today my abuelitos will give you a 7-up to cure anything, or will make a pretty gross tea out of tons of herbs they grow. My favorite remedio has to be the the newspaper ear candle though! That thing was supposed to take out anything bad you had in you. I was always scared when they would lit it up but the flame would go off right before reaching the ear. I don’t think it ever worked on me but it’s was pretty magical!

  6. Wow, awesome post. Vivaporu was a big part of my childhood. My SIL rubs it on my kids’ feet right before they go to bed–then their feet aren’t allowed to touch the floor again. Aceite de bacalao was good for preventing just about anything. I’ve been on three different antibiotics this summer for strep throat, but my aunt claims all I need is a q-tip and some peroxide, and iodine painted outside my throat. And finally, I used to have to drink agua de arroz (just starchy water in which rice had been soaked, with a little sugar and cinnamon added) instead of pedialyte if I was having stomach troubles. I tried that with my kids once and it freaked my American husband the hell out.

    • @ Keen – My husband gargles with hydrogen peroxide and equal parts water daily and he gets sick a lot less often than me and the kids. Sometimes when I have a sore throat coming on he begs me to gargle with it. If I give into him and do it early enough, it usually nips it in the bud.

  7. Love it!!! My family being from the south part of Mexico, Veracruz, knows every remedio in the book. That’s what happens when you live so close to brujo central in Catemaco. I still believe in mal de ojo, the person has to touch you in order for you not to get sick. And I still get a limpia with the huevo doused in alcohol every now and then, it just comes with the territory. But once you decifer it’s meaning in the glass of water, we toss it.

    • @ Celeste – I have a Pakistani-American friend who believes in “mal de ojo”, (except it’s called by a different name.) She was very nervous about it when she had her baby earlier this year. I’ve been surprised to find how many of their folk beliefs and remedies are similar to that of Latin America.

      When my babies were born, they were given special red bracelets, (I think the beads were actually some sort of seed). I didn’t know at the time that they were for protection and rarely let the babies wear them for fear they’d rip them off and choke on them.

  8. vix, 7 up and lemon honey tea! My mom has memories of oatmeal baths and being covered in tomatoes. All of my families homes have aloe vera plants too. My abuela actually knows all about plants and provides legitimate cures with them but the aforementioned three things were the most common responses we got growing up.

    • @ Grace – Yes, many of the remedies are legit! … I also got oatmeal baths – especially for poison ivy. Really used to help dry out the rash and make it less itchy :)

  9. …for us it was about the manzanilla…accompanied with a sobadita….and the most curing words of all…”hay mijita”…I till to this day find manzanilla one of the most comforting soothing things in this world! who cares if it has any actual curing effects the sweet voice of my mother and grandmother made it all go away…

  10. Excellent post, Joe! I spent almost every summer in San Luis, Sonora. On the way back to the U.S., my grandmother would stock up on every medicine known to man, including dried rattlesnake. The pharmacist swore to my grandmother that if I ground it up and ate a teaspoon a day, my acne would be cured. (Didn’t help!)

    Then of course there is Vaporub. My grandmother used to put it on my back and chest whenever I got sick. I didn’t learn about the vaporub on the feet trick until I moved to Mexico. I don’t know why that works, but it does! LOL! But that’s not all vaporub is good for. It also helps take the sting away after bee stings and mosquito bites. And my sister-in-law swears that the best diaper rash ointment is a little vaporub with a generous sprinkling of unflavored Maizena!

    One of my grandparents’ favorite remedios was Aceite de Oliva. Gramm would heat a little in a spoon over the stove, then carefully pour it into my ear. Then she’d stuff a huge amount of cotton in my ear to make sure the aceite stayed in place! And my grandpa loved to rub olive oil under and inside his nose when he had a cold. He said it helped clear his sinuses.

    The most memorable of my grandpa’s remedios has to be a mixture of vino tinto, lemon juice, crushed garlic and honey. He prepared it every time I had bronchitis. (Which was pretty often!) I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so nasty! It was so bad I began calling Pappy’s remedio, Veneno!

    I could go on and on about all of the remedios. Not only the ones I grew up with, but the ones that my hubby’s family practices here in Jalisco.

    I’ll close this very long comment with my favorite of my grandparents’ remedios. It didn’t matter what was wrong with anyone, a person could have had a cold, the flu or just a headache. My grandparents would always offer food, then insist that whatever was ailing the person, “Es de hambre. Comete un taquito y ya veras que te vas a sentir mejor.”

  11. My Grandpa and my Dad would light a cigarette when we kids had earaches and blow the smoke in our ear. I don’t know if that was the magic, or if it was sitting on their laps in their special recliners, all cuddled and loved on, but it DID work. Vicks was a staple in our house, oh absolutely, it doesn’t repel me at all, I think it’s got mystery powers. My husband taught me to gargle with a mixture of salt, baking soda and water for an upset stomach (a gentle way of saying hangover) to — er — rid myself of the toxins. Heh heh. And he makes the most wickedly perfect Hot Toddy for flu/sore throats — tea, whiskey, honey, lemon. NO sipping it, either, drink it down and get that hotness working inside. Most of all, though, when I’m sick, I just want my mommy, true story — her hand on my forehead checking my temp, her voice, her eyes, her presence.

    Great article, Joester … I was smart and remembered to put my tea down and swallow what was in my mouth before I commenced to reading, anticipating (& rewarded with) the usual and total overtaking of laughter! Clap clap!

  12. Great input and memories! About 15 years ago when I discovered Chinese Herbal Medicine, I was going to a guy who practiced it along with acupuncture and would bring my mother along when she would spend time with me here in Phoenix. We both felt very much at home with the odd stuff in the big jars. Although I’m curious as to what the salamanders (dried) were for. Anyway, she jokingly began telling friends that I had become a brujo. I had images of me wearing a large blue pointy wizard’s hat like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

  13. Mansanilla!
    I still can’t smell chamomile tea without feeling sick.

    My grandma always used to check my stomach to see if I was “empachada.” I guess it meant “backed up.” And I got the most awful rubs on the belly. Oy.

    Vicks all over the place here too.
    I think Vicks should be the official sponsor of all Latino Blogs.


    • @ Carrie – I like chamomile tea when I’m sick. I think the variety of the brand my Mom uses is officially called “Sleepy Time” LOL.

      I’ve seen my Suegra press on the kids tummies like that, too.

      (And Vicks should really capitalize on their following, right? Come on marketing people! We want funny commercials on the Spanish language channels!)

  14. Oh My! There was a lot of Vick around the house but my favorite was the delicious “ponche” for when we had fever or cold I think. It was made out of Milk, raw eggs and sometimes it had Rum! It was all mixed and served warm like an egg nog. To me it felt like a treat, I don’t know how that cures but I felt like it did!

  15. OMG! This was absolutely hysterical! WOW, brings back so many memories. My grandma (God rest her soul) did it ALL! Sobadas de empacho, yerba buena, manzanilla, alcohol con marijuana, eggs to cure mal de ojo. Awww I mss her so much. We NEVER went to see the doctor when we were sick. Great post! I love it and may have to post something similar about my childhood remedies ;)

    • thanks for the comments! Glad you enjoy reading this. You’re right, it takes many of us back to our childhoods where we were at the mercy of whatever bad smelling concoctions our mothers would smear on our chest, neck and faces.

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