Friday, February 8, 2008

Russian Folk Medicine

Well. It seems I've caught the bug. Feeling sick too? Not to worry! Here are some Russian folk remedies that might do the trick.

Have cold and flu-like symptoms? You should get some горчичники. Горчичники are mustard plasters (also known as sinapisms) made of dry mustard powder, flour, water or egg whites. They're said to stimulate the immune system, relieve pain, and also have an anti-inflammatory effect. They're often used to treat the common cold, runny nose, rheumatism, and respiratory problems. Usually this mixture is spread onto a cloth and applied onto the back or the chest. Make sure the mustard paste doesn't make contact with the skin. This leads to burning, blisters, ulcers, and even dead tissue. Other side effects include sneezing, coughing, asthma attacks, eye irritation, stomach problems and kidney irritation. Горчичники shouldn't be used on on children under the age of 6.

Don't think горчичники will do the trick? Maybe you should try fire cupping. First, you'll need to acquire банки (little glass jars that are usually applied to the back). Light a match inside the jar to create a vacuum and place it flush against the skin. As the air cools in the cup, the vacuum pulls up on the skin, stimulating the acupressure effect. Fire cupping is originally a Chinese tradition and has also been found, in varying forms not only in Russia but in Vietnam, the Balkans, modern Greece, Mexico, and even Iran. According to the American Cancer Society, this technique is ineffective. It leaves temporary spots on the skin (like in the picture) and poses a small risk of burns. Reports from its supporters say that fire cupping gives a lasting feeling of relaxation and invigoration.

Think you have a cold? Stay as warm and dry as possible. Try only drinking hot drinks like teas and be sure to avoid cold beverages! Although this is concept is not unique to Russia, Russians tend to be more adamant about it than most Westerners. It's also widely believed that sitting on cold surfaces is extremely hazardous to a woman's health and inhibits her ability to bear children (by somehow exposing her ovaries to the cold).

Although Westerners might be wary of these folk treatments, the last may not be completely unfounded. Some existing research shows that mild hypothermia inhibits the immune response. Keeping warm actually helps your body's defense against infection, which is why you'll sometimes get a fever when you're sick. A slight increase in body temperature makes it harder for bacteria and viruses to survive.

So, you may not be inspired to run out and get горчичники or банки, but it might actually be wise to stay warm in your time of illness. I'm clearly not a medical professional, but drinking hot tea, eating soup, and snuggling up with a blanket seems a lot less hazardous than the other alternatives. You can try those at your own risk.....

If none of these treatments float your boat, check out this website:

Hope you find a cure to whatever ails you!


hchapman said...

I love fire cupping. It may look scary, but it is almost as good as a massage. No offense to the American Cancer Society, but it can personally attest that it really does work. Huzzah to alternative medicine! :)

Dr. Michael A. Denner said...

if it doesn't come from a factory in germany, it's not medicine...

russians are ALWAYS trying to stick those darn plasters on me, or getting me to drink crazy vodka drinks made from mountain grasses... blech. i'll stick with western science, thank you.

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