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Homegrown Food Remedies: Another Reason to Love Big Pharma

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I am suspicious of at-home remedies. I don't believe in a cure until a stranger in a white coat feels up my glands and then prescribes it to me, in the form of an innocuous-looking pill, a potentially addicting spray or a vile-tasting serum. I believe in pumping my body full of medicine and foreign agents and using my health insurance for all it's worth, and I only wish that were a euphemism.

Even though I know that my penchant for medicinal cocktails will probably send my cells into a frenzy that will result in an unparalleled form of aggressive cancer, I just can't get on the bandwagon for many at-home food remedies. The only ones I believe in are sucking on limes for scurvy and shoveling ice cream for sadness.

And what do I know? Journalism school is a far way off from med school. Maybe all of these food-related remedies are completely valid. But research says no: Keep your food in your pantry and out of your open wounds.

Salt-in-the-Socks Yesterday, my friend's leg seized up with a painful cramp. After he extended his leg and stretched his toes toward his knee, the cramp subsided. Unsatisfied, my friend took to webmd.com and decided that he is unlike every other human being on the planet who is plagued by Charlie horses. This was not a cramp. This was obviously a blood clot. In the interest of avoiding certain death, my friend has not slept since his self-diagnosis.

A better alternative, says the Internet, is dumping Morton salt in his socks before going to bed. Supposedly, his skin will suck up the salt, and the "minerals" will alleviate any further cramps. No word on how feet normally don't absorb large solids (remember those Kinoki detox foot pads that insisted that people are trees and feet are roots?). Or how waking up coated in a sludge of salty foot-sweat would probably just make my friend tenser. I assume this is from the same school of thinking that suggests sleeping with a bar of soap to avoid muscle pain.

Packets of Mustard I've heard mothers and other bearers of strange advice suggest swallowing a teaspoon of yellow mustard to cure leg cramps. I can't tell if this is because a secret, magical compound exists in mustard that relaxes muscles and also grants wishes, or was actually a joke by an exasperated housewife.

I do remember hearing a program on NPR's People's Pharmacy in which a marathon runner called in and said every time he had cramps while running, he sucked down two or three packets of mustard. If mustard helps with leg cramps, then what helps with the violent vomiting that comes from eating mustard while running a marathon?

Honey Could be the chemical-junkie in me, but I'd rather jam a vial of Nasonex in my nose than swallow tablespoons of honey for allergies. This is because I'd rather have my allergy symptoms subside than choke to death on honey.

A friend told me that allergies are actually caused by parasites that gnaw on your immune system until you take antibiotics from Russia to flush them out. I wish this were true, because then scientists could have found the parasites, cataloged them and found a way to prevent them. I imagine scientists going around the world feeding people anti-parasite medication wrapped in strips of Kraft singles, the way I do with my dog and her heartworm medication.

Alas, that theory makes zero sense. Honey does nothing to cure allergies. Neither do Russian parasite-cleansing regimens or Kraft singles. But buy the honey, anyway, and support local farmers.

Black Pepper When I took an Indian cooking class last fall, a classmate told me that black pepper and turmeric cured cancer because "black pepper stops tumors from swelling." I am suspicious for two reasons: 1) I can't believe curing cancer is that simple. I can't imagine a scientist jovially elbowing another scientist and exclaiming, "Chemotherapy, all that testing...Who knew the answer was in front of us the whole time?" and 2) Swelling? I don't think cancer even works that way.

Besides cancer, I've heard about people who sprinkle black pepper in their wounds to help healing. There are people who sustain moderate injuries, clean the wound under a tap, and then dump black pepper in it.

Listen, a cut is not a scrambled egg or a Caesar salad. Peppering the area with a foreign contaminant seems dangerous and supremely unsanitary. What, is Neosporin too expensive? What happened to gauze? Or consulting a doctor? Or using your brain? What do you use if the pepper is ineffective, leeches?

Butter If there is still a person out there who applies butter to burns, they probably also apply raw steaks to their black eyes.

This person spreads butter on a burn to create a greasy, supposedly soothing balm to the affected area. In reality, there is no cooling or soothing agent in butter, because it is butter. Beyond that, applying it to a wound is an open invitation for infection. Don't take a chance and make yourself vulnerable to those alleged Russian allergy parasites.

Immediately after a burn, the area should be cooled, cleaned and dressed (or so I've heard from those fondling strangers in white coats). Not treated like a bagel. And, for heaven's sake, skip the black pepper.

Follow City of Ate on Twitter: @cityofate.

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