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The Old 'Cures Book'- It Is Dumb

My dad inherited a passel of old books from a roommate that passed away months ago, and so he came around my house to let me pick some out.

I literally got this book out of the trunk of someone's car, people.

Now, some of these books were impressive. I appreciated the old cookbooks, especially the ones that were church or PTA fundraising books, where a bunch of women slapped together recipes that they used regularly in cheaply-bound books in order to raise money for a cause. I loved the history-making old cookbooks, like Fannie Farmer's book from the 1800's and the charming cookbook from the 1950's. I need to do a separate post on cookbooks. They are like stepping into a time machine.

But the book that I am writing about today is about home remedies.

The top banner says 'A Jerry Baker Health Book,' and that piqued my curiosity. A quick google search reveals that Jerry Baker was a busy, busy man until his death in 2017, and that his website is still flogging entirely too many titles on health, the joys of vinegar, and gardening. Oh my gosh, people, he wrote screenplays and started an MLM. His first book was called 'Plants Are Like People.' I mean, it was 1972, but still, this raises many, many questions.

His Wikipedia page was written by a fanboy who got all his information from the Jerry Baker website. However, the page does not list the book I got, 'Oddball Ointments, Powerful Potions, & Fabulous Folk Remedies That'll Cure Almost Anything That Ails Ya!'

I did not make up that title. I couldn't do an imitation of old-timey snake oil salesman that well.

Anyway, the book may not be listed on the Wikipedia page (though it did crop up in the google search for shopping results) because the listed author is a woman named Jean Karen Thomas. I shall refrain from Karen jokes, mostly because they are dumb and I am bad at jokes. She compiled over a thousand remedies and then categorized them by disease. Well, they are more like conditions- we'll get to that.


This is an older book, so it isn't going to be up-to-date. Although it feels weird to say that something written in 2004 is older. It's 17, a year older than my moggy kitten, but the kitten is whip-smart and avant-garde, unlike this book.

I will say that organizing remedies by condition makes sense. People would normally pick this book up to deal with a particular problem, and knowing the chapter to go to saves time. Other people are crazy, like me, and read the whole thing in a night and spend the rest of the time grumbling about it.

I did appreciate her section on painful intercourse. It was nice to have it acknowledged that it exists, is common, and deserves some discussion. It's good to at least approach it.

Her prologue is all about how her grandmother used 'Native American' cures and shared this special bond with the local pharmacist who also used them. This is the classic personal story to make a subject interesting, and I don't begrudge her it. But it is a little misleading, since the 'Native American' cures are rare footnotes in a book otherwise full of conventional advice and 'alternatives' common to the era.


So, she was a totally healthy child and adult, but she has asthma. Huh. When did this asthma kick in? Also, her contention that she rarely went to the hospital until college was supposed to suggest that her grandma's remedies were keeping her healthy, but if she needed those remedies as a child, she was sick, right? She needed the remedies to treat her when she got sick. Unless we're talking about stuffing a perfectly healthy person with a bunch of supplements to treat non-issues.

Or, possibly, she had a mild case of asthma as a kid that needed little medical intervention and then it got worse as she got older because her grandmother's remedies didn't do anything to cure her.

Lumping It All Together

This woman quotes Gary Null and the Mayo Clinic as equally valid sources. One of these sources is an antivaxxer famous for flogging bad medical advice and one of them is a respected medical institution. These are not the same thing.

It honestly goes to the 'content provider' nature of this book. A woman who is proud of her lack of medical expertise has spent some time collecting bites of ideas and information from wherever she could get them and doesn't have any way of telling if something is true or not because her field of expertise is English Lit.

In fairness, this was kind of a deliberate choice in some ways. She did say in the prologue that she was going to include folk remedies with the tested stuff and she will cite studies when it is convenient for her. My gripe here is that she will site authorities who can back their stuff up as well as 'authorities' who can't interchangeably with little sign that she has actually evaluated the information she received. It's all just here! Judge for yourself- the author is too lazy to bother.

What's really suspicious is the way she will cite 'some doctors' or 'some authorities' when it suits her. What doctors, Ms. Thomas? What authorities? Me thinks someone is citing her faulty memory.

How 'Native' Are These 'Native Natural Remedies?'

She doesn't name tribes. She will just launch into sections with phrases such as 'Some Native Americans traditions call for...' I have questions: which tribes used these? And did they really? Really, really? How does she know? In her bad breath chapter, she says that 'Native traditions' call for spearmint leaves as a digestive aid and breath freshener. I suppose they might have, but mint was native to Europe and mentioned by Pliny the Elder. According to Spiceography, it came to America with the colonists. I guess it could count if the Iroquois adopted it when the darn weed took over every garden within a fifty mile radius of the newcomers.

(Her recommendation for chickweed for pain came in this form. The only clinical study on chickweed on NCBI is for anti-septic properties. In fairness, she did say that all the folk remedies were not from studies.)

Why Is This Here?

And now we have the section on chapters that don't need to exist. There is a chapter on coping with your midlife crises, which does not strike me as medical complaint so much as a result of our society's weird obsession with youth. Menopause and hot flashes are in separate chapters, even though they could have been more effectively combined.

When It Effects Her...

She has asthma. You can tell because she stresses that you have to work with your doctor and she proclaims that 82 percent of the people admitted for asthma attacks weren't using their medication properly. This doesn't stop her from having a section on the power of onion soup and claiming that some doctors blame dairy in triggering asthma attacks. Which doctors say this? Is this like the some doctors who say you can improve your condition by learning 'proper breathing' techniques? See the above section about lumping in real, tested stuff and non-tested stuff.

Well, at least there are no recommendations for essential oils for asthma, since an attack can be triggered by essential oils.

She Got One Thing Right

She warns against Hormone Replacement Therapy as a way to help memory as studies even in 2004 were showing that it didn't help. HRT is largely gone now because there is good reason to believe it caused cancer. Fun fact: Nature hates women and the longer you are exposed to estrogen, the more likely you are to develop breast or ovary cancer. It's a problem for women who entered puberty early as well.

Who Is This For?

She recommends oil of myrrh for bad breath. How rich are the buyers of her book?

Likely Usefulness?

Some of the recommendations are familiar (aloe vera in the burns section, eucalyptus in the cold section.) Some of them are backed up by studies. Some of them sound reasonable. And it is all mixed together so you have to wade through at your own risk and sort out for yourself what would really help you. I don't want to be unduly harsh on the book. Most of what she suggests will be ok, though the spearmint tea thing didn't mention that it might worsen a liver condition. Definitely, as a time capsule of the early 2000's thinking on home remedies, it's worth something. As a source of remedies, eh- you might want to back up any suggestion with further research.


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