Mistina, Matt and I were at our friend Maribel’s house for a lovely traditional Cajamarquino lunch of carne asada (slow cooked beef), rice and pureed potatoes when the subject of Mistina’s earache arose.
“There is the cure,” Maribel said, laughing as she pointed at her adorable, 6 month old niece Mariana, “baby urine.”
“What?” Matt and I sputtered. Mistina nodded. She had already heard this from multiple sources over the past few days.
“Baby urine. A Cajamarquino remedy. You put it in your ear and it cures your earache. Or breast milk. My sister [Mariana’s mom] will be here soon…” Maribel laughed at our shock, but the offer was sincere.
We obviously needed enlightenment. Maribel explained how a traditional home remedy for earaches is to either have a baby pee in your ear (“urine therapy”) or a nursing mother express breast milk in your ear. Maribel confirmed that her family had used these remedies with success but recognized that we would find this odd and questioned whether the remedy works because of a scientific reason or because of a placebo effect. She also raised the interesting question of whether Peruvian remedies would work on us foreigners.
We tried goading Mistina into giving it a shot, but she was having none of it. She did concede that if her ear still hurt in a week she would consider urine therapy. (Matt and I both agreed that if we had to choose one, we would choose the breast milk.) Mistina also said that she recalled reading about this urine therapy in a book about pioneer days. Apart from cleansing a wound or a snakebite, neither Matt nor I had ever heard of urine therapy. Maribel asked what our American home remedies were and apart from chicken soup for a cold, we couldn’t come up with any.
Maribel told us about another Peruvian remedy: the Limpia de Cuy, or Cleansing via Guinea Pig. For this treatment you take a black guinea pig and rub it all over the ill person’s body 3 times. Then you cut open the cuy (these poor guys never have a chance) and look at the organs to see what part is diseased. It is believed that the disease is transferred from the ill person to the cuy and manifests itself (so if you had a lung ailment, the cuy’s lungs would be bad). Maribel relayed how her father suffered from seizures for many years before he was completely cured after undergoing a Limpia de Cuy and some herbal treatments.
Maribel described other cures for various ailments that involved sprinkling salt in a cross shape in a pan, cooking it until it sizzled and then adding boiling water and sometimes an egg. These mixtures are then placed on the person’s forearms and lower legs although she conceded that it is hard to do it without burning the person.
In addition to these interesting remedies, Peru is the land of homeopathic medicine. Herbal remedies are common here, and a popular one is mate de coca, or a coca leaf tea, that is used to treat altitude sickness. Mate de coca is legal in Peru and many South American countries; however, despite the fact that it provides no narcotic effect whatsoever, it is illegal in the US and many other countries because cocaine is derived from the same plant. Chewing coca leaves is also commonly used as a stimulant for laborers and is popular with hikers trekking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu to combat the altitude and provide an energy boost.
During Carnival there were additional vendors in our town and this guy was set up on our square for a few days.
One night Matt, Mistina and I stopped by and chatted with him about his products. He is from the Amazon and was very nice about explaining the properties and uses of the different items. I bought the chuchuhuasha bark, which is supposed to be great for any joint and back pain, among many other uses. Peruvians prepare it by steeping it in alcohol for 10 days; mine has been steeping in rum for about a week now, so I haven’t tried it yet. According to various websites, it has some amazing properties and studies have confirmed some of these. https://www.indigo-herbs.co.uk/acatalog/Chuchuhuasi_Info.html. He also gave us some sacha inchi nuts, which I have now researched and understand are one of the latest super food crazes used to lower cholesterol (if it hits Whole Foods and Dr. Oz, it must be mainstream).
So if these homeopathic remedies are supported by science, what about baby urine and breast milk for ear infections? My unscientific google search did not uncover any conclusive literature on the subject, but some people (including Americans) swear by it. Maggots and leeches are being used again in some US hospitals, so maybe these will be the next remedies to come into vogue.