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.
The only home remedy I remember is Nana warming olive oil, and putting that in our ears for ear ache. Have no clue if it really worked or not since I’m sure in those days we were on antibiotics.
Just had Meghan in for an earache and that’s exactly what the ped told me to do warm up olive oil and put it in her ear!
I got to the word “exactly” and thought you were going to say use baby pee in her ear!!! But why warm olive oil? Is there any science behind it or is it just soothing? Nana would be so happy!
How do they get the baby to pee in someone’s ear? Or do they squeeze out the diaper?
A friend’s newborn developed an inflamed tear duct. Not sure if it was actually infected or not, but the pediatrician told her to squirt a little breast milk onto the corner of baby’s eye every time she nursed. The inflammation resolved. Who knows if it would have anyhow, but it didn’t hurt.
I never had an earache until I was in my 30’s (I understand why kiddies scream!) but Mom told me that when they were small, my grandma used to soak some raisins in hot water, wrap one or two in a gauze or flannel square, and put them in the ear canal. The gauze/flannel prevented them from going in too far and getting stuck and served as a “handle” to pull them out again, and the heat was soothing.
Both urine and breast milk are sterile until hitting the air, so they would be as clean, if not cleaner, than anything else that one might put in the ear, including ear drops, I guess. They would also be warm, if applied directly from the source. Do people there pee on jellyfish stings?
Also, please tell your friend Maribel that her niece is absolutely adorable! What a cutie pie!
Isn’t Mariana a doll? She is so sweet, too. Maribel lives in a house with her mother on the lower level, Maribel and her two children on the second level, her middle sister and daughter (Kiera of the paint parade/balloon pelting festivities) on the third floor and her youngest sister, husband and the beautiful Mariana either on the third floor as well or a space created on the roof (I don’t recall which). The housekeeper and her son, Israel, also live in the house. When I asked Kiera if Mariana was her cousin, she told me no, that Mariana was her sister and Israel was her brother. Very sweet. Maribel’s floor is the family’s congregating area and she did say that sometimes she is just tired and wants to be alone but as the eldest she is expected to coordinate everything for the rest of the family so she rarely has a minute alone. And she is a teacher, so you can appreciate the demands of that job!
The Peruvians believe in the direct method – hold the half naked baby over the ear (or have the mom express milk into the ear). While researching for this post, I did come across breast milk being used to treat all sorts of baby ailments – ear aches, eye infections, baby acne etc. Also, given that multiple ear infection home remedies use warm liquids (baby urine, breast milk, olive oil or mushy raisins), the common denominator appears to be warmth in the ear that provides a soothing feeling and perhaps little else in the way of a cure. It would make sense that in a traditionally poor culture like Peru, the cleanest, warm liquid to use to relieve the pain would be breast milk or baby urine. I’m not sure about urine for jellyfish stings but I’ll try to remember to ask someone from the coast about that one.