Remedios (a guest post)

This brings back so many wonderful memories. My grandma (God rest her soul) did it ALL! Sobadas de empacho, yerba buena, manzanilla, alcohol con marijuana, eggs to cure el mal de ojo.

Awww, I miss her so much. We NEVER went to see the doctor when we were sick.

When I read this post I just had to contact the author. He happily agreed to share it with Muy Bueno.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!


El Remediosphere®
by Joe Ray

My mother was raised on a rancho in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. When you got sick, you had remedies that worked for everyone, you went to a sobadora or a curandera. And if things were really bad, you were taken into town.

This is old school. No pinche WebMD for research. If you wanted to know something, you asked your comadre about it. You were part of the Collective Comadre Network.

One common herbal remedio is yerba buena. Yerba buena’s great stuff, it’s used for everything from stomach ailments or flavoring mojitos. My mom also kept around a glass jar filled with rubbing alcohol that contained marijuana, which she would rub on her varicose veins. Aloe vera was always around as well.

Having asthma as a kid, my mom would rub Vicks (AKA vaporu, vivaporu, or el veex) all over my chest, usually along with other very nasty smelling herbs/weeds. Not yerba buena but my guess is that it was probably more along the lines of yerba mierda. After rubbing it on my chest, she’d make me put on a heating pad over my shirt and blanket. I can’t stand Vicks. I knew some kids ate the stuff. I like the smell of eucalyptus, which she would also boil leaves into a tea but I still find Vicks to be quite repulsive.

Growing up in Arizona, we were only 2 hours from the Mexican border, so we would go visit family, shop and so forth. I recall going to a yerberia for dried rattlesnake strips to eat daily in order to cure my asthma. Never having seen a snake cough, this made perfect sense to me. The meat tasted okay (like jerky), but didn’t really cure me.

Prior to that trip, Doña Yoya in San Luis once gave me a little black bunny. I think the rabbit was supposed to absorb the asthma and I’d be cured. She lived a couple of houses away from my aunt and was a curandera who had a bunch of animals. Anyway, that didn’t work. This rabbit was the first pet I ever had. The rabbit proved to be quite the trouble maker, and eventually we ate it.

I also remember one family friend using bleach for everything from ant bites to other skin ailments. That always had a nasty smell to the rub. Every once in a while I smell bleach and think of that. But it still doesn’t repel me the way Vicks does.

I went online the other day and asked friends a little about what type of remedios they remember from their childhoods.

Here’s a small sampling of what I heard back:

Suzi: We all know what cures-VICKS and 7-UP!

Veronica: I thought all cures came from a lil shot of tequila

Tony: Lemon honey and tequila for coughs-Mexican Nyquil. Olive and castor oil after a hot bath in the winter.
Note- Tony also remembers his father using the pot in the alcohol for arthritis.

Celeste: Vaporu. That with some salpicot y una limpia con huevo and whatever weeds grew in the backyard. Santo remedio! Anything that was sting related had saliva in it: aver que te pongo ajo, con un poco de saliva.

Gennaro: Mi madre used to pull the skin on our back really hard to cure empacho, until today I don’t know wtf that was about.

Lonnie: Mentholatum smeared under the nose. My suegra would shove it up her nose. I think she used a couple of tablespoons.


Culturally, we have a lot of herbs, beliefs and rituals that we relate to. These range from lighting candles, to a limpia con huevo (go ask about that one), to rhymes. Think of that little kiddie healing rhyme:

“sana, sana,
colita de rana…”

Before the internet, before WebMD, there was the Collective Comadre Network, which will always be around. Many of us continue these healing traditions. They are part of who we are and where we come from. It’s all part of the Remediosphere®. What are some of the remedios you remember?


This guest post originally appeared

Author Bio: Joe Ray is a Latino painter and printmaker living in Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as Creative Director and President of Estudio Ray, a visual branding/marketing agency in Phoenix.

Photography by Jeanine Thurston

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  1. Thanks Joe for the info on Muy Bueno Cookbook, I signed up for their newsletter, I want a book!

  2. Thanks to Joe I now have the cookbook on my wishlist! Now I know what to do if you ever piss me off—chase your ass with Vicks!! Ha ha!

  3. My abuelita still prescribes a mixture of castor oil with burnt whatever made us sick to cure empacho. it was gross looking and tasted awful probably just as bad as vaporu.

  4. Joe,
    Great Job.
    With my grand mother it was moré of a Chicken Soup thing, but the point is the same.
    There is some wisdom and tradition that’s is being lost. It is hard for us to keep our Kids to the history. Sometimes i feel that’s people our age, aré sort of the last generation with any kindergarten of direct tie to the past.

  5. A Dios Mio, this reminds me so much of my grandma! Even though in Puerto Rico we used almost the same remedios. You are right, when I was growing up I rarely went to the doctor because my grandma had some crazy concoction that would cure whatever I had. Do you mind if I link your post to my cooking blog? Thanks, Angie

  6. Shoot, sorry. I forgot to add the remedy I remember the most. My grandma used to have this big glass bottle full of “alcolao” (rubbing alcohol), alcanfor, and fideillo and Lord knows what else was in it, but whenever we had a bump, of fell…or whatever, she would rub that stuff on us and phew! that was strong. She had that bottle for years!

  7. Your account is still true in Mexico. This is how ordinary Mexicans cure their ills. Unfortunately, some doctors here want to give antibiotics for everything, but many still rely on their herbal lore for cures. When I had sinus surgery in Puerto Vallarta, my doctor prescribed “nose snuffling” of warm chamomile tea, which is a very effective anti-inflammatory. He is a modern, well-educated doctor, but also uses herbal remedies. Thank goodness, modern Mexican doctors have not forgotten that many herbs are effective medicines.


  8. Oh how you made me laugh to read about the Vicks! My mother didn’t know about the herbs, but she sure liked to plaster my little chest with the Vicks!

    She learned the trick from her mother who taught her to layer it on at least a quarter inch thick and then find the wooliest, scratchiest bit of old blanket to put over it. Then she would put some on my nose, and rub some on my upper teeth, for Heaven’s sake!!!

    I survived it all, and surprisingly… I love the smell of Vicks but would not think of using it! ~ Lynda

  9. My children LOVE Vicks! As soon as they are sick they go and grab it. I love the smell of it too and when I’m sick I slather it all over myself — The smell brings back so many great memories. And I have to admit I still use chamomile tea for tummy aches and even bought my children some evil eye bracelets to keep el mal de ojo away. I’m all about trying the tried and true first before running to the doctor.

  10. Wow! Great to see the great feedback that this post brought forward from people of a number of different backgrounds. I think the cook book forum is a perfect place for this type of dialogue since it’s all about recipes- “a little of this, un puño de esto…”

    I’ll have to do a follow up to this because there are all sorts of things that I’ve forgotten through the years, some maybe on purpose due to assimilation in my younger years and others perhaps because i saw myself as “too educated” for these kind of things; this being the biggest pendejismo of all.

    Interestingly, I recently worked on a health initiative with some promotoras and during my conversations was told that many doctors along the borderlands tell their patients to continue with their traditional remedios but to incorporate the medicine that they’ve been given. This of course being the case if they are truthful in what they are taking and what drugs they may be purchasing at pharmacies across the border.

    Thanks for all the feedback. There will be more!

    • Hi Joe!

      Welcome to Muy Bueno!!! I can’t wait to read your follow-up 🙂
      I think I could write a book alone on all the remedios I grew up with. I’m chuckling right now remembering another one…When I had a tummy ache my grandma use to crack open an egg (over-easy style) on my tummy and roll the yolk back and forth until it broke. Not sure what the heck that was suppose to do, but I loved when she use to “cure” me 😉

  11. “sana, sana, colita de rana, si no te sanas hoy te sanas manana por la manana” So love this post and love knowing that my family isn’t the only crazy one that uses vicks as the cure all of all cure alls!

  12. Por favor, me urge saber donde puedo encontrar esta planta (fideillo)

    Le agradecere si alguien me puede ayudar.

    Gracias a todos.


  13. Pingback: Drinking with the Chupacabras (a guest post) « Muy Bueno Cookbook

  14. Oh my god, the memories! Both of my parents are Mexican (and in their 60’s), but I’m the 3rd generation born in California and don’t know a lick of Spanish other than these sayings and the traditional slang terms (and half of them I don’t know what they translate to.) Despite that, I grew up with these traditions and sayings. The “sana, sana colita de rana” my mom would say every time I hurt myself or upset…. The yerba buena (as i remember it being called) for the empacho…. The friggin’ Mentholatum up the nose and all over the chest with the shirt, blanket, heating pad…. Baby Percy for “sour stomach”… And the best one: Volcanico Liniment Oil for bruises and swelling – usually wrapped in a cloth or old sock. Stuff will bring tears to your eyes and instantly turn a room into smelling like a gas station, but I swear it works. I still use it to this day for bruises and buy a bottle when I can find it. I remember going to a curador with my grandma a few times when I was little, and certainly a little shot of tequila, brandy, or Southern Comfort was always a good alternative to anything.
    Anyway, thanks for the laughs – and I love this: Collective Comadre Network.

  15. O'Linda Villarreal Reply

    My grandma always had a Mason jar of alcol and she would add green dried herbs when her supply got low. I remember that it smelled so good and worked wonders. The one her I recall her mentioning was “Romero.” She added other herbs but I was young and didn’t pay that much attention. This was back in the ’70s and her age was about age 60, born in Mexico but raised in Larefo, TX. Can anyone help with the ingredients? Please!!

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