Thursday, March 19, 2020

Pandemics I Have Known

Like everyone else, I, Donis, am sitting here at home, healthy at the moment but aged, self-isolating with my unhealthy, aged spouse. The sudden onset of this pandemic has made me think a lot about the research I did for Return of the Raven Mocker, my 2017 book about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Like that time, there was no cure and no one knew what to do, except self-quarantine. There was no vaccine, and no effective vaccine was developed until 1932. Scientists were dropping from exhaustion trying to find something helpful to mitigate the situation.There were no doctors available since most had been drafted because of World War I. So people were left to their own devices, some of which were worse than nothing (e.g. a drop of turpentine in a spoonful of sugar) But some were truly useful. I'm reproducing here parts of an entry on the use of alliums for illness that I did on Type M in 2018.  As things develop, I'll post more entries on home remedies to use for caring for the sick. I make no claims that this is a panacea, but onions and garlic have been used by home nurses (Mama) for centuries, so perhaps it couldn't hurt. Enjoy! In the meantime, stay healthy, stay home, and wash your hands.

Return of the Raven Mocker, which was set during the influenza epidemic of 1918, included lots of early 20th Century home remedies for the flu. I have used some of these when I was sick and they are actually helpful, so in the spirit of public service, I'm including a couple of preventative suggestions for you, Dear Reader. It’s fascinating to see what people resorted to before anti-viral drugs were available. When I was doing research on the book I received an email from my sister-in-law Dolores on this very topic. Here is an excerpt:

"My Grandmother always baked an onion for a head cold. It loosened the congestion. I had forgotten about it until I read this email (I liked the smell also~)

"In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was a Doctor who visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of the farmers and their families had contracted it and many died. The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria, therefore keeping the family healthy."

I expect this tale is apocryphal, but I was interested because in my research I had found several home remedies that involve onions, and this fit right in. In fact, all the allium plants - onions, shallots, leeks, especially garlic - have volatile oils that seem to be antibacterial and/or antiviral.

We didn’t have much garlic around the old homestead when I was a kid, but garlic is truly useful for fighting disease. Research shows that garlic builds white blood cells, thus boosting immunity. Besides, it’s delicious.

If you’ve never baked a head of garlic, now is the time. Trim off the top of the garlic head to expose the cloves, drizzle a little olive oil over it, wrap the head in some foil or place it in a clay or ceramic baking dish. Bake the head in a hot oven for about 30 minutes, or until the cloves are very soft. Squeeze the baked garlic out of the cloves into a small bowl and mash it up with a fork. At this point you can add oil, herbs, a little salt, whatever appeals. Or you can just spread the garlic on a cracker like butter and chow down. Even if you are not a garlic fan, I can assure you that well-baked garlic is infinitely milder than the raw stuff.

And speaking of the raw stuff, remember that Roman gladiators used to chew cloves of raw garlic to make them strong. You bet it did, in more ways than one.

So, place a few raw, unpeeled onions around the house and chow down on some garlic. It may help you avoid the flu, if for no other reason than your friends will keep their distance. And you won’t be bothered by vampires this Halloween, either.


Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for this, Donis.

Stay well!

Donna S said...

Just saw on our local news, a talk by a doctor and the commentator was asking him questions regarding covid 19. Garlic, onions, hot baths or salt water have no effect on it. It is caused by bacteria so wash your hands, he says take out food won't kill you, the packaging might. So leaving an onion in every room might help you psychologically but will do nothing helpful medically. Same with garlic. But human nature is such that we want to try and combat epidemics.

Donis Casey said...

You are right, Donna. I'm only reporting on folk remedies that were used during the flu pandemic when no one knew what else to do. You're also right that no one wants to feel helpless, so people will do SOMETHING rather than nothing, and helping one's psychology is not necessarily a bad thing. Always listen to the best and most up-to-date science. The only things that we definitely know will help are self quarantine and hand washing. Let us not automatically assume our ancestors had no idea what they were doing, though.