I don’t think I’m the only skeptic out there with a bit of an interest in alternative medicine, home remedies, and other such things that is more than what can be explained by mere exasperation with society and an interest in debunking. I’ve had something of an anthropological interest in it and other topics skeptics are interested in. Belief in the supernatural, magic, and whatever modern incarnations they morph into (like space aliens) are such a fascinating aspect of the human condition, as is studying similar things in the animal world.
Of course, I’m also not the only skeptic that has dabbled in these things, either. I love to experiment when I can, especially when there isn’t much out there, scientifically speaking, that the common man can get their hands on. For example, I once went for a whole month using no soap or shampoo to wash myself… for fun. Other than some attempts at using coconut oil and baking powder as deodorizers, I showered every day with nothing but water.
I took the above photos while I was experimenting with “water only” washing. I thought my hair looked amazing, and it photographed really well! It wasn’t until after I stopped the experiment that both the people I had told about the experiment, and the people I hadn’t told, breathed a sigh of relief and admitted to me how awful my hair looked. Yes, even those “in the know” who I was counting on to be truthful, lied to me to preserve my feelings. A common theme in water-only bathing, and variations is that “no one has said anything.” I learned that that alone means little. It should also be noted that I also have observed people “seeing” a lack of hygiene where it doesn’t exist– for example, when a woman does not shave her legs or armpits (I do not shave), she appears “dirty.” Some people I told about my “water-only” experiment, before I even started it, but believing I had already begun, saw filth where there was none. It can be exceedingly difficult to account for all variables of human behavior when playing with one’s hygiene.
Sometimes I learn something. For example. I learned from the water-only bathing example that if I wash my face with nothing but a steaming hot water rag every morning, my skin obtains nearly the same level of appearance as it does when I washed it daily with a super-expensive vegan 2-step cleaner I had been using previously (it was a gift, OK?! XD). I also learned that coconut oil and baking soda were ineffective on me, but wondering about why some people seem to be able to use these methods successfully lead me to an interesting tidbit about the genetics of people with naturally low body odor. I learned that even trusted people will lie to you even when they’ve been explicitly asked not to, and even though you have a history of bluntness and honesty with them, and believe you have an understanding that they won’t hurt your feelings.
Other things I learned: milk mixed with honey and spices (I like cinammon, cardamom, clove, ginger, and allspice) is AMAZING for a sore throat… way more soothing than tea or soda pop, and more nutritious which is what I need when I can’t bring myself to choke down any solid food. “Thieves’ oil” (an essential oil blend named after a bogus pseudo-historical account claiming it protected thieves from the Plague hundreds of years ago) smells nice, does a good job of eliminating mildewy and mold smells (no evidence that it kills mold) in my basement… and flares up my son’s eczema.
Of course, all of these are highly anecdotal and highly subjective… which is pretty much the reality nearly all of us face. Who has time in the day to call experts, navigate around journal paywalls, analyze the data, evaluate Internet sources, and grill your local librarians? Some resources are available… for example my library used to subscribed to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database which was just AMAZING. You could even search specific brands and get all the data on what has or hasn’t been tested, drug interactions, what the natural remedy was supposed to treat, side effects and of course, it would also tell you if there wasn’t any data at all, or indicate if the studies were few. I’ve seen some of the NMCD’s info on other sites (straight up copy-pasted, even the table formatting), but it just isn’t the same. Make sure you check your library’s and school’s database subscriptions next chance, to see if you have access. There is also a print version but not as extensive, as well as the PDR for herbal remedies.
So anyway, what does this all have to do with parenting, you may be wondering.
Well, I spend a lot of time thinking about home remedies I’ve come across over the years and ones in my family. What should be passed down, I wonder. A lot of it is highly subjective, stuff that just is comforting because it was fed to me as a child. Some things my family and others literally believe cures diseases with little evidence. Some are not child appropriate (like my uncle’s vodka-and-elderberry tonic).
It can be kind of a fine line, passing on your own culture and family traditions vs actually promoting pseudoscientific beliefs in your children and to others. Critical thinking and safety are far more important to me than the truth itself, if the truth is not readily available. Being able to recognize if a home remedy or alternative medicine is potentially dangerous or an outright money-draining scam (in the sense of a pyramid scheme or a miracle cure gimmick, not simply because it costs money…) is essential. If you recommend something to your child because it makes you feel better and you think it will make him or her feel better, say it plainly. Chicken soup doesn’t cure the common cold, but it sure is good to eat, and is nutritious, too!
And it’s always OK to say, “I don’t know,” and do some research together! And if it’s safe, experiment. (Pretty please make sure it’s safe!)