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HONEY, MUD, MAGGOTS, AND OTHER MEDICAL MARVELS by Robert Root-Bernstein

HONEY, MUD, MAGGOTS, AND OTHER MEDICAL MARVELS

The Science Behind Folk Remedies and Old Wives' Tales

By Robert Root-Bernstein (Author) , Michèle Root-Bernstein (Author)

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-395-82298-X
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 What would at first appear to be a collection of entertaining anecdotes about some weird-sounding, even stomach-churning old remedies is in fact much more: a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of medical traditions. The Root-Bernsteins--he's a MacArthur fellow and physiologist (Michigan State Univ.), she's an award-winning writer of history- -have selected only those treatments that have been well validated by current medical practice. Their thesis is that thousands of years of experimentation have led to effective treatments in every folk culture around the world and that review of these practices can ``prime the pump of medical innovation.'' In addition to the honey, mud, and maggots of the title, they describe such other old-time cures as drinking urine, licking wounds, blood-letting, and bathing in mineral springs. While not advocating a return to the old ways, they show what scientific research has learned about the therapeutic properties of urine and saliva, how phlebotomy remains appropriate for certain disorders, and how deep-water immersion is used in physical medicine. Surprisingly, some once-popular therapies that one might assume had been long abandoned are still around. Leeches are used today to remove stagnant blood in tissue transplants, and maggot therapy (sometimes delicately referred to as ``biosurgery'') is an effective means of cleaning up gangrenous wounds. The authors' discussions of circumcision and contraception reveal much about the links between culture and biology. Issuing clear caveats against the uncritical adoption of folk or alternative medicine fads, they point out that while crackpots abound, panaceas do not exist. In keeping with their belief that medicine ought to support culturally diverse therapies, they offer some stimulating ideas on finding, evaluating, and marketing effective folk remedies. While enjoyable just for its wonderful stories, this charming and literate work casts new light on old wives' tales.