The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS | EATING OUT - Aoife McEl­wain

STRANGE FOOD CURES My dog Daf­fodil is one of the co-own­ers (in her mind, any­way) of a park near our house that we chill in at least once a day. She meets a lot of her pals here, and one of her friends, Bai­ley, is a sweet golden Labrador who loves a good roll in fox poop. Our lit­tle park seems to be in healthy sup­ply of it, thanks to our night­time neigh­bours (the foxes, I mean) who make use of the park while we are asleep in our beds.

Fox poop is a scourge for many dog own­ers, as a lot of dogs have an un­stop­pable ap­petite for rolling in it. On its own, that’s pretty gross, but it’s the ac­com­pa­ny­ing smell that tor­ments own­ers, par­tic­u­larly as cer­tain dogs, like golden Labrador, have fur that seems to hang on to strong smells.

“Daffo doesn’t seem to like fox poop,” I chat with Bai­ley’s owner in the park one Satur­day morn­ing. Dog own­ers tend to talk about ca­nine poop quite a lot. “Count your­self lucky,” Bai­ley’s owner tells me. “It stinks. Tomato ketchup is the only thing that gets rid of the stench.”

It turns out that a renowned cure for fox poop stink is giv­ing your dog a bath of sorts in tomato ketchup. Bai­ley’s owner reck­ons the vine­gar of the ketchup must cut through the oili­ness of the fox poop, re­lin­quish­ing its power over Bai­ley’s coat.

This got me think­ing about food and the strange cures that it can be linked with. His­tor­i­cally, food and medicine have been closely linked. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” said Hip­pocrates, ap­par­ently, though it’s been con­tested for a long time about how lit­eral he ac­tu­ally in­tended this state­ment to be taken.

I don’t want to get into the ar­gu­ments that sur­round tra­di­tional and nat­u­ral medicine to­day, so in­stead, I’ve been look­ing into foods con­nected to un­ex­pected claims of cures and nat­u­ral reme­dies. There are a host of on­line ar­ti­cles claim­ing the power of onions and olive oil for ear­aches, as­para­gus as a hang­over cure and vodka as a tonic for smelly feet.

Some foods were orig­i­nally in­vented and billed as medicine, like Coca Cola. John Pem­ber­ton was a Con­fed­er­ate vet­eran of the Amer­i­can Civil War who had be­come ad­dicted to mor­phine, and he came up with the first ver­sion of Coke, a sweet al­co­holic drink in­fused with coca leaves. It first ap­peared on the mar­ket as Pem­ber­ton’s French Wine Coca in the 1880s. When pro­hi­bi­tion laws were passed in At­lanta, Pem­ber­ton de­vel­oped Coca-Cola, a non-al­co­holic ver­sion of his wine tonic, and it was first put on sale in 1886, mar­keted as a cure for mor­phine ad­dic­tion, in­di­ges­tion, nerve dis­or­der, headaches and im­po­tence. It was an­other 20 years be­fore The Coca-Cola Com­pany sweet­ened and car­bon­ated the drink, and the iden­tity that we know to­day of the world’s most fa­mous soda be­gan to emerge.

I’m stretch­ing the food and drink sub­ject by in­clud­ing Lis­ter­ine, the ubiq­ui­tous mouth­wash, but the story is a good one. In­spired by the work of Louis Pas­teur, a Bri­tish doc­tor called Joseph Lis­ter found that us­ing car­bolic acid on sur­gi­cal dress­ings helped re­duce post-sur­gi­cal in­fec­tion. An Amer­i­can named Joseph Lawrence was in­spired by these find­ings to de­velop an al­co­hol-based for­mula for a sur­gi­cal an­ti­sep­tic made up of eu­ca­lyp­tol, men­thol, methyl sal­i­cy­late, and thy­mol. Lawrence named this an­ti­sep­tic “Lis­ter­ine” as a tip of the hat to Joseph Lis­ter, which is pretty sound. Lis­ter­ine was in­tro­duced as a sur­gi­cal an­ti­sep­tic in 1879, and it wasn’t un­til the 1890s that it was in­tro­duced to den­tists as a po­ten­tial for oral care. In 1914, it be­came the first over-the-counter mouth­wash sold in the US.

This year, I’ve spent a lot of time on Inish­turk Is­land, which is an hour’s ferry jour­ney off the coast of Mayo from Roon­agh Pier. It’s home to about 58 peo­ple and it’s a beau­ti­ful place that in­stils a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the main­land, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. While on the is­land, I learned, luck­ily not through per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, that vine­gar can be used in the treat­ment of jel­ly­fish stings, as it pre­vents the ne­ma­to­cysts, the sting­ing cells in the jel­ly­fish’s ten­ta­cles, from re­leas­ing their tox­ins.

Vine­gar also works on wasp stings, I know this from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

I tend to suf­fer from mo­tion sick­ness and even on the calmest of days, I take a travel sick­ness tablet be­fore step­ping on to a ferry. I read on­line, on a num­ber of web­sites in­clud­ing home­redies­for­, that le­mons and olives are at­trib­uted to al­le­vi­at­ing sea and mo­tion sick­ness. It ap­pears that sea sick­ness causes ex­cess saliva, and that tan­nins in le­mons and olives help to re­bal­ance that. Per­haps this is why a cup of sweet tea is of­ten pre­scribed to soothe a sick stom­ach after a dif­fi­cult ferry cross­ing?

An is­lander rec­om­mended chew­ing gum for sea­sick­ness. When I asked her why she thought it worked, she said she fig­ured it keeps your mind off feel­ing sick and pro­vides a good dis­trac­tion. That cer­tainly worked for me.

It also turns out that chew­ing gum has been linked with re­duc­ing stress. A 2009 study by the NICM Col­lab­o­ra­tive Cen­tre for the Study of Nat­u­ral Medicines and Neu­rocog­ni­tion at Mel­bourne’s Swin­burne Univer­sity called “Chew­ing gum al­le­vi­ates neg­a­tive mood and re­duces cor­ti­sol dur­ing acute lab­o­ra­tory psy­cho­log­i­cal stress” in­tro­duces find­ings by re­searchers who in­ves­ti­gated, in a con­trolled set­ting, the no­tion that gum can re­lieve stress.

“Dur­ing both lev­els of stress the chew­ing gum con­di­tion was as­so­ci­ated with sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter alert­ness and re­duced state anx­i­ety, stress and sali­vary cor­ti­sol,” states the re­port (which you can read here­gum). The re­searchers were un­sure of the rea­sons be­hind these re­sults, but they of­fered up the ex­pla­na­tion that chew­ing may im­prove cere­bral blood flow, which in turn low­ered anx­i­ety and in­creased alert­ness.

So the next time you find your­self on a ferry, or suf­fer­ing a bit of mo­tion sick­ness in a car, try a bit of chew­ing gum. At the very least, it might take your mind off feel­ing sick, even if just for a mo­ment.

Chew­ing gum: try it for travel sick­ness

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