Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels: The Science Behind Folk Remedies and Old Wives' Tales

Robert Scott Root-Bernstein, Author, Michele Root-Bernstein, Joint Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $24 (279p) ISBN 978-0-395-82298-2
Delving into the science behind most folk treatments with both humor and insight, the Root-Bernsteins examine a smorgasbord of traditional and alternative therapies. In every case they present, modern science has been able to validate the often extremely odd workings of our ancestors' medicine and to explain why these remedies are making a modest comeback. We learn why some doctors are packing gangrenous wounds with maggots, why others fill lesions with honey, how leeches have become an invaluable tool of the reconstructive surgeon and under which conditions it might be wise to rinse lacerations in urine. Most impressive is the balance brought to the material. The Root-Bernsteins (he has won a MacArthur fellowship and wrote Rethinking AIDS; she is the author of Boulevard Theater and Revolution in 18th Century Paris) argue throughout that while some nontraditional therapies have a place in modern medicine, they should not be viewed as replacements for more technologically advanced therapies. Similarly, not all folk medicine is worthy of preserving. A thoughtful chapter discusses the importance of relying on the scientific method to assess the efficacy of various treatments and helps the reader to differentiate between scientific and pseudo-scientific claims in the medical arena. Except for its overdose of puns, this is a near- flawless study. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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