The past few times Eddie Boyd has gone to the doctor’s office and had blood drawn, he reached in his pocket, pulled out a tangle of spider webs and asked the phlebotomist to place them on the puncture wound to stop the bleeding.
The 74-year-old Destrehan resident said it is part of his collection of folk herbal and home remedies.
“I get these people out of the Caribbean and South American countries who swear by spider webs to stop bleeding,” he said.
In five out of the last six times he has used them, Boyd said the spider webs have stopped the bleeding more quickly than the gauze bandage that is usually applied. He still wants to study the application further, and is not recommending the practice to anyone else.
A pharmacist by trade, Boyd spent his career as an academic but has focused a lot of energy over his professional life into studying folk remedies. He shares the information he has collected over the years in a presentation with visitors to Destrehan Plantation every other Friday.
Growing up in the 1940s and 50s in Canton, Miss., Boyd’s family had to rely on folk and herbal remedies for ailments simply because they could not afford to go the doctor’s office.
“I grew up in the cotton fields of Mississippi and these are the types of things that they used on me when I was growing up because we were a poor family with no medications other than a few home remedies and other products. That is what my mom actually used,” he said.
Boyd, who now lives in Destrehan, brings 50 samples of home remedies displayed in jars to his presentations at Destrehan Plantation.
They include, in addition to spider webs to stop bleeding, chewing garlic to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, eating ginger to stop nausea and vomiting and using baking soda to settle the stomach.
Boyd said the samples are the result of academic studies he did during his time as a pharmacy professor at the University of Michigan.
In a 1984 study, he and a co-author collected first-hand accounts from 50 African Americans on what they used to cure themselves and their families in the absence of medical attention.
“There was nothing about this stuff in the medical literature so we were trying to generate some information about these things and we actually wrote a 30-page paper entitled ‘Home Remedies Used by Elderly African Americans,’” he said.
Other samples include some that may make those who attend his presentation a bit squeamish, including applying manure for athlete’s foot and urine to sterilize wounds and fight infections.
Using manure to fight athlete’s foot is something Boyd did himself when he was a kid.
“You would step right into a fresh pod and it did work for me - at least it stopped the itching,” he said. “There is no trial that shows that it works, but I’ve actually used that.”
Although Boyd has not used urine as a sterilizing agent, he said there have been many reported uses for it in medical applications.
“One of the things we found is that male urine was used for an ear ache and you would gargle it for a sore throat,” he said. “If you go back to sometime in World War I, when they ran out of first aid supplies, they were using urine to clean wounds, but that’s that person’s urine. You don’t want to use my urine, you use your urine because your urine is sterile for you, but not somebody else.”
These are just a few of the 163 folk remedies Boyd first collected in his 1984 study. In subsequent studies he also gauged how the information about the cures had been passed on.
“There is nothing in writing anyplace and it is passed on from generation to generation primarily by the female family members who happen to have been the caregivers,” he said.
Boyd said his interest in home cures is more for historical purposes than a desire to see people use those remedies. In fact, although he has used about half of the remedies he has collected, his study shows that only about 25 percent of them have been proven to work in one way or another in existing medical literature.
However, Boyd is not writing off those that have not yet been proven.
“I used to say this doesn’t work and that doesn’t work. I don’t say that anymore because the older I get the more I find this stuff actually does work,” Boyd said.
In his personal experience, he points to the use of ear wax to cure fever blisters. Growing up Boyd said he used this method until he got into pharmacy school and switched over to more mainstream products such as Vaseline and ChapStick.
Just this year, when doing research for a book, Boyd came across a study that supported the ear wax theory.
“I found an article that indicated that ear wax has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral activity,” he said.
In addition to the samples that are actually proven to provide some relief, Boyd said you cannot discount the placebo effect. In pharmaceutical drugs he said the placebo effect occurs often, in which the person believes they are being helped by a drug, but there is no empirical evidence to show the remedy actually works. He believes that rate is much higher for home and herbal remedies.
“I would say the placebo effect is normally 30 percent, but when you consider the fact that the person who is giving you the home remedy is someone you love, I believe the placebo effect is more like 40 percent,” he said.
Boyd said in the end the only thing that is important is that the treatment works, not how it works.
“If it worked it doesn’t really make any difference,” he said.