Health and well-being are important topics in the Amish community, and as such, folk remedies are an important part of Amish culture. Their weekly newspaper, The Budget, covers diagnosis and treatments of various illnesses in lengthy and detailed reports. Before the days of modern medicine, many people relied on a variety of poultices, teas, tinctures, and tonics to treat everything from infertility to the common cold.
These complementary treatments still thrive in Amish communities today -- the same herbs and plants that have been used in traditional Amish medicine are now found in supplements all over the world. Some pain-relieving salves are marketed as having their origins in the Amish tradition. However, while the Amish live a predominantly secluded life away from modern society, they have adopted some modern medical practices and terminology, according to the book American Folk Medicine: A Symposium.
Various Amish almanacs espouse the benefits of medicinal herbs and other natural cures for countless health problems, including arthritis. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), some Amish have been known to spend a week sitting in an abandoned uranium mine to manage pain from arthritis. While doctors may not recommend such esoteric treatments, research shows that certain folk remedies may spell relief for arthritis sufferers.
In Amish culture, ginseng is prepared in tinctures, teas, or eaten whole, and is believed to promote overall wellness.
A somewhat more evidenced-based and safer approach than hanging out in a mine is to add a little cherry juice to your diet. Using cherries as a homemade remedy for arthritis pain has been touted worldwide for decades – and scientific research suggests that it may have some validity.
In a study published in 2004, investigators at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), recruited 10 healthy women ages 22 to 40 and asked them to refrain for two days from eating foods high in antioxidants, such as strawberries, tea, and wine, because of their anti-inflammatory affects on the body. After having their blood and urine tested, the volunteers were asked to eat a large serving of cherries for breakfast. Afterward, their blood and urine were tested again over the next five hours.
The researchers found that blood plasma levels of urate (a precursor to uric acid that accumulates in the joints and causes pain associated with gout) decreased significantly. Meanwhile, the amount of urate that the volunteers excreted through their urine over the same five hours increased, suggesting that the cherries were effective in staving off the build-up of uric acid.
In another study done by researchers at Boston University Medical Center involving 633 participants diagnosed with gout, eating at least 10 cherries a day reduced the risk of recurring gout flare-ups by 50 percent. Similarly, researchers at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School found a 50 percent reduction in gout flare-ups when study participants took one tablespoon of tart cherry extract twice a day for four months.
Cherries have also been shown to be helpful in managing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Fifty-three volunteers reported significant improvement in their level of pain, stiffness, and mobility when they were asked to drink two 8-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice everyday for six weeks. Unfortunately, the symptom relief eventually disappeared once the subjects stopped consuming the cherry juice.
To date, there is no recommended cherry regimen or cherry juice “diet,” but an elixir inspired by folk-remedy tradition may help, at least temporarily. Try adding two tablespoons of tart cherry concentrate to eight ounces of warm water each day to see if your symptoms improve.
The Amish have used herbs to treat a variety of ailments, including arthritis. In Amish culture, ginseng is prepared in tinctures, teas, or eaten whole, and is believed to promote overall wellness. While little scientific proof exists to support these claims, anecdotal evidence suggests that ginseng can be used to boost immunity, combat stress and fatigue, control blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and increase energy.
One study at the Yonsei University College of Dentistry in Seoul, South Korea, tested red ginseng saponin extract (RGSE) against arthritis symptoms in mice. It found that 10 milligrams a day reduced arthritis symptoms, leading researchers to conclude that RGSE may be beneficial to help ease arthritis in humans.
Soaking in warm water has long been used to relive pain and soreness. Many Amish people with access to hot springs have used long soaks to treat a variety of ailments, including the chronic pain that comes with arthritis. Unlike a traditional warm bath, hot springs carry the natural minerals found in the ground below.
One study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology looked at 136 patients with either rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis (a disease that causes long-term inflammation and pain in the joints and spine) who underwent four weeks of therapy at the Tiberias Hot Springs in Israel. The study found that the majority of patients (60 percent) had significant improvement in their symptoms.
If you don’t have access to a hot spring, a 20 minute soak in a lukewarm bath with Epsom salts has been shown to temporarily relieve arthritis pain.
Are Amish Folk Remedies Right for Me?
While some research supports the use of herbal or folk remedies for a variety of ailments, including arthritic pain and inflammation, you should always check with your doctor before adding new foods or supplements to your treatment regimen. Some herbs may have negative interactions with certain medications and can cause potentially serious side effects.
About the Author
Eilender is a college lecturer and health sciences writer based in New Jersey.