New England Folk Medicine Yields Effective Remedies

By Lura Jackson

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, goes the familiar adage. While we’ve all heard this saying at one time or another, we may not all be familiar with the truth in elements of its advice. It is wisdom that comes to us through a long tradition of folk medicine that, once properly understood and applied, can produce immediate and ongoing benefits for everything from arthritis, migraines, sinus infections, chronic fatigue, and even a failure to conceive. 

It was just past the turn of the 20th century when young Dr. D.C. Jarvis began actively harnessing and cataloguing the benefit of folk medicine while practicing his trade in Vermont. Dr. Jarvis began to understand the body as the local farmers did—as soil in human form. Just as the farmers tended their actual soil by adding the right amount of minerals and supplements to it to produce healthy crops, so, too, could the body be tended in a similar fashion. 

Going back to the country’s colonial origins, farmers in New England utilized a drink called switchel—made from raw apple cider vinegar [ACV], raw honey, and often spiced with ginger—to keep them energized and healthy throughout the day. Switchel was consumed with frequency, especially during the haying season. In Dr. Jarvis’s time, the drink was colloquially known as haymaker’s punch for its ability to cure allergies and sinus infections.

Dr. Jarvis began to thoroughly research the properties of raw ACV and honey. While he had trained as a human doctor, he was frequently called upon to treat sick animals, particularly when veterinarians failed to solve a persistent problem. The dual capacity gave him multiple opportunities to test the effect of the simple remedies. 

On one occasion, Dr. Jarvis was called to assist with a herd of 54 dairy cows; 23 of which would not start a new pregnancy. He put each of the 23 cows and the bull on a ration of two ounces of ACV a day, and within four months every cow had begun a pregnancy. 

In another case, a friend who bred boxer dogs contacted Dr. Jarvis. He said that though he had five bitches, only one had produced a litter in the past year. Dr. Jarvis recommended that each dog be given one tablespoon of ACV a day. Within a month the friend reported that there was an evident alkalinity change in the dogs with their urine no longer staining the snow yellow but leaving it white. Within a year, each bitch had produced a litter.

Sicknesses, including common colds, pyelitis, facial neuralgia, and sinus infections, result from a shift in the body to alkalinity, Dr. Jarvis observed. Preventing this shift by ingesting acidifying liquids or foods will prevent sickness. Drinking haymaker’s punch by combining two teaspoons to two tablespoons of ACV mixed with an equal amount of raw honey and topped off with warm water on a daily basis is a simple and tasty way to do so. 

It is important to note that not all acids are created equal in how they affect the body. Consuming diluted hydrochloric acid, for example, will increase the pain of arthritis, but one teaspoon of ACV four times a day will produced marked relief within two weeks, based on Dr. Jarvis’s results. Certain juices are also beneficial in their acidic properties. Cranberry juice contains four types of acid and so it further assists the body in dissolving calcium deposits in the blood, thus relieving arthritis. 

The effect on arthritis of consuming ACV are well-documented in Dr. Jarvis’s best-selling book, Folk Medicine (1958). In one instance, a farmer who reported having lameness in all parts of his body began taking ten teaspoons of ACV before each meal. The first day, his lameness was 20 percent better, by the fourth day, 50 percent better, and at the end of a month, 75 percent. Finally, the pain was gone all together. 

ACV is also a potent antibacterial, and so it can be a protective agent if one is about to consume slightly spoiled food. Dr. Jarvis describes an example where two sisters were about to eat some fish—fish that one suspected had turned, but the other thought was fine. Dr. Jarvis had previously instructed the sister from Vermont on consuming two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar before a questionable meal, and she did so before eating the fish. Though she recommended that her Massachusetts sister do the same, the advice was dismissed as unnecessary. Within a short time, the sister from Massachusetts developed acute stomach problems, while the sister from Vermont did not. 

In another instance, twenty people attending a gathering where lobster salad was featured. Unfortunately, the lobster salad had turned. Nineteen of them developed severe stomach disorders as a result, but one did not—a fellow that Dr. Jarvis had cautioned to take ACV in advance of attending a summer outdoor picnic, just in case. Despite having two helpings of the spoiled salad, he alone was unaffected by illness.

Perhaps the best part about ACV to those of us here in Calais is that it is readily available as a result of the abundance of apple trees in our area. One can make raw apple cider vinegar by simply cutting up three small [organic or untreated] apples, adding them to a clean, sterilized wide mouth jar, adding a cup of filtered water mixed with three tablespoons of raw sugar, and covering them the rest of the way with water. Put a piece of cheesecloth around the mouth and fix it in place with a rubber band, and keep the jar in a cool, dark place. After two to the three weeks, remove the apple pieces. For the next four weeks, stir the vinegar every few days, noting as the cloudy, stringy “mother” develops in the amber liquid. The mother is a combination of nutritious bacteria, enzymes, and proteins that help to make ACV so curative. At that point, it is ready to consume, though it can be left alone until the desired tartness is reached.


If you’d rather start trying the benefits of raw ACV today, it is available at grocery stores in our area. Be sure to choose varieties clearly marked as “raw” with cloudy deposits in it, and shake it before consuming it. Add raw honey (also locally available) and you, too, will begin to witness and appreciate the positive effects of switchel first hand.