Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Here and around the world, there’s a growing trend of alternative medicines and self-care methods, like wearing crystals to ward off or draw in certain energies; using essential oils to address anxiety, stress, and even help one focus; or turning to spiritual healers who use herbs and “bio-energy” for healing.
But even before these alternatives gained popularity, we’ve already had our own distinct remedies here in the Philippines, owing to our mix of indigenous, Chinese, and Spanish roots. Some forms of alternative medicine, especially local herbs and plants, are now being studied by medical practitioners for their consistent efficacy, but many doctors also warn against being too reliant on alternative therapies, especially for life-threatening illnesses.
To this day, many Filipinos still abide by folk remedies, which range from drinking herbal teas for dengue to offering niyog to unseen entities. Here are just a few examples.
Allen Jose, 38, senior visualizer, Bulacan
Langgas (bayabas leaves with alcohol) is normally used pang-disinfect ng sugat pagkatapos magpatuli.
Rey Tolentino, 51, creative director, Pasig
Para kontra usog sa baby, maglagay ng sinulid na pula sa noo o maliit na pulang punda sa diaper.
Trisha Palaganas, 24, government employee, Pangasinan
For pins and needles sa paa, lalawayan mo ‘yung thumb mo tapos make a cross sign sa toe mo. Sa baryo ng tatay ko, sabi nila ‘pag na-usog ka at sumama pakiramdam mo, ipasuklay mo ‘yung likod mo pababa para mawala ‘yung hilo. Or if may pagod na tao or basta masama pakiramdam niya tapos nagkita kayo at lumipat sa iyo ‘yung bad energy, ‘yun daw ‘yung gagawin.
Sa Pangasinan, isang remedy daw for asthma is inihaw na butiki na hinahalo sa inumin. Pero hindi ko ginagawa ‘yun.
Pat Oriarte, 26, video editor, Las Piñas
Nagkaroon ako ng malaking pigsa dati, tapos pinapunta ako ng mama ko sa albularyo. ‘Yung albularyo taga-Las Piñas lang din.
He checked my wrist tapos sabi niya may “sapi” daw ako, napag-tripan daw siguro ako ng duwende or may na-badtrip sa akin tapos pinakulam ako. So ang ginawa niya, may pinahid siya sa akin na herbal medicine, “koyo,” tapos pinainom ako ng holy water at saka asin tapos dinasalan niya ako. After nun, gumaling ‘yung pigsa. May alaga daw na anito ‘yung albularyo and ang sabi niya ‘yun daw ‘yung nagpagaling sa akin.
Monet Landayan, 23, production manager, Las Piñas
‘Pag may ubo ako, pinapainom ako ng mama ko ng oregano extract. Pipitas siya ng oregano leaves sa garden, ise-steam niya on top of sinaing for 10 minutes, then after I’ve had a meal, pipigain niya ‘yung oregano leaves to get the extract. Sometimes lalagyan niya ng honey and calamansi. Then I drink about three tablespoons. Usually, the next day halos wala na ‘yung ubo.
Mara Orlina, 27, graphic designer, Mandaluyong
Two of my siblings and I have had dengue, and during those times our dad would prepare tea made with an herb called tawa-tawa. It's supposed to help increase your platelet count. The tea is brownish green and it tastes very earthy, so my dad puts brown sugar to make it more palatable. I noticed that I felt stronger afterwards and eventually my platelet count did go up.
Steff Sarcia, 22, medical student, Quezon City
When my brother and I would get sick when we were younger, my grandmother would heat up tuba-tuba leaves and stick them on our backs for us to get better. She would pray over us as she did this as well. Recently, our helper also made us a mixture of oregano, sugar, and calamansi when we started getting a cough.
[As for their efficacy,] for the tuba-tuba, I don't remember too much because I was really young when she used to do that for me. But I believe my grandmother really believed in it since she was really into alternative types of remedies. I didn't feel instant relief with the oregano but it helped with the throat itching and I did get better afterwards.
Dani Divinagracia, 20, student, Iloilo
Many of those from the older generation in Iloilo still go to albularyos for remedies. One such remedy is what we call a “butbut.” The patient complains of pains usually at the back, with what can only be described as a stabbing pain. It is not muscular or from a pinched nerve. The albularyo will use a cotton ball dipped with coconut oil (or “lana” in the language) that will then be rubbed on the area of pain. After a few rubs, small items such as pebbles and sometimes needles come out of the patient’s skin. My grandparents would undergo this process whenever they feel something.
Aih Mendoza, 25, copywriter and improviser, Makati
I go to Dr. Tan in Ongpin St., Binondo. He's a famous traditional Chinese healer who gets hundreds of patients a day. He only charges ₱400 for a check-up and the line is so long, but he only spends five minutes with each patient so the wait isn't too bad if you don't go at peak time.
While I'm not sure how to explain what he does and why he does it exactly, essentially he 'diagnoses' you by feeling your pulse on both hands and looking at your tongue and your tongue's underside. From this, he'll usually get an idea of what's going on with your health. I was skeptical at the beginning but after my first check up, he asked me how I've been dealing with my polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which I hadn't told him about at all. I was so surprised. He then gave me a prescription for tea made of herbs and roots to get rid of my kidney stones (which I had no idea I had, I was just complaining of back pain that would never go away). He told me “stop holding in your pee so much and drink more water!” which freaked me out because I am so guilty of holding in my pee for as long as I could. I brought the prescription to an apothecary downstairs where they give you a plastic filled with roots and leaves and other dried things, which you boil in a ceramic pot and have to drink for a couple of days. After the tea, my mysterious back pain disappeared. I go to him every time I feel something strange and he's been incredibly helpful.
One of the biggest reasons I decided to visit Dr. Tan was because of all the testimonials I've read and heard of him catching people's ailments before they knew they had it and how helpful he's been even with cancer cases. However, a year after I started seeing him, an x-ray from our office's annual physical exam discovered tumors in my lungs that turned out to be a rare type of cancer that spread from my muscles. After returning to Dr. Tan, it didn't seem like he saw it coming and he was actually a little stumped. So I absolutely feel like he's a great healer who has helped a lot of patients and is an incredible alternative especially to people who can't afford regular medicine, but I don't feel it can 100 percent replace western medicine — at least in my case.
Joy*, 25, store supervisor, Davao
My family believes in entities such as nuno sa punso, duwende, diwata, etc. We believe they are protectors of earth, only seen by gifted people and felt by others. When I get sick out of the blue, unreasonably exhausted or irrationally irritable, it has become a habit of mine to check my pinky fingers if they’re “pantay.” If they’re not, then that means that I’m being played by the engkantos. I used to think of these things as exaggerations, until I had an encounter with an entity.
There was a time my hands were peeling badly and going to the dermatologist didn’t help at all. The doctors would just tell me it’s eczema and prescribe me lotions, but none of the lotions were working for my hands. My aunts speculated that I might have disturbed some entity and recommended that I make an offering to the nuno sa punso. Feeling helpless about the condition of my hands and thinking, “What do I have to lose?” I decided to follow my aunts’ recommendation. I recalled hanging out in our school garden after class hours and being extra loud, so I decided to make the offering there. I went to school with cooked niyog and left it near the largest tree in the garden. The next day, my condition subsided. After that experience, I started recognizing that such things existed.
*Name changed at the request of the interviewee.