Sugar, mayo, parsley and…beer

Food as Medicine

by Constance Breese

Food as Medicine

Martin Gee

“Dr. Breese, my cow has thrown her calf bed. Can you come out?” After hearing this news, I knew that farmer David Upland’s cow, Sophie, had given birth to a healthy calf, but with all the pushing and straining, her entire uterus had come out of her body, following closely behind the newborn animal. An infrequent problem? Yes, and also a major one. My prescription? One bag of white granulated sugar, one bottle of beer.

Sophie’s uterus was extremely swollen, typical of the condition. I injected an epidural to lessen her discomfort. We cleaned everything up and poured on the sugar. Sugar when applied to a prolapsed uterus draws out fluid and helps shrink the swollen tissue. White granulated sugar in large amounts is also antibacterial.

As my mentors, Dr. Frank Savage and Dr. John Gross, used to tell me, whoever needs the beer most—you or the farmer—drink up. (So the beer itself isn’t medicinal, just helpful in a stressful situation.) Because the structure of a typical beer bottle has the right length neck and shape to use as an extension of my gloved-hand as I work inside the cow to straighten the uterus back into position. After hours of work we replaced the uterus and stitched up Sophie.

In veterinary practice we will often mix betadine (an iodine compound that kills fungus and bacteria) with sugar. Sugardine is the term for this old-style remedy. It is commonly used on farm animals to treat wounds and abscesses of the hoof. It draws out infection, improves drainage and toughens hooves while promoting healthy tissue growth. Unlike some other common remedies, sugardine doesn’t dry or damage existing healthy tissue.

Mayonnaise turned out to be very useful in saving the leatherback turtles after last year’s Gulf oil spill. It degreased the oil off the turtles’ eyes safely and quickly. The vets mixed mayo with medication, and the mayo both delivered the medicine and provided extra nutrition to the hundreds of turtles needing help.

Foods that function as medicine are not limited to those applied topically (to the skin). Honey, for example, can be used as an anti-fungal topical salve for cuts and burns on animals.

The National Institute of Health currently has nineteen clinical trials underway to study use of the spice turmeric for a variety of medical disorders. It has unique properties that stimulate new blood vessels to grow. Animal studies show that the spice turmeric can aid in cancer treatment and help increase blood flow in brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Our knowledge of foods that are medicinal is growing all the time and seems modern and cutting edge, but some of this information is in old texts and journals.

Parsley when fed to sheep can raise estrogen levels. Sheep farmers are now learning how to use this herb to help regulate a ewe’s cycle to get her bred more efficiently. I reviewed an article in the New England Farmer, a periodical from the 1830s, which spoke to many of the benefits of parsley for sheep and cows. In addition to the hormonal action, the author speaks of its antiseptic properties helping to prevent infection. It also acts as a mild diuretic, meaning that parsley increases the flow of blood and urine, which is beneficial in certain medical conditions.

Everything old is new again. Organic farms are growing in number and guiding veterinarians back to older, safer remedies that work. Drug companies are investing millions of dollars to research medicinal plants and herbs and investigate ways to formulate them to maximize their effectiveness.

Mayo, sugar, herbs and spices: now that’s my kind of medicine.