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Strike a Chord: Use of Herbal Remedies in NYC Immigrant Communities Sparks Interest in Medical Research

by Stephanie Kuo
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Stephanie Kuo, WFUV

WFUV's Strike a Chord campaign is focusing on urban health.

Dominican music plays in the kitchen of Miriam Grullon's Washington Heights apartment.

She pulls out a bag of lemongrass, which she explains in Spanish is great for her colds. Then a bag of fresh chamomile, which she says she picked herself in Central Park. Grullon's 57 years old and from the Dominican Republic. She says she trusts herbal remedies above all else. Why?

"My grandmother on my father's side lived to be 105 years old."

Grullon relies on natural remedies passed down for generations. High blood pressure runs in her family, and when prescribed medications started to make her feel sick, she turned to drinking a tea made from Guanabana, the soursop, typically found in the Caribbean. She says her plants will always do a better job.

Grullon is just one of possibly thousands of Dominican immigrants in New York City who use natural remedies almost exclusively. This habit's being studied as part of something called ethnomedicine. Ina Vandebroek's an ethnomedical researcher at the New York Botanical Garden. And while her work has shed light on the numerous health benefits of plants, she says immigrants like Grullon embody a more concerning trend.

"Patients go to their doctor. They want to find out what kind of health condition they have," said Vandebroek. "And once they know, they don't follow the prescription of the health care provider. They go purchase the herbal remedies that they grew up with and that they have more faith in."

Vandebroek says this can delay necessary treatment, which puts patients at more risk. Ultimately though, she says both doctors and patients have a lot to learn from each other about the effectiveness of all kinds of remedies.

 

Translation credit: Viridiana Castelan

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