Many Latinos also use botanicas as a resource
for treating metaphysical ailments. These metaphysical beliefs may
appear to be easily explained by a Western biomedical approach, however it
is important to understand that many Latinos have their own way of
explaining a particular illness and this should be taken into
consideration when treating patients.
Mal aire: This belief
comes from a time when people believed that many types of sickness were
caused by “bad air”. In fact, the term malaria came from this belief
because it was thought that bad air or mal aire caused malaria.
Now, it is believed that bad air affects
“children and adults, causing rashes, sore eyes, headaches, pain, cramps,
and most commonly, facial twitching and paralysis” (Krajewski 254).
Lunar eclipses are also believed to cause cleft lip or palate. So,
when a woman is pregnant and exposed to a lunar eclipse, she must wear a
belt with a set of keys around her stomach until the baby is born to
prevent this from happening.
Mal de ojo: The belief
that some illnesses are caused by “evil eye”. If someone is looked
at by someone with “strong vision”, they may fall ill with symptoms such
as diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, aches and pains, excessive crying,
fever, and headaches. The traditional treatment is to have the
person who caused the illness touch the person who fell ill in order to
break the evil bond. Some people may go to a botanica and seek the
help of a folk healer as well. The folk healer may rub a raw,
unbroken egg over the affected person’s head, break it open, and place the
egg in a bowl under the victim’s head to draw out the evil spirit.
Emotions as cause for disease...
Mal de susto: This is
usually when a person experiences a traumatic event or witnesses a
traumatic event — “Susto” meaning “fright”.
Espanto: This is
similar to Susto, except the “fright” is due to supernatural causes.
Both of these illnesses have symptoms
including anorexia, insomnia, hallucinations, weakness, and painful
sensations. They are treated by seeing a folk healer who heals the
body with herbs, prayers, and other items while trying to get the lost
spirit to reenter the victim’s body.
“blockage”, it is believed that undigested food is causing a blockage in
the abdomen which causes swelling. Symptoms include, loss of
appetite, upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea. It is sometimes
treated by rubbing the stomach and pinching the skin on the back along the
spine to release the undigested food. A tea is also given to cleanse
the digestive tract.
You can also find more information on these illnesses by seeing Malestares Hispanos (in Spanish).