Q. I have an old yellowed article from the paper about a “black ball” arthritis remedy from the Mayo Clinic from the 1950’s. I have kept the article but have never tried the formula and before I throw it away I would like to know if it has been of help to anyone reading your column.
A. The recipe you refer to was purportedly devised by the Mayo brothers (Charles and William) who founded the Mayo Clinic. It contains dried figs and raisins, olive oil, glycerin, senna, charcoal and slippery elm.
Manny years ago we received an ancient mimeographed recipe from a reader of our newspaper column. She said it came from the Mayo brothers, Drs. Chas. & Will Mayo, early in the 20th century. Here is her original story:
“In 1950 my teacher went to the Mayo Clinic for crippling arthritis. She was 27 years old and spent six weeks at the clinic. The treatment was a miracle for her.
She was given a formula to continue taking, which she shared with me for my mother. The jar of little black balls in her fridge changed my mother’s life.”
We have been unable to find any scientific studies supporting this approach. The Mayo brothers’ arthritis remedy contained dried figs, raisins, olive oil, glycerin, senna, charcoal and slippery elm. These “black balls” may have had a laxative effect, especially since they contained senna, a stimulant laxative. The figs and raisins are rich in fiber, but there are no studies suggesting these ingredients have anti-inflammatory properties. If anything, this recipe seems more like a treatment for constipation than arthritis.
If you are interested in grape-based remedies, you may wish to consult our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis, which describes Certo in grape juice and golden raisins soaked in gin, two long-time favorites of People’s Pharmacy readers.
If you find these sorts of treatments intriguing, we offer hundreds of practical, time-tested remedies for arthritis and other common ailments in our comprehensive book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy: What you Need to Know BEFORE Your Next Visit to the Doctor or Drugstore.