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.

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  1. BBB

    Has anyone made the “little black balls” arthritis pain remedy and tried it? If so, has it worked? If it works, I want to try it too!

  2. cpmt

    I TAKE/drink DARK CHERRY JUICE, 1/4 of a cup 100% cherry. you can also eat frozen cherries and help me.

  3. cpmt

    Please send us the RECIPE or what you use and measurements Thank you.

  4. cpmt

    Rob Roy, will you please sent the recipe here? for all of us to read and learn? Please don’t just tell the story, just give us the recipe. Thank you.

  5. RobRoy

    As a young man I had both kinds of arthritis and was in hospital for seven months on very high doses of cortisone steroids. I had to be weaned of these drugs over a period of 2 years and carry a card stating I had been treated with them for a further 3 years.
    All went well for approx. 12 years and I found the arthritis return initially in my shoulders. My mother was visiting one time and she saw me wince and she asked if The arthritis was returning, answer yes. She then told me a story about a friend of hers who was wheelchair bound and became reclusive and refused to see even her friends.
    One day a couple of years later she was passing the house and her old friend was gardening, no wheelchair. She told my mother the story about this old Mayo brothers recipe which she used and it was like a miracle.
    My mother sent me the recipe and I used it and I have not had arthritis pain for more than 30 years. I passed it on to many and they also are still pain free.

  6. susan d l-j

    That labeling mix-up idea sounds likely, but as they say, you-never-know, and it couldn’t-hurt. I once saw a doctor order a magnesium citrate laxative for a patient whose organs were failing, to dialize out toxins through the bowel wall. One nurse “held” (didn’t give) the drug because she wasn’t told the rationale. She saw that the client’s bowels were moving, so it didn’t seem to make sense.
    You just never know. Maybe there’s something to this.
    Incidentally, I live in a “senior” building and several of us have had good luck with the cherry juice, both black cherry and tart. Thanks.

  7. Geo

    Hi Could you be more specific with quantities of both/how mixed/when taken? G

  8. Geo

    Hello, I also would appreciate the recipe for the Mayo Bros. Black Balls. These are not just for clearing bowel. Thanks to you both in advance. Keep up the Great Work Geo

  9. PAM

    For anyone interested. Boswellia with Curcumin stopped the sharp, stabbing, needle like pains I had in my knuckles. It’s inexpensive as well. I don’t take it constantly, just when the pain recurs.

  10. ecn

    I work out every day for my knees. Standing with 3# weights, bend knees until hands reach the floor. Sitting in a chair with one weight in a bag over foot, lift foot to straight out. Do both knees.

  11. Robert L. H.

    Please tell me the amount of the tart cherry juice to drink for arthritis. I can’t find that the amount is listed and the cherry juice is expensive. Is it a spoonful or a cup full?
    Bob H.
    People’s Pharmacy response: Visitors to our site report benefit with two tablespoons of concentrate or 1/3 cup juice:

  12. Noah V.

    I’d be interested in that formulation as well.
    I have adult-onset boy-that-hurts in numerous joints and am willing to try about anything natural that won’t hurt me.
    And if I spend a little more time sitting down in my bathroom? That won’t hurt me either.
    People’s Pharmacy response: The Mayo brothers’ black ball recipe from the turn of the 20th century called for 3 pounds dried figs, 
1.5 pounds seeded raisins, 3 ounces olive oil, 1 ounce glycerine, 
3 ounces powdered senna, 
2 ounces powdered charcoal and 1 ounce slippery elm.
    The figs and raisins were put through a food grinder (a food processor might work, if one did only a small amount at a time) and then the powdered ingredients were mixed in a little at a time. Finally, the olive oil and glycerine were mixed in thoroughly and the mixture was made into balls with the diameter of a nickel. The balls were kept refrigerated in a closed glass container. The original recipe suggests making up only half the amount at one time. One ball was taken morning and evening for a week; then one ball a day for six months.
    We wonder if the label didn’t get mixed up on this recipe somewhere along the line. Figs and raisins are high in fiber (to help you “go”), charcoal is an ancient remedy for gas and other GI issues, slippery elm helps produce slippery mucus to “lubricate the pipes,” and senna is a well-known harsh laxative.
    When this recipe was popular, enemas and other laxative products were considered cutting edge medical treatments were promoted by such health leaders as John Harvey Kellogg (of breakfast cereal fame).
    If you don’t want to turn your kitchen into a messy laboratory, you might be interested in trying “golden milk,” an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for sore joints whose primary ingredient, turmeric has impressive proven anti-inflammatory effect http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=23242572 “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=23242572
    Another option might be cherry juice, or cherry juice concentrate rich in anti-oxidants. Our readers tell us these can be very helpful in reducing their gout and plantar fasciitis pain, and there is some research to support this. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23023818]
    If you are actually looking for a remedy with a laxative effect, why not give our power pudding a try? [https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2013/12/05/dont-fall-in-love-with-laxatives/]

  13. PRG

    Do you have a copy of the formula to share? I have Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and at age 62, I would be interested in giving it a try. I appreciate your response.

  14. cpmt

    where can you get the senna and the glycerin (natural) and charcoal in food form. Because these things are difficult to find anywhere. Thank you.

  15. Peter

    Could this mixture work by helping the body to get rid of compounds causing the pain in the joints?

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