Joint pain is such a common problem that people have invented many different approaches to easing it. One wacky arthritis remedy was reputed to be the recommendation of the famous Mayo brothers, founders of the clinic. We have no idea if that is true, but we do sometimes hear from people who would like to know more about it.
Wacky Arthritis Remedy from Mayo Clinic:
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.
Grandmother Treasured Mayo Brothers’ Remedy:
Q. My grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 99. For years, she used a recipe you printed a long time ago. It was supposedly from the Mayo Clinic and she said it really kept her joints moving. Can you tell me any more about this remedy?
A. Many 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.”
Charles and William Mayo, brothers who founded the Mayo Clinic supposedly recommended the remedy you remember. Whether or not they actually suggested it, the “black ball” recipe contains 1.5 pounds of raisins and 3 pounds of figs, 3 ounces of olive oil, 2 ounces of charcoal, 1 ounce of glycerin, 3 ounces of powdered senna and 1 ounce of slippery elm. The instructions call for removing the stems from the figs, then grinding the fruit in a food chopper as fine as possible. The powdered ingredients are added a little at a time, then the olive oil and glycerin are mixed in. Here it gets messy: form into balls the diameter of a nickel.
For the first week, patients took one “ball” in the morning and one at night. After that, they took one per day. For safety, store the balls in a closed glass container in the refrigerator.
Watch Out for Senna!
We don’t have any information about whether or why this might help joint inflammation. In fact, we do not recommend it since the senna it contains is a harsh laxative unsuitable for regular use. These “black balls” probably had a laxative effect. 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.
Another Wacky Arthritis Remedy:
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.
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