Got distracted by apple cider vinegar

What do you do when you’re feeling poorly? A few things in my arsenal: If I’m feeling run down, I like to take a shower and go to bed early, like my mom taught me. If I have cramps, I like to put a hot water bottle on my abdomen, like my friend Samantha taught me. If I’m coughing, I like to put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on my pillow, like Matt’s friend Kate taught me. For everything else, I like to go to Earth Clinic dot com and spiral, psychologically. That one I taught myself. 

Earth Clinic is “the world’s largest database of natural remedies.” You can browse by ailment or treatment, and each page has a short synopsis and then hundreds and hundreds of comments from users. 

I’ve been reading the site for a decade. The oldest mention in the archive is an email to my mother, sharing the good news that I had found evidence (that is, a single post on an internet forum) that rubbing castor oil on our dog’s belly might shrink the cysts that were growing there, and also that mixing spoonfuls of coconut oil into her kibble might cure her arthritis. I also mentioned that my mom could start drinking large glasses of water with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, the kind “with the mother,” “for general health.” 

I have read about so many natural cures on Earth Clinic, but apple cider vinegar — ACV — is the standby, showing up as a reported cure on nearly every ailment from heartburn to heavy metal toxicity. It’s become my go-to as well, not because I think it does anything, but because drinking it feels like doing something. Something to do, when the general advice is that there’s nothing to do but time, rest, fluids. There’s usually a bottle of it on our counter, and sometimes I add a capful to a glass of water. Right now I’m doing it more often than normal, a few times a day. I believe there’s a placebo effect; the power of positive drinking. 

I wish I could tell you I just leave it at that, but I can’t. A few weeks ago, before anything had closed, when people were first starting to talk about having two weeks of food at home in case you got sick, I looked to Earth Clinic for a flu treatment plan, hoping that it might be adaptable for this thing going around. I knew if I got sick I’d go to the site and want to try whatever people were saying to try. I knew it wouldn’t be possible, then, to get supplies. So I thought I would stock up now, make a little kit, a little plan. 

Scrolling through flu remedies, I found lots of things that I’d actually tried in the past and then promptly forgotten about: gargling hot water with cayenne pepper in it for a sore throat (terrible), eating spoonfuls of coconut oil and honey and blackstrap molasses for general immune-system boosting (fine), eating raw garlic (fine in food, painful straight), overdosing on vitamin c “to elimination” (not fun — it means eating vitamin c until you have diarrhea), adding turmeric to everything (messy), spraying hydrogen peroxide in the back of my throat (dangerous?), eating lots of yoghurt (good). 

Reading through the posts, my anxiety levels ticked up, and I remembered how terribly anxious I have been doing this same thing in the past, scrolling and searching for relief or a cure to some ailment. Searches for remedies for varicose veins, yeast infections, eczema, cold, flu, urinary tract infections, pulled muscles, heavy periods, headaches. Folly, all of it. 

The site is despairing and crazymaking. Despairing: So many people have ended up there as a last resort, either because doctors have not been able to diagnose a problem or suggest a suitable treatment or because they can’t afford to go to a doctor. Crazymaking: random people dispensing medical advice with no credentials, no proof besides unbelievable anecdotal evidence. And yet something happens while I’m reading that makes me start to believe that some of them could be right, that there is a way to complete health, that it’s hidden in these forums, that I need to just try a little harder to find it. 

This, I’ve found, is the opposite of the placebo effect, for me. It leads to desperation, despair, a swirling anxious energy that feels hopeless. Being sick turns from something that has happened to me to something that I have allowed to happen, something I am continuing to allow, something I can only stop if I find the right cure, do the right thing. It’s a terrible, toxic feeling, and it comes flooding back each time I scroll through the site. 

And yet I keep going back, why. Desperation? Short-sightedness, short memory. Writing this, I recalled a revelation I had the last time I had the flu, two years ago in California. I was sick for two weeks. In an email to my friend Edith, I reported that I hadn’t slept properly in days, that Matt had timed my coughing fits: every one to five minutes. I also listed everything I had tried from Earth Clinic: an onion on my pillow, honey and garlic, apple cider vinegar tea, hydrogen peroxide in my ears, colloidal silver spray in my throat. I was exhausted, I was desperate, I was despairing. Finally, I reported, after Matt begged me to, I called my doctor and was prescribed an inhaler and antibiotics. I remember the relief of chatting with the doctor, of ceding the responsibility of my health to someone else, to a professional. And of course, the medicine worked. Or maybe it was medicine plus time? It certainly wasn’t the onion, the stress. Matt hates the site, hates its hold over me, hates the insane things it makes me do. We keep our phones out of the bedroom now, but I remember during that period he would wake up in the middle of the night to me scrolling and would say, please put that away, for your sake and mine. 

He’s right, he’s right, I know he’s right. And yet I do believe in doing small good things. I do believe in the power of placebo, of drinking a glass of water with a capful of apple cider vinegar in it. And in that belief is a tiny door, an openness to that leaves room for the magical thinking of — if this, what more? 

There is one woman I’ve found on Earth Clinic that I trust. She is a mother of nine in Tennessee and posts under the handle “Mama to Many.” She has said that she does go to doctors (important), but also believes there are many things you can treat at home. Her posts are always kind, and she is generous with her experience and knowledge.  Someone will ask about their flu, their pregnancy, their heartburn, and she will respond in the forum with a few suggestions from her traditional toolkit, often mentioning her experience with methods when she or one of her own children were ill. 

Here’s what she suggests for cold and flu: hydrogen peroxide in your ears twice a day, hot vinegar tea with honey and apple cider vinegar, aspirin, salt water gargles, plenty of liquids, epsom salt baths, 10 minutes in the sunshine a couple of times a day. A few good things to try when you’re feeling poorly, not the wild hope of a secret cure. I have the urge to go back to the site, to search if she’s written anything more, if some other clue to immunity is those forums. I won’t, there’s nothing good there, nothing more. If we get sick, I will do these small things. But mostly I will rest, drink fluids, hope to get better. 

I wish you safety and sanity, cups of water with capfuls of apple cider vinegar, yogurt every night with manuka honey, spoonfuls of coconut oil every now and then, and lots of hope. 

Love from,



I don’t actually recommend going to the site, but if you must: 

“Mama’s kitchen remedies for winter,” Earth Clinic 

“Apple cider vinegar: uses, health benefits, and FAQ,” Earth Clinic