For the love of Vicks

Posted on May 10, 2013

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In honor of Mother’s day, I’d like to share about that remedy dubbed “the only thing more powerful than a mother’s touch,” loved and used by mothers the world over… but especially loved and used by mothers in Latin America: Vicks VapoRub.

In much of Latin America, VapoRub gel is considered a magical cure-all, the phrase “Hechate Vicks!” (“Put Vicks on it!”) one of the most ubiquitous phrases heard by children with ailments ranging from bruised knees to stuffy noses. Beyond its camphor and eucalyptus-based benefits for congestion from the common cold, the belief goes that Vicks can resolve just about any malady and can be rubbed on just about everything.

Vicks - For all cold troubles.

Vicks – For all cold troubles.

The Power of Vicks: Some Examples

  • To clear out “juicy” (i.e., phlegmy) lungs: rub it on the soles of your feet and cover them with socks. Also rub on your throat and chest, then bundle up with a scarf.
  • To sleep tight: dab a bit on your eyelids.
  • To soothe aches and pains: rub it on sore muscles.
  • To alleviate headaches: rub on your temples.
  • To stop bites from itching: rub on the bite. (Also rub on ankles and wrists to keep mosquitos at bay.)
  • To clear up zits: rub it on the infected area.
  • To get rid of nail fungus: rub it on the infected area. (Also rub on cracked heels to keep them smooth.)
  • To breathe easy: dab a wee bit on the inside of your nostrils.
  • To relieve a stuffed head and congestion: lightly boil some water to create steam, add Vicks to the pot, drape a towel over your head, lean over the steam and inhale deeply. Best close your eyes.

The Vicks packaging actually does not recommend these last two. Regardless, most nights as I go to sleep Juan rubs Vicks on my throat and eyelids and sticks it up my nose.

I did a little digging (i.e., Wikipedia), and it turns out that Vicks has been around since 1912, with the original formula developed in 1905 by a North Carolinian fellow. Some innovative marketing techniques helped the company grow quickly in the beginning, tailoring its strategy to specific regions. For example, it was one of the first companies to mass-mail product samples to rural delivery boxes in the western United States, where mail could be delivered to an “occupant” of an address rather than to the resident’s name. Sales really skyrocketed during the flu epidemic following World War I. By the 1920s, Vicks had made it to Latin America. Somehow over the subsequent decades, it made its way into the daily arsenal of mom-approved remedies.

Got an itch or a bite? Hechate Vicks. Got a red “roncha” that appeared out of nowhere? Hechate Vicks. Got a bruise or a scratch? Hechate Vicks. Got an earache, headache, backache, or ache of any other variety? Vicks will probably do the trick. And if your Latin American or Latino partner is complaining of any of the above, hechale a little Vicks before bedtime and you’ll have a happy patient. Add a little “Que duermas con los angelitos,” and your patient will melt. Although we all know that nothing is really better than a mother’s touch. Happy Mother’s Day.

…And when in doubt, “Hechate Vicks!”

Vintage Vicks

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Posted in: Home Remedies