Real snake oil.

Botanical name: 

Subject: Real Snake Oil
From: (Michael Moore)
Date: Tue, 23 Jan 96 00:55:44 MST

A further comment on the subject. For a few years I had a wholesale business that dealt in Spanish New Mexican traditional herbs...marketed under the label "Los Remedios de la Gente". Most of our accounts were with pharmacies in New Mexico and Colorado that were either owned by New Mexican Spanish pharmacists or that had a large clientele of Spanish folks.

The laborious labeling "New Mexican Spanish" is not some PolitikalKorrectness, but an acknowledgment...these folks are NOT Mexicans or Mestizos, but the descendents of Spanish immigrants, mostly from southern Spain, that were shipped into the northern Rio Grande valley in the 17th and 18th century. The herbs are VERY different from those used in Mexico, and much of the remnant tradition of Curandismo has strong roots in (A) Islamic medicine of North Africa, (B) the Doctrine of Similars current to Spain of that era, and (C) the tradition of "Seasonal" healing used by their neighbors in the Northern Pueblos.

There was always a constant, if moderate, demand for "Pulvo de Vibora" (dried and powdered rattlesnake meat) and "Aceite de Vibora" (vegetable oil that has been steeped in the dried meat of winter-dormant rattlesnakes). The powder is eaten in small daily doses (¼ to ½ teaspoon) and the oil is rubbed on...all for the treatment of arthritis that is aggravated by the extreme damp cold of living at 7,000 to 8,000 feet in the mountains.

Of course, not all traditional remedies bear close examination...the Doctrine of Similars or Signatures might declare a plant like Amaranth to be good for the blood, simply because the flowering spikes are red. Similarly (and understandably) the use of snakes can be attributed to the simple fact that they are long, sinuous, and seemingly lacking in joint problems...this was the explanation that had been given in the several anthro references I found regarding the use of Pulvo de Vibora for arthritis.

However...I was pestered into finding a source for both the powder and the oil by THREE pharmacists with arthritis that took both forms when they could get it. They swore that it offered them consistent relief.

I found a man that hunted rattlesnakes in Southern New Mexico (they are VERY common in the Jornado del Muerto and the many lava flows found around the state). He supplied me with both the steeped oil and skinned, cleaned, and sun-dried rattlesnakes. (I won't dwell on the morality of this...I have mixed feelings).

In my shop (Herbs Etcetera of Santa Fe) we used several different processing mills for herbs...ranging from a hand mill to a 5-hp grain mill purchased from the Montgomery Ward Farm Catalogue. I used a variety of grinding heads, and because much of our retail and wholesale business was in both percolated tinctures and spice blends, I spent lots of time at the mill, grinding up everything from frozen Larrea to Chiltepins to Cochin Ginger to Osha Root to Virginia Snakeroot and Echinacea...I even powdered up dried shrimp for two SE Asian cooking blends.

NOTHING affected my like grinding up the "Vibora"...I did it late at night, because the particles in the air (or aromatics released by friction...whatever) caused me to sweat profusely, pace around in motor agitation, urinate frequently...and left me in such a state of irritability that I, frankly, didn't WANT to be around anybody...I would leave my store pissed off, irritable and angry.

My right ankle was completely ruined years ago playing football, and all my life since then has consciously or covertly revolved around the fact that I have weighed around 250 and have a bad leg...I have driven Rolfers to drink and acupuncturists to their charts because of the years of rigid compensations this has brought about both in structure and energy. I am VERY aware of the consequences to it from diet, weather, moisture, blood viscosity, emotional or metabolic stress, shoes, chairs, etc. Although I usually could only manage four or five hours of sleep after grinding up these poor rattlesnakes, (and lack of sleep has ALWAYS aggravated my leg pains), I found that edema, claudication AND pain would disappear for several DAYS after the fact there was so LITTLE of the normal swelling that I could hear the grinding and disquieting "crunching" of bone fragments in my ankle as I walked.

Anyway, there is no question in my mind that this Northern Mexican and New Mexican remedy produces a strong physiologic response in the person that grinds it. I never tried it internally, and finally stopped supplying it to my wholesale customers...uncured "Jerky" always has the possibility of contamination and I got tired of driving over to La Familia Clinic to autoclave the grinding heads...and all those dead snakes finally weighed too heavily on my heart.

Michael Moore (