cure/placebo

Went to pick my first blackberries of the season today.  Conditions were less than ideal after three days of predominantly rain, but today dawned bright and sunny.  So I went out to a stretch of footpath where I regularly see the brambles and have seen the berries ripening, but where I rarely encounter people.  Should be ideal, right?

Alas no, very poor pickings.  Evidently someone, or more likely several people, got there first :(  Had to wade right in to the scrub to get anything half-decent.  As I got stung and shredded (a regular seasonal hazard – serves me right for wearing sandals/shorts/t-shirt) I saw another plant regularly associated with brambles and nettles: dock leaves.  And a recollection came to me from my distant childhood: dock leaves are supposed to bring relief to nettle stings and rash.

It’s a distant recollection, but they never did bring relief to me.  Over time I reached the age when one bears that level of pain in silence (hey, it’s one of the few slightly-macho things a boy can still do in our emasculated society), and learned of the placebo in biology classes.  The dock leaf is a classic placebo, right?

I don’t know where medical science stands on that one: a very quick google finds both views (not including any authoritative-looking reference).  But nettles and dock leaves surely feature in every English childhood, right?  Can a child’s reaction to dock leaves tell us anything about their personality?  Can it predict how they’ll respond to placebo, including variants such as faith-healing, in treating more serious ailments?  Or on the other hand, how they’ll respond to medically-proven remedies.  And if a correlation can be established, can that be extended to throw any light on ‘alternative’ medicines that may or may not be more-than placebo?

Hey, add some fieldwork and rigorous statistics, and this could be developed into a PhD thesis.  I expect it’s been done, but you never know!

Posted on August 22, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting question. I too never experienced much relief from dock leaves. But now I’ve done, I guess, the same Google searches you did, and found that dock leaves contain high levels of tannin, which makes them astringent, which is a quality of solutions widely used in treating minor skin irritations, including allergies and insect bites. So there is a plausible pharmacological connection.

    Maybe you could get the same effect from used teabags. Or red wine. Whatever’s handy, I guess.

  2. you can say that alternative medicine is cheaper too and usually comes from natural sources ‘.*

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