I was reading Bibliobibuli's post about Fatimah's kampong by Ian Buchanan and that brought back a lot of memories. Memories of the days when I was living with my grandma. It's true that in those days (60s) Grandma used to collect herbs and made her own medications. There was a medication for almost every ailment. I remember she used the young buds of a belimbing plant to cure a bad cough. She would collect the young buds which are reddish in colour and steam them in a cup. The buds would emit a little fluid which is given to the child with a cough. It could also be used to get rid of phlegm. For sores, cuts or insect bites there is a cream which she made using aloe vera leaves. The leaves are cleaned and cut, taking out the thorns at the sides of the leaves then boiled together with a little santan (coconut milk). This concoction is boiled until it becomes thick and creamy. It is then applied to the affected areas several times until healed. To get thick black hair - boil the santan until it becomes thick and creamy then mix with the petals of the jasmine flower. Some people also mix it with lemon to get a nice, lemony aroma. Other "cures" include ginger to get rid of 'wind', hibiscus and olive oil to thicken your hair and so many others I have forgotten. My grandma passed away when I was about 29 and I never really picked up any of her skills. So whatever she knew remains a secret.
Much of the "medicine" she used in those days were actually traditional remedies. Some I know are used by many people - not just Malaysians. For example the traditional remedy for a sore throat since time immemorial is warm water in which a spoonful of honey is used mixed with a dash of lemon - and this is something quite common. Even as a child I was quite prone to migraines as I remeember her using tamarind juice which she would rub on my head until it was quite wet. Then she would give me a massage, wash away the tamarind juice and let me sleep. When I woke up the bad headache would be gone replaced a mild one and a bit more rest and perhaps another of her tamarind cures would get rid of it completely.
"Nenek Mami" as everyone called her was actually childless. My mother and uncle were both adopted by her since they were babies. They were actually her niece and nephew - her cousin's children. Nenek's house was like a hospital for us kids - a nice hospital - because whenever anyone of us got sick, my mum would take us to her house and she would look after us until we became well. I loved going there so much that once after a particularly bad bout of illness - very high fever and vomitting - I refused to go back to my mother's house. I must have been about 8 years old then. I told my grandma that I preferred to stay with her and after that there was no more going back to my mum! Of course, my mum's house was just 100 metres away from nenek so it wasn't much of a big deal for either of them. BUt most of my childhood memories were of nenek's house and my time there. And much of what I learnt about life came from listening to her and watching her.