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People’s Pharmacy: Frankincense oil offers aid for cysts

Q. Do you have any information on natural treatments for a sore ganglion cyst on the wrist? I have been using a wrap-around brace on my wrist and would prefer to handle this without medication or surgery.

A. A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms on joints such as the wrist, ankles, feet or fingers. If the sac presses on a nerve, it may be painful. Such cysts often disappear on their own, so “watch and wait” is the first choice for treatment. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also recommends wearing a brace to immobilize the joint. If the cyst is persistent and painful, it should be checked by a doctor, who might opt to puncture and drain it.

We did hear about an unusual treatment for ganglion cysts from a young woman who applied frankincense oil to hers. It disappeared.

Another reader tried this: “I had cysts on my knees that made it excruciating to kneel. Frankincense oil on them twice a day cleared them up in only four days. I would never have believed this could work so quickly!”

Frankincense is resin from Boswellia trees. Boswellia extract has anti-inflammatory activity.

Q. Some time ago, a podiatrist wrote to complain about home remedies for nail fungus. My husband has toenail fungus, and our podiatrist prescribed a 30-day supply of Lamisil pills. They cost hundreds of dollars. The medication has to be taken for three months, totaling more than a thousand dollars for a full course. Even a generic would have been pricey.

There were no guarantees it would cure the fungus. My husband would also need liver-function tests every month to make sure the drug was not causing damage. I don’t know who could spend that kind of money for a drug with serious side effects. I’d rather try an affordable home remedy. Any suggestions?

A. Nail fungus is not a life-threatening condition, so there should be no harm in trying inexpensive home remedies to see if they will help. Readers have reported success with Vicks VapoRub, Listerine and vinegar soaks, tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide and cornmeal. We have collected their recommendations and many other affordable solutions for common problems in our book “Favorite Home Remedies,” available online at www.

Q. Can you help me find information about an old-time remedy? I’m not sure how to spell it, but it sounds like ass-a-fit-a-tea. An older friend of mine remembers that her parents used it against an outbreak of typhoid fever and would like to know more about it.

A. It is spelled asafetida. Fetid means stinky, and it fits. In the early 20th century, children were sent to school with a little bag of asafetida around their necks during flu season. It probably kept everyone else far away because of the stench and so cut down on the transmission of colds and flu.

Under the name of hing, this herb is used in Indian cuisine. When cooked, it has an onionlike flavor and is reputed to reduce flatulence if added to lentils or beans.

Q. I got into some chiggers and was in misery, so after everything else failed, I decided to try some hydrogen peroxide. To my surprise, the itch stopped immediately and never came back.

A. Dermatologists say chigger bites itch because of a reaction to the digestive enzymes chiggers leave behind. Perhaps hydrogen peroxide degrades these enzymes, but we haven’t seen any studies that support this.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site: