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Gin-soaked raisins get spirited endorsement

People love home remedies. Almost from the beginning of time humans have relied on personal experience and word of mouth to cope with a variety of everyday ills.

Even though we now have access to fancy diagnostic techniques and powerful prescription medications, home remedies have not lost their appeal.

Over the years we have shared dozens of home remedies from our readers, ranging from ways to cut the pain from bee stings to moisturizers from the kitchen cabinet.

But none have been more often requested than the Raisin Remedy for arthritis pain.

We recently heard from Mary Jane, who said we would want to take her to Show and Tell: "A friend told me about the raisin remedy, when I told her that I would try swimming in oyster stew if it would help. I have tried every anti-inflammatory medication on the market and seen more specialists than I can mention. I've been to therapy centers and tried water exercises, but nothing worked.

"I went upstairs one step at a time and came down the same way. Every move hurt my hip and legs, and my knees were nonbendable. I didn't want to spend my life like this.

"So I tried the raisins. In three weeks time I moved like a different person, up and down steps and all. No more pain getting in and out of the car. I felt like Ponce de Leon _ I had found the fountain of youth. (I know he missed. I guess he didn't know about raisins.)

"This was not psychological, as I know when I can't get up and down and when I can. I know this recipe does not work for everybody but seems to for many:

"Put one box golden raisins in a bowl, cover them with gin and leave the bowl undisturbed for seven days. (I put a paper towel over the bowl to keep out dust.) After a week, the raisins are not dry, but ready. Eat nine raisins a day. No refrigeration is needed. "Let's buy stock in golden raisins!"

We have received dozens of letters from satisfied raisin lovers. Some were worried, though, that there might be enough alcohol left in the raisins to cause trouble.

We had the raisins analyzed with the latest technological wizardry and were pleased to learn that the alcohol residue was about a drop in nine raisins _ not enough to cause problems for most people.

Of course, we don't know if the Raisin Remedy actually works, or how often. We're not aware of any double-blind, placebo-controlled tests that have been conducted on this home remedy. In fact, most home remedies lack scientific proof of efficacy, but remain popular anyway.

Sleep like a baby

Question: You recently wrote about how to get a good night's sleep, but you forgot one time-honored approach. A cup of warm milk helped me get to sleep when I was a child and also helped me through stressful times as an adult. I'm now 80 and it still works.

Answer: Milk may not help every insomniac, but grandmothers have used it successfully for generations.

Discard old medicine

Question: A dry nighttime cough has been keeping me awake. None of the new cough medicine I bought helps. In desperation I went back to an old bottle of terpin hydrate with codeine. It worked beautifully, but is it safe to use something so old?

Answer: Check the expiration date on the label. If you can't find one, chances are the medicine is too old and should be discarded. Unfortunately, terpin hydrate has been taken off the market, so you won't be able to replace it.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.