“Many Italian-American women have had knowledge of folk prophylactics and cures which they use for the daily health of family members. At the same time, folk medical specialists, individuals with special knowledge and gifts, were available for serious ailments. Particularly when an illness lasted for some time or when its cause was uncertain, Italian Americans went to folk healers, usually women who could diagnose the source of an ailment, perform the necessary procedures for curing it, and prescribe additional remedial activity as needed. Such healers usually had to be versed in two kinds of medicine: one based on a folk pharmacopeia of herbs and other natural ingredients, and one requiring expertise in magical counteractants to illness. The latter often overlapped with cures for malocchio, but it also included magical responses to ailments whose causation was purely natural. Sometimes the healer would rely on only one kind of medicine, but sometimes she had to combine the natural and the magical to effect the required cure.
“Some communities had folk medical specialists, such as the spilato among Sicilians in Buffalo, New York. This person, blessed with an inborn healing gift that became honed through instruction traditionally by a relative, could use his or her hands to cure sprains, strains, stiffness, bruises, and other skeleto-muscular disorders. Generally, specialists in magical healing were able to practice their skills in the United states much more effectively than those who relied on natural remedies, since the ingredients for the latter were often unavailable in the New World and might be replaced by relatively inexpensive patent medications that were available to anyone. Usually the herbal remedies that have endured in Italian-American folk tradition are those requiring no specialized healer status within the community. They are truly ‘home remedies.’
“There is also an interplay between scientific and magical folk medicine, seen in some ways in which Italian Americans have traditionally promoted good health. These include drinking holy water, eating a bowl of grapes on New Year’s Day before rising, putting blessed palms from Palm Sunday beneath the mattress, sprinkling clothes with salt, wearing garlic or camphor in a pouch around the neck, or having a priest bless one’s house.”
Frances M. Malpezzi and Wiliam M. Clements, Italian-American Folklore, pp. 134-135.