Books: Bestseller Revisited, Dec. 28, 1959

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FOLK MEDICINE (182 pp.)—D. C. Jarvis, M.D.—Holt ($2.95).

In Boston last week, famed Grocers S. S. Pierce & Co. were doing a brisk business in an item whose output is sharply limited: "Honegar," a fifty-fifty mixture of honey and apple-cider vinegar, compounded by Mrs. Catherine Perry, using frontier-housewife techniques, at Hartland Four Corners, Vt. And all over the U.S., booksellers were doing equally brisk business with an item in seemingly unlimited demand as well as supply: Folk Medicine, by D. C. Jarvis, M.D.

Subtitled "A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health," the book has astonished booksellers by creeping to the upper level of bestseller lists and staying there for months—despite the fact that, when it appeared in 1958, it attracted no more critical attention than its nonsensical content of pseudo medicine and pseudo science deserved. Probably least surprised by Folk Medicine's success was 64-year-old Texas Wheeler-Dealer Clint Murchison (TIME cover, May 24, 1954), a disciple of Dr. Jarvis' Honegar cult, who persuaded him to write the book and persuaded Holt to publish it—no trick, since Murchison controls Henry Holt & Co.

Myth & Vinegar. Dr. Jarvis prescribes vinegar (always the apple-cider variety) for all comers. The vinegar can be taken straight or diluted in water. But for maximum efficacy, he insists that it be mixed with honey—a sort of sweet-'n'-sour, yang-and-yin combination.

A native of Pittsburgh. N.Y., DeForest Clinton Jarvis graduated from the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and in 1909 opened an office in Barre (pop. 12,000), headquarters of the granite-for-tombstones industry. He concentrated on diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat. Now 78, a roughhewn, granitic specimen, he still treats a few patients in an office whose windows are blazoned with his name in letters almost a foot high.

The steps by which Dr. Jarvis became the apostle of honey and vinegar are unclear. He writes of having observed farm animals cure themselves of illnesses by resting, fasting and eating herbs, but stops short of crediting them with the manufacture of vinegar. Yet he says a dose of vinegar added to a cow's ration guarantees that her calf will be born robust, well furred, and with such inherited smartness that it will take water from a pail without teaching. By extension from animal to human husbandry, Jarvis contends that if a pregnant woman adds honey and vinegar to a well-balanced diet, her baby will have a thick shock of hair and long, strong fingernails, both needing to be cut the day it is born.

Race & Diet. Dr. Jarvis' explanation of the near-magical powers of vinegar is that it is unusually rich in potassium, and he rates this as the element most important in stimulating growth. In cold fact, even apple-cider vinegar (in the amounts he prescribes) is decidedly poor in potassium. And although this element is essential to life, its relationship to growth is unknown.

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