Q. Many years ago I started using a rather unusual method for de-gassing beans. When it is time to soak the beans overnight, I use Sprite or its generic equivalent instead of water. I then rinse the beans with water before cooking.
This method virtually eliminates the gas problem, and there is no difference in the taste. This is one way to enjoy a good bean soup and not have to worry about the aftereffects.
A. You offer an interesting twist on a familiar practice. Indigestible sugars in the coatings of the beans are responsible for most bean-related flatulence. One way to minimize these compounds is to soak beans in water that has been brought just to a boil, then discard the soaking water.
Another reader suggested a different approach: "Add a potato while cooking dried beans. This works for me every time."
Several culinary traditions also have hints that might help. Mexican cooks add the herb epazote to black beans, both for the taste and the anti-gas effect. The spices hing (asafoetida) and ginger are used in India.
Q. My 21-year-old son has alopecia areata. Until recently, his dermatologist was able to control the patchy baldness with cortisone injections to the scalp.
In January my son abruptly began losing hair in great quantities. He is losing an eyebrow and has very little chin hair to shave. The dermatologist started him on prednisone two weeks ago and told us it would take several weeks to find out if it's going to work.
My son called from college two days ago to tell us it has gotten so bad, he's thinking about shaving his head. I have read about treatments for this condition on the Web site www.alopeciaareata.com. Do you have any other suggestions for treatment?
A. Alopecia areata is a condition in which the immune system attacks hair follicles and causes patchy or even total hair loss. Scottish dermatologists reported in the Archives of Dermatology (November 1998) that a traditional home remedy was helpful for this condition.
The treatment consists of applying essential oils of thyme, lavender, rosemary and cedar to the scalp. We describe it in detail in our Guide to Battling Baldness, which we are sending you. Anyone who would like to know more about drug-induced hair loss or other hair problems may receive our Guides to Hair Care and Battling Baldness by sending $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. HQ-317, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Q. A friend of ours uses plain mustard for leg cramps. She swallows a teaspoonful of mustard to relieve the pain whenever she gets leg cramps. This home remedy works so well for her that she carries packets of mustard wherever she goes. Because I'm a retired pharmacist and my wife is a retired nurse, she asked us if we've ever heard of this. We never have; have you?
A. This is a new one for us. People tell us that a teaspoon of yellow mustard can alleviate heartburn. Presumably the turmeric in mustard is responsible for this benefit, since it has been used for digestive problems in Chinese and traditional Hindu medicine for centuries. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties, which might explain how it helps your friend with leg cramps.
XIn their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.org.
& copy; 2002 King Features Syndicate, Inc.