In days gone by, getting medical attention was not a simple drive over the mountain to an educated doctor and a well equipped hospital or clinic. Doctors were few and far between, and not as available as they are today. Most of the aches and pains of the people up and down the valleys and ridges of this area were treated by home remedies, found in the roots, herbs, and bark of trees in the surrounding forest. People had to manufacture or discover their own medicines.
Great need brought about widespread use of roots and herbs as accepted forms of medical practice, and many times it was the neighborhood women who were called in cases of serious illness. In some cases witchcraft was relied upon, partly because people in pain tend to put their faith in anything that promised relief from pain. While in many of the old remedies and cures there was room for serious doubt, many we know were effective , and are to this day.
I’m sure that many of the generation remember times when growing up they got splinters and thorns deeply imbedded in the flesh that caused great pain. Mothers kept a supply of flax seed meal for such times. They would mix the meal with warm water, and prepare a poultice that was placed over the puncture, and many times before the next morning the flax seed had drawn the object to the surface. Whole flax seed were used to draw foreign objects from the eye.
There are many patent and prescription drugs on the market today for the relief of colic in babies. Back in earlier times families put their dependence in catnip. An older family member would say, “That child needs a good dose of catnip tea,” The tea was easily prepared by putting dry catnip leaves in water and boiling into a tea. Several teaspoonfuls , and in a few minutes the sick baby was resting comfortably. One doesn’t have to be a baby to enjoy the results of this tea, as it will also bring sweet dreams to grown-ups.
Another tea that brings results for the entire family is sassafras tea, prepared by soaking roots of the sassafras tree in boiling water, and saving the resulting liquid. This is a very pleasant tasting brew, and a cupful brings a restful night if sleep.
Another home remedy that has all but gone out of existence is the mustard plaster. A layer of regular , or dry mustard made into a paste and spread between two handkerchief size pieces of cloth, and when placed on the chest of a victim of respiratory infection tends to burn out the fever, and bring relief from pneumonia and flu. Many times that mustard plaster brought overnight cure to a very sick child.
For a bad black eye, caused by running into a doorknob or an unfriendly fist, the old tried and true treatment was and still is the application of a slab of beefsteak to the ailing eye. Of course with today’s meat prices, it might be better to let the eye stay black.
Certain things added to foods before cooking have a soothing effect on the human body. Mustard is a healer, as well as garlic if those around you can stand the smell. There are others that have been experimented with that also give good results.
Stopping the flow of blood has always been a problem for people far away from medical aid. One method is to open the gash from which it is flowing and throw in a handful of soot from the chimney flu. For a nosebleed our family always placed a folded piece of paper under the upper lip.
Whiskey was used for almost any ailment, and I’m sure that many a mountain man has invented an illness just to get the cure. There was a time when children stepped on rusty nails and ran them into the foot. For this, a big slab of fatback was placed over the wound, tied with a cloth and left overnight. This brought out the soreness
There were numerous other little things that were cures in every household. Turpentine to take out soreness, A hot iron wrapped in a cloth applied to an aching ear, oil of cloves for a toothache, salt and butter on worrisome chigger bites, and a wad of chewing tobacco on a snake bite.
Most of the mountain remedies and cures I have mentioned are those that worked in days gone by, but if you have an ache or pain of any consequence today, call your family doctor I am sure that if you ran a nail in your foot today, your doctor would not prescribe a slab of fatback unless that was the only thing available.
– Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski