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Remedies and Rumors

Looking Back with Mathews, originally printed May 15, 1978


Every good thing has a price, and the price paid by the mountain people for the good environment has always been high. The remoteness of the mountain villages has often left the people without the services of hospitals and doctors. For this reason the people have learned to rely on home remedies with which to fight their illnesses. Every mountain community has its experts on folk medicine, and sometimes these experts are referred to as the doctor.

Sometimes the doctoring is done by use of roots and herbs, and sometimes through the use of spells and other superstitious means. Both methods have had strong following. Even in this day, one needs only to mention his ache or pain down at the country store, and soon he will have several suggestions as to how to get rid of it. Though not so plentiful in this day and time, there was a time not so far back when about every rural community had a midwife, who took care of birthing the babies when the doctor couldn’t make it.

I can remember the days of the mustard plaster. Most youngsters used to spend the biggest part of childhood with mustard plasters on the chest to fight lung disorders. A rusty nail in the foot left impurities that had to be drawn out, and this was usually accomplished by use of a big slab of fatback bound against the wound with a strip of cloth torn from the end of an old bed sheet. A splinter could be drawn to the surface by use of a flaxseed poultice. If flaxseed wouldn’t do it, it was there to stay.

Catnip tea made the squalling baby too sleepy to remember his colic, and if that didn’t work a little sugary brandy did.

There’s no reason why any of these remedies wouldn’t work today. Turpentine from the pine tree relieves soreness. An onion poultice, which is a mess of onions sliced, heated, and placed between two squares of cloth, and applied to the chest, helps a cold or flu. Some snakeroot for headache, sassafras root tea for the circulation, and even carrots for the eyes, have all been looked on favorably by people of the mountains. And, of course, the value of honey as a food medicine has been known since the beginning of time.

I feel much more prone to accept the folk root and herb medicines than I do the ones of a superstitious nature. I simply can’t believe that by putting a knife under the bed, the pain of childbirth could be lessened, and it’s a bit hard to believe that rubbing pennies on a wart and saying some magic words can cause the wart to leave.

If anyone ever tells you that eating hawk gizzards is good for your eye trouble, don’t believe it, because there’s no such thing as a hawk gizzard. The same would be true of goat’s butter for the croup.

There was an old cure for taking off excess weight and might have some scientific basis; that being to chew tobacco, and “spit the fat away.”

Some people take all of the cures with a grain of salt, and go back to Ben Franklin for the answer to it all; “Early to bed, early to rise, makes man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Of course they didn’t have television in the days of Ben Franklin.

I don’t recommend any of these cures for what ails you, but if you want to get the jump on spring this year go out and pick yourself a big mess of dry land cress, and boil it with a slab of smoked side meat. If you have a meal of this delicacy, chances are you’ll feel fine for the remainder of the year.



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