originally published January 2012 in Georgia Mountain Laurel
The scarcity, until after the early decades of the 1900s, of medical care in remote rural areas has been well documented. Despite this lack of care, people who got sick often needed the help medicines provided. Folks were forced to make do with what knowledge and materials they had on hand. This forced reliance on home remedies resulted in a staggering body of lore, a sampling of which was gathered by Foxfire students and included in their books. Some of the remedies undoubtedly worked; some of them were probably useless; some of them were potentially fatal (drinking large quantities of whiskey for snake bites, for example). "It was a chancy business," as Molly Green said of her remedies. "If it hit, it hit, and if it missed, it missed." Regardless, the scores of home remedies passed down through the generations stand as a weighty testament both to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the people of Southern Appalachia, as well as to the bounty and variety of the region's native plant life.
(What follows here is a sampling of recorded treatments for some common winter ailments. This information is the work of high school students collecting folklore, not of any proven medical research. Experiment with the methods and ingredients here with extreme care, at your own risk, or, preferably, just seek professional medical care.)
"People, y'know, didn't have a chance of runnin' after
doctors back in these mountain areas. They weren't close,
and where I was raised, it was twelve miles by
horseback to th' nearest doctor."
Make a poultice of kerosene, turpentine, and pure lard (the latter prevents blistering). Use wool cloth soaked with the mixture. Place cheesecloth on chest for protection, and then add the wool poultice.
Heat mutton tallow and apply it directly to chest.
Place a large quantity of rock candy in a little white whiskey to make a thick syrup. Take a few spoonfuls of this several times a day.
Apply a mixture of camphor, mutton tallow, soot, pine tar, turpentine, and lard to chest.
Make an onion poultice by roasting an onion, then wrapping it in spun-wool rags and beating it so that the onion juice soaks the rags well. Apply these rags to chest.
Render the fat of a polecat [skunk]. Eat two or three spoonfuls. This brings up the phlegm.
Rub groundhog oil and goose oil on chest, then cover with a hot flannel cloth.
Wear a flannel shirt with turpentine and lard on it all winter.
Mix one teaspoon of white whiskey with a pinch of sugar, heat over a fire, and drink.
Eat a mixture of honey and vinegar.
Put some ground ginger from the store in a saucer and add a little sugar. Put it on the tongue just before bedtime. It burns the throat and most of the time will stop coughs.
Dissolve four sticks of horehound candy in a pint of whiskey and take a couple spoonfuls a day.
Make a cough syrup using the roots of about six lion's-tongue plants. Boil them in about a teacup of water, sweeten with syrup, then simmer until thick. Take a spoonful a few times a day until your cough is gone.
Boil a handful of mullen roots and leaves in a pint of water to make a light tea. Add sugar or syrup to sweeten. Take only a spoonful at a time.
Make a cough syrup by boiling a handful each of wild cherry bark, black gum bark, and whole rat's vein plants in a half gallon of water. Simmer for one to two hours, strain, add one pint of sugar, and boil again until it makes a thin syrup.
Bake onions in an open fireplace, then tie them around your throat.
Make a poultice of kerosene, turpentine, and pure lard (to prevent blistering), and place this on your neck. In five minutes you will be able to taste the kerosene in your throat, and the cure will have begun. Then take two or three drops of kerosene oil in a spoon with a pinch of sugar and swallow this to complete the treatment.
Gargle with honey and vinegar.
Rub pine oil on your throat.
Gargle with a half cup of water, two tablespoons of vinegar, and a half teaspoon of salt.
Take a sock you have worn inside a boot and worked in for almost a week so that it has a bad odor. Tie it around your neck.
Along with home remedies, The Foxfire Book features chapters on log cabin building, Aunt Arie Carpenter, soapmaking, preserving fruits and vegetables, and more. For information on this book, the rest of the series, or the Foxfire program, visit www.foxfire.org or call 706-746-5828. You can also stop by the Foxfire Museum at 98 Foxfire Lane, off of Cross Street, in Mountain City, GA.