We are back with another full-length podcast episode for you all! This month, we feature interviews related to folk medicine practices in Southern Appalachia. This episode is broken into two parts; part 2 will be released later this month. Part 1 features interviews from Nora Garland and Flora Youngblood. Hosts Kami Ahrens and TJ Smith introduce you to folk medicine and the rich traditions of Southern Appalachia by focusing on faith healing and home remedies.
Want to learn more about folk medicine in Southern Appalachia? Check out one of these resources!
The Foxfire Book, edited by Foxfire students
Southern Folk Medicine by Phyllis D. Light
Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians by Patricia Kyritsi Howell
Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia by Anthony Cavender
Nora Garland (Clayton, GA)
NG: I can stop blood. I can draw out fire and I can take off warts, you know that?
FF: Yes ma’am. I know that.
NG: They’re awful ugly things to be on anybody, but I take ‘em off.
FF: How, can you tell us how it is that you can draw fire? How does that work? What, can you tell us as much about it as you can without telling us exactly how?
NG: Well I’ll tell you about the fire business. My son that went in there, he told me. So I’ll have to ask him if I can tell you. You can tell one person, you know. And let’s get on somethin’ else while he’s comin’ out.
FF: Okay, fine. What about curing thrash for example?
NG: No, I can’t do that. Now my brother does that. And I’m proud of it.
FF: Who taught him?
NG: My mother. And he said, “Sister, I’m goin’ to teach you.” And I said “No you’re not.” For somebody all the time wantin’ them.
FF: Well how do you teach somebody how to do this?
NG: Well, one person can tell one, you see.
FF: Oh and…
NG: And then that other person that you told can tell somebody else. I was offered $25 money to tell a doctor how to stop the blood, but I wouldn’t do it. Wouldn’t take it. That was Dr. Neville.
FF: Dr. Neville? Who taught you how to do it?
NG: I got it out of the Bible.
FF: You taught yourself?
FF: You taught yourself.
NG: I got it out of the Bible.
FF: Can you tell us why it works?
NG: Well, I don’t know, I guess that’s the Lord’s work. But it’s easy now, if you’ll just look through the Book of Ezekiel, you can find that. Easy as pie.
FF: The Book of Ezekiel?
FF: Is there only one bible verse that you use?
NG: Yeah. One bible verse.
FF: Is that all there is to it? Do you touch the person that’s bleeding?
NG: Oh no. I’ve been sent far to Lakemont and different places to come and stop the blood, and I’ve said there’s no use in me a’comin’.
FF: You do it from a distance?
FF: Could you do it, say, over the telephone?
NG: I could do it in New York if they was to call me.
FF: You just read this verse…
NG: You memorize by heart but don’t leave one little error out. If you do, it won’t stop.
FF: Do you say it out loud or can you just say it to yourself?
NG: No, you just say it to yourself.
FF: And that’s all? Just the verse?
NG: That’s all.
FF: Is it because of your faith?
NG: Well, I guess that has a lot to do with it. If you believe it, that will stop it.
FF: What do doctors think about all this?
NG: Well I don’t know, but Dr. Neville thought it was wonderful.
FF: He believe that it would work?
NG: Oh yes, he did. And I tell you, we was a’milkin’ one night–well, we had about 16 cows to milk–and we was milkin’ one Sunday night. And you see the scar there, there’s 26 stitches tuck up and down there. A cow kicked me.
FF: In the head?
NG: Mhm. And Dr. Dover that was, and he just didn’t know a thing in the world to do. And that blood is a’comin’ up and spillin’ back down in my face after he got it all fixed and sewed up. And he says “I can’t just get that to stop to save my life.” And I never thought to do it. I never thought the first time, I was hurtin’ so bad. But he said “Nora, try to call it.” … and it stopped that quick.
Flora Youngblood (Buford, GA)
FF: And now, we’re to thrash. Can you tell us how to do thrash?
FY: Well, now there’s a verse you repeat. I see ‘em three times. And you repeat this verse as you blow your breath in their mouth. You repeat this verse in your mind three times, and as you blow in their mouth. And they have to come three times. That makes nine times the verse is repeated. And it’ll go away. And then, for after the thrash, after I doctor them the first time, then I would make a mouthwash. And then, let them start washing its mouth. Then I doctor them a second time. I let them give ‘em a dose of something to work the stomach out. Because when their mouth breaks out white, they’ll swallow some of that down in their stomach. And that keeps it from settlin’ in their stomach. So and, you know, something to make it pass on through. And I’d take ‘simmon tree bark, scrape it and I’d make a strong tea and and then we’d put just a little bit of alum, just a small little pinch of alum down in that and stir that up. Then that would be the mouthwash to wash the babies mouth out with. Wrap a white cloth around your finger and rub all around in their mouth.
FF: And you do that after the first time?
FY: After the first time.
FF: And then the second time you…
FY: You give them something or ‘nother to take to wash their stomach out we call it–you know make their bowels move that on out. Then by the time they come back the third time, it’s all gone.
FF: But you go ahead and blow in their mouth a third time?
FY: Yeah, I do it the third time. And why we make that tea to do that for, is to get that white out and not let ‘em swallow it. It’ll start shedding off. Oh the mouth will be just as white, it’ll start shedding off, it looks like they got a mouth full of cornmeal. Well see that’ll wash all that out then they won’t swallow it.
FF: What causes the thrash?
FY: It’ll be regurgitating stomach. They don’t–the formula, they put ‘em in a bottle-the formula don’t suit ‘em just right and sometimes the mother’s milk don’t suit ‘em. They will regurge it back and when they spit it up, it irritates their mouth. ‘Cause they’re goin’ to spit that milk back up if it doesn’t suit them, you’re gonna regurge that up. And that irritates their mouth and acid in it, you know, blisters their mouth.
Flora Youngblood (Buford, GA)
FF: What about cuts and sores?
FY: Yeah, now that’s, uh, soak good in hot salty water. I’d get ‘em bathed off real good. By then, you’ve got vaseline or somethin’ so a cloth wouldn’t stick and wrap it. But if they’ve got it infected, then I would use the walnut poultice.
FF: What about for a fever?
FY: For a fever, I can’t remember what. Yeah garlic, I knowed it would come to my mind. Garlic. Take the bulbs of garlic and just take a hammer and a cloth and wrap ‘em up and just beat ‘em up. And tie it around your wrist here and here, and the fever will go away.
FF: How long does it usually take it?
FY: It ain’t take it long, maybe a thirty-five or forty minutes.
FF: You tie it around both wrists?
FY: Both wrists, right where the pulse is beatin’.
FF: And it will go away?
FY: And it just goes away, will cure your fever like that.
FF: What about hiccups?
FY: Swallow three swallows of cold water and without getting your breath. And they’ll just go away. Swallow three times, not no more or no less. Swallow three times and then it’ll be gone. It still works; I’ve done it.