Volume II, No. 2, Winter 1974

Old-Time Cures

Compiled by Suzanne Carr

Without doctors to call when a family member got sick or hurt, old-timers had to use what was available. Some of the ingredients they used had healing qualities and are used in modern medicines today, but the healing effect of others was probably only in the mind. Some may have done more harm than good. But regardless of their medicinal effect, people did not stand around helpless.

Many remedies were found by using plants, either cultivated for the purpose or found growing wild.

Chew the bark of a slippery elm tree for a SORE THROAT, to take the soreness right out.

To take away the ITCH, dig a quantity of poke roots. Boil for the potion and bathe in it. This is sometimes called liquid fire.

For COLDS or FEVER, get some peppermint out of a stream. Put it in a glass and pour cold water over it. Drink the liquid.

There were several teas used for COLDS. Take the bark off a big wild cherry tree and boil it in water. Take a couple tablespoons of the liquid with some sugar to make it easier to drink. Tea made from the stalk of the horehound was also used.

A common spring tonic was a tea made from the sassafras root which is dug early in February before sap comes up. Boil the cleaned roots in water and drink the liquid. Many people today love the taste of this and boil the roots or bark any time of the year. Root beer began as the flavor of sassafras. The drink was to THIN YOUR BLOOD, a polite way of saying to clean out the intestinal tract.

Another plant that grows in the region was pennyroyal, an aromatic plant of the mint family. It was used for COLDS, or crushed then dusted or whipped on the arms and legs to keep off CHIGGERS and SEED TICKS when berry picking.

Ada Tooker gave her daughter, Elizabeth Fishwick this mullein syrup for a bad COUGH. Elizabeth said, "It really works. The stuff tasted so bad that I was afraid to cough."

To make the mullein cough syrup, take fresh mullein leaves into a warm room and let them wilt. Put them in a pan and cover with a large amount of water. Set this on the back of the stove and let simmer for 2 to 3 days. Strain this, then add sugar for a thick syrup. Let the mixture cool down until very thick. Take 1 teaspoonful every 4 hours.

Another readily available source of medicines was from animals.

Spread papers out and lay a person suffering from SHINGLES down on them. Chop off a black hen's head and let the blood run all over the person.

For FROSTBITE, kill a young rabbit and cut it open. While the blood is still warm, place the area that is frostbitten into the carcass and let it become thoroughly bathed in the blood.

A mouse's head tied around a baby's neck will prevent several ILLNESSES.

Take the fat of the skunk and render it for the oil. Rub the oil all over your chest for a COLD. This holds in the heat. It didn't smell as bad as the scent of a skunk, but it still smelled pretty bad.


Turpentine and kerosene were also helpful in many cures.
Put two or three drops of turpentine on sugar and swallow slowly for a COLD, STOMACH ACHE or SORE THROAT.

Pour turpentine over a SNAKE BITE to draw out the poison.

Put lard and turpentine all over--even under your arms and the bottom of your feet. Go to bed and cover up. This builds up a good sweat and cures a COLD in no time.

Rub kerosene on ankles, legs and arms to keep off CHIGGERS.

To help stop BLEEDING, mix turpentine and sugar and put on a cut.

Other products which were bought in the general stores or drug stores used commonly were whiskey, asafetida, iodine, tobacco, and household ingredients like salt and soda.

People nearly always kept a little bottle of whiskey in the back of the medicine chest in case of SNAKE BITES whether they used it for anything else or not.

Put a nickel's worth (1900's value) of rock candy, which is just pure crystallized sugar, in a pint of whiskey. This is good for COLDS.

To avoid a winter COLD, mothers would put asafetida in a cloth bag and tie it around their children's necks with a string.
Asafetida is a very strong smelling plant. The bad smell that was given off was supposed to keep away the germs-- For best results it should be kept moist. The child would stick it in his mouth occasionally, then let it dangle down.

For SORE THROAT, swab the throat with iodine.

Put chewing tobacco juice straight from your mouth on CUTS, SORES, RINGWORMS, BEE STINGS, BURNS, BLISTERS, and BOILS. It draws out the infection.

Chew tobacco to kill malaria in MALARIA FEVER.

To treat POISON IVEY, add 2 balls blueing, 2 teaspoons white vinegar, and 2 teaspoons soda in a pint of water. Mix and apply to affected part often.

Add equal parts of salt, sugar and soda together, about 1 teaspoon each, and mix in a glass of water. Gargle this and sniff it up your nose for relief of a COLD.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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