I interviewed people from rural North Carolina to find out what home remedies had been passed down through their ancestors. They were told the circumstances of the publication (an online newspaper). They gladly shared their anecdotal stories with me. What resulted was some pretty spectacular medical mythology and a peeked curiosity.
Some country cures and natural remedies may or may not work better than modern medicine; some do seem to work; but some are downright scary. For generations, mountain and country folk have passed down old-time cures and home remedies. Isolated rural areas, farms, and even small towns had very little access to hospitals and medicine in the old days, so necessity became the “mother of invention.”
Local Native American tribes passed along their knowledge of healing, and plantation slaves brought cures from African culture. Many times a gifted healer or a person of great faith was sought out to heal or help the sick or wounded, though most home remedies were often a “hit or miss” cure.
Disclaimer: I wouldn’t necessarily try all–or any–of these cures. Health care has advanced a lot!
The ability to talk the fire out of a burn, is passed from one person to another. However, some folks warn that once you teach the gift to someone else, your own ability will be lost. People claiming to have been healed this way describe the process as a prayer, said by a Christian “who believes God is the Creator of the earth.” Talking, blowing, or drawing out fire is over 1000 years old.
I actually saw my grandfather talk the fire out of burn on my grandmother’s hand. I just saw him whispering something with her hand close to his lips. It worked. Grandpapa was a farmer.
One lady recounted her son, severely burned on a stove. The local fire-talker spoke the special prayer, and the pain was gone, the wound healed with no blister.
The process doesn’t work on severe burns, though, most fire-talkers say,” another interviewee declared.
Praying warts away is another interesting use of prayer. One interviewee recalled that her daughter had a wart on her foot that regrew even after the wart had been cut off. Desperate, they tried freezing the wart, but it came back again. A local healer uttered a prayer over the wart, and it disappeared soon after and never returned.
An even more unusual remedy for warts was to “rub the wart with a penny. Put the penny in a cloth in a box and throw it over your shoulder. Forget about your wart. When you think about it again the wart will be gone!” One woman described a relative who cured a wart by rubbing it with a rag and then burying it.
Spitting tobacco on bee stings was cited as a common cure for bee stings. “Snuff or chewing tobacco juice takes the pain and poison out of a bee or wasp sting when applied with some moisture or spit.
My mother actually used water-moistened tobacco from her cigarette on a yellow jacket sting on my leg when I was a kid. It worked!
“Crack open an egg, peel off the membrane inside the shell and place over the bee or wasp sting site. Swelling and redness will disappear. It may take two applications but it will work,” offered another interviewee.
One North Carolinian, recalled her grandmother’s method to stop profuse bleeding. When her daughter was a child, she fell and cut the back of her head on a sharp point of her swing. Her grandmother took “cobwebs from the corners of the shed” and covered the cut. It stopped the bleeding while she waited for her husband to get home to take the daughter to the hospital.
One woman recalled another odd cure, saying, “When I had a nose bleed, Granny put a drop of the blood from the cut on a knife and buried the knife behind the steps.”
The Bible verse Ezekial 16:5 has also been used as a treatment for bleeding: And when I passed you by and saw you weltering in your own blood, I said, ‘Live and grow up.’ Said three times with a firm faith stops the bleeding. “I know that the Bible verse works,” another lady testified, “I have used it for my son many times, he was a free bleeder.”
One cure, that I discovered in elementary school from a teacher or classmate, was to make a small roll of notebook paper, or a paper towel. I would place the roll inside my mouth snugly between the gum and the upper lip under the nose. Applying pressure to the upper lip supposedly blocks a vein to the nose thereby reducing or stopping the nose bleed.
Several people swore that one country cure-all for an ear ache was a few drops of fresh, warm urine in the ear canal. At this point, I think I would prefer to just see a doctor.
However, olive oil or tea tree oil are said to be effective.
“In early spring chewing early pink/purple poison ivy leaves before they change color prevents reactions to the mature plants later,” a shaman I know, shared from her knowledge of plants.
Warning: If mature poison ivy is eaten, the digestive tract and airways will be affected, in some cases, causing death. Urushiol oil can remain viable on dead poison ivy plants and other surfaces for up to 5 years and will cause the same effect.
Eating nine white raisins, soaked in gin, helps rheumatoid arthritis, especially when followed by eating 10 raisins a day. Some swear by it. But there has never been a double blind study with placebos to prove or disprove it. I did see a famous doctor who had a newspaper column cite this as effective.
Plump, seeded Bing cherries have been studied on healthy people and showed they could reduce gout markers in the blood. They also have some anti-inflammatory benefits.
Elixirs of anything from whiskey to kerosene, with sugar or honey added, allegedly helps a cough or a cold.
“A teaspoon of whiskey mixed with tea, lemon, and honey works like a charm. Works for us Baptists too,” declared another fellow North Carolinian and added, ”The whiskey numbs the throat, while the tea and lemon cut the mucus, followed by the gentle coating of honey to ease the cough. Plus, the whiskey makes it easier to sleep through the worst parts of the sickness.”
“Use turpentine for tick bites that itch,” one man declared then added, “Dad used turpentine, kerosene and piney oil on everything on the farm–including us young’uns!”
One of the weirdest suggestions for a bad fever was to hang the whole, feathered leg of a rooster over your door. If that’s a bit too morbid or unseemly, you can try putting an onion slice against your foot and cover it with a sock.
Remember the farmers and cowboys from the 1800’s? They didn’t have aspirin or any kind of pain medicine that wasn’t addictive. So they often went to the local bar or saloon for a beer or two for their aching backs and muscles.
Mountain history is steeped in traditions from several cultures, passed down through generations of hard-working families in rural areas, without access to modern health care. Some families still swear by these natural remedies.