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Old-time, home remedies
Liberty lore
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In the past few weeks, I have been in several doctors’ offices, hospitals and a nursing home for various appointments for my mother or me.
Each place needs a revolving door for all the people who go there for checkups or operations. My mother is recovering from hip surgery and is in the Glenvue Nursing Home in Glennville for a few weeks of rehab. While sitting in the room with her, I thought about and wondered what people did years ago when they could not go to the doctors’ offices or hospitals. What did they do when they broke their hips? Were they just put to bed, hoping they would mend themselves? There were very few telephones to call for help, and vehicles were rare. Insurance was unheard of, and money was as scarce as hens’ teeth.
I recently have been enjoying several books about old-time remedies. “The Foxfire Books” by Brooks Eliot Wigginton first were printed in 1968 and are about the people of Rabun County in North Georgia. The books are filled with things like I write about, and I dearly love them.
The mountain people believe in making much of their medicine from herbs and plants in the wild. Most of these plants do not grow in this area or I do not recognize them. I’d be afraid that I would unknowingly pick something that would poison me.
At Woods Auction in Glennville two Fridays ago, I bought a book with almost 2,000 pages for $8. The 1906 “Medicology of Health” is 6 inches thick, and I can hardly pick it up. I enjoy reading about the different ailments of the body and what can be done for them.
I am going to share some of these off old home remedies that I find interesting, but some are very strange. I do not recommend that you try them. But, on the other hand, some of them may work.
For arthritis, drink tea made from either the seeds or leaves of alfalfa — or get a large magnet and let it draw the arthritis out of the body.
For asthma, smoke or sniff rabbit tobacco. Swallow a handful of spiderwebs rolled into a ball. Keep a Chihuahua around the house. Smoke strong tobacco until you choke. Drill a small hole in a black oak just above the head of the victim and put a lock of his or her hair in the hole. When the victim passes that spot in height, he or she will be cured. Or, the person may choose to suck salty water up his or her nose.
To stop bleeding from a cut or wound, place a gob of spiderwebs over it. Mix some soot from the chimney with some lard and apply it. Mix some brown sugar and turpentine and apply a poultice to the cut. If the cut is small, take a cigarette paper and place over it.
For a broken arm, just make a mixture of red clay and water. Put splints made from limbs of small pieces of wood on each side of the arm and plaster it up with the clay. Put the arm in a sling after the clay dries.
There are many methods to treat a burn, which was the most common injury many years ago because fire was used to cook in the fireplace or stove, making it easy to get burned. Just take some wagon axle grease and place it on the burn. Scrape a raw Irish potato and put the scrapings on the burn. Put hot coals on the burned area and pour water over them. The fire will be drawn out by the steam. Ouch! Dissolve table salt in warm water and wrap the burn in gauze. Keep it constantly warm and moist by applying the saltwater. Mix some lard and flour and place on the burn. I wonder if Crisco would work as well as lard? Or one may choose to bind castor oil and egg whites around the wound with a clean cloth.
For chest congestion, make a poultice of pure lard, kerosene and turpentine. The lard is to prevent blistering. Place cheesecloth on the chest and cover with a wool cloth soaked with the mixture.
This is sort of what Mama used to put on my chest. She warmed the turpentine in a coffee can in the fireplace and mixed it with tallow. Then she greased me down with the stinking mess and covered it with a cloth.
I am glad she did not know about this next remedy. Render the fat of a polecat. Eat two or three spoonfuls, and this will bring up the phlegm. I imagine that it would! Roast some onions, wrap them in spun wool rags and beat them until the rag is soaked well. Apply the rags to the chest. Rub groundhog oil and goose oil on the chest and cover with a hot flannel cloth. Or wear a flannel shirt with turpentine and lard on it all winter.
For a cough, eat a mixture of honey and vinegar. Or add a little sugar to some ground ginger from the store and put some on the tongue before bedtime. It burns the throat and most of the time stops the cough. Take some rock candy with tea. Is peppermint candy the same as rock candy?
Most of the old remedies I read contained something with sugar or honey in them. I suppose the syrup coats the throat and soothes it. Nyquil must be the modern-day cough syrup, similar to the whiskey or turpentine combinations that old people used to make for coughs.
For leg cramps, turn your shoes upside down before going to bed. If this works, I will start right now and turn down all the dozens that I own. I also have heard that people can take whiskbrooms and sweep up and down their legs wherever the cramps are to make them go away. Or keep a Coke bottle beside your bed and when the cramp hits the arch of your foot, just jump up and roll your foot over the bottle until it goes away.
I never have had earaches, but I have had to take my children to the emergency room in the middle of the night because of earaches. Dr. Fraser in Hinesville told me to have my husband blow cigarette smoke into Paula’s ear and cover it with a dry washcloth. He also gave her some drops for it.
Here are some old-time remedies. Put several drops of sewing machine oil in the ear. As someone said, after all, our body is a machine, too! Dissolve table salt in lukewarm water and pour this into the ear. It will dissolve the earwax, which may be the cause of the pain.
Warm a spoonful of urine and put a few drops in the ear. Or you may choose to roast some cabbage stalks and squeeze the juice in the ear. My grandpa used to tell me not to put anything in my ear but my elbow.
The next cure should have come to my attention a few weeks ago when I had a sty in my eye. Remove a sty by running the tip of a black cat’s tail over it. Gosh, and I have two black cats!
For a headache, tie a cloth flour sack around your head. Smear the brow with crushed onions. I like this one. When you get your hair cut, gather up all the clippings. Bury them under a rock and you will never have a headache. Old-timers never would allow their hair to be cut or thrown away — it was too valuable. On your head, rub white whiskey and camphor.
For the hiccups, take a teaspoon of peanut butter.
If you have freckles, mix buttermilk and lemon juice together and put it on the freckles. This should remove them. (Don’t hold your breath!) Put sap from a grapevine or stump water on them. Make a poultice of eggs, cream and Epsom salts and spread on the freckles. Take it off after it dries.
For athlete’s foot, wrap a wool string around the big toe or step in fresh cow dung.
For a risin or boil, take the skin out of eggshells and place it on the risin.
For a sore, put butter around the sore so a dog will lick it. The dog’s saliva will cure it. Put some lard and sulfur on it.
To burn out tonsils, paint them with iodine and turpentine several times a day for several months. I bet a person also would lose weight from this treatment.
For a toothache, put several drops of pure vanilla straight from the bottle onto the tooth. Or, put some homemade tobacco in a corncob pipe. Light it and draw the smoke over the tooth.
For a wart, steal a neighbor’s dishrag. Wipe it across the warts and bury it in the woods. Or, cut the wart and make it bleed. Put one drop of the blood on a grain of corn. Feed the grain of corn to a chicken and the wart will disappear.
Give a grouchy person tea made from violet blossoms.
I also am reading “Rattlesnakes” by J. Frank Dobie, and it is fascinating. The remedy for a rattlesnake bite is as varied as the other remedies, but one that I have found over and over in many different sources is the one I am going to share with you. If you have a weak stomach, you may not want to read it.
One of the oldest “reliable” remedies for snakebite cures always has been to apply against the wound a freshly killed animal: chicken, rabbit, pig, crow, hawk, frog — nearly anything.
The liver really is more effective for drawing out the poison than anything else, but just cut a chicken open while it still is fluttering with a broken neck and apply it to the wound.
A century-old woman who came to Texas in 1845 told a story about her father. He had been puttering around in the cow lot late one evening and was bitten by a rattlesnake.
“We had to doctor him without a light,” the woman said. “Mother had heard that warm flesh on the wound would draw out the poison. She had a hen with a brood of biddies under the floor of our cabin, and every so often through the night she would reach down through a crack, get a little biddie, pull its head off, tear its body open and apply it to the wound.
“When daylight came, we gathered cockleburs, boiled them in sweet milk and had Father drink the brew. Then we poulticed the wound alternately with cocklebur mash and dead chickens. He got all right.”
I cannot imagine where these strange home-remedy ideas came from. How did they even think of such things to use? I guess something had to be done or the person would die without treatment. I suppose the old adage, “It is better to try and fail than not to try at all,” is what they thought.
I am glad we are fortunate today to have modern medicine and trained doctors to take care of our ailments.

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