Appalachian folks hold tightly to many traditions that were passed down through their family lines or within a community as a whole. For example, folk medicines were said to be the go-to thing to use in case of an ailment. Many years ago, getting a doctor to a patient was sometimes a rather lengthy process. This could have been due to the rugged mountain areas and roads or because the one doctor in the community was tied up with another patient. So, the mountain folks learned to make use of natural growing plants, herbs or other household items that were within easy access.
My great-grandmother, Ethel, had many mountain remedies tucked in her tool bag, so to speak. If one of the children or grandchildren got stung by a bee, a big wad of chewing tobacco (freshly chewed “backer” juice) rubbed directly onto the bee sting would help ease the pain within a few seconds to a few minutes. In addition, household vinegar or a piece of an aloe plant also helped relieve the pain of an insect sting as well as a sunburn.
Newborn babies who developed “the colic” could also be cured by gathering some catnip and boiling its leaves for a special tea to be given to the crying baby. My youngest sister, Chastity, was a crier. My mother was told to make some catnip tea, which seemed to cure her ailment at the time. Passing the baby through an old used horse collar was said to also produce the same benefits for a crying baby. My mother tried this technique as well.
Most mountain folk were deeply religious, most often of the Christian faith. It was told that if you repeated a certain bible verse (Ezekiel 16:6) out loud at least three times, it would stop bleeding immediately. I tried this not long ago. It actually seemed to work but I can’t promise it will work on everyone. I suppose it helps if you back it up with faith!
If your yonder parts get a little backed up, you can take some big gulps of Karo, or corn syrup, to help loosen yer plumbin’! My cousin, Trish, had me to do this when I was little. She always kept a bottle of syrup sitting on the shelf in her kitchen. All I remember is that was the nastiest tasting stuff I ever had to ingest! Epsom salt was used by mountain folks for many ailments including constipation, sore or swollen muscles, exfoliating dry skin, or just to relax by pouring two cups in a hot bath. I continue to use Epsom salt today!
Of course, a swig of moonshine will cure a ton of ailments, but my grandma Ethel would give us Jack Daniels Whiskey for a head cold. I remember getting to take this “medicine” when I couldn’t have been more than ten years old. She would always dilute it with a box of clear rock candy crystals. This candy helped give the concoction a sweet taste. Sometimes, I’d get into the top cabinet over the kitchen stove and eat a big handful of rock candy by itself. It’s a good thing she didn’t keep the whiskey in the same cabinet! Lord knows what would have happened!
Note: The attached photo of my grandma Ethel was most likely taken during the time of the Prohibition Act, which made it illegal to manufacture and sell alcoholic beverages. She was born in 1913 and looked to be in her 20’s in the photo. It was still legal to have and partake alcohol in your own home. Notice the bottles of brew sitting on her kitchen table! I imagine it may not have been her alcohol, as I never knew her to drink, but it’s still an interesting photo!