edited: Sunday, March 12, 2006
By Martha J Robach
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, March 12, 2006
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What were some natural remedies of the past?
If you were a frontier child with a cold back in the 1800’s, you wouldn’t be visiting a white-jacketed doctor or going to the drugstore for some bubblegum flavored medicine, cough drops or aspirin. As you stumbled through the door of your log cabin sneezing and coughing, your mother would make you lie down and then get out … an onion. First she would wrap the onion in a wet rag, cook it in the fire’s ashes and squeeze out the juice. Then she would mix the onion juice with some sugar and you would open your mouth wide and swallow. Even frontier moms knew that “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” And if the onion fumes made you sneeze or your eyes water, good, that might break up the congestion.
Plants have been used for medicines for thousands of years. Peppermint plants were discovered in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 B.C. and before. And in the Middle Ages, garlic bulbs were used to combat deafness and leprosy.
In America, Indians had plant cures for headache, stomachache, poison ivy, fever, colds, nosebleed, snake bites, toothache, stomach worms, wounds and many other ailments. If Indian women had babies easily, as is generally thought, then why were there so many Indian remedies involving pregnancy, birth and after-birth difficulties?
In the past, people had no long names for the diseases that struck them. They most likely were not aware of what was happening to them. What they could see were the symptoms or outward signs of the disease. They just tried to treat the symptoms.
Plants were changed into medicines by crude, basic methods. A “poultice” or a “moist mass” was made by either chewing or grinding a plant and then placing it against the wound or problem area. Roots, leaves and/or flowers were boiled in water to make healthful teas. Weeds were burned and their smoke inhaled. Boiling a plant with lard or animal fat created soothing lotions. Leaves were used to bandage wounds. Greens dried and ground to a powder dusted many a gash.
A pumpkin seed drink flavored with sugar warded off worms. Farmer’s wives swore that corn silk had medicinal value. Every part of the dandelion was used to cure some ailment. Dandelion greens were used to purify the blood while the roots made a tea for heartburn and the flower a tea for heart trouble. A ground dandelion leaf paste mixed with bread dough soothed bruises.
Mothers boiled plant leaves and wadded them into their children’s ears to cure earaches. A certain plant’s ground-up roots caused violent sneezing, and it was hoped that, if a loved one was in a coma, placing this plant by his face would cause him to sneeze and wake up.
The strangest cure of all was the one for “gout” or inflamed joints. Just place lily of the valley flowers in a closed glass and set the glass on an ant hill for a month and apply to skin.
Though today’s medicines are made up of mostly synthetic or man-made ingredients, natural plant products are still found in some of our modern cures. Many cough drops and cold medicines have wild licorice in them. Spearmint and peppermint plant oils flavor medicines, dental preparations and mouthwash.
For years the Appalachian Mountains provided a rich source for medicinal plants. In the book Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver, four orphans collect wildflowers in the Appalachian Mountains to sell for medicine. They also save a neighbor from pneumonia by laying him in a tub filled with fried onions. But don’t go picking wildflowers today for any reason because they are protected by law to prevent them from disappearing from our fields and forests forever.
And please don’t eat the daisies. Chewing on or even walking through some plants can be dangerous to your health. It was a poisonous herb called hemlock that killed the great Greek thinker Socrates. Poisonous plants such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac look innocent enough but cause an itchy rash that can torment the sufferer for weeks. Our forefathers had the nasty habit of treating diseases with poisonous plants because the plants did something. If their patients were lucky, the doses of poison were small enough that they survived.
So see your doctor and take exactly the amount of medicine he prescribes. Remember that medicines, today as in the past, can be dangerous if you don’t use them properly.