Thursday, March 8, 2018

Appalachian Spring Tonics

My mood always seems to perk up when the flowers start springing up and green begins to replace all of the dreary browns brought on by fall and winter. I enjoy all of the seasons but dislike when any of them extend their stay. It makes me want to say, "Winter, you are like a guest that has overstayed your welcome. Pack it up and move it out!" 

I've been reading about spring in Appalachia and how the mountain people would improve their health after a long winter. "Spring was the time to refresh the spirit and tone up the system with a tonic." (The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery)  

 Spring Tonic, 1936 - Norman Rockwell
  
Many Southern Appalachian folks believed that blood rises and falls along with the seasons, like the sap in a tree. Blood volume was said to be low in the winter and high in the summer. It was thought that blood lost its vitality due to a winter diet that was lower in vitamins and minerals.  

"In the spring the blood's invigorating properties were restored by taking a tonic, variously called a "blood builder," "blood restorer," "blood toner," or "spring tonic." The most popular tonic in Southern Appalachia was sulfur and molasses, which some thought was also good for cleaning the blood. Eating a "mess of poke" (poke plant leaves) and other wild greens (such as branch lettuce and watercress) in the spring was also practiced for blood restoration. Homemade tonics were displaced in some homes by commercial products like Scout's Indian Tonic, Hadacol, and Geritol. Cooking in iron utensils added iron to the diet. Another way of adding iron was to drink water that had been boiled in an iron pot or skillet, or a glass of water in which nails had been soaked." (Folk Medicine In Southern Appalachia) 

 Mountain people have used teas as a remedy for fatigue for many, many years. "They would gather the roots or barks in the proper season and dry them, and then they would store them for use as the need arose. ..Spicewood, sweet birch, and sassafras were common spring tonics. The spicy, distinct flavor of sassafras made it a particularly popular tea served hot or cold." (The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery)

I found a list of spring tonic/tea recipes in The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery. Do not gather and use ANY plants unless you are 100% certain that you can identify them. Choosing and ingesting the wrong plant can be deadly. It is best that an experienced person helps you identify them in person or you can purchase them from a trusted source. 

  • Sassafras Tea: In the spring, gather roots and tender twigs of sassafras. Pound the roots to a pulp if they are very big and wash them with the twigs. Boil them, strain and sweeten. (Spring tonic.)  
  • Spicewood Tea: The spice bush (Lindera benzoin) grows along branch banks. It is best to gather the twigs in early spring when the bark "slips," or peels off easily. Break the twigs, place them in a pot, cover with water, and boil until the water is dark. Strain and serve hot. Sweeten if desired, with honey or molasses. (Spring tonic.)
  • Mint or White Horsemint Tea: Gather mint leaves in the summer when the plant is young, just before or just after blooming. Boil the leaves in water, strain, and sweeten with honey. (Used both for enjoyment and as a spring cold remedy.) 
 Have any of you used these or other spring tonics? If you know of any others please leave me a comment. I would love to add to my list! 

*I'm having a giveaway sponsored by Foxfire over on the Appalachian Mountain Roots Facebook page to celebrate reaching 10,000 likes. You can scroll through the posts and follow the directions for your chance to win a 45th Anniversary book and CD!*


 



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mountain Remedies Part 2

Last week I shared part one of my Mountain Remedies posts. (You can click HERE if you missed it.) I mentioned that my husband's Aunt Carol had sent me an exert from Smoky Mountain Remedies circa 1920. It has a lengthy list and I have decided to break it up into at least two parts. I've also found some interesting remedies in one of the Foxfire books that may end up becoming part four! Whew, I had no idea that I'd have so much information to share but I've loved reading about what my people had to do to survive and am glad that I can share them with y'all. Some of these are pretty hard to believe and I don't recommend anyone trying them.

Before I share this information, I must first post a legal disclaimer:
This is a website/blog. The opinions expressed are my own and are shared as a source of information and entertainment. I am not a medical professional and do not recommend using any of these remedies without first consulting with your physician.  


Mountain Remedies 
The hardy mountain people relied upon their own resources for many things. Home remedies were included in this resourcefulness. First of all, because of geographical lay of the land, it was not always an easy task to get to town, nor was transportation as modern and convenient as we now have. Herbs and plants were used for many things and frequently with much success. 

There were individuals who spent a lifetime searching for the natural treatment and cure for various ailments. These folks were called "Yarb Doctors." The "Yarb Doctors" would search for sheep sorrel, or Indian turnips, ginseng, sassafras and many other plants that had medicinal properties. 

Some of these remedies were:
Catnip Tea: Brew a weak catnip tea and five to newborn babies to bring out the hives.
Catnip Poultices: Used on nursing mothers whose breast became caked with milk. 
White Oak Bark Tea: Boil the white oak bark, making tea, used as a gargle for tonsillitis. 

Other home remedies utilized items that were hardy and that most families had readily available. 
Wasp Stings: Treat by daubing the insect bite with a dip of wet snuff.
Fever: Make onion poultices, place on the body, then cover the sick person with many quilts or feather beds. This would cause sweating which would make the fever break.
Bad Cuts: Keep saturated with coal-oil (kerosene).
Toothache: Hold vanilla flavoring in the mouth. 
After Giving Birth: The mother was instructed to remain in bed at least nine days, although may people felt that twenty-one days was better. 
Bad Cut or Cut Off Finger: Put back in place and tie good with a rag, soak every day in kerosene. 
To Prevent Contagious Disease: Put asafetida in rag, tie around neck, chew on it several times a day, wear all winter. 
Cough: Use whiskey, honey, and lemon juice. 
Nail In Foot Or Puncture Wound: Poultice of scraped potato or salty meat skin. 
Chest Cold: Use a poultice of fried onions in a wool rag. 
Ear Ache: Blow tobacco smoke in ear or put a few drops of warm urine in the ear.
Bad Sore: Let dog lick it.
Strained Muscle: Use a poultice of red oak ooze.
Croup: Take a mixture of molasses and soda.
Worms: Turpentine and sugar. 

That's all for now! I have at least this many more to share next week and I hope that y'all will come back to check them out. Please leave in tried and true remedies that you know of in the comments section below.


 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mountain Remedies Part 1

I've wanted to write a post about "mountain backwood remedies" for quite a while now but I always seem to get distracted by another subject. Today, as I was pondering on some blog post topics, my husband's Aunt Carol sent me an exert from a book that she was thumbing through that was titled "Mountain Remedies." Great timing, huh? Because this is a lengthy topic, I've decided to make this a two part post (maybe 3) and will share the complete exert next week. 


Google Image

Before I share some of my findings, I must first post a legal disclaimer:
 This is a website/blog. The opinions expressed are my own and are shared as a source of information and entertainment. I am not a medical professional and do not recommend using any of these remedies without first consulting with your physician.

The exert is from "Smoky Mtn. Heritage circa 1920" and as I was doing a little more research on the subject, I came across Dave Tabler's website, Appalachian History:
"Big Pharma had not yet perfected the widespread manufacture of synthetic drugs in 1932. Instead, the industry relied on “western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee [to] furnish 75% of the crude botanical drugs which the continent of North America supplies to the drug markets of the world,” according to an article in Economic Geography that summer."

So only 12 years after the information I'm going to share with you (next week) was published, the world still obtained the majority of their botanical drugs from Southern Appalachia. That's pretty incredible!

Interestingly enough, according to Folk Medicine In Southern Appalachia by Anthony Cavender, "by the 1920s commercial medicines had displaced much of the folk materia medica in most households." Here are some examples from the same book:

  • Burns: Traditional Medicines (TM)- potato slice/scrapings. Commercial Medicine (CM): Cloverine Salve
  • Constipation: TM - Mayapple, Epsom salts. CM - Black Draught
  • Cough: TM - Cherry bark, mullein. CM - Troutman's Cough Syrup
  • Diarrhea: TM - blackberry. CM - Pepto Bismol
  • Heat Rash: TM - parched flour, cornstarch. CM - Gold Bond Powder
  • Kidney Disorders: TM - corn silk, dandelion. CM - Doan's Pills
  • Liver Disorders: TM - ratsbane. CM - Carter's Little Liver Pills
  • Low Blood: TM - sulfur and molasses. CM - Geritol, Hadacol.
  • Muscle Ache: TM - turpentine and hog fat. CM - Watkins Red Liniment, Sloan's Liniment 
  • Upset Stomach: TM - goldenseal, calamus, peppermint. CM - Pepto Bismol, Rolaids. 
  • Worms: TM - pumpkin seed. CM - Fry's Worm Medicine

 A couple of years ago, I got to thinking about the fact that if my family's health and well-being were left solely up to me, the gravedigger could just go ahead and dig our spots. That's a very scary thought. 

Since then, I've read up on many different natural remedies. I make and can my own elderberry syrup which just so happens to be something that the people of Appalachia have used to boost the immune system and ward of things like the flu for many, many years. I love honey and happen to have family members who are beekeepers. Honey is good for everything! I've researched the different uses of oils and extracts and the benefits of them. I make, use, and sell organic insect repellent, lotions, and salves. I recently read about the benefits of turmeric and ginger and luckily found a local farm that grows both and now make a paste with both. I'm also hoping to grow some of my own now that I know it can be grown in this region. What I would love to learn more about it how to identify plants and how to use them. Luckily, I live in botanical heaven! 

As promised, I will share the complete list of "Mountain Remedies" (circa 1920s) next week. Hope y'all will come back to read it. Some of them are quite unusual! Until then, how about sharing some of your tried and true home remedies in the comment section below. I'd love to compile a list from all of my Appalachian Mountain Roots readers!   

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Day Traditions & Superstitions

Happy New Year, y'all! Can you believe how fast this past year has went by? I've heard it said that the older you get, the quicker it goes and I believe it! I have been digging around trying to find some New Year's traditions and superstitions to share with you and only a couple of them were familiar to me with the most familiar being the tradition of eating black eyed peas, greens, and pork for the first meal of the new year.


I have practiced this tradition for as long as I can remember. My Granny Janice ALWAYS made this for our New Year's supper but would add coleslaw (I wouldn't eat greens when I was younger), stewed taters, & cornbread. Come to find out, there is  a story behind this southern tradition. 

During the Civil War, the Northern army would come in and take anything they could carry and eat anything they could eat. This included livestock and any grains they could use to feed them...but they couldn't take it all. After the smoke cleared, the remaining southerners weren't sure how they were going to avoid starvation. Luckily for them, Sherman's troops had left silos filled with black eyed peas. At that time, the North only used black eyed peas as feed for livestock. The Northern troops saw it as the thing of least value and since they had taken all of the livestock, what use would it be to the southerners? They didn't realize they were leaving the very thing that would keep the southerners from starving. From New Year's Day 1866 until now, the tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck continues. 

We always ate greens because they were said to represent wealth for the new year. The more greens you ate, the more green you'd have in your wallet. I'm still not sure there's any truth behind this but at this point, I'm not willing to chance it! Pork is said to represent looking and moving forward to the year ahead because pigs can't turn their head from side to side. This is the only one of the trio that I never knew! 

Now that you know all about that tradition, here are a few New Year's Appalachian superstitions:

  • Immigrants from Wales believed that spreading ashes over the hearth on New Year's Eve could predict events for the upcoming year. If footprints left in the ashes headed towards the front door, someone would die. If the footprints went into a bedroom, there would be a new family member in the home. The shape of a coffin in the ashes predicted death and the shape of a ring foretold a marriage. 
  • If a girl would like to know who she will marry, she can throw a ball of yarn out of her bedroom window at midnight on New Year's Eve, and say, "As I wind he comes" over and over as she begins winding the yarn back into a ball. If she is to marry, her future husband will hand the yarn back through the window to her. If no one appears, she will not marry.
  • It is bad luck to hang up a new calendar before the first day of the new year.
  • If there is no food in the pantry on New Year's Day, it is destined to remain empty the whole year.
  • Well water is said to turn to wine at midnight on New Year's Eve.
  • If a man enters your home first on New Year's Day, it is a sign that you'll have good luck all year. If it's a woman, the opposite is true.

I hope you have enjoyed these traditions and superstitions and I would love to hear any that you know. Please share them in the comment section down below and I hope each of you have a blessed New Year! 

*This post was originally published here at AMR on 1/1/16.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Appalachian Traditions: Christmas Plays & Treat Bags

This post was originally published here at AMR on 12/21/16.

Very few things say "It's Christmas" to me like going to a church Christmas play and getting a treat bag. My church had our play this past Sunday evening and everyone was gifted a treat bag as they left. This has been a part of Christmas my entire life and there are still many churches who practice this tradition throughout Appalachia.

I believe this started as a way to ensure that the children throughout the communities would at least get one treat during the Christmas season. For a lot of children who grew up in the mountains, this may have been the only gift that they could expect. While the bags were initially intended for the children, they are now given to folks of all ages. I'm sure this still stirs up some sweet memories for all generations.

What could you find in a Christmas treat bag? There almost always was an apple, orange, candy cane, a pack of chewing gum, a handful of mixed nuts, and maybe a few chocolates. Some things never change and why would we want them to? 

Do you remember getting Christmas treat bags at church? Do the churches in your area still practice this tradition? What kinds of things did you find in your bags? I would love to hear from you...let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Candle In The Window

 This was originally published here at AMR on 12/22/16.

The tradition of placing burning candles in the windows during Christmas has its roots in Irish culture. Many people, including myself, still practice this custom and the history behind it is very interesting.




During the British persecution, religion was suppressed throughout Ireland and the people had no churches. Priests were known to hide in forests and caves and they would secretly visit homes to say Mass during the night. 

Every Irish Catholic family hoped to have a priest come to their home so they could receive sacraments and offer hospitality. When Christmas came around, the Irish families would leave their doors unlocked and would place a lit candle in the window. This was a sort of signal to let any priests who happened to be in the area know they were welcome and to let the candles guide them to the homes during the dark night.

The priest would enter silently through the unlocked door and was welcomed by those who were grateful that their home would be used to worship and celebrate Jesus' birth. 

Over time, the British persecutors became suspicious and asked what the lit candles were all about. The faithful Irish explained that they burn the candles and keep the door unlocked so that Mary and Joseph, who searched for a place to stay, could find their way to our homes and be welcomed with open doors and open hearts. The British soldiers thought that it was a harmless superstition and didn't bother suppressing it.

I didn't know the history behind the candle until recently. I just thought that the battery operated candles looked pretty in my windows. Now, they mean much more. I want them to represent John 8:12 - "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

Do you leave a burning candle in your window during Christmas? 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Oranges

 This post was originally published here at AMR on 12/20/16.

We rarely got anything in our stockings when I was growing up. My parents had a hard enough time being able to put a few gifts under the tree. They didn't see the point of wasting money on little things that ended up getting broke or lost within a week. On the rare occasions that we did have something in them, we would find an orange, apple, or candy cane. The fruit wasn't that big of a deal because we had access to fresh fruit all year, but that wasn't always the case for people in Appalachia.


Money wasn't something that could easily be found among the early settlers living in the mountains. Things like candies, toys, and fresh fruit were hard to come by. An orange would have been an enormous gift at that time. Once I started researching the history behind this tradition, I recalled a book that helped explain how rare an orange was in 1850's Appalachia:
I remember trying to return the favor by giving him one of a pair of oranges that the teamsters had left as a treat. Bear had not experienced oranges before, and he watched me eat mine before he started on his own.
It took him an hour to finish. He peeled it slowly and studied the differing sides of the peels and smelled them and smelled his fingers. Then he ate each section very slowly, sniffing each one before he put it in his mouth. He savored every moment of his consumption of that orange. When he was done he collected all the pieces of peel and dried them in the sun like deer jerky. A month later, they had lost most of their color, but they still held the ghost of the orange's aroma, and Bear kept them in a gourd sealed with a wooden stopper to hold in the scent that would have to do him until another orange made its way into the mountains. 
- Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

There is some history behind Christmas oranges. St. Nicholas was a bishop before he became a saint. The legend says that he rode through a town where a storekeeper had three beautiful daughters and couldn't afford to offer a dowry for them. This meant that the girls would become destitute once their father passed away.

Bishop Nicholas knew that the father was a proud man so he tossed three sacks of gold through an open window (or chimney depending on who is telling the story) while the family was sleeping. One of the bags landed in the toe of a stocking that was hanging by the fire to dry. When the family got up the next morning, they found the gold, including the one in the stocking which had turned into a ball overnight. 

Giving an orange today is a way to celebrate generosity without expecting anything in return. It symbolizes that gold ball and is a reminder to care for those in need.

Who knew there was so much behind a piece of fruit in a Christmas stocking? Did you get an orange in your stocking?