Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Signs, Superstitions, and Omens: Week One

As the diversely ethnic settlers came into the Appalachian region, a detailed system of folklore was developed by combining signs, superstitions, omens, music, stories and beliefs. This system was passed down orally through the years and practiced as a way of keeping the folklore alive. I've heard many of these stories and beliefs while growing up and while I would not consider myself a superstitious person, the possible outcomes of not abiding by these rituals will inevitably worm its way into my mind. Better safe than sorry, right?

Over the next few weeks, I plan on sharing some of these signs, superstitions, and omens and hope that you will be willing to share any that have been passed on in your families and communities. 

A sign is believed to predict the future but unlike the omen, signs do not foretell negative happenings. 
  • A chin dimple is a sign of bad character. Dimples on the chin are said to be made by the devil's shoe. (Why not start off with one the applies to me, huh? I have a chin dimple and like to think that I'm not known for my bad character!)
  • Tingling or itching ears are a sign that someone is talking about you. If it is the left ear, you're being gossiped about. If the right, good things are being said.
  • Sole of your foot itching? This is a sign that you are about to embark on a long journey.
  • If you have a candle that is hard to light, it is a sign that rain is on the way.
  • Dreaming of bees is a sign of good fortune.

A superstition is an irrational belief, usually arising from ignorance or fear, that is believed by a number of people but is without foundation. 
  • An acorn placed on a window will will protect the house from lightning strikes.
  • Treading on an ant nest will cause rain that day.
  • A man who wipes his hands on a girl's apron is sure to fall in love with her. (German)
  • Spitting on a new baby will bring the child good luck. (Irish)
  • Never leave a baby's washed diapers on the clothesline during a full moon because they will attract evil forces.

Omen- a phenomenon that is believed to tell the future, which also signifies change...usually negative
  • A chicken laying an uneven number of eggs is an omen of danger.
  • If a rabbit crosses your path before sunrise, unhappiness will cloud your day.
  • If the dough for baking bread cracks while being shaped, a funeral will occur soon.
  • If a broom falls over for no reason when someone walks past, it is an omen of bad fortune.
  • Calling out the name of a deceased person while dreaming is an omen of a death.

I would love to hear any of the signs, superstitions, and omens that are a part of your families or communities. Feel free to share in the comments section below or you can send me a message on the Appalachian Mountain Roots Facebook page. 

*This post was originally published here on Appalachian Mountain Roots on 9/20/16.*

Monday, October 15, 2018

Persimmon Seed Winter Weather Predictions (And A Few Home Remedies Using Persimmons)

I love fall. The fruits and veggies are canned and on the shelves. The leaves are just starting to put on their last glorious display before saying goodbye. And the cooler temperatures have FINALLY arrived in my little part of Appalachia! That's western NC for those of you who are new to Appalachian Mountain Roots. 

As much as I enjoy this season I can't help but wonder what kind of winter we can expect this year. Sure, I could read extensive scientific predictions from all of the "experts" but we both know that they don't really know any more than us plain folks. SO, I did what any country person does if they want to find out...I found me a persimmon tree! 

Lucky for me we have a persimmon tree out at our old place and drove out to pick some Saturday afternoon. Most people wait until after the first frost to pick them but we found a couple that were already REALLY ripe. My father-in-law's honeybees were not happy that we were invading their territory so we grabbed a few that we could easily reach and skidaddled back to the car! 

The deer and turkeys have left us with slim pickings!


         I had already peeled some of the skin off of this one before 
I thought to take a picture. It was delicious!

After enjoying a couple we got to work splitting open the seeds. We cut through about 10 of them so we would have a good number to compare. And the persimmons seed says....

Looks like spoons to us! That means we can expect plenty of snow to shovel (spoon). We did have a couple that looked like a knife which means cold, "cutting" winds. Had there been a fork shape in the seeds we would have had a mild winter with some light, powdery snows. 

I love snow so that might be part of the reason most of these looked like spoons to me. I think we see what we want to sometimes. 

I realized that I didn't know a whole lot about persimmons so I decided to read up on them. This is what I found in Foxfire 3: "Persimmons are very high in food energy. The leaves, rich in Vitamin C, can be used for tea." The book, Folk Medicine In Southern Appalachia, says that persimmon juice on the tooth and gums is good for a toothache and for an earache, "A green piece of hickory or persimmon wood was thrown on a fire, and the sap emitted during burning was collected in a saucer and poured into the ear."

I guess only time will tell if the persimmon seed prediction is true or not. Like I said, I love snow so I'm hoping it's right!

Have you peeked into any seeds this year? What do the seeds say in your neck of the woods? You can leave a comment below and let me know!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Family of Feeders

I come from a family of feeders. A long line of feeders. I've always known that I was a part of a group of women who tend to help people mourn and celebrate different circumstances of life with food but I never really had a name to put on what we do. Until I read a blog post by one of my favorite southern bloggers, Sean Dietrich of Sean of the South. Let me explain...

In my family, if someone is sick you feed them. Someone died? You feed their family. Someone just had a baby? You feed them. Food is the answer for any emotion. Sad? Feed 'em. Happy? Feed 'em!

Now I know that this isn't just an Appalachian thing or even just an American thing, but it's a part of MY Appalachia so I decided to write about it.

I grew up going to church and being around ladies who were all feeders but I really didn't notice it until my mom passed away. After my Dad had told my brother and I that she had died my Great Aunt Lois arrived at our house to take us to my Granny & Pa's house. It took about 20 minutes for her to get us there. When we walked in the door there was food everywhere. Not only do they cook, they're also quick. News travels fast in small towns and even faster in a Baptist church. 

When someone is hurting I believe that most people realize that they can't fix it but they find a million different ways to help ease the burden and pain.  

The women I know do that through food.

I don't know if you've noticed but it always tends to be what we call "comfort food." Why? Because they aren't just bringing you a casserole. They're hoping to deliver comfort as well. 

These meals aren't just for deaths though. Women in my part of Appalachia will plan a meal for people who have been sick, baptisms, and many other occasions. 

My church has a tradition where we always have a meal after a baptizing as a way of celebrating the occasion. Last Sunday, after a scheduling mix up, we realized that a family had all shown up to see their grandson be baptized and we didn't have a thing to feed 100+ people. 

I ain't going to lie...I panicked for a minute. Then after talking to my stepmom, we agreed that we could call in a pizza order after Sunday school. We called as soon as they opened (11AM). "Sorry, ma'am. We need at least a 2 day notice for anything over 20 pizzas." PANIC. My stepmom and I flew down the highway heading for town and called a local sandwich shop. "Sorry, there's no way we can have that many sandwiches ready by 12:30." PANIC. We called a local grocery store deli to see if they could help us out. NOPE.

After collecting myself and praying to the good Lord that He'd disable any hardworking law enforcement's speed tracking devices, I shouted, "We can make soup and sandwiches!!" At this point, it's 11:30ish and we still have to run into Walmart to buy the food and drinks, drive the 15-20 minutes back to the church, and get it all set up. Fix it, Jesus.  

I called my husband and prayed that the Lord would forgive him for answering his phone during preaching. He plays the banjo in the church band so I told him that we couldn't get the pizzas but we were figuring it out and to play lots of music...and STALL!

We tore through Walmart like our pants were on fire. We ended up buying pre-made subs from the deli, condiments, soup mix, chips, cookies, and drinks. Beggars can't be choosers. By some miraculous heavenly intervention, we didn't have to wait long in line to check out. 

We arrived back at the church at around 12, unloaded my car, sliced up sandwiches and filled up trays, made two huge pots of soup, put out the chips and cookies, filled up cups with ice, and had it all done by 12:30. I asked the Lord to bless our humble meal like he did the loaves and fishes and that's about the time we heard music and people started to trickle in.

Like I said, I come from a long line of feeders. And that's a good thing because I also like to eat.

I married into a family of feeders. Just about every Saturday evening my little family & my brother-in-law and his family have supper at my husband's parent's house. My mother-in-law does it so we can all spend time together. I look forward to it every week. 

A typical Saturday spread. My mother in-law is a professional feeder.

As if all of that food wasn't enough, she went and made a nanner puddin'!

Are you a feeder or happen to come from a family of feeders too? I'd love to hear from you! You can either leave a comment below or in the comment section on this post on Facebook. I really do read them all! 

I realize that it's been several months since my last blog post. I enjoy writing but I'm not always able to find the time or sometimes even the desire to write. Life is hard sometimes. I'd like to thank all you faithful readers for sticking around and continuing to follow the Appalachian Mountain Roots Facebook page. I do try to post a quick snapshot of what is going on in my world at the moment or an interesting article over there to keep it active. It ain't much but the page continues to grow. Thank you. 

I hope to sit aside time each week to write now that the garden is petering out and we're back in our homeschooling routine. I enjoy writing and sharing a bit of my life and love of Appalachia and I thank y'all for being kind enough to read it!

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.