Thursday, May 16, 2013

Moonshine for the Measles? Really?

Pam Hillman
Good morning CFHS! Last week I attended my first meeting of the Newton County Historical and Genealogical Society in Decatur, MS. The group had a wonderful turn-out and the topic for the morning centered on old timey health remedies.

A hundred years ago, families couldn't run off to the doctor at the first sniffle. Even if they had the money for a doctor, the doctor lived miles away, and the only way to get to him was by wagon or horseback. So, many families made do with what they had and only sent for the doctor as a last resort.

Instead, they relied on tried and true home remedies.

Mr. Bobby Caldwell gave a very interesting talk about home remedies passed down from his grandmother and his mother. Many of these home remedies were common throughout the United States and some are still used today.

Common Mullein
Mr. Caldwell told us how his grandmother made cough syrup from Common Mullein leaves. Take a handful of mullein leaves, tear them into small pieces, boil gently for 10-15 minutes, strain through a cloth, then add 2 tablespoons of raw honey and mix well. You can also simmer this mixture on very low heat for just a bit if you want it thickened. I went online and sure enough, some people are still using this same basic recipe for home remedies today. More interesting uses for the mullein plant.

Another home remedy from yesteryear, and one I've heard of before is onion poultices for congestion. Some people boil the onions and make a poultice for the chest. One lady mentioned that she just slices some onions and puts them in a towel, then covers that with a hot water bottle or a heating pad and a blanket.

As the group reminisced about the past, it was revealed that some of their ancestors chewed the inner bark of the red oak tree to relieve the symptoms of a toothache, while others make mustard poultices for a stomach ache.

Mr. Bobby and his cousin, Ms. Patsy, shared the same grandmother who lived to be over 100 years old so all these old home remedies must have done their job! She made a salve called Julie's Salve that people from all around used for many ailments. It was made with equal parts pine resin, beeswax, and tallow. Another quick search on the internet revealed many variations and uses for salve made from similar ingredients.

Castor Oil

The old standbys of Castor Oil and 666 Tonic for spring purification (Black Draught, anyone? Alder tea?)  and garlic poultices were discussed with abandon. One elderly lady mentioned wearing a penny around her neck as a child. We all nodded in agreement as the implications of wearing a copper penny seventy years ago sunk in. Who hasn't noticed the resurgence of copper bracelets in recent years?

Black Draught
Acid water was used to stop bleeding. If I remember correctly (contrary to popular belief, Mississippians can talk faster than I can write!) acid water was made from acidic soil southeast of Decatur, on the other side of a community called Hickory, MS. The soil was boiled in water to leech out the acid. Various methods of separating the soil from the acidic water were employed, including straining and allowing the residue to settle. Some of those present said the acidic water in their grandmother's medicine cabinet was clear. Again, I did a quick search on the internet, and there are lots of suggested ways to stop bleeding: steeped tea bags, water and salt, water and vinegar. The common ingredient in most of these natural remedies seems to be...tannic acid.

Honestly, I could go on all day. We had the best time talking about all the old remedies our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents used. Once Mr. Bobby opened the floor to comments, things got really interesting.

I heard a couple of new remedies that I had never heard before. Someone mentioned that many, many years ago, as a very young child of about two years old, her aunt was "trying to break out with the measles", and everybody knows that it's better to have a full-blown case of measles, as opposed to a mild case.

Apparently, moonshine helps the measles along quite nicely. So, the grandmother poured a small amount of moonshine into a soda can and left it on the table, knowing the child would drink the "soda". But her sister drank it instead. No, the sister didn't break out with the measles, but she felt pretty chipper for the rest of the day!

Plain ol' Onions!
Another remedy I had never heard of was to roast an onion in the fire, squeeze the juice out, add sugar and give it to a baby to help it sleep. Sounds pretty gross, doesn't it?

Lard mixed with turpentine was used before Vicks salve for congestion. Here's one that I simply cannot imagine doing, but the lady lived to be over one hundred. Hold on to your hat. She swallowed a teaspoon of Vaseline every day for diverticulitis. Ewwww!

For more interesting medical cures, check out this discussion at Linky Dinky's Forgotten Medical Cures.

We've all heard that there is nothing new under the sun, and I guess that's true in home remedies too. When I searched the internet, I found instances of most of these common cures sprinkled throughout the world. Many of the patented medicines we use today were created using these same herbs found in nature.

Except for how moonshine accelerates a case of the measles. That one has me stumped!

What unusual home remedies/health cures have you heard about? Something you're absolutely sure could only have been practiced in your little neck of the woods. You'll probably be surprised at how wide-spread it was!

Disclaimer: Do not try any of the health remedies mentioned in this post without consulting your doctor first. Since I can barely boil water without burning it, I thought I'd better throw this in for everyone's safety!

~ ~ ~

The online ACFW Book Club will be discussing my January 2013 release,
Claiming Mariah, on May 20-24th. Membership to the book club is free. 
Every weekend, Christian authors post about giveaways,
free books, book signings, and events. 
If you'd like to join the book club, click here. There's still time to read 
Claiming Mariah before the discussion. :)



Pam Hillman was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove the Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of! Claiming Mariah is her second novel. www.pamhillman.com

29 comments:

  1. Haha, I love your disclaimer! No worries..I won't be trying those remedies anytime soon.
    I really can't come up with any home remedies. There is a running joke in my family....My husband is always telling everyone to put rubbing alcohol on everything. So whenever one of our kids/grandkids gets hurt, has a rash or any sort of boo boo, someone is sure to say 'Put alcohol on it!' Always gets a laugh. :o)

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    1. Debbie, I started to mention this one as well. My Cowboy's grandfather was a huge believer that alcohol could cure anything. Into his nineties, the age spots on his face would burn, and he would rub alcohol on them.

      The other day, his 94 yo grandmother was complaining of some ailment, and My Cowboy said something about using alcohol. She didn't hear him, and I shushed him because she would have tried it since her husband had believed in it so religiously!

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    2. Haha....yeah my hubby rubs in on his nose now and then, I do not see how he can stand the smell!

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  2. Something we always do in our family is use white vinegar for all sorts of things - canker sores, insect bites, burns. It's one of those things that has been around forever (at least since Jesus' day!), and has so many different uses!
    I'd like to know more about the mullein plant. I've never heard of that plant, but the cough syrup sounds interesting. I've made homemade cough syrup from cayenne pepper, vinegar, and I can't remember what all. My family lovingly refers to it as "drain cleaner"! lol Basically, you don't cough because you can't get a deep breath! (I used it twice and that was the end of that home remedy!)
    I did use to use onion water for my boys when they were babies, not to help them sleep, but to relieve colic. I put it in a bottle, and they sucked it right down, amazingly! And it did help. Sometimes the old remedies are the best, and the safest - well, except for moonshine, I would have to say! :D

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    1. Bethany, while cross-referencing some of these home remedies, I too saw that onion water could be used for colic. Did you make your own onion water? That is just SO amazing.

      I've seen the mullein plant around here, but I didn't know what it was. The only home remedy that I've actually made was sassafras tea for my kid's school projects a couple of times.

      And too funny about the cayenne pepper cough syrup! lol My brother used to make cough syrup out of whiskey and peppermint. I've never tried it myself, but they say it works. Maybe it's sorta like the moonshine remedy. You just don't know you're coughing anymore.... lol

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    2. Yes, I made my own onion water. My mother-in-law told me to boil an onion until it was soft, then strain the water it was cooked in to use.

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    3. Bethany, I'm just not sure I'd be brave enough to try it. :) I bet your boys are tough as whet leather!

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    4. Is that what did it?! lol Maybe I should have drank some myself! ;) (Note that I was never brave enough to try it either! Then again, I wasn't the one crying with colic!)

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  3. My grandmother had certain tonics she swore by. One of them was argyrol. I had to look it up on google, but it is a colloidal silver-protein compound, used as a topical antiseptic. She would chase my brothers and sister around and make them swallow it by the teaspoonful! Not recommended!
    My best friend's mom would use camphor leaves for my friend's cuts. I can still smell the stench of those.
    And then there was mercuro-chrome. Anyone remember that? Yikes! It's a wonder we weren't all blood poisoned.
    Great post, Pam.

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    1. Kathleen, I remember mercuro-chrome. lol That was some pretty powerful stuff.

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  4. Cola syrup for tummyaches! Flat coke today and ginger.

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    1. Interesting.... when I was a kid, we rarely had store-bought cokes (that's soda/pop for anybody who ain't from the South! lol), but if one of us was feeling "poorly", Mama would go to the store and buy a couple of 1 liter Cokes.

      Not only was it a treat for the sickly child, I guess it helped ease our tummy ache. But I don't think it ever had the chance go to flat. Adding some ginger would definitely have helped too.

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  5. Wow, that all sounds so yucky! I can't imagine the smells and tastes of all those "cures". My mom brought me up on elderberry syrup to cure most sicknesses. Haven't heard use of anything more around here - maybe I live too far north! What a fun post.
    Susan P

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    1. Susan, sounds like elderberry was the go-to plant in your area. Do you remember if your mom made her own syrup? I never remember Mama giving us any home remedies growing up. I don't even remember my grandparents having anything like that on hand.

      I grew up on a dairy farm and we drank unpasteurized milk straight from the 2000 lb tanks, so we were a strong, healthy lot. Cuts, bruises, poisen ivy, and wasp stings were about the extent of our ailments. So mercuro-chrome, alcohol, Calomine lotion, and a baking soda/water paste for stings was about all I remember from my childhood.

      Shucks, I remember my cousin and I playing in my grandfather's old abandoned barn. We were trying to get to the hay loft, but the ladder was long gone. We finally climbed up a different way. Being a tomboy and the oldest, I lead the way. But a board broke and I fell, all tangled up in a bunch of rusty tin. I've got the scars on my legs from the tin. But did we tell Mama and Daddy? Naw.

      The bleeding stopped. I was healthy as a horse, so why bother? It didn't ever occur to me that I might need a TETANUS shot!!! Thank you, Lord, for preserving me through my stupidity... lol

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    2. Home grown dairy farm girl here too. And we were the healthiest kids around! Had to be that milk straight from the cow. :) Funny, we never had any big accidents either, even though we were totally wild and crazy and did the same things you talk about. The motto on our farm was don't come crying if it's not cut off or bleeding buckets. lol
      Yeah, that would have been a tetanus shot injury! Crazy what we survived. :)

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  6. A while back I was digging through some online diaries set in Kansas during its settlement. One remedy I cam across was the split chicken method. I guess a live chicken was split and placed on the bite. The theory is that the blood would draw out the poison. I've also seen that the snake itself was used to draw out poison.

    Great post. I love these types of tidbits that color a story.

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    1. Shudder...snake bites...I got nuthin'

      If you're still alive after I've revived from my fainting spell, I'll attempt to catch the chicken...

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    2. Lol, Pam. I did some research for my Kansas story. The diaries were filled with rattle snake encounters. In house and out. They used to ( and still do in western Kansas) do rattle snake round up.

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  7. A very interesting topic, Pam. Glad you had such a good visit to the historical society and came away with all this info on home remedies. I'm old enough to remember Mom giving my brother and me cod liver oil, daily, and using a mustard plaster and brandy in hot tea for colds and chest congestion. Do those qualify as home remedies? I'm certain these were used elsewhere other than SE Pennsylvania. In England over the centuries, mineral water was used internally and externally to supposedly cure many ailments. Only the wealthiest could avail themselves of the benefits from the spa. The poorest had access to the drinking water.

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    1. Mustard plasters and brandy in tea would be considered home remedies for sure.

      Cod liver oil .... ewwww!!! We get a lot of chuckles from My Cowboy's grandmother, and a few weeks ago, someone was telling her the benefits of fish oil. She said she just didn't think she could swallow fish oil...she'd somehow missed the part that it came in capsules, and the odorless ones aren't bad at all.

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    2. Yes, Fish oil capsules. So much more palatable than cod liver oil on the spoon. i think we were given it for the vitamin A content. I don't know how much of the Omega's it contained.

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  8. Thank you for your very interesting posts and links. I really enjoyed the information. It sounds like you meeting was very much fun and held some interesting tidbits of information. I don't recall any home remedies used by my family in the 1950's and 1960's. I mostly lived in the city and we had easy access to doctors and drugstores. I do use 2 old remedies for myself now. For an upset stomach I eat crystallized ginger and/or charcoal capsules. I know that people used to eat burned toast for upset stomachs, so I guess that would be equal to the charcoal capsules.

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    1. Charcoal capsules?? Really? Must google!

      And, yes, I seem to remember that burned toast can soothe an upset stomach. So interesting.

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    2. I remember hearing my son-in-law mention something about using charcoal from the campfire for stomach ache. (He used to teach survival skills). I don't know the method.

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  9. Wow, Pam, lots of good info! I'm saving this one for research!
    Blessings, Laurie Kingery

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  10. Hi, Pam! I LOVE this post! I was told that my great-grandmother was a kind of "granny-doctor." She gave birth to and raised ten children in the hills of southern Indiana without the benefit of a traditionally trained doctor. The only remedy of hers I learned was the lard and turpentine one you mentioned for chest congestion, but with a couple added ingredients. As a child, I remember my mom slathering my congested chest with a concoction of camphor, turpentine, coal oil(kerosene)and lard. A scrap of flannel cloth was laid over the "salve" to "keep in the warmth." I can tell you from experience that if left on too long, this rememdy can nearly blister the skin.

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    1. Oh yes, Ramona, that was one of the things we talked about the other day...to be careful of the strength of some of these concoctions and the duration of leaving them on.

      Some of the remedies for ear aches can backfire if administered incorrectly. The biggest mistake is having some of them way, way too hot!

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  11. So interesting...it's nice to see what they did in the past..I love home remedies! truckredford(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Our ancestors were a hearty lot, for sure.

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