Monday, May 16, 2016

Moonshine for the Measles? Really?

Pam Hillman
Good morning HHH! I have a wonderful historical society where I live. Every meeting is so informative! One of the most interesting was 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!

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CBA Bestselling author 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 an 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.


  1. This was too funny. Moonshine? Hahaha Thanks for the informative and humorous post.

    1. I know, right? Especially given that the wrong child drank the concoction. lol

  2. What an interesting post this was! I don't remember any home remedies from my childhood, just lots of Vicks on the chest for congestion. Oh, how I hated that stuff!

    1. Sandy, my mother-in-law is a big believer in Vicks on the chest for congestion. Also, I've heard of putting it on your feet and then putting socks on. Sounds like a stretch, but people say it works. I'm battling an upper respiratory infection right now so I might just have to try this!

  3. Wow! Love this, Pam! I remember the castor oil and a few others--including coal oil and when the doctor made home visits. I guess that reveals how old I am. lol!

    1. I remember something about coal oil, but can't remember how it was used in home remedies. Seems like it would peel the hide off a kid, but maybe not.

    2. You'd think so, Pam. lol! Somehow people survived the crazy remedies they used back then. I found this link to an article on Wikipedia that lists some of the medicinal uses for coal oil:

  4. Hi Pam! Enjoyed your post! Coming from a medical background, I find all the old remedies so fascinating.

    1. Kathryn, I do, too. I imagine most of them did the job they were intended for, but then there were probably unintended side effects that went undetected sometimes.

      Hmmm, sounds awfully familiar to modern medicine, doesn't it? :)

  5. I remember a few remedies my mom used - mustard plasters for chest congestion and putting sage leaves in boiling water and breathing that while it boiled - also for chest congestion.

    1. Betti, I've heard of the mustard plasters. Sounds gross, doesn't it, but if it worked, then why not?

  6. Wow! Amazing information!
    The only remedy I remember is honey, lemon, and brown sugar for a bad cough. Also, my mom had a remedy where she used the liquid from boiling an onion for some cure, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was for. She has lived her whole life using home remedies. She's now 98 years old, so I think there is definitely credence to home remedies.
    I thoroughly enjoyed learning about all of the old remedies. = )

    1. Dali, I think your mom had the right idea, and her age proves it. :) What a blessing that you still have her in your life!