These cures are recorded in Shenandoah Voices by late Shenandoah Valley historian and author John Heatwole.  I knew John and much admired him.  He's left a wealth of information behind in his books.

For a sprained ankle take catnip, sprinkle salt on it and bind it to the ankle. ‘Mullin tea’ was also used for sprained ankles.  The leaves of the mullin plant were boiled in vinegar and water and the ankle was bathed in it while it was still warm. ~

Turpentine was also rubbed on a sprain.  You never covered it or it would burn.~

Catnip tea was made for children with the colic.~
Queen Anne’s Lace made into a tea is said to relieve backache.~

Sage and honey tea is a good brew to give to someone with pneumonia.~

Drinking tea made from aromatic sage is said to keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.~

Lobelia tea was used by Thomsonian herb doctor Gabe Heatwole as a purge.  Lobelia is an annual or perennial plant of the bellflower family.~

Goldenseal and Comfort Root (*Pinelands Hibiscus or Cut-leaf Hibiscus) teas are good for an upset stomach.~

If you have kidney problems, swamp root tea can be used for relief.~
Greasy mustard plaster was used on the sufferer’s chest for a deep cold.

To avoid being burned by the mustard, this plaster was made with lard and spread on a cloth that could be laid on the sufferer’s chest without burning. ~ Another non-burning plaster was made with mustard, lard, and egg whites.~

A family in Singers Glen used a mustard and lard poultice for pneumonia.  When the patient’s chest started to turn red, it was removed. The patient was washed off thoroughly, and then a hot onion poultice was applied. ~

For a bad cold or pleurisy, they’d put lard on your chest with salt sprinkled on it of a night.~
A tea made a peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache.~

Pennyroyal tea was used to break a fever, for upset stomach and to treat the common cold. It is of the same family as mint and yields aromatic oil.~

During the Civil War, some Valley soldiers chewed slippery elm bark when in battle or on the march. It was said to relieve thirst and hunger.~

Miss Gray Pifer of Mt. Crawford said that ‘horehound grew down near the creek. Momma made a horehound syrup with brown sugar for coughs. ~

In Page County a woman said that her grandfather smoked a corncob pipe, and if a child in the family had an earache, he’d blow smoke in the ear as a cure.  She also said for spider bite, you should cut a piece from a new potato and hold it against the bite. Eventually the potato will turn black as it absorbs the poison. ~
I’m teaching an online class on Herbal Lore and the Historic Medicinal Uses of Herbs in October.  Registration runs through Oct. 2nd but if you really wanted to you could probably still get in and catch up at:
*Pics are of our farm and the Shenandoah Valley 
The pumpkin patch pic is of a different farm


  1. Joanna St. James // October 8, 2010 at 11:01 AM  

    great post, but where were you the year I turned 15 and got my first grey hair. Just joking but I do have a lot of silver hair now. I love the picture and am off to check out the website.

  2. Autumn Jordon // October 8, 2010 at 11:22 AM  

    Interesting tidbits, Beth. I remember my grandfather blowing smoke in my ear when I was a child and stricken with an earache.

    I've got to find some slippery gum though.

    Great post!

  3. Beth Trissel // October 8, 2010 at 11:43 AM  

    :) Thanks. I started going gray early too, a family thing. Head to the woods Autumn.

  4. Mary Marvella // October 8, 2010 at 11:44 AM  

    Wow, I don't suppose you've tested those remedies.

    I'm still working on gin soaked raisins for joint pain.

    Love the photos, girl!

  5. Nightingale // October 8, 2010 at 11:58 AM  

    There's a wealth of good information here for our writing! And it is a beautiful post as well. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of herbs with us.

  6. Patrice // October 8, 2010 at 1:58 PM  

    Liked the pictures, Beth, but I think I'll pass on the medicine. LOL.

  7. S.P. Laws // October 8, 2010 at 2:11 PM  

    Thanks for this wonderful information! Loved the "Drinking tea made from aromatic sage is said to keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely" I might have to try that, and
    the spider bite potato idea- WOW!

  8. Mona Risk // October 8, 2010 at 2:47 PM  

    Great informations here we need to try. When I was small, they would tell you to soak your foot in lead water (lead sulfate) to cure a starined ankle. Soaking her feet in mustard was supposed to help a woman conceive.

  9. Toni V.S. // October 8, 2010 at 2:52 PM  

    I've had the "smoke in the ear" cure for a terrific earache; now, they're recommending a hair drier on a low setting instead. I remember Chester on "Gunsmoke" was always eating horehound candy. I tried some once, not bad. A little like licorace.

  10. Barbara Monajem // October 8, 2010 at 4:12 PM  

    Fascinating, Beth. I often use mint for a tummy ache, and I believe I've used slippery elm for sore throat...? I've heard of putting a roasted onion in your ear for earache.

  11. Beth Trissel // October 8, 2010 at 4:15 PM  

    Thanks. Yes Barbara, I have heard if the roasted onion in the ear thing. Some of these remedies listed do actually work.

  12. Joanne // October 8, 2010 at 9:57 PM  

    The pictures of your farm are beyond gorgeous. Very interesting herbal cures. I remember when I was researching my first novel, the heroine tried to poison the hero in one of the early chapters. It was not easy trying to find a poison you could slip into a cup of ale in Tudor England.

  13. Beth Trissel // October 8, 2010 at 11:03 PM  

    Thanks Joanne. Poisonous herbs are a subject of interest in the online class I'm teaching.

  14. Judy // October 9, 2010 at 6:46 AM  

    Beth, this post was fabulous! I love learning about all these things. And the pictures were beautiful! Thanks so much!

  15. Beth Trissel // October 9, 2010 at 9:32 AM  

    Thanks Judy. My mother in law told about spreading mustard/lard plasters on chests (covered with a piece of flannel) to break up respiratory stuff. Onions were sometimes used along with the mustard or in its place. She also stressed the importance of Vicks Vapor Rub which I still use. I have a pungent herb given to me by an elderly woman who called it the Vicks plant and the succulent leaves really smell like Vicks.

    A local man who grew up way back in the mountains said along with the plasters and Vicks for chest and sinus ailments, his mother made him eat a teaspoon of Vicks.
    She smeared it on his forehead, up his nose, everywhere. And he wore strongly scented calamus root in a small flannel bag around his neck.

  16. Scarlet Pumpernickel // October 9, 2010 at 10:01 PM  

    Beth, great post. I find the native medicines interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Mary Marvella // October 10, 2010 at 6:11 PM  

    As usual Beth educates as she entertains! Thanks, Beth! I like some of the other suggestions, too.

  18. Beth Trissel // October 10, 2010 at 11:22 PM  

    Thanks Scarlet and Mama Mary!