I posted this earlier in February on my Wordpress blog, but not everyone in the world read it and I thought it worth reposting. :)

Recently my seven year old niece, Cailin, was in my care and coughing her head off with the latest respiratory ‘thing.’  So I took some flannel (formerly an infant burb cloth) slathered it with Vicks Vapor Rub, folded the cloth so it wouldn’t stick to her shirt, and laid it on her chest.  This way her skin is protected  in case she’s sensitive to the rub–I broke out in an itchy rash last year.  Then I laid a warming pack filled with rice that can be reheated in the microwave and is cushioned by fleece against her shirt/chest and wrapped her in a blanket, periodically reheating the pack.  After this, I got out the Olbas oil and anointed her temples, added a few drops to a basin of steaming water for her to inhale.  Although complaints of ‘it smells funny’ and ‘stings my eyes’ — ‘close them,’ I answered, and other arguments arose, her coughing eased.  I’d done the same thing I reminded her last week for her cousin, my seven year old grandson, and it greatly lessened his cough.

I told her she’d come to the ‘Granny Woman’ who used herbs and old-fashioned remedies to cure.  Her eyes widened at that. To emphasize my point, I went into the sun space and picked a handful of the ‘Vicks’ plant, Plectranthus purpuratus, a pungent mentholated herb given to me years ago by an old mountain woman who swore by its powers.  Easily rerooted, I’ve kept it going and used it myself–just smelling the leaves opens your head–but Cailin was a little put off by the powerful aroma and glad I wasn’t making a concoction from this, or the mustard plaster I’d told her about.   Later on, though, my sister said how vastly impressed Cailin was, declaring I knew lots of stuff about how to make you better.   Even prattled away to the doctor about her amazing Aunt Beth who now probably thinks I’m a quack.
Back to the Granny Women, historically, they were elderly women  from ‘back in the holler’ reputed for their healing and midwifery abilities.  The term is often associated with ‘Appalachia.’  However, I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Appalachia.  We refer to the specific mountains.  But I digress.  In a time and place when doctors were few or nonexistent and no one had the money to pay them anyway,  the Granny Women were relied on for the wisdom and practices  passed down to them by the hardy females who’d gone before them.    Sure, a dollop of superstition, and at times, a little white magic, was mixed in with their practical herbal remedies, but they did a lot of good.  In the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, these women were invaluable.   Some of my friends remember their family calling in the Granny Woman when they didn’t know what to do for an ailment or injury.  Officially, these women are no longer with us.  Unofficially, they are.  And many know far more than I.

An interesting article on Appalachian Healing Traditions.  For more on the real Vicks Plant click the above link.

*Cailin with kitty Pavel (a little sticky from something) image by daughter Elise
*Old mountain house in the Blue Ridge, image by my husband Dennis.


  1. Nightingale // February 27, 2012 at 10:34 AM  

    My mother treated my coughs that way when I was a child. It's a good remedy. The picture of your granddaughter and the kitty is precious. And the old house in the "holler" sets the stage.

  2. Pamela Varnado // February 27, 2012 at 11:31 AM  

    I grew up in rural Virginia, where all kinds of bizzare remedies were used. My grandmother had an unconventional recipe for a cold. A tablespoon of whiskey mixed with sugar. I remember that it stopped my coughing. Another yucky remedy was for an earache - a drop of urine in the ear. Yikes! I had the pleasure of enduring that also. Thank God my kids meds came from the pharmacy.

  3. Josie // February 27, 2012 at 1:44 PM  

    Your posts are always so interesting. Thanks for info on the Vicks plant. I've heard rubbing Vicks on the feet works, too.

  4. Mary Marvella // February 27, 2012 at 4:32 PM  

    Pam, a friend of mine from Norcross, Georgia mentioned the urine for earaches, too.

    Beth, a nurse friend suggested Vicks rub on the patient's foot at night. She said to rub it on the bottom of the foot, then cover with a sock.

    Other friends said it worked.

  5. Mary Marvella // February 27, 2012 at 4:34 PM  

    Joanne, I should have read your comment before making mine. Mine could have been a ditto.

    I rub it around my ear for a earache, especially on the sinus areas.

  6. Beth Trissel // February 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM  

    Yes, thanks. I love those pics.

  7. Beth Trissel // February 27, 2012 at 4:49 PM  

    I have heard of the urine in the ear, though not often. You did live back in the country. :)

  8. Beth Trissel // February 27, 2012 at 4:50 PM  

    Thanks guys--good to be appreciated and share info. I'm assuming MM meant she rubbed Vicks around her ear, not that 'other' remedy.

  9. Anonymous // February 28, 2012 at 1:46 PM  

    Beth, I wish I could visit you and your amazing gardens. I would love to have a cutting from all your medicinal plants.


  10. Mary Ricksen // February 28, 2012 at 9:05 PM  

    How adorable! Sorry I didn't comment sooner, had trouble with blogger for two days.

  11. Autumn Jordon // February 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM  

    Nice post, Beth. I use the rice bag often, especially on my feet.

    I grandpa used to keep brandy by his side. He always in swallow at night was good for the soul.

    I'd love to have a bit of that Vicks plant.

  12. Anonymous // January 16, 2014 at 3:29 PM  

    Is that house on Rt. 33 in VA? I swear it looks just like a house we pass on the way to Blue Ridge Pottery... one that I was sure was abandoned the first time we drove by, but the next time we were down that way there was a fire in the fireplace and clothes out on the line.