How To Use Home Remedies From Pioneers —- Healing Herbs Helped Patients in Ways that Modern Medicine Cannot

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, settlers living on isolated prairie homesteads had to be resourceful when it came to health care. Medical assistance might be miles away, and roads were often impassable at certain times of the year.

“We don’t want pain any longer. Unfortunately, we run to the doctor or emergency for every small, little thing.”

Eighty-five percent of the world’s population still uses home remedies. Early pioneers knew that the body has a tremendous healing capacity.

“For a lot of things, either a cold or mild infection, we can deal with this with rest, sleep, hydration and good nutrition,” .

Hot peppers dried by the fire were made into a broth to treat colds. Pine needles were also boiled in water, and then the water was drunk for treating colds. Sagebrush dotted the brown valley when the pioneers arrived in Utah. It was used to treat ailments of the liver and the eyes. Many believed that sage helped a person have a long and healthy life. Dry mustard mixed with flour, or pine tar mixed with turpentine, was often spread on a cloth and placed on the chest to relieve congestion in the lungs.

The pioneers didn’t chew spearmint gum, but spearmint was prescribed for an upset stomach, nausea, or kidney stones. It was also thought to prevent swelling and inflammation. The tangy mint flavor made it a pioneer favorite.

Botanical pharmaceuticals formed the basis of most remedies, but farm women also used the staple nineteenth-century drugs – laudanum (an opium preparation), morphine, and quinine – which were readily available in local stores.  Women generally knew about advances in medicine and changed their recipes to use new drugs and techniques. Witness this remarkable salve concocted by a woman born in 1892 in Carroll County, Arkansas: “Perhaps there is no better healing salve known than the Green Persimmon Salve. This is made by slicing twelve persimmons straight through while the seeds are still tender. Add one teacupful of hog’s lard and fry until well done. Strain and add fifteen drops of carbolic acid. Pour into well sterilized jars and use on cuts and wounds.”  This remedy combined traditional elements with modern medicine. The persimmons in the recipe acted as an astringent, which would have helped close the wound. The lard aided absorption because it is oil-based, like skin. But the use of carbolic acid and sterilized jars indicates that this woman knew about antiseptic techniques.

In addition to fighting diseases after they struck, women also worked to forestall illness. Spring tonics were a favorite method of preventive care. Ozarkers believed that tonics restocked vital reserves of energy and nutrients, which people needed for good health. In an attempt to replenish all parts of the system, most women made their tonics from a number of roots harvested in February and March before the sap rose. Although sassafras tea was a popular spring tonic in the Ozarks, it was by no means the only one. Every family had its own favorite concoction. One Ozark woman’s recipe, which had been passed down in her family for generations, consisted of equal amounts of sassafras, burdock, sarsaparilla roots, blue burvene, wild cherry, dogwood bark, and mayapple root. This was boiled until a heavy liquid formed; whiskey was added as a preservative and the mixture was then bottled. She dosed all the adults in her family with one tablespoonful (the children got a teaspoon), two to three times a day for a month.  Another woman recommended the following: “Boil equal parts Sarsaparilla root, Wahoo root and Dogwood bark for 1/2 hour. Strain. Add enough whiskey to preserve liquid: Add 1 cup rock candy to sweeten. Give three tablespoonfuls each morning before breakfast as a spring tonic.

These tonics achieved several different results. Made from botanicals rich in vitamins and trace minerals, they were prepared and drunk in early spring, and hence provided much-needed nourishment after a nutrient-poor winter. Tonics also stimulated the appetite; thus, dosed with tonics, Ozarkers ate more, which helped them build strength for the grueling labor that greeted every farm family as the weather warmed. In addition to stimulating digestion, various chemicals in the tonics also stimulated circulation and liver and excretory functions.Thus fortified, Ozarkers were far better equipped, psychologically and nutritionally, to fight off the warm-weather diseases of the months ahead.

Healing herbs helped patients in ways that modern medicine cannot. They aided them in dealing with their distress and gave them a sense of control – a powerful psychological medicine.

When a child came down with a fever, a pioneer mother often boiled parsley to ease the fever. Parsley was also used for jaundice (a liver disease) and gallstones (a gall bladder condition). Raspberry and strawberry leaves were used to treat flu and/or diarrhea. Many believed that raw or cooked garlic helped heart disease.

Sometimes the women experimented, mixing plants with household ingredients. A paste of oatmeal, linseed oil, buttermilk, and baking soda was concocted to ease insect bites or bee stings. Mud or clay mixed with turpentine, crushed chrysanthemum leaves, butter, and salt might also ease the pain of a bite. A paste made of turpentine and brown sugar was sometimes applied to stop bleeding.

Urine has uric acid, the same ingredient found in modern hand creams.

This embarrassment, particularly as the children became more educated, was the beginning of the end for home remedies.

Some kitchen medicines still survive, including pouring melted wax into a pan of water to treat psychological ailments.

If a person was afraid or anxious, they would go to the “witch’s” house seeking a cure. The old woman would pour hot wax that had been blessed into the pan to see an image. This would be repeated three times. The image would be gone by the third time and the person cured.

Home Recipes

The cure for hangovers included chrysanthemum flower tea, pickle or sauerkraut juices or eating sauerkraut and brown bread. Mould from food was used to treat skin infections.

Home remedies, or natural remedies, are typically grown in the comforts of your own backyards, or for many, the comfort of the wilderness. Medicinal plants and oils have been known to serve as remedies for ailments, both major and minor. They are mother nature’s healthy alternative to conventional medicine and have been used longer than we can imagine.
Pioneers often turned to farm produce and other supplies that they had on hand to provide relief for the sick . The Lost Book of Remedies contains a home medical book . In addition to providing descriptions and symptoms of diseases, The Lost Book of Remedies included a collection of simple recipes for home remedies that could be used in the humblest home.

For example:
Let a quarter of a pound of cayenne pepper stand for 10 days in a pint of alcohol used for rheumatism.

Most home remedies were well known by the early pioneers. Warm goose grease alone, or mixed with sulphur and lard, was commonly used for chest colds or sore throats. They used soda for bites and cold tea leaves for burns; salt in water to gargle a sore throat; senna tea for a laxative and ippecaka= or suphur and molasses for a spring tonic.

Coal oil for lamps or lanterns was used for a variety of purposes, including as cough syrup (when mixed with sugar). The Lost Book of Remedies contains:
The cure was to give the unfortunate little fellow half a teaspoon of coal-oil, which she would take from one of the lamps. In larger doses I=m sure it would be lethal, but nevertheless it did alleviate his breathing…
Coal oil was also used and as a cure for head lice and bed bugs. Even cow manure was utilized as a heat-providing poultice.

Herbal Remedies

In the 1955 pioneer survey referred to above, several respondents stated that herbal remedies were often quite reliable. Such remedies included a flax reed poultice for chest colds, chewed hazel bark to wrap around an injured finger, black poplar buds in lard as an ointment, and skairish root tea for a dropsy victim.
10 Onions were used for a variety of medicinal purposes, including in plasters and poultices. While some of these remedies had their origins in the country of origin of the homesteaders, others were learned from the Aboriginal peoples of the prairies.

The Lost Book of Remedies has an entire section devoted to herbal remedies. The author, acknowledges that many of these remedies were learned from Aboriginal peoples.

Native peoples about herbal-based self-treatment was frequently shared in the women=s sections of farm newspapers and magazines. The Lost Book of Remedies suggested recipes for cough remedies using wild violets (which when boiled with water was deemed not bad tasting), and sage leaves (boiled with sugar and a little vinegar).

13One Indian herbal remedy that became quite widespread was Devil”s Club.this wild root, reporting that it was used by local Indians to ease the pains of childbirth. The response was so overwhelming that, by 1915, she had started a small business, packaging and selling Devil”s Club as Compound Tea. A pioneer woman who had twelve children without the assistance of a midwife or a doctor.

Herbs as Medicine

Instructions: Boiling spoils herbs. Submerge them in cold water, then steep them slowly.

Aloes: Tea made from leaves of the aloes plant was taken in small doses as a laxative and remedy for hemorrhoids.

Asafetida: A small amount of asafetida tied in a cloth bag and hung around a child’s neck kept communicable diseases away. Asafetida could also be rolled into pills and given for to relieve nervousness and spasms or convulsions.

Beets: Juice from red beets was drunk as a cure for kidney stones.

Brookline: Tea made from brookline was taken in the spring to help enrich the blood.

Camphor and Olive Oil: To relieve croup, a child’s chest was rubbed with a mixture of these ingredients (Camphor and Olive Oil) then the salve covered with a square of flannel.

Carrots: A poultice of carrots was applied to boils to draw out the infection.

Catnip: Tea made from catnip was given to babies with colic or colds.

Clover Blossoms: Tea made from clover blossoms enriched the blood.

Composition Tea: This mixture of herbs was applicable for almost allailments. [Older, comprehensive dictionaries refer to this medication as “Brigham Young Tea.”]

Dogwood or Boxwood: Tea made from the bark of these bushes (dogwood and boxwood) was drunk as a tonic and stimulant.

Elm Bark: Combined with yeast, crushed elm bark was used as an antiseptic and a poultice for ulcers, especially when there was danger of gangrene.

Flaxseed: Tea steeped from flaxseed was drunk for colds. If the patient was suffering from pneumonia, flaxseed could be made into a poultice and applied to the chest.

Ginger: A half teaspoonful of ginger in warm water was given to relieve colds or stomach pains.

Gravel Root: Tea made from gravel root was a remedy for kidney ailments.

Hope: This herb was mixed with whiskey and stuffed into a small, cloth bag, which was then placed under a patient’s pillow to induce sleep.

Horehound: Tea made from horehound was drunk to relieve the symptoms of a cold.

Lobelia: This was used to induce vomiting. When lobelia is mixed with egg, vinegar, and sugar, the concoction could be given to a child as an expectorant.

Marshmallow Weed: A poultice made of this weed was heated before applying it to skin infections. A tea steeped from marshmallow weed was drunk for urinary complaints.

Mustard: One or two teaspoons of powdered mustard mixed in a glass of warm water was used as an emetic in case of poisoning.

Olive Oil: This oil was applied to poison-ivy rash or bee stings.

Onions: Chopped onions placed in a sick room prevented smallpox or other contagious disease fromspreading to other members of the household.

Peach Tree Leaves: Tea made of these leaves was used as a sedative, thus controlling nausea and vomiting.

Peppermint: Peppermint tea was given to babies with colic or colds.

Rabbit Brush or Tea Weed: A tea made of this herb was drunk to relieve the pain of rheumatism.

Rhubarb: Stewed and sweetened, this (rhubarb) was eaten to relieve constipation.

Sage: Tea made from this herb (sage) was used to relieve an upset stomach. It could also be mashed in a tea- spoonful of olive oil and swallowed as a cure for intestinal worms.

Sagebrush: With a bit of whisky added as a preservative, tea made of wild sagebrush was drunk as a tonic. Made into hot packs, it was applied to bruises and abrasions.

Salt: One-fourth to one-half a teaspoon of salt was dissolved in a cup of water. This mixture was to be taken in the morning, before breakfast, to eliminate intestinal worms.

Sulfur: When sulfer is mixed with lard or butter, this salve was used for “the itch” or ringworm.

Sulfur and Molasses: This mixture (sulfer and molasses) was taken as a spring tonic.

Tansy: Tea made of this plant (tansy) was drunk by women with irregular menstruation.

Verbine: Teas made from this herb was used to cause the patient to perspire.

Wormwood: The wormwood was steeped in a large amount of water, then simmered for an extended period of time. A small amount of brandy was added to a cup of this tea before giving it to the patient as a treatment for mountain fever.

Yarrow: Tea made from the yarrow plant was a remedy for colds.

Some of the pioneer remedies are still used today, but most have been replaced by new and more effective medicines. There were no hospitals for early pioneer families. Mothers had to rely on Heavenly Father and the plants of the land to care for their families.

Take a look at this collection The Lost Book Of Remedies, taken word for word out of a circa 1845 manual.

How does it work?

The premise is that many modern daymedicines work on the basis that they treat the symptoms and not the cause, butcontained within The Lost Book of Remedies are a number of tinctures and tonicsmade from plants and leaves that will treat the cause of the illness, thuseradicating the disease altogether.

The book is a direct copy of the little notebook carried around by the author’s grandfather when treating his patients.  However, the illustrations of the plants have been updated to photographs so that they are easier for you to identify.

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