I grew up playing doctor, cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers and short order cook. I could bake a mean mud pie, garnished with marigold petals, dandelion dust and gravel. I always enjoyed my vivid imagination—which allowed me to visualize myself in a variety of professions.
I have had to face the facts the past couple of years that I am just a little “old school” when it comes to going to the doctor, dentist or other such folk. I like them; don’t get me wrong. I just come from a long line of people who did their own preventive medicine until sheer desperation drives us to the door of a medical facility. I go see my doctors and dentists when I get to missing their songs, jokes, stories and advice. I just disguise my real reasons with a few aches and pains.
When a friend of mine drank vinegar recently to ward off intense heartburn, I had to chuckle. After all, I use it to clean my coffee pot and my dishwasher. Was it safe to pour it down our own throats, as well?
As hillfolk, we are a resourceful bunch, using whatever we have on hand to cure our ills and calm our fears. Sometimes this works; other times it creates a whole new set of problems.
From chest colds to frost bite to arthritis, I have little pieces of paper and sticky notes stuck in all kinds of books reeling me in to practice medicine without a license, I suppose. I was tempted to share these with my vinegar-drinking friend, just to see if any of them prove productive as the sagging economy keeps driving us to cut those corners.
Baking soda, vinegar, moonshine and sassafras root seem destined to make the top 10 list of home remedies. You can cook with them, clean with them, get rid of poison ivy with them, curse your enemies with them and use them to cure just about anything from indigestion to a broken heart.
Here are a few more of my favorites:
Burns: Dabble hot coals over the burned area and then pour ice cold water over the coals. The directions say that the steam will “draw the fire out.”
If you are fresh out of hot coals, use the scrapings from a couple of raw potatoes and place them over the burn. Leave the scrapings in place until they turn black and the burned area turns white. Then, add a layer of salve made of talcum powder and petroleum jelly.
Chest Congestion: Grab a container of mutton tallow, heat it in a pan on the stove and let it cool slightly. Then apply the tallow directly to your chest. (If you are out of mutton tallow, goose grease will also do the trick.)
Common Cold: If you are coughing a little and you feel a cold coming on, make a hot cup of honey, vinegar and a dash of cinnamon. This will ward off the cold and give you some added energy for the day. (You can also dissolve four pieces of horehound candy in a pint of whiskey and drink a few spoons a day. This will also help fight tuberculosis.)
Foot Odor/Athlete’s Foot/Sweaty Feet: Tie a piece of wool string around your big toe and gently step in a pile of fresh cow dung. Your feet will become normal and healthy in no time!
Sore Throat: Bake some onions in an open fireplace, tie them up in some old rags and then tie the rags around your throat. You will smell like a pot roast at the end of the day, but it’s better than cow dung! Right?
Insomnia or Nightmares: Make a tea of boneset leaves and place a Bible under your pillow.
Freckles: Create a mixture of buttermilk and lemon juice and rub on the freckles until they start to fade and disappear. (If all else fails, use sandpaper.)
Let me know if any of these work out for you. Feel free to share a few more home remedies of your own. In the meantime, I think I’ll go back to playing cowboys and Indians and making mud pies. It seems a little safer than the using hot coals to help a burn or using lemon juice to rub off those freckles!
(Kim McCully-Mobley is a local writer, historian, storyteller and educator with a passion for cowboys, mud pies, home remedies, Ozark folklore and freckles. For information about projects affiliated with The Ozarkian Spirit/Spirit Publishing, contact her at 417-229-2094 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)