Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Orlando Home Remedies

by David Parmer
In the days of our grandparents “modern medicine” was unknown. Today we go to our medicine cabinets and select from the array of pill bottles purchased from the pharmacy. Our grandparents did it differently.

Asafetida bags
Asafetida bags tied around the neck always seemed to attract attention. The smell of asafetida was quite distinctive at a distance and therefore there was no anonymity in wearing an asafetida bag even if the bag was concealed beneath the shirt out of sight. Asafetida is a root material of plants in the parsley family and was supposedly good for warding off or curing colds and other respiratory diseases. It has been used as recently as the 1940s and 1950s. Dale Barnett recalls when he was teaching in the Parkersburg school system that occasionally a student came to school wearing an asafetida bag around the neck. In the winter when the schools were shut tight, with central heat and with little air circulation, an asafetida bag created quite a stink.

To the left above is a piece of asafetida resin which (somehow) comes from the plant to the right. This resin, whole or ground, is the strong rotting-garlic-smelling contents of the asafetida bag.

Goldenseal or Yellowroot
Many households in early Orlando were adorned with glass jars containing a yellowish liquid and a root-like plant material gave off the color. Old timers called this concoction “yellow root”. Clora Henline kept a jar of yellow root on her kitchen table and would from time to time take a small drink to ward off the ailments she didn’t want and to give an appetite. Yellow root is prepared by finding and digging the root of the perennial plant, simmering over heat, straining, and bottling it.

According to his son Leo, Arch Riffle, who lived on Three Lick would dig yellow root, wash it good, and then would eat it raw. Arch said, “it was good for you”.

To the right is Clora Henline in the 1930s or '40s.

Goldenseal was used similarly as yellow root in aiding the digestion. Goldenseal was also used as an antibiotic. It was prepared much the same way as yellow root.

Topical Treaments
The “Itch” causes a rash and an intense itching. It is caused by a very small, wingless mite called the scabies itch mite. The Itch is contagious. It's one of those things your kid got sent home from school with, and you didn't particularly want your neighbors or the minister to know about it. The potion to cure the itch was a mixture of sulphur and lard blended together and applied generously to the affected area of the body. This mixture would dry to a yellowish crust. This concoction created quite a smell but seemed to have the desired effect

P. N. Blake, also known as “Uncle Zeke”, who was born in 1867, recalls as a youth growing up around Orlando that he worked in the hay fields for several farmers around Orlando . One such farmer was Patrick Dolan who lived on Grass Run. Uncle Zeke recalled that in the 1880s when he worked the hay and wheat fields for Mr. Dolan he would break out with “heat” until his “back was perfectly raw.” Uncle Zeke noted that “Mrs. Dolan bathed [his back] with a weak solution of soda water, then applied some kind of salve, and on top of that an application of flour. Next morning, I felt fine, but the heat in my back, or something, caused the flour to bake fast to my back, and every time I would bend it seemed that like what little hide that was left was breaking up in pieces. After I got warmed up a little my heat was gone and did not bother me any more that summer.”

Dale Barnett advised the writer about a few methods used to treat boils. One common remedy was to take the “scriffin” of an egg shell, which apparently means the lining of the egg shell, and make a poultice which was applied to the boil to draw it to a head. It was then extracted by pressure. Other means of drawing boils to a head were to use pine sap, scraped potatoes, or a piece of fat meat.

Magical Cures
There were many cure-alls for warts. Clora Henline believed in rubbing a chicken gizzard over the wart and then putting the gizzard under a rock. When the gizzard rotted, the wart should be gone. Tom Godfrey thought that you could rid a person of a wart by buying the wart for a penny. Tom spent many a penny in that way.

Dale Barnett also related a sure fire cure for a headache. This “cure” was to drive a double bladed axe into a tree stump and then stand directly over the axe and stare down at the top blade until the headache went away. This unusual home remedy seems to fall into the same category as putting a knife under the bed to cut the pain of childbirth.

Miracle Cure
Mildred McNemar also recalls her brother Eugene Conrad putting his hand in a bucket of hot ashes which had been taken out of the coal stove by Ivan Morrison. Of course the experience was quite painful to Eugene and the help of Mike Moran was immediately sought. Mike took Eugene to the home of Allie and Rosie Posey, sisters on Posey Run, who “drew the fire” from the burn by the recitation of certain Bible verses and other soothing words. It is reported that Eugene came home smiling and laughing, cured of all ill effects. Of course it may have been the thrill of riding in Mike Moran’s Hudson Terraplane which soothed the ache.

Other Cures
Dale Barnett
also remembers a concoction used by teamsters called “high life”. Dale believes the substance had other names but “high life” comes to mind for him. If a horse or team was having problems moving a load the teamster would slap a little “high life” on the horse and off it would go, load and all. Whether the stimulus had an adrenaline-type effect or was painful to the horse is unknown but it seemed to work.

A silk cloth draped around the neck of a person suffering from the mumps was commonly used and considered an effective way to keep the mumps from “falling.”

Ear aches were no match for the home remedy of a little tobacco smoke blown into the ear of the ailing person, or so quite a number of people thought.

“Hot totties” are fondly remembered by Barbara Parmer whenever she had a bad cold or flu. This home remedy was comprised of a small “tot” of whiskey, sweetened with sugar and mixed with hot water. If it didn’t cure the patient it was sure to put them to sleep.
Mildred McNemar recalls her foster mother Lottie Henline baking onions with sugar and then using the liquid as a cold potion. Of course the onion was also good to eat Mildred recalls.

In addition to “hot totties” there seemed to be a variety of cures for the common cold. Some of these remedies seemed to start with a grease-like substance rubbed on the chest to create heat. Barbara Parmer recalls that the use of flannel poultice on the chest or neck was the approach used by her family. Mildred McNemar recalls that her family used a “dirty sock” poultice as the neck adornment.

The mustard plaster was used for cold symptoms.

Dale Barnett and Helen Jeffries, independently, recalled the effectiveness of skunk grease which was used for chest colds. Asked about the preparation of the skunk grease remedy, Helen Jeffries said that the skunk was skinned and the fat removed which was rendered down into a salve-like concoction and then applied to the chest and neck. The salve “got better as it got older”.

To the left is Helen (Frame) Jeffries in about 1935. She and her daughter Helen (Jeffries) Parmer remember skunk grease, hot toddies, flannel pultices

How effective were these home remedies? Some of these cures were used by the American Indians long before the Europeans came. Some of the herbal or root-based potions are used by modern drug companies today in the manufacture of pills we take each day. There must have been some validity in the use of the home remedies in the olden days. However, I’m not so sure of Dale Barnett’s double bladed axe cure for the headache.

See also the article on Folk Medicine by Peggy S. Fisher from the West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly.

comment 1 Donna Gloff
~ In Orlando's heyday folk remedies coexisted with patent medicines and also doctor-prescribed medicines. Patent medicines were the "OTC" (over the counter) medicines of the 1800s and early 1900s. They were sold in the general store. From the middle ages they had been called nostrum remedium, (literally, "our remedy" in latin.) In the 1800s these nostrums were transformed by modern marketing techniques into "patent medicines," whether there was a patent on the compound or not. There was no government control; they often contained large amounts of alcohol and even narcotics. Today's patent medicines are overseen by the FDA, like TylenolPM, beauty creams and weightloss teas. A family that used yellowroot tonic and skunk grease when it was called for would also have Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound and Ramone's Pills in the house.

In the early part of the 20th century there was a pharmacist in Burnsville who would receive the doctor's prescription, make up the medicine by hand, to the extent of rolling a compound into pills for oral consumtion, blending the coupound into lard for topical use, etc. The train would bring the completed prescription back to Orlando.

comment 2- Donna Gloff
~ In the 1950s in Detroit my Orlando mother had me rub my warts with a potato skin and bury the skin in the back yard. That worked most of the time.

No comments:

Post a Comment