Friday, April 27, 2007

Healing In The Hills

Appalachian medicinal herbs
were used by Native Americans
before Europeans
set foot in the New World.
~~~ ~~~
From the very earliest settlement
in the Oil Creek watershed
ginseng was foraged
& sold as a cash crop.

To the right is the north side of a forested hill in Orlando.

Many medicinal herbs are growing in Orlando. Most are deep in the woods on well drained hillsides (northern side of the hill preferred) while a few seek boggy land and don’t mind the sun as much. Here are four of the medicinal herbs found around Orlando. Three of the four, ginseng, goldenseal and wild yam, are native to these hills.1 The fourth, meadowsweet, was brought to this continent by the Europeans. All four of these herbs ~
~ are herbaceous perennials; that is, they die back in the winter and put out new shoots in the spring.
~ involve harvesting the root which, of course, destroys that particular plant.
~ have market value, if someone wishes to put some serious effort into it.
~ are non-poisonous, but be sure you know what you’ve got before you ingest it, and remember that too much of anything can be bad for you.
Below, on the left is ginseng, on the right is goldenseal and near the bottom, on the left is wild yam and on the right is meadowsweet.

John Sutton, in 1919, wrote "Furs, bear skins, venison hams and ginseng" were the first commodities the settlers of this area could use to exchange for their necessities, like gunpowder, lead, flint and salt" and "the great forests were a veritable bed of ginseng, black snakeroot [black cohosh] and yellowroot [goldenseal]."2

David Parmer tells us that among the ginseng hunters of Orlando in the 1920s were Burr Skinner, Hob Henline and Fred McCord.3 The third week of October was the favored time to search for the ginseng root. Burr Skinner and Fred McCord, in search of the valuable ginseng, would go all of the way to the Williams River near Cowen in Webster County. The south bound rail out of Orlando followed the Williams River for a while. That area remained much wilder than the well-settled, extensively farmed area that Oil Creek watershed was at that time.
See the July '07 entry Coal Trains for a map of the rail line from Orlando to Cowen.

Although highly regarded in oriental healing traditions ginseng is not recognized in Native American or European tradition to be medicinal. In the 1970s ginseng became scarce due to deforestation and over harvesting. It many places it's still considered endangered.

In this region goldenseal seems to be the herb most generally respected and used for its healing properties. This is what the folks of Orlando called yellowroot.
In the March '07 entry Orlando Home Remedies, David Parmer told us Clora Henline (1881-1957) kept a decoction of yellowroot in a jar on her kitchen table and would from time to time take a small drink to ward off the ailments and to give an appetite. Yellow root is prepared by finding and digging the root of the plant, simmering the root in just enough water to cover it, then straining and bottling the liquid. David also mentioned Arch Riffle (1887-1970) up Three Lick who would dig yellowroot, wash it good, and then eat it raw. Arch said, “it was good for you.”
Again, goldenseal became scarce in the 1990s due to over-harvesting and deforestation.4

Wild Yam 5
The yam puts out a trailing vine that climbs over everything around it, growing 15 feet long and more. It’s found growing in damp woods and swamps, thickets, roadside fences. Its small, greenish yellow flowers bloom in midsummer.

The tubers and roots are gathered in fall and dried for later herb use. A decoction of the root treats symptoms of menopause and PMS such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes. Decoction: Place 8 oz. chopped root in nonmetallic sauce pan, cover with water and bring to boil, reduce heat simmer for 20 to 30 min. Strain and store in refrigerator. Take in ½ cup doses twice a day. Do not store for longer than a year.

The tubers can be eaten like potatoes or yams, with seasoning. Are these the Orlando sweet potatoes that Bill Beckner talks about in the Nov '06 entry Sweet Potatoes?
See the Alternative Nature Online Herbal for more information.

Meadowsweet 6
This is a sun loving plant. It is also the only herb in this entry that is not native to this area, or even this continent. Europeans brought it with them. Meadowsweet grows in damp meadows, ditches, on river banks and in damp open woodland.

We have no indication that Orlando folk took any notice of meadowsweet. Perhaps this is because Orlando's culture remained essentially the culture of its pioneers, who settled here before this European transplant had a chance to move into the area? At any rate, it is an attractive, practical herb. Here are some of its uses.

Because of its fragrance, the entire plant has been used strewn on floors and the dried flowers are used as potpourri.

Because of its flavor the flowers are added to stewed fruit, jams and vinegars, giving them a subtle almond flavor. In the Old World it was used for millennia to flavor meads, wines and beer.

It has many medicinal properties. According to Wikipedia,
~ The whole plant is a traditional remedy for an acidic stomach.
~ For flu, the flowers make a comforting tea.
~ Chewing a small section of root is a good natural remedy for relieving headaches.

Because it is a European herb it has had wonderful superstitions attached to it, too.
~ It has been used in spells and charms for peace, happiness, love.
~ Fresh meadowsweet is arranged on the the altar when mixing love charms or performing love spells.
~ On August 1, in the old Lammas celebrations garlands of meadowsweet were worn to join with the essence of the Goddess.

See also the March '07 entry Orlando Home Remedies

~~~ ~~~
Many thanks to Melissa Dennison
who grows a lot of herbs on her large farm near Servia in southern Braxton County.
She was kind enough to suggest some of the
popular medicinal plants which grow wild in the Orlando area.

comment 1 David Parmer
Another noted Orlando ginsenger was John Gibson. John was a railroader who spent a lot of his spare time seeking ginseng and bee trees.

1. All three have been over-harvested from time to time. At the moment none of them are on the WVDNR list of endangered species but if you're thinking about doing some serious gathering, you will want to have a plan for replacing what you're taking. It takes years to grow harvestable roots.

2. Sutton, John D..
History of Braxton Countyand Central West Virginia. pub 1919, repub. 1967 by McClain Printing Co. Parsons, WV. pp. 207-208.

3. Burr Skinner was the son of the Reverend Alexander Skinner, grandson of the pioneer Alexander and Phoebe (Conrad) Skinner. (Reverend Alexander Skinner lived at Gillespie and was pastor of the Re-Organized LDS Church at Posey Run.) Hob Henline was the son of Lloyd and Mary (Slaughter) Henline and Fred McCord was the son of O. P. and Della McCord who operated the B & O Restaurant in the Wholesale Building in Orlando. David Parmer tells us Burr's nickname was Dan Patch, the name of a legendary racehorse who set records in 1905.

4. Jeanine M. Davis, North Carolina State University. "As early as 1884, dramatic declines in wild populations due to over harvesting and deforestation were documented. In [some states] goldenseal is an endangered species, making harvest from public lands illegal."

5. Most of this article was taken from
Alternative Nature Online Herbal.

6. Wikipedia article on Meadowsweet

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