By Keith Whitson
Thomas Edison once said “Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge. Remedies from chemicals will never stand in favour compared with the products of nature, the living cell of the plant, the final result of the rays of the sun, the mother of all life.”
I attended a lecture last week at Clinchfield Senior Adult Center on folk medicine of Appalachia. The topic was led by Dr. Anthony Cavender, professor of Antropology at East Tennessee State University and faculty member for HERBalachia, east Tennessee’s new herbal training school.
The lecture reminded me of many home remedies I had heard from my ancestors while growing up. The remedies came from a time when folks relied more on nature and the offerings of the land than running to the corner drugstore. Rubs, teas and ointments were made from leaves, roots and berries of items found in the forests all around us.
It makes me wonder if people were just healthier then. Was the food purer with no additives? Was there less stress? Were they conditioned stronger due to the hard work they did? How did they exist without taking a dozen prescribed pills a day?
Well, I don’t know the answers to those questions but I do know they turned to the land and the common knowledge they had for cures to their ailments. Usually, there was someone in the community who was relied upon.
I had a great-grandfather, R.B. Hensley, who served a multitude of jobs in the Spivey community. He was called upon for veterinarian duties when a cow, horse or other farm animal got sick. He was the skilled hand at butchering hogs and cutting up the meat properly. He was the neighborhood dentist, having tools to pull teeth when needed. He could read a verse in the Bible and stop a nose bleed.
He had a mill and ground corn into meal for everyone who brought theirs to him, keeping a small portion as his pay. He had the only telephone in the community in case of fires. On his front porch was a big wooden chest with fire fighting equipment of the time.
He was deceased before I was born but his daughter, my grandmother, remembered a lot of his traditions, especially the best calendar “signs” for planting and harvesting crops.
It amazes me that my ancestors had folk remedies handed down to them from generations past. I wish I had documented enough of them for use as well as keepsake.
Dr. Cavender said there were approximately 2,500 plants in our area that were named as having some type of use in home remedies.
Somewhere along the line someone had to experiment with the natural resources found around us to determine usefulness. But, not everything in the woods is safe for internal consumption or external uses. There had to be lots of trials, failures and documentation kept.
Dr. Cavender has gone to great lengths to talk to people in numerous areas throughout this region as well as many southern and surrounding states. He has also compiled information from cultures outside of the U.S. Many of these derived from times past when there were no doctors or few doctors around.
A few he mentioned last week were:
• Sassafras – blood cleaner;
• Mayapple – constipation;
• Mullen – cough;
• Poke – rheumatism, arthritis and blood cleaner;
• Dandelion – clean blood and kidneys;
• Catnip – insomnia, nervousness;
• Skullcap – nervousness, insomnia;
• Boneset – cold, fever;
• Peppermint – indigestion, upset stomach;
• Queen Anne’s Lace – kidneys, worms;
• Sage – nervousness, mood enhancer, memory;
• Plantain – insect bites, stings;
• Bloodroot – blood cleaner, cough;
• Ginseng – blood cleaner;
• Ramp – blood cleaner;
• Spice Bush – fever, cold;
• Hickory – earache;
• Birch – fever, indigestion, and toothbrush.
I have always heard God made everything for a purpose. I am still looking for proven studies on the benefits gained from the existence of gnats.