Have You Got The Blues?

Medicinal Remedies From Appalachia


As far as sickness goes-last winter was the worst we've had since the girls started school. Illnesses started before Christmas and lasted clean till May. Chitter and Chatter had strep throat about 5 times between them-of course they never had it simultaneously-you know when just one of those expensive tests would have been enough to prescribe medication for both of them-no they had it individually, usually a few weeks to a  month apart.

So far this winter we've missed out on the sickness-well everyone but me. Apparently during all the Breaking Up Christmas and New Year's Contra Dancing I caught something. Something that will not go away. Coughing, sneezing, wheezing-folks around here call it the crud. Not sick enough to warrant a doctor visit-just enough to make you feel miserable.

Many parts of Appalachia are off the beaten path-and in years past that sometimes meant going to see a Doctor wasn't an option even if it was needed. But people did get sick and did need help-this led to many "home remedies" being used. A few old remedies:


For Chest Congestion:

  • Place rock candy in a little whiskey to make a thick syrup-drink a few spoonfuls several times a day
  • Make an onion poultice by roasting an onion-wrap it in a cloth-beat it until the juice soaks the cloth-then apply cloth to chest. (Pap's grandmother swore onions were the key to good health-she ate one everyday)
  • Render the fat from a polecat-eat two or three spoonfuls to bring up phlegm (I'm afraid that would bring up more than phlegm)
  • Take a flannel shirt and soak it with turpentine and lard-then wear it all winter (your family might make you live in the barn)


For Colds:

  • Boil pine needles to make a strong tea
  • Eat a mixture of honey and vinegar
  • Eat onions roasted in ashes
  • Suck salty water up your nose (the Deer Hunter does this even when he's not sick-he claims it makes it easier to breathe)


For Coughs:

  • Mix one teaspoon of white whiskey with a pinch of sugar-heat over a fire-and drink
  • Mix ground ginger with sugar-put on tongue just before bedtime to stop cough
  • Mix honey in hot tea and drink
  • Dissolve four sticks of horehound candy in a pint of liquor and take a couple of spoonfuls

Salt Water 

For Sorethroats

  • Bake onions in fireplace and tie around your throat
  • Gargle with honey and vinegar
  • Gargle with warm salt water (Pap always made me do this when I was sick as a kid)
  • Take a sock a man has worn for a week of working and tie it around your neck (oh my)
  • To burn tonsils out paint them several times a day with iodine and turpentine (folks thought if you didn't have tonsils-it would cut down illnesses-kinda like having your tonsils removed today does. I've had some older folks tell me they don't have any tonsils-because they wasted away from being sick as a child.)

Kraut Juice 

For The Flu

  • Boil 2 roots of wild ginger in a cup of water-strain and drink
  • Drink some of the brine from Kraut-it makes you thirsty and you drink lots of water-washing the sickness away

Anyone who has ever spent a sleepless night with a sick child, knows how helpless you feel. Imagine how you'd feel without modern medicine-no antibiotics, no fever/pain reducers to ease their suffering. I imagine the "homemade remedies" the old folks came up with made them feel less helpless-made them feel like they were at least making an effort-made them feel like they had something to believe in-a hope in getting their loved ones better.

It's funny to read through the old remedies-but some of them are not that far off from todays medicine. Many many of them include whiskey or liquor-but have you ever read how much alcohol is in cough/cold medicines-a lot. And Doctors today still suggest you drink warm tea with honey. I believe through trial and error past generations helped point modern medicine in the right direction.

Hope you'll leave me a comment and tell me if you have ever used any of the remedies.


p.s. I used The Foxfire Book for reference.


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I'm 60, type 2 diabetic...and here recently "pancreatitis". My pancreas is due to misdiagnosed dyhadration and Dr giving me dieretic that furthered the dyhadration. Giving me pancreatitis.
I remembered a remedies from Granny Brown(dutch/Blackfoot Indian). Apple vinager but thick with apple. She would take 1 c vin, 1 tsp raw honey, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tbl so cinnamon. Heat it up. With 1 quart water(purified) ...drink 2 1/2 cups day. My numbers have dropped in diabetes. And my stomach is healing.
Cold remedies from Indian Granny
1 lemon
Slice up into a pan peels & all
Add 1 tbl so
Raw honey for covering the bitter
Boil leaving peels in, place in a mason jar let sit over nite.
Cough / fever reducer
Fresh tobaccy (tobacco) eat one healthy pinch twice a month.
Sinus infections
Smudge home
Pineneedles, sweetgrass, sage
So many remedies my Granny lived to be just almost 100
Vegetables, fresh chicken, wild berries and flowers she always said was the manna from the lord.

For chiggers. Our family got them fishing in tall grass. Our old time Dr. Said put finger nail polish any where they go. The finger nail polish suffocates them. It did work.

Many of the elders back then dipped snuff. The yellow labeled glasses of Dental Scotch snuff were everywhere. If you got a bee or wasp sting the old ones would reach back in their mouths and get a daub of that snuff and rub it into your sting. It worked well. You learned to hush-up if you got stung.

Onion cough syrup: bake fist sized onions, whole and not peeled, till they are soft and the juice is running out nice and light brown. Give a few tablespoons as the sick one can take it. Bottle the juice and keep it cool. Warm it to keep dosing. Use the onions without the peel to make a soup for the sick ones.

Horehound cough syrup: Pick strong smelling horehound while it's warm. Be sure it is clean. Chop it up to fit in your pot. Bring fresh water to cover the herb. Never boil it but steep it a good hour. Press the herb and let it cool in the water which should be reduced by about half. Strain it, pressing the herb in a jelly bag over the water. Begin steeping again and this time add good cane sugar if you have it till it is sweet. You can make candy or syrup at this point depending on if you want lozenges or syrup. It's strong so you only need a teaspoon or two. Keep it cool and make it up as you need it or you can can it. It spoils as a syrup so you might make just a little syrup and the rest in drops. The syrup works the best.

I was raised in the back country of MO. As a child we kept a coal oil when we got a cut, bee sting or what have you there was a corn cob in it so we dabbed it with coal oil. For cough mom took a lump of sugar put 2 drops of coal oil on it and we ate it, guess it helped. We used lard for chapping works great. I wear hemitite magnets on my arms for pain work great, have one around my 17 year old too, runs like a deer.

my grandmother was from Tn she had a saying and remidy for every thing, wish I could remember them.

Started taking whiskey and horehound candy for my cough hope it works.

enjoy your articles.

BettyB-thank you for the wonderful comment!!

Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving the
Culture of Appalachia

In the early 1970's I was a small child. My daddy was from the country. My mama was not. I had a bad cold with a bad cough. I had coughed for days and Mama and Daddy had taken me to the doctor and had gotten that awful red cough syrup they use to prescribe. Well it didn't stop my cough and I had cough until I was weak from coughing and my head hurt so bad from it I was crying. Daddy couldn't take it any longer and against my city-raised mother's protest; he went into the kitchen got down a saucer and some sugar and mixed in some coal-oil. He gave me a couple of spoonfuls. My cough stopped. I remember the taste of coal-oil well, it tastes just like it smells. Daddy didn't get much protest from Mama on his old-time remedies after that. He doctored our cuts with coal-oil (kerosene) and sometimes pine-tar. He always had both on hand. If you have flies eating on a dog's ears you can swab them down with pine-tar to stop it. He would swab pine tar around the horsed eyes for the same purpose. It's not pretty, but it works. I do remember Mama making cough syrup with horehound candy, whiskey, lemon, and honey. While I never had worms as a kid, I know the folks down home used coal-oil as a treatment for theme as well as head lice. Daddy would boil yellow root have us gargle with it for a sore throat. I was born premature way back when it was science-fiction (1965). The doctors in Louisville decided I needed to be put on a soy-based formula, on which I lost weight. Not good as I only weighed 4 lbs at birth. So Daddy and my grandma decided I needed a Guernsey cow and grandma's formula recipe she had from pre-WWII, which was basically cow's milk, 2Tlbs. Karo to ea. 4oz. brought just to a boil, then cooled. I gained weight and got healthy. I know they say not to give karo to baby under 2, but I am alive. That's all I can remember right now.

Wart remedy: my grandmother told me to steal someone's dish rag and hide it, she said to tell no one. The wart was gone in two weeks!

MY EMAIL ADDRESS IS ddsibert@frontier.com .

For Brian in WV, I have always used Maalox and Aquaphor mixed together in a paste for my babies diaper rashes...I swear by it! The thickness of the aquaphor and the mint of the maalox seemed to do the trick for mine.

Tipper, I really liked the stories about medicine and my grandmother grew up with the Indians and they taught her so many herbs and cures. My mother Miss Julie doctored us herself from her mothers herbs knowledge and they worked too.
tipper your web site is so enlighten to al lot of people. We love and enjoy every thing you post.

Tipper, This is for Brian from WV , Lard is the best for a diaper rash. When my kids were babies we kept those gas drops for babies in business, Can't think of the name of them but they worked wonders. We also bounced our oldest on a pillow on his tummy each evening until it wore off. He had the colic for 6 months. By then we thought he just liked laying on his tummy and being bounced. hahaha

Brian--Thank you for commenting on my site! Yikes I'm sorry about the colicky baby. I don't have any old time remedies for either aliment-but maybe someone else will chime in on the site and leave a comment. I do remember one of my girls had a horrible diaper rash-and the doctor gave her magic butt cream that was really the name of it-the pharmacist mixed it up right there in the store. Maybe you could ask if they've ever heard of it-if you haven't already tried it.

Best wishes for the newborn-and you and your wife!

Blind Pig The Acorn

Celebrating and Preserving the

Culture of Appalachia


Hello, I ran across your site as I was doing a search on bluegrass music. My wife and I have a one month old at the house. Very colicky with gas and bad crying, doctor suggested gas drops and that was it. Didn't help. Also very bad diaper rash, the creams don't seem to be solving it for him. Any help appreciated. Brian in WV.

My mother used to make a cough syrup from an onion for my son who had asthma as a child and no perscribed cough syrup would help. She would peel an onion and slice it. Between each layer she would put a teaspoon of sugar. Place the onion in a saucer and cover. When the sugar disolved it would make a syrup. Give the syrup to the child and coughing would quieten down and he could get some rest.

My great-grandmother swore by acifidity bags. She wore one from the first day of Fall to the first day of Summer to ward off colds, flu, and such. My grandmother said the reason they worked was that they smelled so bad that no one, diseased or otherwise, would get close to you. So, you were safe.

My great-grandmother was also a great believer in castor oil. OMG! Just the memory of it makes me shiver. It looked like corn syrup when she was pouring in into the spoon, but, YUK!!! It sure didn't taste like it. I'll never forget running and hiding every time I saw her get that bottle out.

Another thing she did was to drink a cup of hot water every morning. She didn't drink coffee or tea, but she said a cup of hot water every morning kept you "regular." She lived to be in her 80's, and was active and sharp-minded up to the last year or so. So, I guess some of the stuff must have worked for her.

Oh, forgot to tell how to use the remedy of turpentine for worms.

Turpentine remedy for worms

2T. Water
1 heaping tsp. surger
1 tsp. of caster oil
1/2 tsp. turpentine

Take 8-9 drops of this in the morning, two mornings in a row. Good to use treatment every three months.

And I guess you should use this at your own risk. But it was used by my Grandfather on all his children and they all survived and lived very long lives.

My Mom told me about a remedy that her father use to give them for worms. It was a spoon of sugar with a drop for turpentine. My Mother past away a couple of years ago so I have no one to ask now about it. So I looked to see if there was a remedy for worms using turpentine. And sure enough someone had posted a turpentine remedy from the Amish.

Recipe as follows...2 T. water, 1 heaping tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. caster oil, 1/2 tsp. turpentine.

Mom said that my brother was having a seizure and she found a huge worm oozing out of his nose blocking his breathing. She said an old man that lived beside her rushed to help and asked if she had any turpentine. He took some on his fingers and started rubbing my brothers throat. The worm came out and my brother recovered.

I just found this web site.
It's actually pretty spot on.
I'm from the hills of east Tenn.
and my Grand mother spent her last 18 months living with my Mother and I.
Her most used remedy was "Lard and turpintine"
There is one key ingredent most leave out, and that is "camphor spirit".
The pure lard keeps the turpintine from burning the skin and the turpintine carries the camphor in to break the congestion. Its a great remedy, but you may have to sleep in the barn.

my mother use to make a thick onion syrup for bad cold's and fever. that did help a lot.
would like to have a recipe for making the onion syrup.
We enjoy reading all of the remedy's of the past, amd some may still use them.

I grew up in moonshine country with plenty available from various relatives. Mom didn't like Dad drinking and gave him weeks of @#$% when he did. He decided he could get away with it if it was called a hot toddy. He sure was sick a lot. LOL! When mom brought out the Castor Oil, she needed to bring out the running shoes, too. I would take to the hills until she decided it wasn't worth the fight I put up. Turpentine and sugar for bee stings was the only remedy I ever knew. I still love using Linament when I can find it. I always look forward to my visits back home so I can buy some braided horehound sticks. The box of candy made by Virginia Beauty is the best old timey candy with real horehound. Not available in the big city. Thought my boss was going to fire me when he walked in the office and heard me talking about horehound. Silly city folks....

Thanks for stirring memories, Tipper!

30 years ago when my daughter had so many stomach ales that we just didn't know what to do my grandma said to give her a table spoon of Black Berry Brandy 3x a day, not flavored but the real stuff as she put it. The problems cleared up in two or three days.
When Uncle Sam sent me all over the world I always carried a pint with me and if I started to have a problem it always worked.

I love this old stuff,my great grandmother relyed on alot of this but instead of a pollcat she used groundhog oil for congestion oh it was awlful but brought every ounce of congestion out she'd make us drink 2 tablespons of groundhog oil on top of rubbing ya chest down with it oh how i cringe thinkin bout it for it would bring everything in ya up and out lol..... then she used white liquior, rock candy, lemon and honey with the horehound candy for a cough syrip, 2 to 4 tablespoons she'd give us then she would pile her heavy quilts on us to the point they was hard to move under and we would lay there and sweat the cold out.and as bad as i hated the groundhog oil i have to say it truely worked.for cuts and scrapes she used turpintine and apine oil or lamp oil also healed very well took the infection out red streaks would disappear and ya wouldn't be soar the next day. she used catnip tea and sasafrass tea alot as well.lots of apple cider vinager the works she lived to be 112 years old. she also used alot of ginsang pine needles, salt water, and peppermint water for a child with indegestion or colic. she was cherokee indian.bless her heart she had remedeies for just about everything. when i seen this i automatically thought of her.i use alot of her old remedies still today alot of people laugh at the old peoples ways but we have to perserve our mountian ways so they are not forgotten with the generations to come i so enjoy reading these thank you for posting this have a great day dear.

Matthew, My Granny told me of making sheep turd tea for the black measles! Her mother was a Cherokee, and had made it for all of the family and none died, apparently many did die from black measles back then. I asked my Granny how would anyone think of that for a brew, she had no idea, it was from her Mother! Never heard of the ear treatment, but Granny did paint my tonsils with iodine, which I am now allergic to!

I have heard of most of these my whole life living here in the mountains and real close to the people who put out the foxfire books but I had to chime in and tell Lanny that a polecat refers to a skunk in these parts. Although a weasel for wheezing kind of makes a little more sense because the old timers say that the shape of the leaves on herbs and trees, and roots also correspond with the part of the body they will help.
Anyway, as always I love Blind Pig & Acorn blog, I consider it one of the best.

Sandra the bag contained asafetida-which was made from several different roots. Asafetida was sold in stores usually it came in small lumps.

Blind Pig The Acorn

Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk

All at www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

My cousin, Peggy, said her mom made her wear an ill-smelling bag around her neck to school and such to ward off flus, etc. An acifidity bag it was called. Can you tell me what the contents of the bag were?

One study found patients wearing copper bracelets absorbed an average of 13 milligrams of copper during a month. http://herbalbeauty.blogtells.com/2009/02/02/winter-savory-tea-relieve-coughs-and-colds/

One that I love is take a bath in ginger tea when you have a cold. It was told to me by my ex's mom who was in her early 80's. Seemed to work for me!

Okay Tipper, my favorite on your list is the one that is new to me. I looked up polecat, found out it is a weasel, so you cook a weasel for wheezing? Too great.

I do onions for a lot of things, and instead of snorting salt water I use a netti pot.

Before I was sick recently I did many of those things feeling the crud coming on especially the honey and ginger, other spices too and a boat load of vitamin c. Kept it at bay until I did too much partying and stopped doing the other things. And yes, prior to modern medicine I would have been dead long ago, or more careful to not get sick. Hope you get over this stuff.

Never as a young child, but in my teens, I recall my dad making my mom and I "hot toddies", which consisted of a shot of whiskey (kept on hand only for medicinal purposes!), a squeeze of lemon, and a spoonful of honey. I'm not sure that it cured what ailed us, but at least we forgot about it for awhile! ;-)

wow. yuck!!!

i love the firefox series!! for years I didn't know there were more than one book! What a treasure

The "tie a man's dirty sock around your throat" has got me in hysterics! Can you imagine?!
We always use the honey and tea treatment, and I've actually had a doctor recommend the salt water snort for a sinus infection.

The honey in the hot tea is one I still use today and the salt water for the nose is one my mom used for the babies. Seemed to help. Now about those where you wear boiled onions around your neck or a mans dirty flannel work shirt around your neck that is kid of scary. But pretty funny too.

My granny used some of these remedies. Her mother was a healer in the true mountain tradition and half cherokee from your part of the country.

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