Monday, January 14, 2013

Old Time Cold Remedies

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Like most people this winter, I’m caught up in listening to all the grim reports about the current flu outbreak. I’ve also been suffering with an upper respiratory infection since the day after Christmas. Whether it started as a common cold or the flu, I’m not sure, but it turned into a nasty case of bronchitis. I’ve been to the doctor, have finished a round of antibiotics and am taking a strong cough remedy, but I still can’t seem to shake this thing. I may be paying my doc another visit.

All of which got me to thinking about our pioneer ancestors and wondering what remedies they favored for cold and flu bugs. My home library contains several books on herbal and home remedies, so I didn’t need to go far for an answer – many actually.

Boston Mnt. in Ozarks
Source: Common Medicinal Herbs of the Ozarks, History, Folklore and Uses
By Bob Liebert

Onions: juice of roasted onion for croup
Horehound: cooked into a thick syrup for coughs and colds; horehound candy for children’s coughs and colds
Catnip: for colds and fevers; especially good for children
Basswood: tea of the flowers for head colds; sweating herb for colds and fevers
Skunk oil: rendered fat from a skunk applied externally for chest cold and pneumonia; also might be swallowed for chest congestion (Yuck!)
Vinegar & honey: swallowed for coughs; gargled for sore throat
Turpentine: rags soaked in turpentine applied to chest for congestion; was sometimes taken internally, which could damage kidneys

Source: Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie, An Ethnobotanical Guide
By Kelly Kindscher

American licorice: roots steeped into a tea for coughs by Blackfeet Indians
Beebalm: flowers made into tea, used by the Lakotas for fever and colds; whites used it for headaches and fever
Curly-top gumweed: brewed as tea by settlers for treating all types of respiratory illness
Mint: peppermint tea prescribed by doctors for many ailments including colds (I drink it to sooth my throat and calm my cough.)
Purple coneflower: most popular of medicinal plants among settlers, used for colds and almost every other ailment
Seneca snakeroot: Seneca Indians made tea of this root, used to treat coughs, sore throat, colds and snakebite; they taught settlers how to use it
Willow: tea brewed from small branches, used for colds, headache, fever and other ailments; willow was long used in Europe and was likely familiar to many settlers
Yarrow: tea used for coughs, throat irritation and bleeding; also long known for its medicinal properties in Europe

These are but a few of the many cold remedies employed by pioneers. Quoting one of my sources: “In the past, as today, the common cold was the number-one physical complaint. I was given so many cold remedies in the course of my interviewing that if I listed them all I would have a small book.”
~~ Country Folk Medicine, by Elizabeth Janos

Now, instead of offering a book excerpt, I'd like to share a couple of the latest reader reviews for Dashing Druid. You can read more reviews on Amazon.

Just finished book 3 of the Texas Druids it's an awesome series to read! Got to read it to see!!!
~~Reviewed by mommie85360

I liked this book as much as the first one. It showed how sometimes real people can be extraordinary. In this story, you have two people who have been injured emotionally and fight their attraction toward each other and eventually give in. It brings up not only the race hatred of the Native Americans but also of the Irish. We are a nation built by many races but still have to remember that race did play a big part on how we saw each other. (review excerpt)
~~Reviewed by C. Peters ""Crazy Cat Lady""

SEE ALL MY BOOKS HERE: Lyn’s Amazon Author Page

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Caroline Clemmons said...

Lyn, there were some new to me in your post. I have a number of old medicine books, but haven't consulted them regarding a cold. Thanks for sharing. Hope you're feeling better!

Paty Jager said...

There are a lot of good remedies that were used by the pioneers and Indians that are just as effective today. Fun post!

Unknown said...

Great post, usual. I'm lucky I'm alive and have working internal organs. Even in the 1940s, my grandmother believed that if you got the croup, you needed a teaspoon of turpentine with sugar. Yuck! I try to steer clear of fire, even to this day. *lol*

Devon Matthews said...

Ah, Lyn, I'm so sorry you're sick. You are missed around the campfire. Hope you're feeling better soon and thanks for the great post. :o)

Devon Matthews said...

Ugh, I can still taste that stuff. And I'm talking about the late '50's, early '60's. I guess turpentine and sugar were a common remedy cause they were readily at hand. My mamaw would also make chest poultices of kerosine (we called it coal oil) and lard, which would raise blisters on your skin.

Lyn Horner said...

Caroline, glad some of the info is new to you. Glad to share, and thanks for your good wishes.

Paty, you're right. In fact, I think some of the old time medicines are better than the new ones. At least they come from nature.

Ginger, my folks didn't make me swallow turpentine w/sugar, but I did have to choke down melted Vicks Vaporub. Eeuuww! It makes my stomach lurch just thinking about it.

Devon, you're so sweet! I miss you and the other wranglers on the Western Romance Book Club on FB. Need to start getting back in the saddle. If only I could finish book three of Druids!

BTW, my mom used to smear some kind of mentholatum stuff on my chest and cover it with flannel. It stank to high heaven!

Neil A. Waring said...

I had the crud so long this winter I was about ready to try some of these old-fashioned cures. Instead I just went to the store picked out a few new meds and gave them a try. Think I just out lasted it. Just like a good ol' Wyoming cowboy should.

Lyn Horner said...

Hehehe! Old guy, I'm in the same boat now, just trying to outlast it. Are you buried in snow up there? It's cold and windy down here in Fort Worth, no snow now, but we did get a little of it on Christmas Day. The first time in several years. It's fun to have a white Christmas, but I was glad to see it melt the next day. So different from Minnesota where I grew up.

Thanks for visiting, Guy!

Anonymous said...

Great list. I've frequently used herbal remedies in my stories.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Lyn, sorry you're sick, but I'm in good company because I have bronchitis, too. On steroids and all the rest. I'm grateful to feel better and to have good care, but sometimes I wonder if these powerful drugs will do us all in at some point.

I remember the Vicks Vapo-Rub poultices. Mom would warm it on the stove (and make me breathe it in), the soak a cloth in the Vapo-Rub, smear some (cold from the jar) on my chest, fold the soaked cloth and put it on top, then wrap the whole thing up tight with a dry cloth. If that wasn't bad enough, she'd smear some of that Vapo-Rub in my nostrils. To this day, the smell of that stuff makes me nauseous!

Ellen O'Connell said...

I'm glad antibiotics are available and suspect I wouldn't be around if they weren't, but I believe in some of the old remedies too. Purple coneflower is echinachea if I'm remembering right, and I reach for echinachea any time I feel anything coming on (and take it for a few days before if I'm going to be in a crowd during flu season). I bet some of those remedies such as the onion were a way to supply Vitamin C in a world where citrus fruit was rare and expensive.

My mom never did anything with Vicks except have me put it in my nose, and unlike the rest of you, I liked it and still like the scent if I'm sick. I prefer cough drops and throat lozenges with a good whack of menthol too.

Sorry you've been sick, Lyn. I hope you're better and everyone else is getting by. So far I've avoided the winter's ills, but I'm afraid my luck can't last till spring.

Lyn Horner said...

Hi Ella. Thanks and I'm glad you stopped by.

Jacquie, I wonder the same. I keep hearing about strains of diseases that are becoming more resistant to antibiotics. They mutate so fast that scientists can't come up with new antibiotics fast enough to keep up. The result is super bugs that we may not be able to stop or contain. Very scary!

Ellen, I'm like you. I like the smell of Vicks. In fact I have a jar sitting on my night stand, and I dab a little below each nostril before going to bed. I think it helps open up my sinuses. I sure did hate the taste of it though!

Barbara Bettis said...

Oh, for colds, etc., I remember the Vicks Vapo-Rub days! On the chest, up the nose, steaming over water. And my grandmother used to talk about turpintine as a remedy, too, applied externally. Must have been mixed with another substnace though, or it would have burned something fierce.

Meg said...

I swear by Vicks. I have an inhaler and use it when I get bronchitis, plus drink tea with cinnamon/honey. French Onion soup! Hope you feel better soon!!

Lyn Horner said...

Girls, we need to start a Vicks fan club! Kidding, I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one who likes the stuff.

Barbara, I think you're right. That turpentine would burn!

Meg, I go for herbal mint tea, but cinnamon/honey sounds good too. And French onion soup, yum!

Meg said...

throw the cinnamon/honey into the mint tea! MMMMM!