Doctors were few when settlers moved into new territories and Great-grandmother was often called on to diagnose common ailments and prescribe medicines for their treatment. She depended on the healthful properties of native plants and herbs.
Many older citizens remember the sulfur and molasses prescribed as an annual spring tonic; it was supposed to thin the blood and improve one's physical condition for spring work. Roots of the sassafras tree were a popular blood thinner, too.
Children were taught to gather leaves from the pokeberry, curly dock, dandelion and wild mustard. The spring greens, when cooked, added variety to dull meals and supposedly improved digestion.
For treating food poisoning and stomach disorders, Great-grandmother might recommend a beverage made from bergamot, fennel, catnip, peppermint, ginger or yarrow leaves. Her medicine for relieving rheumatic pains was a tea brewed from the leaves of the cinquefoil. To stop a nosebleed, she applied crushed leaves of the yarrow. Bee stings were treated with white ash leaves, while chewing the prickly ash berry soothed toothaches.
Skin tonics utilized the bark of the white oak or the dogwood and geranium roots. Some of these ingredients are still listed on the labels of medicine bottles.
After paying a bill for miracle drugs today, one almost longs for the potent all-curing tonics from Great-grandmother's kitchen.
Vera M. Brooks
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.