A reader offers thoughts on natural home remedies from yesteryear, including natural cures for such things as arthritis relief and bee stings.
An illustration of a woman treating a boy's bee sting by rubbing cow manure on it, which is an old wives' tale.
I was born just at the fringe of what I’ll call old wives’ tales in the healing arts. With medicine not nearly as advanced as it is today, people in the olden days relied on healers who offered natural home remedies to cure what ailed them.
I had forgotten many of the so-called natural cures that were recommended at the time, but I found some books at the library that listed a number of them, and I must say that some are outrageous — and even downright ridiculous. I wonder if any of them really worked. Some of them sound highly unlikely.
One of the best remedies was for foot cramps. It was said that if you had cramps in your feet at night, you should put your shoes under the bed upside down, and the cramps would stop. To cure a toothache, insert the trimmings from the hoof of a “critter” into the cavity. Hmm! Another far-fetched myth is that to prevent headaches for a year, you should let your head get wet during the first May rain. Or, if you miss that opportunity, you can always kill a snake and wrap it around your head, and it is believed to heal the pain.
For arthritis relief, the simple cure is said to have been putting a teaspoon of salt in your shoe. I have to wonder if the salt rubbed the foot raw, creating new pain and causing people to forget about the arthritis. The remedy for rheumatoid arthritis, however, is quite different — and cruel. It was believed that if a person wrapped a dog around his feet, the rheumatism would drain into the dog. Poor pooch!
A common cure for coughs way back when involved the use of turpentine and loaf sugar, or a syrup made from kerosene and lard. Colds, however, were much simpler to get rid of. Apparently all you had to do was wear a black silk ribbon around your neck. To treat the flu, garlic was placed in a sack, and the sack was then hung around the sick person’s neck. And here I always thought garlic was supposed to get rid of vampires.
A few more good ones include placing cow manure on a bee sting to relieve the pain, curing mumps by rubbing sardine oil over the swollen area, and treating athlete’s foot by tying a wool string around each affected toe.
To immunize oneself against poison ivy, it was said that you should eat some (don’t try that at home!). To get rid of a wart, folks believed you should rub it with a green pea, wrap the pea in a piece of paper and tie it with a string, then throw it away. The theory was that whoever found it and picked it up would get the wart.
All I can say is that I’m glad for modern medicine.
We want to know what kinds of things you’ve fixed up. Have you ever restored an old car or truck? Perhaps you inherited an antique tractor or other piece of farm machinery that needed some TLC. Maybe you bought a run-down farmhouse and set out to fix it up. Send us your restoration stories, with a photo (jpeg, at least 300 dpi) if available, and we’ll publish our favorites in a future issue. We’ll also feature a few on our website. Email your stories and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to Capper’s Farmer Editorial, Attn: Heart of the Home Department, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. If you mail your photos and would like them back, please send an appropriate-sized self-addressed stamped envelope for their return.
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