Homemade Remedies on the Homestead

Store-bought wasn't an option, so we relied on homemade remedies while living on the homestead.

| Good Old Days

In the country where I lived many, many years ago, store-bought medicines were scarce. Our illnesses were treated with homemade remedies. Only during the most severe illnesses, after loving home care had failed, was the doctor summoned. Someone had to ride 10 miles on horseback to tell him he was needed.

At our house a bottle of "spirits," or homemade whiskey, was marked "Medicine only" and kept on the highest shelf. At the onset of a cold, Mama mixed a hot toddy and made us drink it while she greased us with an ointment she compounded of lard and pine rosin. Then she firmly fastened a wool flannel around the chest and dressed us for bed. And there we stayed until all signs of the" grippe" had vanished.

When I was in the first grade, my older sisters said that some kids at school had the itch. "We'll be disgraced," they declared, "if we catch it. If you ever itch, don't dare to scratch and don't tell a soul except Mama."

So one day in the middle of winter when the teacher looked at my hands and asked about the bumps on my neck, I replied "They're chigger bites." Teacher whispered, "It's the itch."

Mama felt a child with the itch was a disgrace, a sign she had failed to teach her daughters cleanliness. With much embarrassment she consulted Dad about a treatment. He was our stepfather, much older than Mama, and he was knowledgeable about many things. He told her to dig and boil the roots of pokeweed and bathe my sisters and me in the brew. She cooked a huge potful, poured the solution into a tub, plunged us into it and scrubbed us. It burned and we were screaming and yelling with pain! Finally Dad came to the door and said, "I didn't aim for you to skin them alive. I meant for you to put it on with a cotton dabber." Mother then doused us with cold water and covered us liberally with fresh unsalted butter.

The itch mites were gone but it took many days for our skin to heal despite Mama's frequent applications of fresh sweet cream and butter. We held our heads high and marched to school, knowing we were once again in good standing. We blamed our reddened skin on cold weather and chapping.

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