When my maternal grandparents migrated from the North Carolina mountains to the Illinois prairie in the 19th century, they brought with them many home remedies. Living in the mountains, far from a doctor, home remedies were necessary for a family’s survival.
Those old-time cure-alls were passed on from generation to generation. I remember Mom using more than one of Grandma’s remedies on me when I was growing up.
At the first sound of congestion in my chest and lungs, Mom would spoon a large dollop of chest rub into a cast-iron skillet and heat it on the kitchen range with sliced onion. She would then spread the hot mixture onto a flannel cloth, wrap it up, place it on my bare chest and pin it to my nightgown. If my throat was sore, I gargled with hot ginger tea or warm salt water.
For an earache remedy, smoke was blown into the aching ear, and then the ear was plugged with cotton. It sounds strange, but it worked to relieve the pain.
I remember one time when I came home from school complaining that my finger was throbbing. Mom took one look at it and knew it was an abscess. Treatment consisted of a poultice. Mom soaked bread in milk, squeezed out the liquid, wrapped the bread around my finger, and then tied a clean cloth around the poultice.
I left the poultice on all night, and the next morning when we removed the bandage, it was ready to be lanced. Mom struck a match and held the flame to a needle to sterilize it. Next she pricked the abscess and drained it. Then she put a clean cloth on my finger to prevent infection, and a few days later, my finger was back to normal.
During the spring, sassafras tea was a favorite tonic at our house. It was said to cleanse the blood and put new life in our step. All I know is that it was a delicious beverage I enjoyed drinking.
Read about more interesting homemade remedies in Stories of Natural Cures for Common Ailments.