by Jane Baker
(C) The Gobbler 1993
Shall we go back in time to about 1915? That would make me about five years old. Then I am going right on until the time I was married and had children of my own. I thought it would be nice to remember some of the home remedies we had to rely on at that time.
The one I remember distinctly is sweet flag. It grew in the swamp and my father, Clayton Pratt, would put on high rubber boots and go and gather it. My mother, Lottie, would cut the tops off and hang the roots up to dry. When it was thoroughly dry, she would peel off the outside bark and throw it away. Then she would pack the rest in jars and keep it in a dry place until needed.
"It was used for all kinds of stomach disorders."
When needed she would shave off pieces of the root and steep them just like tea leaves. She would then strain it and throw the bark away and we would drink it just like tea with sugar and milk. It not only did the trick but it tasted good, too. Wish we could find some right now. It sure beats all the drugs that the doctors prescribe. However, they just laugh when I mention it.
Another remedy was catnip. We had a plant that grew back of our barn. Early in the spring when the leaves were small and tender my mother would gather and dry them and steep them like tea. This remedy was good, but not as effective as sweet flag.
Of course, there was ginger tea. This was made by using about one scant teaspoon of ginger and the same amount of sugar, and filliing the glass with hot milk or hot water. It was used for colds or upset stomach. When I had a cold, mother would grease me with mentholatum and put a flannel cloth on my chest and then I had to put some on my finger and put it up my nostril and inhale it. My dad got the same treatment and my mother did the same for herself.
I was also subject to croup then. I had to swallow warm melted butter and if this didn't help, mother would make a tent covering my head and I would have to inhale the steam from boiling water containing a small amount of mentholatum to loosen the phlegm. If an adult had a real bad chest cold, they had to go to bed and my mother would apply a mustard plaster. This was made by mixing together lard and mustard and spreading it on a cloth, then sprinkle nutmeg over it and putting it on the chest and covering it with a flannel cloth. This was too harsh for a child's tender skin.
There was always a Watkins or Raleigh salesman around and no household was complete without a bottle of their liniment to rub on aching joints. Now don't laugh, for this is a true story...when I was little I had styes, one right after the other. My mother tried everything she could think of to no avail. One day someone told her to rub a cat's tail across my eyes and the styes would disappear. She sure didn't have any faith in that, but she tried it and I haven't had a sty since, believe it or not.
In a few years I was married and started having children of my own. My oldest daughter, Betty, had all the treatments I had, but one in particular I have to tell you
about. She had a low-grade temp and didn't feel quite up to par. She had a hacking cough, so, thinking she had worms, I gave her two drops of turpentine on sugar as often as I dared, but this didn't help.
In the meantime the Baker family had a family reunion and as long as she really wasn't sick, my husband and I, both being young, thought it was all right to take her. But the next day we discovered she really had the measles and had exposed every kid there. Needless to say, in two week's time the whole Baker clan was a measley mess. I might add that Jane and Burdette Baker were in the dog house for a week or so, but it soon blew over.
By this time, patent medicines were on the market. There was a medicine called Dr. Hands. This came in three different bottles called Cough & Cold, Teething and Colic medicine. The two younger girls, Nancy and Shirley, got these medicines all through their childhood. Castoria was also a must. Every woman had a bottle of Lydia Pinkhams on the shelf and the old saying was, "There's a baby in every bottle". Believe me, I took that remedy with care.
When Nancy was one month old, she had a terrible cold. It was war time and impossible to get a doctor and the cold was tight on her chest. I did everything I knew to do but she was getting worse by the minute. I had a friend, Ermyntrude Best, who was an RN. She had four sons who had been trapping and caught a skunk. She rendered the lard on that skunk, brought that along and worked all night rubbing that baby's chest, back and the bottoms of her feet with this oil and finally the fever broke and she started getting better.
"Thank you, Ermyntrude, for saving my baby's life."
Here we go again. Nancy was two or three years old and she developed an ear infection. I took her to a specialist by the name of Dr. Randall. All he did was look in her ear and turned to me and said, "Are you driving along home now?" I answered yes and he said, "Call your husband and have him get the kitchen table ready with a heavy blanket and plenty of light. I am going to follow you home and operate on her ear." It kept going through my mind "My God, what will this cost?" We lived eight miles out of town. When we got home, my husband was waiting for us with everything ready. I got Nancy ready for bed and the doctor put her on the table and gave her an anesthetic, and I don't really know what he did, but he stayed with her until she came to. Can you imagine doing that at home nowadays? What do you think the bill was? Ten dollars! Just think of that. A doctor wouldn't say "Good Morning" for that now.
In due time Shirley, my youngest daughter arrived. By this time we could get a doctor and if she had anything serious, Dr. Randall took care of her, but she still got all the old bottled Dr. Hands remedies. One time she fell out of the car. She was three years old and had a fractured skull, fractured eye socket and a concussion. Thank God it was the spring of the year and the ground was soft. She had on her heavy snow suit or she might have been hurt more seriously.
When Shirley was in her teens, she also had ear problems. Dr. Randall had left town, so Dr. Servoss took care of her. She was hospitalized for over a week when he operated on her ear.
Other home remedies in our family were bread and milk poultices used to draw a boil to a head. Salt pork sprinkled with pepper was bound onto the neck for sore throats. This was also used to take the poison out of a wound caused by stepping on a rusty nail, etc. Black pepper sprinkled on cotton and put in the ear was very good for ear aches.
A must was ipecac in case a child got hold of poison. This was used to make the child throw up. Epsom salts was another necessity. Sulphur and molasses was a good spring tonic (Father Johns) but what I wouldn't take myself I certainly wouldn't give to my children. The base of this medicine was cod liver oil which was even worse than castor oil. There are many more old fashioned remedies too numerous to mention.
My mother and I did a lot of canning of fruits and vegetables so we had good balanced meals the year around. I think this helped as much or more than all the medicine, however, it was nice to know home remedies in case of an emergency.