Home Remedies of the Ozarks
Home Remedies: The Healing Practices of the Ozarks Examined Through the Home Remedies of Ozarkers
Historically the Ozarks have been a remote region of the United States and Ozarkers have not always had medical care readily available. Even today the people I interviewed in Yellville had to drive 30 minutes to go to the doctor in Harrison or Mountain Home (Tracy Hall 2007). This has lead to the development and dependency on traditional knowledge of alternative health care options. I had originally planned on studying the broad topic of traditional natural healing in the Ozarks. However, after beginning my research it became clear that this was too broad and so fittingly I narrowed my focus. This led to a focus on the traditional knowledge of the common Ozarker of home remedies.
Throughout my research a recurring theme confronted with an important aspect of Ozark culture which is still very prevalent that could have affected my research in a detrimental way if I had not become aware of it at an early stage and directed my research in a new angle. Growing up with half my family being from the Ozarks, I had always known that it was important in introducing yourself to mention who you were related to and where they were from. However, it was not until this class and attempting my research that I realized why this was something you always did. I noticed as I was directed from person to person that the person directing me made sure to tell me his/her relation to the person and mine if any relation to the person. In other words, the introduction to the person can get very detailed and is always very important because the way you are introduced affects the way the person treats you and determines what information you are going to get from the person. In light of this the fourteen people included in this paper were all people I knew either as family, friend, and the family of a friend or as friend of the family. Even these people were very cautious with me and made sure to inform me to the things they did not think should be included, wishes I of course honored. Everything in the Ozarks is not cut and dry. This must be remembered when researching the Ozarks or talking to someone from the Ozarks in general. In class we had discussed Ozarkers being wary of the foreigner, but my observations, interviews, and conversations led me to believe that it is more than that (Campbell 2007). There is a challenge you have to pass, a barrier in the lingo that must be overcome to know when the Ozarker is telling you the truth or just pulling your leg.
The qualifications to be a subject for the interviews on home remedies of the Ozarks were that you had to have been born and raised in the Ozarks and come from a family who traditionally lived in the Ozarks. Because of the nature of Ozarkers I spoke people I knew or people who knew people I knew. I spoke with the following people throughout my research: Crystal Yeager, Sybil Castor, MaryAnn Lynch, Ed Lynch, Dorethea Shipman, Burton Dillard, Lisa Kilpatrick, Gina Rootenberry, Kelly Shempert, Ben Dyer, Justin Forbus, Megan Lynch, and Jordan Hall. All of these people are from North-Central Arkansas originally, and they provided me with the remedies they had used personally and the remedies used by older members of their families who are no longer living.
I used unstructured interview style with all the interviews I do, allowing the conversation to follow the flow of the interviewee, which in many cases ended up more as a story telling session than a formal interview. However, the information about the culture of the Ozarks as well as family histories that was gained was far more valuable for my research than I could have ever expected. This allowed for documentation of the effect of socialization on health care and traditional knowledge as well as the massive impact that modernity has had on the Ozarks and what that means for the future of the Ozarks.
One common theme to the interviews of the people in the age groups over thirty was what I would like to refer to as the Ozarks Disclaimer. Before anyone in the two older age groups would agree to discuss anything about Ozark home remedies that made sure to tell two things. First, that not all the remedies suggested in this research have been scientifically proven and secondly, that not all the remedies mentioned have been used by the person who mentioned them. Throughout the interviews these points were re-enforced and references were made to the Ole’ Timers using this or that remedy. A case of this in the interview with Ed and Mary Lou Lynch had me worried Ed was not going to provide me with any information. He said “Well I know a lot of remedies but people don’t listen to me much anymore, since the doctors say I ain’t right” (Ed 2007). With some coaxing he agreed to tell me the remedies he could remember that his wife said were approved by the doctors. He end up sharing a great story with me about how an older friend of his who lived to be over a hundred lived his whole life without ever going to see the doctor. He said this man drank white oak bark tea everyday and ate polk berries which are considered poisonous. This older man who has now passed on represents the traditional Ozarker, which sadly are dead or dying off and with them a massive amount of traditional knowledge is lost to the world for ever.
Along with the home remedies I learned a lot about the people I was interviewing and the families. When the older people that I interviewed spoke of their grandparents, they were talking about people four generations older than I am which would date some of these stories to around the turn of the century. Dorethea Shipman, the oldest person I interviewed, told the following story, “Grandpa Dillard fixed Uncle Rary’s broken leg once so well that you could not tell it was broken. He set the bone and made a box splint to keep it from moving, I guess had never heard of a cast before” (Dorethea 2007). Grandpa Dillard she is speaking of is my great grandfather’s grandfather. I can only guess at his birth date, but the general rule is to allow twenty years per generation so that would have him being born about the time of the civil war. He was able to perform a medical procedure without the years of education, doctors that still botch the procedure have. But this makes my point, even for major medical emergencies doctors were often just too far away.
When my twenty-seven year old cousin, Justin Forbus, heard about my research he exclaimed, “Ozarks home remedies, I can tell you one. You can cure anything in the Ozarks with whiskey, but of course, as with all medicines there are side effects. Just about anything in wrong in the Ozarks relates back to Whiskey” (Justin 2007). While to some extent he was joking, whiskey was a commonality among most everyone’s list of home remedies. OzarkWatch explains this occurrence in an article on Ozark healing with the rationale that alcohol was readily available in most all Ozark homes, especially homemade whiskey, from the earliest periods of Ozark history. Alcohol’s natural properties are used to deaden pain and kill infections. It is also easy to mix alcohol with other remedies (Flanders Vol. VIII, No. 1, 1995).
The value of whiskey as a remedy in the Ozarks even in recent times was made clear in the story of how it saved my uncle’s life when he was only a few days old. This story had been told to be many times by my Granny Cox (maternal great-grandmother), my granny Sybil (mom’s mom), my mom, and my aunt. Sybil Castor retold the story during my interview with her. “A few days after I had my son home from the hospital, he was obviously very sick and near dying from pneumonia. Without my knowledge, my mother gave my new born son bottle with a tablespoon of whiskey, three tablespoons of water, and a tablespoon of sugar. This cleared up his lungs and the pneumonia rapidly improved. I never would have allowed her to give my baby whiskey and she knew this but it did save his life” (Sybil 2007). Everyone who was around at the time seems to agree completely that the whiskey saved my Uncle Rusty’s life.
Whiskey was not the only agreed upon remedy however. Gargling salt water for a sore throat, Vicks Slav rubbed on the chest for cold, cough, and congestion, soda in various forms for indigestion, juice from the Aloe Vera plant can be applied to burns, Castor Oil and Cod Liver Oil for stomach ailments, and Turpentine for everything from bleeding wounds to colds. Everyone agreed Castor Oil, Cod Liver Oil, and Turpentine was the yuckiest remedies they believe was actually viable. Dorethea Shipman, the oldest of interviewees, said that her only spankings growing up revolved around taking castor oil in the summer time (Dorethea 2007). Because of the distaste of these remedies they are not used any longer unless there is no other option available.
The following were offered as ingredients for home remedies: Castor Oil, Cod Oil, Mineral Oil, Turpentine, Chamomile, Comfrey, Willow Bark, White Oak Tree Bark, Vicks Slav, Mullen Tea, Sassafras Tea, Catnip Tea, White Oak Tea, Camphor, Kerosene, Sulfur, Fennel, Lard, Pine Resin, Peppermint, Salt Water, Baking Soda, Aloe Vera, Raisins, Polk Berries, Vodka, Whiskey, Sugar, Salt, and Water. The most important thing about these home remedies is that there ingredients can be found at home. This is something that can be taken for granted in the Post Modern United States where I can run to Wal-Mart and get most any pharmaceutical drug or herbal supplement, but this has not always been the case and with a thirty minute drive to Wal-Mart this is not the case for many of the people I interviewed. The ingredients for the home remedies were made from cook supplies, hygiene products, liquor cabinet, plants grown in the garden or collected from the wild, and even common household chemicals like paint thinner (turpentine). It is a testament to the resourcefulness of Ozarkers to have used whatever was available to them at the time to survive. More importantly, the fact that some of these remedies are now accepted by medical professionals shows the importance of these remedies and why they need to be documented and passed on to the next generation.
One of the results I had expected to find was the decline of traditional knowledge of home remedies in the under thirty age group. This trend was present with the oldest person in the group having six home remedies he could recall off the top of his head and the youngest person remembering only one. While this went as expected, I noticed another interesting theme in this generation. When they suggested remedies a new theme occurred in the way this age group talked about them. They did not make the Ozarks Disclaimer. Though they had fewer remedies, they were very secure that the ones they knew actually worked and were a good option to save a trip to the doctor. There was no need to qualify their remedies or worry over scientific opinion. They saw home remedies as a cheaper, safer option than going to the doctor who would prescribe drugs with horrible side effects (Justin 2007).
I think the reason that the under thirty generation is not worried about whether their home-tested remedies are scientific, the way that the older generations seem to be concerned comes from the fact that the under thirty generation is beyond modernity. The generations of my parents and grandparents were bombarded with scientist telling them that their traditions were outdated, superstitious, and even harmful (Ed 2007). However, my generation was born into a world that was already as good as modern could get, science was taught hand-in-hand with logic and common sense, and more importantly we were taught to be scientific. After having the scientific method pounded into our head throughout school more than enough times and being show how to do formal research, the under thirty generation no longer has to fear, respect, or believe blindly the all important scientist. Rather the under thirty knows how to experiment and research to test out the Ole’ Timers remedies to find the ones that work for them.
The under thirty generation has moved beyond modernity. They can provide fewer remedies but they can completely trust their remedies as well as they would the doctors. Traditionally home remedies were used out of necessity and fear/dislike of doctors, science, and the city. The post modern generation of the Ozarks has proven to be very proud of their family’s traditional knowledge. The traditional knowledge which has been well tested and preserved has been a heritage of young Ozarkers. To some it might be like a “secret” wisdom that is shared amongst family and friends, while those “silly city folks” foreigners walk about blindly purchasing and consuming blindly as their doctors told the too. The medications are outrageously expensive and as Justin said “they cause more bad than good” (Justin 2007). True to their Ozark roots, the post modern generation is eager to find ways to ‘survive’ without dealing with outsiders.
This give hope that there is a future for the Ozarks. Throughout our class on the Ozarks and more specifically pointed out during our lecture on how modernity slowly forced its way into the Ozark region, it has been pointed out that the Ozarks as an idea and way of life is disappearing and dying out. However, my research has shown a glimmer of hope in the post modern generation. The people under thirty that I interviewed were eager and enthusiastic to talk about what the remedies they and their families used. They were proud of their heritage and the traditional knowledge they did have. Also they were interested in finding out the results of my research. The Ozarks have become less remote and less protected from the outside world, which was a lot of their original appeal. With more reliable roads, faster cars, and mass production of pharmaceutical goods it might seem that the people of the Ozarks will lose all need in their traditional home remedies, but this may not be the case. The medications of modern medicine are not as appealing to the post modern generation of Ozarkers as might be expected. Cost and adverse affects are more than enough to make people think twice about a second option. True to their Ozark roots, the post modern generation is eager to find ways to ‘survive’ without dealing with outsiders.
Ozark Home Remedies
Interviewed by Sydney Yeager from October 19 to December 4, 2007
List of Remedies by Sybil Castor:
Sassafras Tea is used for blood in the spring time. (I think this thins the blood).
Turpentine and Sugar could be put on a bad cut that was bleeding badly. You would put the mixture on the wound and then wrap it with a white cloth to clot the blood.
Cod Liver Oil helps the stomach with issues of constipation.
A cure for colic my mother-in-law told me that I used on my kids was to feed the baby a mixture of Onion and Sugar juice.
For a cold you could rub Vicks Slav on the chest and put a Warm Cloth of the Vicks Slav.
A mixture of one tablespoon of Whiskey, 2 or 3 tablespoons of Water, and a tablespoon of Sugar helps with pneumonia. This cures a baby of pneumonia by clearing the lungs.
“When my son was a few days old he had a bad case of pneumonia and was dying. Granny Cox (her mom) had come up to help to help me. I never would have let her feed my baby Whiskey, but when I was out of the room she feed the mixture above to Rusty in a bottle and he got better very quickly. Whiskey saved my baby’s life.”
List of Remedies by Burton Dillard:
Gargle Salt Water to help a sore throat.
A teaspoon of Baking Soda eases acid reflux.
Putting Flour on a wound will slow the bleeding.
When your feet are tired soak them in Salt Water.
A teaspoon of Vinegar clears your blood.
List of Remedies by Ben Dyer:
Goldenseal Root can be crushed up and applied to canker sores
List of Remedies by Justine Forbus:
Whiskey cures about everything in the Ozarks, but like all medicines it cause about everything with its side effects.
Oil from the back of a chicken can be put in hair, as hair gel.
The Bud of a Sumac Tree if taken while it is still green can be boiled into a tea, but you have to remove the white broth that forms on top because that part is still poisonous. This will keep you from being allergic to poison ivy, but it needs to be repeated annually when the sumac bud is green.
Ginseng is an ole’ timers’ remedy just to keep you feeling good
Sassafras Tea should be drunk every spring for good health. It boosts the immune system.
Pot (Marijuana) prevents glaucoma and helps reduce the effects of children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD, but it should not be smoked because when you smoke it you get toxins. Instead he recommends it is cooked into food and used as seasoning. The mother of a friend of his who suffered from severe ADD added very small doses into his food and his attention, mood, and grades improved dramatically.
List of Remedies by Jordan Hall:
Whiskey, Honey, and Lemon juice served warm to help with cough
Gargle Salt Water
List of Remedies by Ed Lynch:
“Well I know a lot of remedies but people don’t listen to me much anymore. The doctors say I’m wrong about most of them.”
It took some coaxing but he agreed to tell me a few of ones he remembered.
“Dad always used Turpentine and Sugar for a stomach ache.”
Another thing that helps stomach ache is to drink Catnip Tea.
White Oak Bark Tea is good for everything; it is supposed to just help you keep good health. I had a really good older friend who I need with his cattle as he started getting older. He drank a cup of White Oak Bark Tea everyday and he lived to be 100 years old.
He also ate Polk Berries which are poisonous unless you eat them at the right time. You have to eat them after the first frost.
Also people eat Polk Salad, but it has to be cooked so that the poison is dead.
Polk Root can be boiled in water and then the liquid poured onto an itch and it kills the itch, but be prepared it’s going to burn.
List of Remedies by Megan Lynch:
Vinegar Water helps an upset stomach
Aloe Vera plant’s juice can be used for burns, this is now bottled but our family has used it for years.
Oil from the back of a chicken was used as hair grease but it can also be used as lotion for creaked hands or feet.
List of Remedies by Mary Lou Lynch:
To make a boil come to a head you put Fat Meat over the boil to get the corruption out. “Now doesn’t that sound horrible?”
Gargle Salt Water helps a sore throat.
Vicks Slav can be applied to the chest for a cold.
A Blackened Banana Peel, extremely ripe banana peel, is cut into a square and the peel is put over the wart and covered with gaze.
The Oil from the Hen’s oil bag on its backside used to be used for guys’ hair oil.
For a toothache you can apply a moistened Comfrey Tea Bag.
Also chewing on Cloves can help with tooth and gum pain.
Sun burns can be eased by rubbing thin disc of Cucumber on the burn.
“Mother used to cook Muscle Shells, ground them up into powder, and mix them into food to get rid of worms when my little brothers were young.”
Bathing in Baking Soda helps poison ivy.
Crisco and Lard can be used as a moisturizer for dry skin.
(Mary Lou 2007)
List of Remedies by Lisa Kilpatrick
Gargle Salt Water for a sore throat.
Vicks Slav on the chest helps open stuff up when you are congested or have a cold.
“Granny ate Vicks Slav to help with colds too.”
Sassafras Tea is supposed to be drunk in the spring to help freshen you up from the winter and it’s supposed to help the blood.
Whiskey, Lemon, and Honey help with a cold.
A drink of Red Wine before bed helps you fall asleep if you are having problems with insomnia.
List of Remedies by Gina Rootenberry:
Gargle Salt Water
Vicks Slav for congestion
Vicks Slav can also be placed on the bottom of a foot to stop foot ache.
Butter can be rubbed on burns
Raisins left to soak in Vodka for a few days can be taken with a spoon full of Sugar.
Elderly Berry Wine lowers cholesterol
Bar of Lye Soap under the sheets at the bottom of the bed relieves body aches and pains (Kelly said this did not work for her)
Aloe Vera juice from the plant can be rubbed on burns
Cucumbers can be cut into disc and placed on puffy eyes
Desitine (dipper rash cream) can be used to clear up the earlobe
Campho-Phenique (Husband’s family used this) Mike says his mom used Campho-Phenique to cure just about everything.
Orajel (over the counter teething medicine) can be place on skin surrounding a splinter before pulling the splinter out of kid so that it is numbed.
Whiskey can be rubbed to the gums of a teething toddler with finger; this prevents excess alcohol from getting into the toddler’s mouth.
List of Remedies by Kelly Shempert:
Gargle Salt Water
Peppermint for cough and/or sore throat
Tape a Tea Bag to the bottom of your foot to detoxify your body.
Rub Toothpaste or Baking Soda on your acne, it will dry it out. **
Sugar with just a little bit of water to make into paste for facial exfoliate
List of Remedies by Dorethea Dillard Shipman:
Sassafras Root Tea to purify the blood after the winter
Lilly Robinson always recommended Ginseng to me.
Three sixes was used as a cure for Malaria (“The only spanking I can remember getting as a kid was because I wouldn’t drink this stuff.”)
Black Drought can be used as a laxative
Castor Oil for upset stomach
Yellow Pacunne was used for the eyes.
Mullen Tea can help ease cold symptoms
Vinegar and Honey will prevent and fight infection
Milk and Honey helps head colds
“Daddy always used Sorghum Molasses and water can be added to soda for gas problems”
Soda by its self was also used for gas
Vicks Slav could be applied to a rash
Vicks Slav can also be used to help a cold
A Croup Tent can be made by in closing yourself so that you inhale Steam to help with the croup.
Cod Liver Oil
Camphor can be inhaled to help with shortness of breath and fainting (“I saw mother and other ladies use this when I was a little girl but I never have needed it.”)
Kerosene, pure coal oil not the stuff you can buy in the store these days, could be put on sores.
Turpentine can be taken with a spoonful of Sugar for a cold.
Snake Oil helps aches and pains of the joints
Fennel was taken for pain before Tylenol
Sulfur was taken for persistent colds
Sulfur and Grease are the cure to the seven year itch (I am not completely sure what she meant by this, but it seemed impolite to press further since she implied she had to used it herself.)
Melted Butter or Lard can be mixed with Sugar to loosen the throat up when suffering from the croup.
Menthol or Vicks Slavs can be placed on the chest to help with a cold or congestion.
The Vicks Slav can also be put on a cloth and rapped about the neck to help with a sore throat.
Lemon Juice, Sugar, and Honey are mixed and drank to help with colds and congestion as well.
Mustard Poultice was used by the Ole’ Timers.
Beef Tailor could be added to the Mustard Poultice.
A thick slice of Potato can be placed on a boil to draw it out.
The juice from a Cactus Root also helps on boils or a risen.
Aloe Vera Plant Juice can be applied to burns.
Peppermint Plant which can be found growing around springs helps relieve indigestion.
“Grandpa Davenport used to chew Pine Resin to keep off colds.”
“When the kids got the flu, he would also heat up Fresh Onions and wave the fumes around the room to kill the flu germ.”
Garlic helps reduce blood pressure.
Epson Salt baths help with arthritis and sprains.
Willow Bark Tea was used as a pain reliever, “I think this is what they use to make Tylenol.”
Cold Water and Ice Packs applied to the surface for pain, pulled muscles, aches, and pains.
Flaxseed was smooth and soft and could be used to get things out of your eye.
Flaxseed can also be ingested to help with constipation.
Mineral Oil helps the bowels.
Mineral Oil can also be used to help an earache.
Smoke can be blown into the ears to help with an earache.
Thick slices of Raw Potatoes should be wrapped into material and placed on the forehead to help a headache.
Also a Cold Rag helps relieve some of the pain of a headache.
Vinegar can be used instead of water on the rag.
Burdock Leafs can both be ingested and held on the head with the cold rag for better results with the headache.
Chamomile Tea is a relaxant and helps with headaches and insomnia.
Catnip Tea was given to babies as soon as possible after birth to prevent and help with colic and other baby problems. “Granny Dillard always said that you couldn’t have a baby without catnip.”
List of Remedies by Crystal Yeager
Gargle Salt Water for a sore throat.
Potato Soup helps with a cold.
A Cold Rag or Ice Pack on the forehead eases pain from a headache.
When you are having problems breathing, it helps to inhaling Steam directly like from running really hot water and breathing directly above it.
“Granny used to always put a pan of water on the wood stove so that the Steam would get around the house when people were sick. This works basically the same way as a humidifier. I still do this at my house when the kids get sick I boil water on the stove top.”
“My other granny used Whiskey to help with colds. She actually saved my little brother’s life by feeding him Whiskey in his bottle when he was about to die from pneumonia.”