Vintage Vibes / “Old home remedies”

Prior to hospitalization provided by insurance and government programs, people sometimes waited until they were nearly dying before seeking medical help, especially in rural areas.  Some of the home remedies many of us grew up with probably originated in pioneer days when folks self-medicated with herbs and “cures” handed down for generations. Some of that old-timey home healthcare survives today; perhaps to the dismay of modern physicians.

It may be surprising to discover that old remedies are still being used. And, in an effort to bypass the many drugs that are prescribed “willy-nilly” (an old term meaning “haphazardly”) some people are turning back to the old ways while others never stopped using treatments they were familiar with as children.

When people over 50 discuss the remedies of their youth, you can bet they remember how, when cold or flu-like symptoms presented themselves, they were made to swallow a dollop of Vick’s VapoRub Ointment regardless that the directions on the jar say not to take internally.  Vick’s was also crammed up stuffy nostrils and slathered on heated flannel cloths to make smelly chest compresses.

I grew up in a small country town where home remedies were commonly considered smart doctoring.  Like when my brother was bitten by a snake, our step-father decided a wad of chewing tobacco would draw the poison out just as well as any doctor could, and since my brother did not die from the bite, it may have worked … or the snake was not poisonous. Wet tobacco has also been used to soothe bee and wasp stings for generations.

When my doctor said I needed to have a kidney stone surgically removed because it was too large to pass, I was not looking forward to the “passing” or to surgery so I eagerly listened when a member of a senior ladies Sunday school class whispered to me that she knew a cure for kidney stones. In fact several silver-haired, born and bred Baptist ladies gathered round to “advise” me on the cure.

“You’re not going to want to do this,” one lady said, “but if you will drink three beers, one right after the other, it will dissolve that stone.”

Another one of the matriarchs had this to say, “Beer dissolves kidney stones, but you have to be sitting on the bed to drink ‘em because you’ll probably pass right out. And, it’s better if you don’t pass out on the floor like I did!”

“No, no,” said another wise sage, “She needs to be sitting on the potty because beer runs right through you! And, when you can’t stand upright to get to the potty, well … you know what can happen.”

I’m a Coke drinker, not a beer drinker, and since I cannot drink three cokes one right after the other I was very doubtful about being able to drink three beers, especially since the smell of beer nauseates me.  But, considering the choices of passing a large stone, having surgery or trying to drink three beers … well, it wasn’t a difficult choice. Apparently though, the ladies were right about it taking three beers because I could only drink two, and had to have the surgery after all.

When my 82-year-old mother-in-law came to visit, she was not able to walk up the steep stairs until her friend shared an old cure for arthritis with her.  The special cure called for white raisins (can’t use dark raisins) to be soaked in gin, and then she had to eat a specified number of raisins each day.  She had been eating her special raisins a week or so when she not only climbed our stairs, but she felt so spry after a dose of gin-soaked raisins that she crawled on the back of a four-wheel ATV and took a wild, downhill ride on a bumpy dirt road! My husband thought his momma was consuming a few more raisins than the “cure” called for, but let it be known, Inez Marze, a strict non-drinker never drinks the gin. She eats the raisins for medicinal purposes only!

I’ve got to say though that a jar filled with gin-soaked white raisins is not appetizing to look at, but is easy to carry in a purse and when the pain comes on, the raisins are handy.  She says her jar of raisins doesn’t take up any more room than a bottle of Ibuprofen, and they seem to help a lot more.

Inez also keeps a Buckeye ball in her pocket, or in the event she doesn’t have a pocket, it is nestled in her bosom. Buckeye balls kept on the body are believed to help prevent aches and pains caused by rheumatism. I’ve seen her pull out her buck-eye ball at various times to educate the uninformed about its healing merits. My late father-in-law also kept one in his pocket till his dying day.

I think more medical folk lore should be documented before it is forgotten.   In fact, it may be wise to stop by the nearest senior ladies Sunday school class the next time you have an ailment — unless you are a mite squeamish about eating gin-soaked raisins or a tobacco compress?

By Elaine Marze


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The author has spent 40 years as a newspaper and magazine journalist, and her humor is included in two inspirational books about serious subjects.  Hello Darling and Widowhood: I Didn’t Ask For This are about cancer and widowhood, and they are used in counseling and grief share groups.  They can be ordered by contacting her at elmarz7@yahoo.com.