Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tar and Kerosene--Just What the Doctor Ordered

File:Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret - An Accident - Walters 3749.jpg While standing at the grocery checkout recently with people coughing and sneezing on either side of me,  I could not help but wonder how many varieties of germs I had been exposed to.  It’s that time of year again.

  Today people use everything from antibiotics to essential oils in dealing with illness, but many years ago our ancestors dealt with illness in many different ways.  I can’t help but shudder as I  look at some of the old time family remedies that have been handed down on both sides of my family .

In my rather large file box of recipes I recently came across several such family “recipes.”   I remember copying these recipes years ago from my mother’s cards,  not because I planned to try them anytime soon, but because they were “family recipes” and I found them intriguing.
Aunt Sylvia’s Canker Medicine
1 pt. water
3 T. sage (rubbed)
1 T. alum
1T. borax
1/2 c. honey
1 tsp. golden seal
Boil water and sage together about 5 minutes.  Cover and let set to steep.  Strain and cool.  Add alum, borax, honey and golden seal. 
Throat Swab
1 pt. iodine
6 pts. glycerine
Mix well and paint throat.
Earache
16 drops glycerin
1 drop carbolic acid
Drop in ear
Curious, I did a search in Google books and found several very similar recipes, predominantly from the 1890’s.

In a three ring notebook, I also have a collection of family stories and recipes that have been shared with me from distant cousins in my patriarchal line.  Among the recipes,  I found instructions for a “poultice.”  The recipe directed you to go to the woods and get pieces of pine.  Next you were to dig a hole “in a clay bank on the side of the road” and place the pine inside the hole with a pan placed beneath the pine to catch the tar.  Next, you were to cover the hole in order to keep the heat inside.  The tar would then boil out of the wood and run into the pan.  Next  you were to saturate the cloth with the tar and melted lard.  (Instructions indicated that the lard helped to keep the tar from blistering the skin.)  This poultice was then placed on the chest of the ill person to draw out the congestion.  Another recipe prescribed a cloth saturated with kerosene and melted lard that was then placed on the sick person’s chest.  I assume that these were the precursors to the Vicks my mother use to put on us when we were sick and, while we hated the smell and the sting of the strong salve, I can see that it was a definite improvement over earlier times.

As much as I fear the flu today, I think I would have feared it more years ago knowing that along with the misery of being sick, I would be subjected to such “cures."   What remedies have been passed down in your family? 

Picture: Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret  “An Accident”  Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

4 comments:

  1. My Great Uncle Lee "scarified" my oldest brother. You break the skin at the back of the baby's neck and draw a couple of drops blood and mix it in a teaspoon with the mother's breast milk and feed it to the baby to prevent boll hives. Not sure but they may have even put some sort of liquor in it.

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  2. That is really interesting Karen. I always wonder about the first person to try some of these methods and wonder what their rationale was for the method they chose. Apparently some people got well from some of these different "cures" and it makes me wonder if we do the same thing with some of our methods today. Someone gets well following a "treatment," therefore it works!

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  3. What was the purpose of canker medicine? It sounds yummy!

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  4. You made me laugh John. I hadn't really looked at it in that way, but I guess you are right.

    Have you ever had a canker sore before? We use to call them cold sores also.

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