Folk Remedies

We've all heard the saying "An apple a day will keep the doctor away," or "It's a bitter pill." But is there any truth in these old sayings or had grandma just been sipping too much elderberry wine when she made certain claims for her cure-alls? Well, as with so many things there were good, folk remedies that were passed from generation to generation with there attached anecdotal stories­­ and there were the ones that well, Uncle Harry was buried in the back forty after that cure all was administered!

As it turns out, it wasn't just grandma giving out folk remedies, physicians did it too. It's possible that grandma's remedies were less deadly than some, as many of her remedies were made with natural things from her kitchen and spice rack. When our founding father George Washington fell ill with a severe sore throat and called for a physician, the physician administered a petroleum based substance which further burned his throat. The other usual methods were employed; leeches were applied; he was given a combination of lead and mercury as a healing tonic and when that didn't work they pulled a few teeth. Mr. Washington then asked for the physician to leave him if he had nothing better to offer that he might die in peace, which is exactly what he did.

Medicine and remedies were applied in a very haphazardly sort of way­­ but for the most part simple folk remedies made from simple ingredients may not have saved everyone's life but they didn't kill anyone either. Today we can scientifically take apart some of these simple cures and see there is some basis for their ability to help the body heal itself.

Lets take a look. Will an apple a day keep the doctor away? What's in an apple that makes it such a cure-all in so many old fashion folk remedies? Apples are high in vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium and two other healing substances­­ pectin and malic acid. Vitamins A and C are vital for wound healing and fighting infection. Potassium is important for a healthy nervous system and a regular heart rhythm. It helps prevent stroke, aids in proper muscle contraction, and works with sodium to control the body's water balance. Magnesium is vital for proper digestive enzyme function and, more importantly, calcium uptake. Holistic physicians are prescribing malic acid and magnesium as a supplement for those suffering joint and muscle pain with seemingly good results. Pectin slows the absorption of food which helps diabetics maintain more stable blood sugars. It also removes unwanted metals and other toxins. When raw apple cider vinegar is combined with a tablespoon of honey in water and taken before meals it gears up the digestive juices and helps us get the most from our foods. Wow! That's power packed nutrition.

The old saying about a bitter pill holds some truth too. Some of the most healing plants and plant herbs are bitter. Chemically speaking they alkalize an overly acidic body and detoxify as well­­ especially the liver.

Cayenne is well known for its ability to stop bleeding. (Always seek medical advice for serious injuries.) Apply it directly to the wound. Try it in your socks in the winter and it will help keep your feet warm. I've used cayenne in many forms and it truly a useful versatile herb.

The garden sage plant that is so abundant this time of year is used effectively for several common ailments. A Native American Shaman, Morgan Eaglebear, is the one who taught me about the many uses of sage. It is a wonderful antifungal agent for the skin when used externally. Its a quick remedy for relieving itching and swelling that accompanies insect bites. As a tea with honey its good for sore throats. In fact this herb's botanical name, Salvia Officinalis, derived from the Latin Salvere, means to save, a testimony to sage's early reputation as a cure-all.

Over the years there have been many good publications on folk remedies. Most of them are simple and inexpensive and with ingredients that are easy to find and use. Many times one has to look no further than the spice cupboard or the local farmer's market.

If you have a favorite folk remedy you would like to share, please write me via the Zephyr, or my office at 312 Hill Arcade, Galesburg, IL 61401, or call (309) 343-5256.

Till next time, Rebecca

Last Modified: September 18, 1996
Back to the
Zephyr home page.Send us E