Folk Medicine 101
Nature is a veritable pharmacy of medicinal plants. Flowers, roots, leaves, fruits, bark and seeds can be gathered, combined and prepared for healing. Herbs and ointments, teas and tonics, powders and salves have been a way of life for generations.
All cultures and societies have knowledge best described as folk medicine. Folk medicine often coexists with formalized, education based, and institutionalized systems of healing such as Western medicine.
Much of today's modern medicine was previously based on plants that had been long used in folk medicine. It is estimated that 40 percent of all the medicine on the shelves of today’s drugstores have plant origins. Many therapies that are currently called ‘alternative’ were prescribed by physicians less than a hundred years ago.
Native Americans had been roaming wild-lands for centuries discovering uses for plants, including medicinal. Early mountaineers created self-sufficient homesteads mostly independent from the outside economy. Collecting and making remedies was less expensive and more convenient. Remedies were passed on for generations.
Anthony Cavender wrote that the American pharmaceutical industry was primarily built on the plants found in the southern Appalachian mountains in his survey of Appalachian food-as-medicine. By the turn of the century, folk medicine was viewed as a practice used by poverty stricken communities and quacks. However, the rejection of synthetic or biomedical products has become a growing trend in Western society and allowed for a rise in the demand for natural medicines. When less developed countries are taken into account, it is estimated that over 50% of the world’s population relies on folk medicine practices.
Here is a small sampling of Folk Remedies:
- Colds: Roast onions in ashes; Suck salty water up your nose; Create a tea with boiled pine needles.
- Coughs: One teaspoon of white whiskey mixed with a pinch of sugar heated over a fire; Ground ginger mixed with sugar placed on tongue; Mash blood root stems, boil in water for 10 minutes, then strain; Four sticks of horehound candy dissolved in a pint of liquor.
- Congestion: Apply a poultice to the chest with a roasted onion wrapped in a cloth and beaten until the juice soaks the cloth; Add rock candy to whiskey to create a syrup.
- Sore Throats: Gargle warm salt water; Tie onions around your throat after baking in a fireplace; Gargle vinegar and water; Mash blood root stems, boil in water for 10 minutes, then strain.
- Flu: 2 roots of wild ginger boiled in a cup of water then strained.
- Arthritis: Steep alfalfa leaves and blooms in hot water for 10 minutes to create a tea.
- Inflamed Lymph Nodes/ Rheumatism/Joint Pain: Boil pokeweed berries in hot water for 30 minutes then strain into a concentrated solution and add to a small amount of alcohol for use as a tincture; Mash blood root stems, boil in water for 10 minutes, then strain.