458 Meylert St Laporte PA 18626
TOURING SULLIVAN COUNTY’S MUSEUM
. . . while dusting
The garden at the Baldwin House, Laporte
Have you been to the pharmacy lately? Or, picked up an over-the-counter remedy? If you had lived in your grandparents time or before, neither of these options would be available to you for many reasons: not yet invented, not available for home use, financial, etc. As we gaze out looking upon snow covered frozen ground, many of us are receiving seed catalogues and the Philadelphia flower show is this week. That all means that spring has simply got to come!
Today our view of backyard gardening is primarily focused on edible vegetables, fruits and flowers. But in days gone by, even the weeds were viewed differently – that’s right – weeds. And our tendency to go to a doctor for ailments would have been unlikely and probably not affordable for most households. So, how did they maintain their health? They did it with a plethora of remedies found in their yards, along the roadways and just as often during a hike in the woods. When plants would be “right for harvest” the gatherer would pinch, pluck, cut or dig the needed item. After collecting a sufficient amount, the plants would be properly chopped, dried, boiled or rubbed to then be properly stored for a time when their need arose.
Such examples are sage or mint tea for upset stomach, Live Forever for insect or nettle stings and, Ginseng as an aphrodisiac. Sulfur, molasses and dandelion greens were used as a spring tonic. Onion mixed with honey was made into a juice to give to children with the croup. Others are Yarrow for reducing swelling of rheumatic joints, Calendula for cuts or with flowers for garnishing salads, Musk Mallow syrup for coughs, Lungwort for pulmonary complaints, Bee Balm tea for vomiting and sore throats, Tansy as an insect repellent, Lady’s Mantle for diarrhea or mouth rinse after tooth extraction, Chives to promote digestion, Wormwood for common stomach aliments, Tarragon as digestive tonic and used against scurvy, Chamomile as a calming agent. Lavender is a strong antiseptic capable of killing bacteria, Oregano fights against coughs, colds and flu and as a tea for headaches. Parsley contains more vitamin C than an orange, Foxglove for treating heart ailments, Feverfew is versatile for headache relief, indigestion, sleeplessness and also insect repellant. Peony for relief of spasms and Forget-Me-Nots as a syrup for pulmonary problems.
Animals were also included in the listing of remedies. Deer antlers, ground up into a powder that could then be used on an open would, with melted wax applied to cover the area and a clean cloth applied over top all that would promote healing. And here’s an odd one: rendering down the fat of a skunk thus producing a liquid that could be stored in bottles, could be used for the common cold, sneezing and sniffles. We’re not so sure this remedy had a medicinal purpose or if it just kept everyone else away from the smelly affected one, thereby limiting anyone else from acquiring a cold. Either way, people used what was on hand.
The inventiveness of the people in need of any remedy and the trial and error they went thru to find not only the right plant (or animal) but also the right configurations of it and storage must have been an experiment in mental acuity that we have not appreciation for today. The downside to this thought is that they also suffered the negative aspects of mishaps and medical ailments that we today take for granted simply by checking our medicine cabinets at home or phoning the doctor.
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The Sullivan County PA Historical Society and Museum is a registered 501(c)(3).