Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


I had to be extremely ill with a high fever before a doctor was summoned. For the most part, I suffered through colds and sicknesses of short duration with the help of herbs, tonics, and old remedies although I was spared having to take many old standards of the past.

I heard about asafetida, a pungent mixture worn around the neck to ward off illness; sulfur and molasses, a spring tonic thought to purge the system of bacteria; and chicken or goose fat rubbed on the chest for colds. The worst thing I had to contend with was Mentholatum or Vicks ointment stuffed in my nostrils and rubbed on my chest as a cold prevention.

Pearl Reed told about having to take a spring tonic made from the bark of sassafras, a North American tree that is related to the laurel. Although it has the smell and flavor of "root beer" which was originally made from sassafras, this herb is now considered dangerous because it is carcinogenic (cancer causing.)

Doctors were using the wonder drugs of penicillin and sulfa for almost all ailments.

Penicillin is an antibiotic that was used to fight various bacteria and the sulfa drugs were known bacteria inhibitors. These were dosed out in pills or shots.

However, among the wonder drugs dispensed from the kitchen were creomulsion, quinine, turpentine, and hot lemonade.

Quinine had been used for years to treat malaria. It came in a white powder, obtained from the bark of a South American tree, the cinchona, and was very bitter and nasty. A teaspoon of quinine forced down my throat was a common remedy for a wide range of maladies such as ear ache, stomach ache, sore tonsils, or constipation. My father and my grandmother both used quinine generously. Later, bromo was added to the quinine in a bitter tasting brown pill that was a little easier to take than a spoonful of white powder. Bromo was a known headache remedy and had some sedative qualities.

Creomulsion is a thick, syrupy over-the-counter cough remedy made from coal tar that can still be purchased. It does a good job in soothing cough. A cup of piping hot lemonade before jumping into bed would often sweat the cold out of a person if they could remain covered and let the remedy work.

My father was a great believer in herbs and would get herbal catalogs from the Indiana Botanic Gardens, where he obtained his supplies. He would buy horehound; the delicious aromatic bitter mint used in candy that, as an extract is also a good cold and cough remedy.

He would also buy alfalfa, licorice and peppermint tea. Peppermint tea smells good and is not too difficult to drink. However, alfalfa and licorice teas are just about as nasty as grandma’s quinine powder! These teas he believed in making us drink for a wide variety of reasons to maintain regularity, for stomach problems, and as a tonic.

Whereas my grandmother would cleanse a cut or scratch with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, my father would pour turpentine on the wound, believing that turpentine is a wonderful antiseptic. He once accidentally hit my mother on top of the head with the rake and used turpentine to cleanse the wound, and of course it took her many days to get the thick, sticky mixture out of her hair!

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick