When settlers came to Georgia there were no doctors prescribing antibiotics or vaccines. The apothecary offerings were very limited. Things that were found in everyday life were used for the ailments. Vinegar, spices, salt, honey, lemons, whiskey and various roots, barks or plant parts were utilized. Often the recipes for salves and poultices were passed from one generation to the next.
Bronchitis or pneumonia was often treated with a mustard plaster. This practice was handed down from mother to daughter in Mrs. Pearl Rahn Gnann’s family. A paste of powdered mustard seed mixed with flour bound by water or an egg white to make a paste was spread on a square of muslin or flannel cloth about 8 by 10 inches. The mixture was covered by another layer and placed on the front of the chest. The person was covered and kept warm and the skin beneath the plaster was checked frequently until the skin turned pink. The skin was observed to prevent blistering. If congestion was severe, the plaster could be removed from the front of the chest and placed on the back between the shoulders to bring even more relief.
Another remedy for pneumonia from Mrs. Mabel Crapps was a liquid concoction made when eight hog’s feet were parched and boiled in a pint of water. The ailing person took one tablespoon of the liquid cure four times a day. Turpentine or kerosene was often painted onto the skin on the back of the ribs with severe congestion and the patient kept covered and warm in bed away from the flames of a fire.
The means to stop a cut from bleeding range from pinching the area above the blood loss to using a cloth or string as a tourniquet. Cob webs and brown sugar were pressed on like lint onto the bleeding site, and the tourniquet was gradually released until the bleeding was under control. Wheat flour and salt in equal parts bound to the cut with a cloth was used without wetting it on man or animal. The blood provided enough moisture. Turpentine was also often used on injured parts.
Some sore throat remedies included: warm salted water as a gargle, alum and honey in sage tea as a gargle, a few drops of camphor on sugar, or a teaspoon of soda dissolved in a glass of water as a gargle. Borax the size of a pea in the mouth relieved hoarseness quickly. Vinegar was often used as a gargle and did serve also as an antiseptic.
Cough brews vary using mixtures of various ingredients including: honey, vinegar, onion juice, lemon, camphor, whiskey, sugar, turpentine and rock candy.
Earache cures varied. A few drops of the juice from a roasted onion instilled while warm into the ear was Mrs. Eliza Exley Metzger’s recipe.
Vinegar was also used as an ear drop. Mrs. Nellie Wall used a pint of salt in a cloth bag heated until warm. A small piece of wool saturated with warm sweet oil was put in the ear and the salt poultice applied to the outer ear to relieve the pain.
A favorite cure for the cold was drinking a hot toddy of whiskey or lemonade and go to bed. Whiskey was often the only painkiller when a wound had to be lanced or foreign object excised. Whiskey and vinegar were early antiseptics used along with heat in the form of fire to clean knives or instruments.
Nursing mothers suffering from swollen or sore breasts was treated with wilted heated collard leaves applied to the breasts.
An old remedy for snakebite from Mrs. Jessie Metzger Hanberry was a paste made with an egg white mixed with powdered alum. Applied to the bite, the paste was changed when the application turned green from the snake venom. The treatment was to be kept up until no green showed up on the paste.
Liniments were made to apply to muscle aches and painful joints and included some of the following ingredients: linseed oil, rosin, turpentine, camphor, whiskey, red pepper lard and eucalyptus.
There were many recipes for salves used on cuts, scrapes, burns and nail punctures. Mrs. Lena Exley Gnann used “Tar Salve” —1 pint of raw pine gum, 1 pint of cow tallow and 1/5 as much bee’s wax was cooked for 10 minutes, not too hot. It was strained and poured into containers until used.
Miss Elice Reisser and her sisters Berta, Janie and Annie Mae made “Black Salve.” They cooked their grandfather Reisser’s recipe in a double boiler until it thickened or spun a thread: 1/2 pound of red lead, 1 pint sweet oil, 2 cakes of camphor gum and 1/4 pound of sheep suet. This was cooked 3 to 4 hours. Salves were used and bound with a cloth to prevent, scatter or draw infection from a rising wound. Annie Mae R. Exley also made “Turpentine Salve” made from 20 drops of turpentine to a tablespoon full of lard.
People were said to be “bilious” and doctors of old prescribed thorough cleansing of the intestinal tract to make the bile and blood flow freely. Children hated these rituals. Castor oil was the dreaded substance so hard to swallow even when mixed with concoctions to make it palatable. Prior to the oil, a mercurial salt known as Calomel was given as a purgative and actually recommended or prescribed by physicians of the times.
We now know that Calomel was a poisonous substance and many old timers survived the dose but never forgot the trips to the outhouse.
Burns were often treated with castor oil or cat fish oil. A salve mixed of tar, linseed oil and scraped elder was sometimes used. Another concoction consisted of: a piece of castile soap as large as a small fowl egg, a piece of wax half the size of the soap, a piece of sheep suet half as large as the soap, one tablespoon of honey and one tablespoon of sweet oil melted together. Clean cloths were placed on the wound after the salve was applied.
Mrs. Rebecca Dasher Foy had a remedy for puny persons. Take 1/2 gallon vinegar and one handful of nails (double hand full if new) boiled down to one quart. Take the nails out and add one handful each of: wormwood, horehound, tansy, chamomile flowers, rue, hyssop, star grass, golden rod and rose leaves. Add two pounds of brown sugar and one handful of mother wort. The mixture was boiled until the strength was out. Strained and bottled, one tablespoon was taken three times daily.
A simple sore throat back in the day could turn into scarlet fever and was sometimes fatal. Now what we know as strep infection of the throat can be cured easily with antibiotics. Infections that led to rheumatic hearts are easily cured today with our modern medicine. Vaccines prevent childhood diseases, pneumonia and influenza. Mortality rates in the days of old were high and life was hard. Our life expectancies are much higher and life today is very different thanks to modern medicine but even today some of the harmless old remedies still bring relief for our minor ailments.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. The “Ye Olde Time Salzburger Cook Book” offers the early settler’s remedies shared here. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.