Old-Time Home Remedies


| 5/14/2010 8:54:55 AM


Tags: home remedies, early 20th century life, simpler time, Sam Moore,
Sam Moore   
Sam Moore   

Whenever we old timers begin to long for “the good old days,” we should hark back to some of the home remedies with which we were tortured, as kids, by our well-meaning parents, notably chest cold and cough home remedies.

The following (slightly edited) recollection of home “medicare” in those far-away days was written by Lula Walker in The Rural New Yorker magazine of Jan. 7, 1950.

“In the winter, at the first sniffle we were dosed generously with castor oil minus any camouflage of peppermint oil or other pleasant disguise. At bedtime, the chest was thoroughly greased with coal oil and lard. The next step was to ‘bake it in,’ a feat accomplished by standing in front of a hot stove until the chest had taken on a violent hue of red. Then a piece of flannel was clapped on and pinned securely to your long woolen underwear.

“These preliminaries over, next was a hot foot bath. A tablespoon of mustard in water hot as one could bear was Mother’s standard formula. Of course, our ideas of what ‘one could bear’ differed radically. My fervent pleas for just one dipper of cold water were unavailing. It took real heat, Mother maintained, to properly open pores. When my feet resembled a pair of boiled lobsters, the treatment was concluded.

“Next day, a batch of cherry bark was brewed and converted into a sticky, sickish syrup of which I was given hourly doses. If hoarseness accompanied the cold, there was further punishment with a mixture of honey and alum. If a coughing spell struck, Mother invariably administered black pepper. Her belief in this remedy may have been justified since, to forestall a second dose of the fiery mixture, I made a superhuman effort to suppress my bark.

“On that autumn morning each year when I looked out on a world covered with frost I knew my doom was sealed. It was goodbye to summer and farewell to cotton underwear. At breakfast would come the verdict, ‘Time to put ’em on.’ Pleas for a stay of sentence were unavailing. Highly redolent of mothballs, the hateful woolens were hauled from the attic trunk and hung out on the clothesline to air.