“Apply Skunk Grease and Call Me in the Morning.”
By Ronnie Powell
Many of the immigrants that came to this country carried with them folk medicine, family cures or treatments so to speak. The American Indians also possessed nature’s remedies. How effective any of these remedies are is a matter of opinion and has spawned a viable industry world wide.
My first encounter as a boy growing up in the Ozarks with Dog Fennel as we called it, a small obscure plant bristling with nettles immediately when touched created a severe itching that did not go away too soon. Dogs whimpered when coming in contact with it, some adults cussed and children often cried.
After returning to the house complaining, Mother applied a balm to the wounds which consisted of skunk fat rendered to grease mixed with salt. The application soon brought about soothing results. Skunk grease was also used to treat chest colds, sore throats and minor cuts.
The inner bark of a Black Oak tree, brewed to a tea was often use as a gargle to treat a sore throat. The inner bark of a Slippery Elm was used as a gargle for a sore throat or canker sores.
One of the hazards of going bare foot is coming in contact with nails, broken glass and barb wire. Most of the time these types of injuries if not too severe were treated with stove pipe soot or cobweb to stop the bleeding and a long soak in coal oil, (kerosene).
A popular sport especially among the boys was to rid the outhouse, (privy) of wasps and stings were enviable. A mixture of mud, crushed Black Simpson leaves and chewing tobacco was applied to the stings to draw out the venom and reduce swelling. However my twin brother and I attempted to remove a huge red wasp nest from a Dogwood tree one afternoon while on our way from Dousinberry creek to home. I being fleet of foot ran from the scene but poor Donnie was quickly covered in wasps. By the time I dragged him a safe distance from the angry wasps, the lad’s nostrils and eyes were swollen shut. Both lips were turned inside out and he could barely breathe and was quickly loaded in the Chevy and taken to Buffalo to be treated successfully by Doctor Plummer.
The inner bark of a White Walnut tree was often used to draw out the infection of an ulcerated tooth, but also killed the nerve and the tooth turned black. The liquid boiled from Polk root was used to treat Scabies, (seven year itch), lice and mange in dogs. To both dog and human the treatment was rather painful.
The dreaded head cold was treated in a number of ways, honey and vinegar, red pepper tea, sulfur and molasses taken internally, Mule Tail leaves boiled to a tea was taken for diarrhea and skunk grease applied liberally to the chest.
One variety of snake root, boiled to a tea had a calming effect quieting a hysterical person or distraught animal.
I doubt if folk remedies will ever fade from society and should not be used unless at least reasonably certain of the potential side effects. I for one cannot attest to the safety of these medications even though I was often treated with them. It is logical to assume many of them possessed healing properties, used when there was no other choice. The list of home or folk remedies is long and are contained in many books or old faded instructions tucked away in a bible or drawer. Bottles found in dumps out back of a dilapidated home often contain residue of some special mixture to ward off worms, snake bite, upset stomach and any number of common ailments of country folks. Adios