Friday, February 10, 2012

Herbal Medicine Part 1: A Childhood Interest

My sweet Granny Smith not
long before she passed away
at the age of 92.
I'm gonna be straying away from my usual canning topics for the next few posts. After attending an herbal medicine workshop with Appalachian herbalist and instructor Robin McGee, I have a renewed interest (or maybe obsession?) with herbal medicine... the interest was there before, but it REALLY was awakened by this wonderful class with a fantastic, down-to-earth instructor.

I've been making soaps and lotions for many years, scenting my products ONLY with natural, essential oils and have been using the oils for their medicinal properties for quite some time. I enjoy being in my "mad scientist laboratory" mixing up my concoctions and remedies. So when this opportunity to learn more came up, I jumped at the chance.

After taking the workshop, my mind began meandering down memory lane, and I realized that I've always had an interest in herbal remedies, old wives' tales, old time medicines and remedies, and more.

Granny Smith all dressed up for my parents' wedding
My Granny Smith (my Daddy's mother) was my earliest teacher, mostly with stories she told and her natural ability to make a person feel better with the simplest things. One story she told often was about her own father, my great grandpa, Papa, his name was Andrew Jackson (not the president, but a giant of a man), with great, huge handlebar mustaches, he died when I was 5 or 6, but I have fuzzy, vague memories of him... as a toddler sitting on his lap, fascinated, and a little nervous, listening to his booming voice, his huge laughter, and that enormous mustache.

Granny said when she was a young girl, Papa had a problem with "the sugar" (diabetes)... and at one point his big toe became infected from an injury and wouldn't heal. He had tried everything and the toe just got worse, turning black and swollen with the infection... Papa finally went to the local doctor, who promptly said, "Andrew, you're gonna lose your whole foot if I don't take that toe off." Papa asked the doctor to give him two weeks to try to get that toe healed and if he couldn't, he'd come back and let the doctor amputate his big toe.

Papa came home that evening and said to my Granny, "Sis (that's what he always called her ... her name was Annie, but Papa always called her Sis... or Tom), go out in the woods and find me a pine tree... gather some good, thick 'rosem' and bring it back here." She went... when she brought the pine resin back, Papa took it and packed it all around the infected toe, bound it up in a clean bandage, and left it for a week without removing it.

After the week had passed, he removed the bandaging, washed the area good and checked it... the infection was completely gone, the toe was "white as snow" (that's how Granny phrased it)... the black infection was no longer there and he didn't have to have that toe amputated. Granny said the "rosem" drew out the poison from the infection and healed that toe.

Papaw Smith
Granny knew so many things... she never finished school, never had a public job, had a slight speech impediment from having been "tongue-tied" when she was born... but I've never met a smarter, harder working, more capable woman in my life. Sometimes she would take us grandkids walking in the woods and she could tell us the names of every plant, tree, shrub, and weed we came across and what it was good for (I wish I'd listened better)... I remember one time she picked a small branch off a tree and said, "Young'uns this is a tooth brush, you can clean your teeth with it." She showed us how to fray the ends of the twig and scrub our teeth with it. I learned later it was a birch twig and many mountain folks did, indeed, use it for cleaning their teeth.

Granny had a brother, Howard, who, it was claimed by all the folks in the valley, could cure the "thrash" (thrush, or candida) in babies by blowing in their mouth, and he could cure warts by just rubbing them... I never had any first hand experience with this, I just heard...

Granny was the woman in the valley who everyone called on when they had a sick loved one... not to come heal... but just to come "help." She took food, she had a strong back and could help lift an invalid, she didn't mind scrubbing dirty sheets, wiping noses or hindends, or cleaning nasty chamber pots... and you always just felt better when "Miss Annie" was nearby. She was strong, and solid, and capable.

Granny was my Papaw Smith's second wife... she finished raising the 5 children from his first marriage, and raised their own 6... she was not a gentle woman, but she WAS a gentlewoman, she had a sharp tongue and a firm manner, a no-nonsense, frank, opinionated woman... she milked cows, gathered eggs, churned butter, helped slaughter and butcher, grew a vegetable garden, had beautiful flower beds, cooked, canned, cured, and stored food, kept a meticulously clean home, made most of the family's clothes, quilted with the "Ladies Aid" once a week, attended the local Free Will Baptist Church every time the doors were open, singing in the choir with her strong alto voice heard above everyone else, she put flowers on the graves in the cemetery, and was always the first to visit if anyone in the community was sick, or had a new baby, or had a death in the family... with her large, strong hands, a basket of food, a quilt she had pieced by hand, or just to talk... and laugh... Granny had inherited Papa Jackson's big booming laugh, and she used it regularly.

Papaw and Granny Smith's house... my Daddy and his brothers and sisters grew up here. I have so many fond memories of family times in that old house.

18 comments:

  1. This was, by far, one of the most heartwarming stories I have ever read. Your endearment for your grandmother is so apparent in your post.

    Thank you for sharing with us!

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  2. Love it!! What a wonderful lady she was. What a beautiful recollection of her; she would love it.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story. What an inspiring grandmother you had. I loved the story about pine pitch healing the toe, too. Did it actually draw the poison out of the toe or did the antibacterial pine oil help the body heal it?
    chris

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    1. Chris, I honestly can't say, I'm just relating what I was told... maybe it was a combination of both. ~~Granny

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  4. Your story reminds me of my people in Tennessee and Alabama. Maybe not school educated, but hard working, good hearted, God fearing people. Your story touched me and makes me wish times were simpler now like they were then. I know it was hard back breaking work back then but isn't that what created their integrity, ethics and love for people? How blessed you are to have inherited all their wisdom and character. I'm so glad I subscribed to your page Miss Granny. I don't know your given name but here in the south, "Miss" is a term of respect. So, Miss Granny, thanks for your story and look forward to many more.

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  5. Hi. Just wanted to let you know Goggle is going away at the end of this month. To keep our follower and not lose our favorite blogs .We will have to join the Linky Party. Heidi has one on her site. http://mysimplecountryliving.blogspot.com
    I don't want to lose any of my blogs,I enjoy visiting you guys to much. I hope you will join. Oh and follow me on linky. Almost forgot that part.

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  6. Awe Cyber-Sis ... weren't our Granny's just the best ever? I love how your story unfolded and I felt like I was right there on that old front porch with ya. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories and keep up the good work with the herbal medicine.

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    1. Thanks Lori. Grannies are the BEST!

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  7. My great granny, grandma, and mom were the my hero's also.

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  8. Thank you so much for this story. I love to hear about the old times. The Foxfire series are one of my favorites. I wish we could go back to those days. I, too love to make all my own soaps and lotions using the wonderful goat milk from our "girls". So glad to have found you. I would love to have you visit me at http://crossedarrowshomestead.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you Rebecca... Love the Foxfire books as well. I've added you to my blog list! Great site! ~~Granny

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  9. ♥ loving your blog more everyday!!!! Thru Canning Granny and Lori's Latest, as well as a few others, I've picked up new skills over the last six months!! Canning, dehydrating, baking homemade bread, gardening tips, etc.! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

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    1. Thank you so much Terri! I'm learning from all you wonderful readers too! ~~Granny

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  10. Thanks to give me these type of information

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  11. I think it's a shame thae way people poke fun of Mountain Folk and stereotyping them for being "backward". If you think about it, if the Apocolypse were to really happen, "backward" folk like your Gram would probably be the ones to make it through just fine!

    I miss my Gram, too. How lucky for you that you had such an inspirational ancestor!!

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    1. Yes indeed, "book smart" is NOT the only smart! There is true wisdom like my dear Granny had! ~~Granny

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I never really got to know my Dad's mom, who sounds like Granny Smith (she raised 7, 5 of whom are super-rambunctious boys). This is how I want to be when I'm older. I feel off my path for a while, went to college, got a degree for a good job (that I don't like, and in this economy I can't have).... and I've realized what I really want to be when I grow up is a rock solid, beautiful, no-nonsense salt of the earth hillbilly.

    How you described Granny Smith is how I want my kids to remember me. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this.

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  13. This story could well have been about my mother, even down to being a Free Will Baptist. Born in 1901 on the land given by her grandfather to his son and new bride.

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