Please welcome guest blogger Tipper Pressley, author of the widely loved blog ‘Blind Pig & the Acorn.’ Tipper says she’s “a mother, wife, daughter, sister, artist, and hopefully considered a friend to many. I consider myself a mountain girl (even though my husband, The Deer Hunter, likes to remind me the mountains here are not nearly as big as the ones he came from a whole three counties away.
When my girls were small, one of their favorite bedtime books was about a little old lady who went out into the woods to gather plants to use for medicinal purposes. Oh the girls didn’t really care about the gathering part-it was the interesting characters the little lady ran into along her way they liked.
As I’ve begun the busy task of preserving our garden bounty for the coming winter months, my mind has drifted back to the little lady in the book. Truthfully-I’m thankful I don’t have to add gathering medicinal supplies to my already too full summer schedule. But my wandering mind would not rest until I made time to research the subject.
My two favorite research sources for Appalachian Culture are interviewing elders in my community and consulting the Foxfire Books. I decided to concentrate on the plants that I’m familiar with-the ones that grow plentifully around my house this time of year.
Jewelweed grows in a ditch at the bottom of my driveway. Generally the plant grows in shady damp places and can reach 2-3 feet tall. The juice of the plant is a natural cortisone and is an excellent remedy for poison oak, poison ivy, bee stings, and bug bites. Jewelweed is sometimes called Wild Touch Me Not-because once the plant begins to produce seed pods, the slightest touch will send seeds flying in all directions.
Pine trees are common throughout Appalachia. The pine needles can be boiled to make a tea which is good for coughs and colds. Pine resin is said to be good for cuts and abrasions. Although I’ve never used the resin for medicinal purposes-I can promise you it is hard to remove from your clothes or skin-it pretty much has to wear off.
Sassafras trees grow in abundance around my house. They can reach 100 feet in height-which would make it impossible to gather their leaves. Pap said when he was growing up the leaves and roots were gathered from sassafras saplings. A tea was made from the roots and tender twigs of the tree. It was used as a blood builder or as a general tonic to get the body up and running in the spring of the year.
A local lady, Sylvie Lee, shared memories of her Grandmother making a spring tonic each year from sassafras with me. Sylvie said the children were never sick, and the Grandmother retained her smooth fair skin well into old age. Sylvie regrets never taking time to write down her Grandmother’s recipe.
Yellow Root grows along creek banks. It is a low growing shrublike plant which is gathered for its roots. Even though the roots are very bitter tasting, they are used to brew a strong tea which is used for sore throats and stomach disorders, and is said to lower high blood pressure.
Yellow Root is the only old time remedy I have personal experience with. Back in the day when I was a young woman preparing for my wedding I developed horrible mouth ulcers-I’m sure it was due to the related stress and worry of planning a wedding. The pain was so severe I could barely talk-and when I did talk you couldn’t understand what I was saying. As the big day drew closer I began to worry that I wouldn’t even be able to say “I do” clearly. Pap went to the creek and gathered some Yellow Root. We didn’t even brew a tea-I just chewed on those horrible bitter roots. It actually worked, my ulcers began improving quickly.
I enjoyed reading through the Firefox books-searching for information about using wild plants for medicinal purposes. Yet, as I listened to the elders of my community share their memories of plant uses, thoughts of the little old lady from the book grew stronger. She seemed to be telling me the old ways are almost gone and I’d better be finding an apron and bonnet for gathering before next summer. Maybe that’s what my wandering mind was saying all along.