Body and Soul
(page 3 of 5)
REMEDIES AND CURES OF THE OLD WEST
From Bloodletting to Willow Bark
Common in Old West treatments were bloodletting, purging, blistering and sweating, and other extreme treatments, believed to flush out toxins and infections from the body. Faced with cures that often failed or were worse than the actual ailment, calling the doctor was a last resort for many people. Besides, the nearest physician might live many miles away, his fee could be far too expensive and his remedies were often no better than home treatments that used natural items from around the farm. Home cures were often found in word-of-mouth advice that suggested using common materials from the homestead, such as turpentine, kerosene lard, coal oil, cobwebs, tobacco and even farm animal dung.
One remedy for a cough and sore throat was to simmer a piece of salt pork in hot vinegar, let it cool, and fasten it around the neck with a piece of red flannel. Measles and other eruptive diseases were treated with a dose of “nanny tea,” which was sheep dung steeped in boiling water. For a wound, a slightly used chew of tobacco was applied and bound in place, which was thought to draw out the poison.
In the middle of the 19th century, “patent medicines” gained widespread favor in the U.S. These vegetable-based concoctions didn’t require a prescription, even though they were frequently high in alcohol, or fortified with morphine, opium or cocaine. These medicines may not have cured anything but they undoubtedly made the patient feel better.
But in the midst of all these somewhat questionable kitchen remedies of the Old West, 19th-century Americans began to take their cue from the Native American and traditional Chinese healers and began to make skillful use of the natural medicine available to them. Moss, bark, leaves, sap, roots and various berries were brewed into teas, mixed into poultices or crushed into powders. Nature’s bounty was a trusted remedy for what ailed them, a practice still seen today each time we eat a bowl of hot chicken soup for a cold or flu, or drink chamomile tea to calm anxiety and settle the stomach.
In fact, many herbal remedies from the Old West have made their way into the present day—too many to name—but some of the more familiar ones include the following items listed here. - Patti Murphy