Medicinal Remedies Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Beadwood Tea?

Witch Hazel leaves

In one of the recent passages I read in my “Dorie Woman of the Mountains” series, Dorie said her mother gave her beadwood tea to see if she was in true childbirth labor. The thought was that if the pain went away after drinking the tea, which was a pain reliever, it was not true labor.

I’m still wondering about beadwood tea.

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has this to say about it:

beadwood noun The Chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach), the bark of which is used in making a poultice, a medicinal tea, and a dye.

1937 Hall Coll (Catons Grove TN) [Home-made clothes were] colored with bark. Take bark [of one of several trees] and bile it: beadwood, chestnut, oak, hickory and walnut. Ibid. (Upper Cosby Creek TN) To cure blood poison, use catnip and beadwood bark biled together and made into a poultice for blood pizen. 1992 Bush Dorie 114 Just to be sure she was right, she gave me a cup of beadwood tea to drink. 1998 Montgomery Coll = the bark was used to make beadwood tea, which was used by women for nerves and the cramping, aching feeling present at childbirth (Bush).

(Note the dictionary used a quote from Dorie)

The Dictionary of American Regional English has this to say:

beadwood n chiefly wNC Cf bead bush n

witch hazel n (here: Hamamelis virginiana).

1898 Watauga Democrat (Boone NC) 28 July [2]/4, Then with said line up the branch 10 poles to a bunch of beadwood bushes. 1913 Jackson Co. Jrl. (Sylva NC) [8 Aug 2]/1, First Tract. Beginning on a bead-wood bush in branch, R. A. Nicholson’s corner, and runs thence South to a lynn in Bill Wood’s line. 1937 Hall Coll. eTN, To cure blood poison, use catnip and beadwood bark boiled together and made into a poultice. 1961 in 1974 Miller News Pigeon Roost 12 Oct nwNC, It is reported that the most kind of the one herb that has been collected here for the Bontanical [sic] market this season that is now closing appears to be the beadwood (witch hazel) leaves. 1966 DARE (Qu. BB50d, . . A spring tonic) Inf NC30, Bead-wood tea. 1971 Morning News (Wilmington DE) 24 Sept 21/8, A North Carolina native, brought up on a farm, he lived in Virginia for several years before moving to Maryland. . . The “divining rod,” he says, is a matter of choice. He prefers beadwood but settles for peach because “you can’t find beadwood around here.” 1993 in 1998 Cooper–Cooper Pond Mountain 170 nwNC, Then I had an uncle that, as I’s growing up in Wilkes County, that’s all he did for a living. He would pull beadwood leaves, gather star root. Beadwood grows up here, also. 2003 Appalachian Jrl. 30.291 nwNC, And then the witch hazel. Now we was teached to call it beadwood. Its seed on it looked like a bead, kind of. And the beadwood bark, here’s something now, with me. I had a fever blister on my lip some years ago. . . There was a beadwood bush up there. I’d never known no people in the mountains a using it for nothing. It’ll draw in your mouth. ‘I’m gonna chew me some of it.’ It cured that fever blister well in three days.

The dictionaries are obviously talking about two different things. I’m leaning toward thinking the second entry is correct and beadwood is witch hazel, although I have nothing to base that feeling on and am probably wrong 🙂

Please share any thoughts or information you may have related to the beadwood tea Dorie’s mother made for her.


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  • Reply
    Kim Smith
    March 22, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    Gardenerdycom has a good article on the Chinaberry tree. My old grandma knew every plant around her and everything about every plant. She knew what was edible and how to prepare foraged food, and made plasters, teas, cough syrups, and every mild food for convalescing people and could set, wrap, and heal broken bones and burns and bring babies safely into the world. She could stop whooping cough from strangling a child by giving ipecac. She had a natural healing gift. She told me not to touch the Chinaberries because they would make me throw up or get “the squirts” if I did. Some kids would collect and paint and string the dried up berries and make necklaces.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    March 22, 2022 at 4:58 pm

    For one – I didn’t know witch hazel came from a tree. For two – I would never drink witch hazel. I agree with Peggy, who said God put everything on this earth for us to use. I enjoyed reading Ed Ammons comment about how they use to use poisonous plants, and now we have synthetic medicines. My humble opinion is the poisonous plants were probably safer and more effective than the chemicals we use today. But I am probably just biased in my opinion as I have super sensitivities to most medications, so I have to turn to old fashioned remedies to help me when needed. Most of the time, I confess, I just don’t do anything – I live with a headache, or stuffy nose, etc. I do eat ginger snaps for a hurting tummy, apply coconut oil topically for pain relief, and honey as a topical antibiotic, however. I enjoyed this post! I am still scratching my head over drinking witch hazel, though.

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 22, 2022 at 2:20 pm

    I’m thinking what might have happened was the name “beadwood” for the native witch hazel got transferred to the exotic chinaberry when it showed up, at least in some parts of the witch hazel range. I just checked USDA Plants data base again for the native witch hazel. I was surprised to find it occurs in each state east of a line from Minnesota to Louisiana plus also in Texas and Oklahoma. That theory, if true, would mean that DSME could be correct, though confusing. The “beads” of China berry would be the berries.

    There is a woodland plant, white clintonia, which grows in Appalachia and also has the common name “bead lily” because it has dark blue bead-like seeds.

    Anyway, the confusion is the reason why, in some circles, it is a “no-no” to use common names for plants. I am not a purist myself. One good reason is because the ‘unchanging’ scientific names I learned a good while ago have since been changed. That ought to keep the purists a bit humble I think.

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    March 22, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    I’ve never heard of beadwood. We have China berry trees here in eastern NC. We’ve always called them chany ball trees. Most people would have them in their chicken yards and dog pens. The leaves repel fleas and lice.

  • Reply
    Brad Byers
    March 22, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    Every time we traveled to Franklin, NC for a visit with our friends, we saw Chinaberry trees along the roadsides. I didn’t know what they were, and around the 4th of July they looked like bunches of grapes growing on trees.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 22, 2022 at 12:14 pm

    Tipper, I tried to do some searching on beadwood, beadwood Tea and The Blind Pig and the Acorn kept coming up. You seem to be the go to place for all things Appalachian…..I think it’s wonderful….You go girl!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 22, 2022 at 12:06 pm

    Ain’t it odd that we wonder that our ancestors used poisonous plants to make medicine and how much things have advanced. Nowdays we get our medicine in pills, capsules or by poking a hole in our arms and squirting it inside our body. No more are the poultices, tonics and teas our grandmas made us take without question. Now we are fully informed by five pages of printed material that not even the pharmacist can explain. All we know is TAKE EXACTLY AS PRESCRIBED OR YOU WILL DIE!

  • Reply
    March 22, 2022 at 11:44 am

    My mother’s family in eastern North Carolina had lots of chinaberry trees in the yard. I used to play under them, and I liked to handle the fruit in the spring when they were smooth and green. My parents carefully told me not to eat the berries, or leaves. I agree with you, that the plant that Dory’s mother used was probably witch hazel which has many medicinal uses. I have never seen witch hazel growing; I have used the extract to ease the itch of many bug bites.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Sorry, no help from here. I know where several witch hazels grow and notice their blooms in cold weather but don’t remember what the tea was for. Makes me wish I had paid more attention to the generation that is gone. The only use I see for it now is a liquid used as an astringent.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2022 at 9:49 am

    I have never heard of this tea. My comment has more to do with the Chinaberry tree. My grandparents had 2 of these trees in their yard but they have been gone for many years. The only Chinaberry tree I know of now is at the back of the parking lot at the Anderson Jockey Lot near Williamston, SC. It may no longer be there. It seems like most of the old home places would have at least one in their yard. I now wonder if these trees were there for medical purposes. Now these trees, at least in my area, are another thing of the past.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 22, 2022 at 8:53 am

    I agree with you Tipper. According to the online USDA Plants Database, China berry occurs in only one TN county; Union, north of Knox County the county of Knoxville. If that is the only county now, in Dorie’s time there should not have been any chinaberry in Tennessee. Even in Georgia chinaberry shows up in mid-state now rather than in the mountains. (Plants database is not necessarily accurate down to the county level.)

    I had never heard of witch hazel being called beadwood. I’m guessing maybe that name derives from the ‘bead-like’ seed capsules. Those capsules have a funny little trick. They open when the humidity is low; that is, dry air, and they ‘shoot’ the seed out ten feet or more. If you cut limbs with seed capsules and bring them inside and let them dry out, you will get to hear them, maybe sometime way over in the night.

    I guess all of us know witch hazel was once the original after shave, being both soothing and astringent. It is mostly replaced now but the Henry Thayer Company of Easton, CT still makes it and it can be found at GNC stores.

    I wish I had a witch hazel to plant here for their yellow strap-like bloom in November. And I could make myself some beadwood tea as well.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      March 22, 2022 at 11:54 am

      The place I retired from about 8 years ago sold witch hazel, styptic pencils and cup soap. I don’t remember us selling the cups and brushes though. And no straight razors either.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2022 at 8:31 am

    That was interesting. I never heard of a lot of those remedies.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    March 22, 2022 at 8:16 am

    My granddad, Nick Byers used to boil red oak bark for tea I believe. Ans sassafras. He also used a little plant we called Lion; Tongue for something.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2022 at 8:03 am

    How interesting! God put everything we need here on this earth He made, we just don’t know how to use everything!

  • Reply
    Margie G
    March 22, 2022 at 7:39 am

    I got no idea what beadwood is but it MUST be found out! One must wonder what happened to NATURAL treatments and cures. Then the immediate second thought is that pharmacopoeia actually means magic arts and is about money and NOT people or living organisms. Then the next thought becomes what happened to my natural herd immunity and cures that worked on every ailment for thousands of years? I’m busted and disgusted when it comes to pill taking and doctor shopping…. it’s a racket!

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