PinnacleCreek left this comment on yesterday’s post about dog days:
“Caught you late, and had to post since you are discussing one of the most mysterious subjects I can remember from childhood. We all loved Indian Summer with the extra chance to get Summer chores done before Winter. Dog days of Summer not so much. We were warned of snakes striking more easily as they were blinded. Also, you did not want to get a wound or it would heal poorly, as more susceptible to dew poisoning. Now I am not sure if I read it in my studies or if it was a leftover from my raising, but I strongly advised all family not to have surgery in those worrisome days we learned to call “dog days.” As a nurse we studied about bacteria and how they favor a warm moist environment. So maybe those old timers were onto something, because the latter part of Summer is hot and sometimes very moist.
Then there were the Fall Sores which I never completely understood. I was told my grandfather got one, and it had to be wrapped daily before he went to work. I never heard the doctors mention fall sores, dog days, nor dew poisoning, and personally felt they should know about all that since most were from Appalachia. I suppose that is something to wonder about another day.”
This is what the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English has to say about Dew Poisoning:
dew poison, dew poisoning noun Sores or a rash on the feet or ankles believed to be caused by contact with the dew. This was more likely to occur in summer (and sometimes said to be confined to the dog days of July and August), but was also known in the spring. One is said to get dew poison by walking through wet grass in the morning.
1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 229 Some of the ailments common in the mountains were new to me. For instance, “dew pizen,” presumable the poison of some weed, which, dissolved in dew enters the blood through a scratch or abrasion. As a woman described it, “Dew pizen comes like a risin’, and laws-a marcy, how it does hurt. My leg swelled up black clar to the knee…I lay on a pallet on the floor for over a month…I’ve seed persons jes’ a lot of sores all over, big as my hand, from dew pizen.” 1939 Hall Coll. Gatlinburg TN Balsam sap [is] good kidney medicine, also good for sores caused by dew poisoning. 1959 Pearsall Little Smoky 154 They take cognizance of vaguely defined maladies like “hives” and “bold hives,” “phthisic” and other “lung fevers,” “dew poison,” “fall sores,” “swelling” and “bloat.” 1960 Hall Smoky Mt Folks 50 St. John’s weeds wet with dew …will cause sores and “risin’s” (dew poisoning) on the skin. 1994 Montgomery Coll. (Cardwell, Ogle, Shields). [1997 King Mt Folks 103 They got sores (the dew was poison in dog days); so they boiled blackberry brier leaves, mixed it with lard to stay on, and put it on the sores.]
A quick look in “Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia” by Anthony Cavender showed this information:
Also known as “dew posioning” and “ground itch,” fall sores are lesions that form on the feet, legs, and arms caused by scratches becoming infected with bacteria. In the past, they were most common during the fall, but they also appeared during the dog days of summer. The Pennsylvania Germans called them “hunspocke” (dog dimples). Since many children went barefoot during the summer and fall, the feet were particularly vulnerable.
Miss Cindy told me her Grandmother cautioned her about getting dew poisoning when she was a girl running around barefooted in the summer.
All my life if Granny had a cut or scratch on her hands or arms she bandaged it up tight before going out into the wet dewy garden for fear of getting dew poisoning.
I asked Granny if children were warned about the dangers of dew poisoning when she was little and she said yes but you only had to worry about it if you had an open cut or sore so it wasn’t so bad. If dew entered the wound it was thought to cause infection.
Pap told me when he was a boy, the old timers said if you had a cut or open sore during the dog days of summer you had to stay out of the dew or you’d get blood poisoning.
Here’s some comments shared by Blind Pig readers in the past about Dew Poisoning.
Lula Mae Vanwinkle: When I was a young adult, we had a new doctor in town that was younger than I was. I got a burning swelling on my big toe and asked my doctor what it could be. He didn’t know at that time, I told him all the older ladies that lived around me said it was dew poisoning. He said he had never heard of it. I was famous for running around bare footed. Any way, later he said to me that he had asked his grannie if she ever heard of dew poisoning and she said, “Of course.” He asked her what caused it and she replied, “Dew does dummy.” I have laughed over that for many a year now, he studied and said there are organisms in the dew that will enter a pore or sore and cause problems. I have had a problem with that toe for all these years and seem to have a fungus under the nail. This was back in the late 60’s, early 70’s. Something to those old sayings. Believe me!
TMC: I got a cut on my foot once and my Mother told me to stay out of the dew until it healed or it would get infected, well I listened for a few days until I got bored and went out into the dew, ended up with one of the worst infections I’ve ever had. Kids listen to your Mother.
Bill Burnett: I had several bouts with sores on my legs when I was a youngster, I never wore shoes after the first of May up until the first frost except to church. My feet would be like leather, I could run barefoot down a gravel road and never feel it but if I was out in damp grass or weed I’d often have these sores on my ankles and lower legs. I’ve heard this condition called impetigo which is caused by a Strep or Staph bacteria but this usually appears on the upper parts of the body on younger children. Maybe it was indeed Dew Pizen.
Larry Proffitt: I had “Fall Sores” on my arms as a child out in the country where we played outside all summer long barefooted from May 1st till school time after Labor Day . Ointments and Creams for topical infections were compounded back in those days of the late 40’s and early 50’s . One of the best prescription ingredients was mostly Sulfadiazene . Most likely we contracted these topical infections from insect bites that we children scratched as needed to the dismay of our parents . The staphylococcus aureous then just spread on the affected limbs . I can remember having both arms covered with bandages and changed daily.
Jim Allen: I know this is very late, but was wondering if y’all are referring to what was called ‘toe itch’ in my small corner of WV. Toe itch was any small cuts usually between the toes, that were supposedly caused by the dew, and were difficult to heal up. Fall sores were skin ulcers (decubitary?) usually covered by gnats. It received a dose of Lysol, or Turpentine. I remember the healed spots that wouldn’t tan showing on feet at the swimming hole. Cure for ‘toe itch’ was an application of the milky sap from broken spurge stems. (I have no idea why it worked)