Appalachia Appalachian Medicine

Medicinal Plants From Appalachia

Carving pumpkins in appalachia

When my girls were small-one of their favorite books was about a little old lady who went out into the woods to gather plants, seeds, and nuts. Oh the girls didn’t really care about the gathering part-it was the interesting characters the lady ran into along her way that they liked. The title of the book is: The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything written by Linda Williams.

We always thought of the book as a Halloween book-since things kept trying to scare the lady and near the end a scary pumpkin enters the story as well. The girls discovered the book at school when they were in first grade. They enjoyed it so much I ended up buying them a copy-and we still have it.

Once I read it the first time I knew why my little musical girls were drawn to it. The book has a repetitive sing song part that occurs every time the little old lady runs into something new. By the end of the book it goes something like this:

Two shoes go clomp, clomp
One pair of pants go wiggle, wiggle
One shirt go shake, shake
Two gloves go clap, clap
One hat go nod, nod,

Over the past year I’ve been thinking about the little old lady and her gathering ventures. I’m guessing she used much of what she gathered in a medicinal way-at least that’s the way my mind pictured her every time I read the book to the girls.

I recently met a lady, Kim Hainge, who has studied much about medicinal properties of plants that grow wild in Appalachia. It’s a subject I want to know more about.

I learned about the following plants from my Foxfire books and from talking with elders in my community.

Jewelweed in appalachia

Jewelweed grows in a ditch at the bottom of my driveway. Generally the plants grow 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-cause 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. I have also read too much sassafras is a bad thing.

Yellow Root from appalachia

Yellow Root grows along creek banks. It is a low growing shrub like 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, 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 barley 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.

Thoughts of the little old lady from the book have grown stronger as I’ve wondered more about the benefits of plants that grow wild around my house. She seems to be telling me the old ways are almost gone and I better be finding an apron and bonnet for gathering before next summer.



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  • Reply
    November 1, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Teaberry leaves make oil of wintergreen and have many uses.

  • Reply
    November 2, 2014 at 10:11 am

    There are many medicinal herbs & roots that are as effective (and usually safer) as anything from the drugstore. Some that I use: cranberries, garlic, black cohosh, black elderberry, valerian, saint johnswort, coneflower (Echinacea), sage, thyme. Thanks for this post, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    October 29, 2014 at 8:46 am

    How about teaberries? I remember people drinking teaberry tea for aches and pains and I am pretty sure we chewed the berries but didn’t swallow them….probably why I always loved teaberry gum.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2014 at 6:53 am

    My dad swore by wild touch-me-not for poison ivy. I used to find it growing all over WV but I haven’t been able to find it here in SC. Would love to dig up a patch and plant it here at home.
    I have made and been using plantain oil. I had a sore that would not heal. I started putting the oil on it and started seeing results in just a couple of days. And completely healed in a week.
    I agree with Miss Cindy….
    “I am certain that there is a world of healing at our feet if we just knew how to use it.”

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 28, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Tipper the photo of the girls when they were little is so darling and they still are beauties. I wish I had some yellow root, We used to have it growing on the hill about the house until T. dozed the hill off. I have sore gums and nothing is any better than chewing some yellow root.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 28, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I remember my grandmother coming in from the woods with her apron full of leaves and roots. She was sought out for her poultices.
    B. Ruth place the hickory (or as we called them when I was a kid, “hicker” nuts) nut in a vice and tighten. It will split them quite easily.

  • Reply
    October 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    There was a Gentlemen by the name Tommy Bass who lived at SandMountain East of here,, he gathered herbs for medicinal use, we were fortunate enough to buy one of his books before they went out of print.. The Alabama Public Television Station did a show on Tommy a few years before he died, and it was sooo interesting.. Darryl Patton studied I believe under Tommy and he has his own web site and is just as knowledgeable and interesting.. here is his link

  • Reply
    October 28, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Such an interesting group of natural cures! I found this writing very interesting. I’ve seen some of these plants, but never realized their usefulness. Thanks! Oh, I am going to look up that book. Maybe it is still around.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    October 28, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Love your sweet story! I used to drink sassafras tea with my dad and I loved it! I really enjoy hearing about different medicinal plants.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 28, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    To be sung to the tune of #12.
    I’ve been gathering herbs on the hillside,
    To steep into a tea.
    Have I waited too long for this tonic,
    To get rid of what’s been eating me?
    My momma said I better eat right.
    To eat my green beans and peas!
    But I had to have all that good stuff
    Instead of what was good for me.
    I’ll be growing flowers on the hillside
    If this cure don’t work for me.
    It’s not the blooms I’ll be viewing
    But the roots are all I’ll see.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 28, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Way before we had a refrigerator,
    all our milk was kept in the Spring. And it was my job to bring in the milk for dinner and supper. We all drunk coffee for breakfast. But I was fascinated at the Spring busting all the ‘Touch Me Knots” and chewing on Sassafras twigs. More than once someone had to come and get me for taking too long.
    Daddy was the best at finding
    Wild Gensing and he brought back
    pokefuls of berries and planted
    them in the holler. I watched
    and remembered this and today I
    can enjoy seeing what Daddy

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I have always been fascinated by herbal medicine. Enough so to take several courses this is always so interesting.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    October 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    In researching old type medicines such as many of the healing herbs you have mentioned, but one I read about is a white clay called kaolin found in Georgia and used to treat diarrhea. The article I read said kaopectate, an over the counter medicine for diarrhea contains the clay kaolin. However, Kaolin was removed from kaopectate in 2003. Still found in cat & dog medicines.

  • Reply
    Susan Griner
    October 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    We used to identify the sassafras tree by looking for the mitten shaped leaves. We made tea from the roots and sweetened it with sugar and added milk.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Here is another ironic twist…I happen to be reading, “River of Earth” by James Still…1940 novel. I just passed a section where the Mother dug ginseng to try and help her medical problems. The family was just about starving to death back in the mountains of Kentucky…I’d say a bellyful of good food would have helped them as well as the herbs of the woods they used. I do not know how I missed this wonderful book growing up or at least by high school. It’s a’kin to Grapes of Wrath only occurring in the coal mining era of Kentucky! The written dialect is wonderful, what a writer…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    I loved this post today. Although I have purchased Herb books though the years and love to read them, I do not use them on as a routine basis. We did have our Sassafras tea when Mother made it and I have never been able to make it like she did since that time when I was a child. Mine always tastes like old earth, even with honey or such as sweetener! Now I hear that it is dangerous to use it too much.
    When we were up around Cosby, Tn. a few weeks ago, we were constantly seeing little posted signs on the side of the road advertising for the purchase of Ginseng…
    I planted Ginseng here, after visiting a wild plant sale in Knoxville. I had a choice of buying a started plant or seed. I chose both. I planted them in our woods where I though the habitat would be favorable. I haven’t been back there since I had my hip surgery. Well, I could be rich with ginseng by this time. The (professor of wild medicinal plant ology),I just made that up, had the same idea! He told us he had been experimenting with growing his own ginseng and was getting good results!
    I think just eating wild foods are good for the body and soul as well. Blackberries, wild raspberries, dewberries, strawberries, blueberries, mulberries, oersimmons, etc. and on and on. We love morels in the spring too.
    Reminds me…We errr, my husband picked up a huge box of the biggest hickory nuts you ever saw. We have took off the husk and now have them drying. They make my hickory nuts look like marbles in comparison. The Shellbark, I have found that this is a rare or somewhat rare tree of the hickory family, growing in moist loam by a large creek. My source says it takes about 40 years for it to produce fruit/nuts and produces its best at 75 to 200 years. I was going to plant some nuts in wire to keep the squirrels out. It has to stratify for 120 days before planting. In my fridge it might get lost by that time!!!
    They are supposed to be hard to crack…We will see what Kens handy dandy nutcracker will do on these as soon as they dry out good!
    Thanks Tipper,
    loved this post!

  • Reply
    October 28, 2014 at 11:28 am

    As a child always loved sassafras tea, and looked forward to gathering roots with my Mom for tea. This interest has remained with me, and I would occasionally buy a brand once obtained at the grocer called “Pappy’s.” Not certain if they still have it. Sassafras was part of the spring tonic, and research has shown there may be blood thinning and natural detox qualities.
    Spent my life in the health care field, and the more I studied the more I realized they were only promoting chemicals foreign to the body. Chemicals do work and they certainly have their place, and I am so thankful for the advances they have made. I just wish they would promote the natural plants in nature more.
    The medical field is now way too advanced to start over with healing herbs. All efforts to come up with natural cures were ridiculed to a degree. I try to use the best of both worlds. Great blog today, Tipper, and I look forward to more info on medicinal plants.

  • Reply
    Mrs. K.
    October 28, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Interesting post, thanks Tipper.

  • Reply
    Will Dixon
    October 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Tipper, thank you for todays post. I have always had an interest in natural remedies. The only down side to the natural approach is that the amount of medicinal properties per volume of plant material is small.
    That said, Herbal teas will always have a place in my home.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 28, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Sassafras was a big part of my childhood. I don’t remember a year when my father wouldn’t come home with a handful of roots and my Mother would boil up a big pot and put the tea on the refrigerator. We would enjoy it for the time it lasted and looked on it as a treat not a medicine.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 28, 2014 at 8:05 am

    My paternal grandmother, Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer, was a well-known herbalist in our Choestoe community. She had what she called “receipts” (recipes) for various herbal medications and what plant was good for which disease. In her day of practicing herbal medicine (she lived from 1857-1959), doctors were not readily available and her knowledge was welcomed by those in the community who went to her house to get herbal medicines and advice (or to call her as a midwife to deliver a baby). I wish I had Grandmother’s “receipt” file! I don’t know who might have gotten it from her house built by her father in 1850 (and still standing–but the ‘receipt’ book is not there now.)

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 28, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Tipper, when the Deer Hunter was little I made sassafras tea from roots that I dug. It had a very pleasant taste so I just kept drinking it. Yep too much is bad. I got ulcers in my mouth from too much sassafras.
    Originally most of our prescription medicines were derived from plants. I think most of them are now derived from chemical processes.
    I am certain that there is a world of healing at our feet if we just knew how to use it.

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    October 28, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Well Tipper, you seem to be ready to take to the trails and start peddling your home remedies. We sure need to know more about such good medicine – as the cost of store bought items go higher and higher in price.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    October 28, 2014 at 7:28 am

    Tipper, you mentioned pine rosin, and I remember that older folks would use turpentine to relieve symptoms of “rheumatism.” This article describes the use of herbal remedies across the rural south: Self-Treatment with Herbal and Other Plant-Derived Remedies — Rural Mississippi, 1993 (

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