Appalachia Appalachian Medicine Folklore

Medicinal Remedies From Appalachia

Appalachia is a haven for superstitions, wives tales, and down right kooky advice on the subject of medicine. From putting an ax under the bed of a sick person to cut the pain, to gargling something as poison as kerosene to burn out your tonsils. The medical folklore ranges from helpful to dangerous. Especially fascinating to me are the plants used in the remedies that grow in my yard.


This is Bloodroot, one of my favorite wildflowers. The small Daisy like flowers appear first, then seemingly over night all the petals fall off. A few days later the leaves appear. The leaves are fairly large and scalloped. I think the leaves are as pretty as the white flowers.


You can see the reddish orange juice that is in the stems and roots. The juice was placed on a lump of sugar and used as a cough drop. The roots, sometimes called “she-roots”, were dried and ground into a powder to be used for female ailments, burns, coughs and colds.


The first spring after The Deer Hunter and I moved into our house, Pap and I went up the creek and got several little hemlocks to plant in my yard. This is the lone survivor of that day 11 years ago. The tree is over 12 foot tall now. Hemlock needles were brewed to make a tea for treating coughs and colds.

Trailing arbutus or gravel weed

This is Trailing Arbutus it grows along the bank behind my house. In the spring it has tiny white pink flowers that smell amazing and literally perfume the whole yard. The leaves were used to make a tea to aide in relieving kidney stones.


Wild Violets grow everywhere around my house, in the yard, in the woods and even in the rocks. A very prolific wildflower. The roots were used to make a tea which was used as a fever reducer.

Some of the more wacky cures I’ve heard of:

Spider webs could be used to stop bleeding or swallowed for asthma

For feet cramps turn shoes upside down before going to sleep

To remove a sty from your eye-rub a black cats tail over it

For a headache- tie a flour sack over your head (for some reason I have the urge to try that one), or bury your hair after your next hair cut and you’ll never have a headache again

For a black widow spider bite drink liquor heavily from 3 p.m. till 7 p.m. (alright- can’t you just imagine who came up with that one-The Deer Hunter said he might get bit on purpose just for the cure)

I’m sure you’ve used some type of home remedy for an ailment or maybe your grandparents did? Please leave a comment I’d love to hear about it.


p.s. My research came from The Foxfire series number 1 & 11.

This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in May of 2008.



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  • Reply
    Mamie Scott
    November 13, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Yes Sheryl the spider web for stopping bleeding works. A lot of medicines had their birth in natural sources For example digitalis is found in fox glove.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    November 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I remember all sorts of herbs that my parents told of to cure ailments…Dad believed in Comphrey for kidney stones…
    Mom made sassafras tea on a regular basis…Soda for bee stings or cut potato..kerosene for rusty nail puncture dips…
    vinegar for poison ivy..and brownpaper for headache…hummm… I think that was from Mark Twain…cloves for toohache, wet and rolled around with a cotton tip on a toothpick and put in the bad tooth…
    I can’t think of more…it is too late in the evening…Oh, and the dreaded hot salt water gargle for sore throat…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    November 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    I use ginger tea or gingerale for motion sickness…and survived 2 kids and multiple kids who barf otherwise everytime they were in a car. LOL A friend of mind told me that you can make a balm from violet leaves for eczema and psoriasis. Works pretty good for eczema according to the gal I made some up for. I make cough syrup by chopping up a raw onion fine and covering it with honey overnight. My husband swears by it now. (and believe it or not, it doesn’t taste nasty either). For an extremely persisten cough use garlic with or in place of the onion. Those are some of the bounty recipes that I feel the earth shares with me and mine.

  • Reply
    Patricia Page
    November 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    My grandma who lived near Marble (actually Coalville) had a “surefire” remedy for warts.
    She took 7 leaves from 7 different trees and rubbed on the wart-then buried them under a rock known only to her. When the leaves decayed the wart was gone. They of course did not know that a virus was the culprit, but hey It worked for me one time when I was about 10. She claimed she got it from her great grandma who was known as a “wildcrafter”. Everyone in the community went to her for garden variety health concerns (no pun intended).

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    November 26, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Love this post!!!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I have heard that if one wants thicker and longer hair, rinsing in grapevine juice was the sure-fire remedy. When I was a teenager, my cousins and I used to spend hours chopping and draining the vines hoping our hair would grow long like Cher’s. LOL! Don’t know if it’s genes or the grapevine liquid, but I have always had enough hair for two people.
    Did anyone else ever have to be held down while your parents poured groundhog grease in your aching ears? I soon learned to hide my pain to avoid the horrible ordeal. Wonder if CPS would call that child abuse in this day and time.

    • Reply
      March 25, 2021 at 9:58 pm

      Shirla, my granny also used groundhog grease for an earache, it worked! Also she used for croup and fevers. You rubbed the grease under your arm pits and on your chest to break up a cold & fever. I miss her so much!

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    November 26, 2012 at 10:38 am

    When we have colds around here, we drink the broth off cooked onions. My Granny told me about this several years ago. You put as much salt as you can stand in the broth and it really seems to help especially if you have a sore throat.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Fat back meat bound to a “risin”, (it did work), whiskey on a teaspoon of sugar for coughing, kerosene to soak wounds, blow smoke in ear for earache, P.. in ear for earache, on feet for athletes foot, I think the worst one was the tea enema for pinworm which I have personally experienced.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2012 at 9:35 am

    A piece of fat-back can be used to draw out a boil. I guess this works by softening the skin to encourage draining. Sorry to those that may have just eaten breakfast. Sassafras tea used for “blood purifier”, and wild greens are sometimes used for a spring tonic.
    Most medication is a chemical foreign to the body and with side effects, so much better if one can find a workable natural remedy.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    November 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Fascinating information, but I think I will just tuck it away for now. My dad used to use a combination of brown soap and sugar, making a paste, and putting it on an infection to withdraw the pus from a cut or even use it to withdraw a splinter. Brown soap is harder to find these days, but it was in many households when I was a child.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    November 26, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Gargling with kerosene sounds scary, but our grandparents would put a drop of “coal oil” (which I think is like kerosene) or turpentine on a lump of sugar for a cough. I can vaguely remember having one. Don’t know if it worked but it seems reasonable. Didn’t taste too bad either.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2012 at 8:47 am

    One plant that grows here is mullein. It is a tall stately plant – mine grew to over 6 feet tall. It has a head of yellow flowers at the top of the stalk. It can be used for respiratory aliments, especially congestion and dry bronchial coughs like bronchitis. Native Americans used to smoke it as a tobacco substitute. A dropper full of tincture every 4 hours while ill in a little warm water is the recommended dosage.
    Another use for the leaves is for toilet paper while hiking. I like the benefit it brings as a soil conditioner too. It loves hard useless clay and it drills the dirt with it’s long, strong tap root. It takes 2 years to bloom and after that it is gone forever, but the soil is much improved.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    November 26, 2012 at 8:16 am

    My dear Grandmother Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer was a mountain “herbal doctor.” She had “receipts” (recipes) for nearly every remedy known and practiced using native plants, barks, leaves, herbs, and even some superstitions! I wish I knew what happened to her little “doctor’s case” where she kept her “receipts” and what-was-good-for-what-ailed-you.

  • Reply
    November 26, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Ed-yes it should be : ) I fixed it!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 26, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Daddy used to talk about “The great and the grand eccliasiatical pendicural nervous cordial that cured all diseases incidental to the human body.” I don’t know exactly what he was referring to but I’ll bet it was good for all manner of snake and insect bites. Maybe even monkey bites too!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 26, 2012 at 7:45 am

    The Black Widow treatment sounds a little like a favorite of many called a Texas Snake-bite Kit, it consists of a quart of good white liquor and a toe sack with a couple of Rattlesnakes just in case you can’t find any snakes while out wandering in the woods hunting or just knocking around.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 26, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Wives tails? Shouldn’t that be tales? Oh, forget it! You’re right! And most of them are forked to match their tongues!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Though some of these remedies seem ridiculous they are the beginnings of the pharmaceutical industry. Wrap you head around that then look at how rich those companies are now. Seems like every one I know is taking 10 prescription medications daily!
    I’ll end my comments here cause you really don’t want to hear my opinion of the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 26, 2012 at 6:21 am

    I always love this type of post. But, you should know the spider web cure for bleeding works. The rest? Don’t know, remember hearing about many of them though.

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