Appalachian Medicine

Medicine Before Aspirin

collage of photos of a family

“And when my husband was just starting out as a doctor, he was trying to get practice. They used to try, to have to try, you know. And they called him and he went to see this little old lady. He gave her some capsules. And they used to carry their medicine with them. They had a bag, and it was full of soda pills, a lot of it was, you know, to make you think they were giving you something. They didn’t have aspirin. That was before aspirin; can you imagine? Anyway, they’d have a few pills. Well, he gave her some capsules. And you know how they’re put together. Well, her daughter kept saying, “Here, take your medicine. Here’s your medicine.” She wouldn’t take it. And she wouldn’t take it. Finally the daughter asked, “Why don’t you want to take it?” And the little old lady said, “I’m afraid to take them there cartridges. Why, I’d blow up in a minute!”

—Frances C. Cole, 1890 Buncombe County – “Rough Weather Makes Good Timber”


I’m thankful I’ve never had to live in a world without aspirin. Can you imagine having the flu and not having any good way to reduce your fever consistently? A few years back Chatter grew feverfew, which is supposed to be a good natural fever reducer, but we’ve never tried it. I do somehow feel comforted to know it grows in my yard.

Today’s Thankful November giveaway is a used copy of the book “Rough Weather Makes Good Timber” by Patsy Moore Ginns. To be entered in the giveaway leave a comment on this post. *Giveaway ends on Saturday November 23, 2019 .


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  • Reply
    November 23, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Glad we do have Meds to take and relief us, how ever our meds now a days are being miss used, very badly sorry to say. What is th is world coming to.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    Natural healing methods have been overtaken by Big Med and Big Bucks — oftentimes, I think, for the worse. Odd that while money may be the “root” of all evil, that “root” in your backyard may be the answer to good health. My grandmothers were well known for their knowledge of the healing power of plants; they’d make tinctures, salves, and poultices. All of their children were born on their kitchen tables, too. Imagine that.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    November 19, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Some of the older remedies were hard to take, from birth until about eight years old I suffered Asthma, one medicine prescribed consisted of the patient being placed in a crib which was then covered with a blanket then the medicine being lit and placed under the crib to smolder. The medicine was in a can which Mom or Dad would sit on a brick. I can remember thinking the smoke was going to kill me before the Asthma had a chance and fighting to get out. I also have chewed on Willow twig for a headache and toothache, it may have been the placebo effect but it worked to give some relief. If we checked a PDR on most of the Meds and saw all the side effects we would be afraid to even take an aspirin let alone some of the new crap that Big Pharma is pushing to keep their billions of dollars rolling in.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    I listened to a friend who was a Registered Nurse try to gently convince a young woman to give her ailing youngster even a half of a baby aspirin for a fever, and all I could think of was a wonderful thing is it that we HAVE aspirin to take when needed.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 19, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Well I reckon most people don’t want medicine of either kind to work too good. If there were remedies for all our ails it would take away most of our excuses.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    My parents and grandparents had special remedies for most anything that came up. I don’t think any of it was harmful even if it didn’t help. Medications now may help with the condition being treated but it causes all sorts of other problems. Just last week I had to stop one med due to the side effects. My wife is on her 3rd or 4th BP med this year due to recalls over something from China being mixed in them. My grandparents remedies came from the woods and fields around them – not from the other side of the world.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    November 19, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Do y’all have the Hercules Club or toothache tree in your area? I remember using that as a boy for pain such as a toothache. I would love to own Rough Weather Makes Good Timber.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      November 19, 2019 at 4:41 pm

      Kenneth, I believe the Hercules Club only grows naturally out west and none in the east. We have a thorny shrub called Devils Walking Stick but not used for toothache.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    November 19, 2019 at 11:15 am

    When I was little, I had the earache alot. Daddy went into the backroom, pulled our his gemslinger, and peed in a sausage can or something. I couldn’t see nothing for laying on my side, so he poured that stuff in my ear. It was warm and in a little while, I was alright.

    Today, there ain’t no way I’d let anyone do this, but back then folks did what they thought and it’s been over 65 years since I’ve had the earache. My older brothers teased me about being a Pee-brain, but that went away soon, too. …Ken

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      November 19, 2019 at 9:59 pm

      My Daddy didn’t resort to such extremes. He blew cigarette smoke in my ear. It worked! It didn’t help him I’m sure but it relieved my earache.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    November 19, 2019 at 10:37 am

    I’m a bit of a prepper–just try to keep extra on hand. I wish we had someone locally to teach the medicinal plants. I’m scared to do it on my own–it’s hard to be sure just by pictures.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    November 19, 2019 at 10:13 am

    It is so hard to think of the pain our ancestors had to endure. It seems like when I am sick I am also motivated to give more to medical missions. There are people in the world today with no real access to medicine for common diseases.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Oh to discipline myself to lose weight & not eat sugar. Just yesterday my doctor added another pill. PleAse put me in for another book!

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Yes, we have come a long way since the day of the soda capsules. That was a funny story. I remember when groundhog grease was used for ear aches. Every home had some medicines we can’t find any longer and I’m not sure I want to. Syrup Of Black Draught, Castor Oil, Soltice, Fenement, Ben Gay and Alka Seltzer could cure anything! Mom would rather be out of sugar and salt than Turpentine!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    November 19, 2019 at 8:49 am

    You know, that little old lady may have blown up. Sodee does that to some people. Well now on the serious side some people would be better off taking a soda pill than a handful of prescription medicines. There are so many meds. over prescribed such as statins. blood pressure meds and even for diabetes. My younger brother seen his doctor recently and she immediately prescribed diabetes meds because his a1c was high. He told her he would not take it and would handle the problem himself. He has since lost 30 pounds and quit eating sweets and his a1c has dropped to 6. It seems that big pharma wants everybody on something.
    How can we believe anything we are told. Eat eggs, don’t eat eggs, drink coffee, don’t drink coffee. I settled that for myself. I eat eggs and drink coffee.
    Tipper, I never tried feverfew but have used willow bark pills and they do work. As a boy I chewed the bark fresh of the tree.

    • Reply
      Garland Davis
      November 19, 2019 at 10:25 am

      Syrup of Black-Draught is available on the internet. It was my Granny’s go-to when little boys were overly mischievous.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 8:43 am


    I love reading the excerpts from books from the past you offer your readers. I have purchased so many books you have featured and have two book shelves packed with the most wonderful reading materials one can imagine. I went on line after you posted an excerpt from from Rough Weather Makes Good Timber and could not find a copy. I would love to add the book to my collection.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 19, 2019 at 8:14 am

    This post reminds me of what Dr. Oz was talking about yesterday morning. He was talking about a very large international study that showed diet and exercise changes were as effective as bypass surgery and stints. Our ancestors had an active lifestyle working for them much more than most of us do. For my part, I would want to know if there was an alternative to medicine and/or surgery.

  • Reply
    Colleen Holmes
    November 19, 2019 at 7:17 am

    I too am thankful for aspirin. The Indians boiled the bark of aspen trees for medicine. Love the cartridge story.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    November 19, 2019 at 7:06 am

    Good post….I feel a Bryson City trip comin on this morning…

  • Reply
    Terry Stites
    November 19, 2019 at 6:56 am

    Tipper, the cookbook came! I sat down and went through the whole thing. I loved the recipes that want you to add whatever ingredients “til it looks right”. Just like my granny taught me. Thank you again and have a beautiful holiday season.

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 6:55 am

    It is amazing how far medicine has come over the years, but also puzzling how they have deliberately left herbal treatment and home remedies far behind. Every medicine cabinet had Vicks Salve and Castor Oil, and some even had the mystery cure all called Hadacol. Springtime you always had fresh wild greens for health after a long Winter. Dad kept Stanback in his lunch pail for migraines. Simple but effective! I love seeing your girl’s interest in herbs, because they have so many healing properties overlooked by modern medicine. One of my favorite books is on alternative medicine and herbs.
    Up until the age of 10 we lived in a coal camp, and I can remember the ole company doctor coming to the home in the 1940s. Penicillin was the cure all for infections, and you either got a big shot of penicillin or a few penicillin pills that he gave you. I had a terrible earache once, and ole Doc Bennett came right to our house late one night while making rounds right in the neighborhood. Mom usually heated an iron and wrapped it in a big towel to rest against my ear. Doc Bennett delivered babies also, and his name appears on numerous death certificates I study for genealogy. When did he sleep? As always, Tipper, your posts make me ponder things. This morning I am wondering how families went from many herbal treatments to a medical industry so big and flawed that it sends families into bankruptcy. We have made so many steps forward, but in the process we have also overlooked many natural healers.

  • Reply
    Rebecca Carpenter
    November 19, 2019 at 6:47 am

    I’m new to your post and really enjoy it! I do rural health presentations, so today’s post is especially interesting. Thank you!

  • Reply
    November 19, 2019 at 6:37 am

    and before antibiotics too!

  • Reply
    Tammy Howard
    November 19, 2019 at 6:33 am

    I’m a nurse and have found that often the simplest is the best.

  • Reply
    Dr. Deborah Maxey
    November 19, 2019 at 6:28 am

    I grew up hearing similar fears about Western medicine. My grandmother used tobacco chaw, for skin irritations, pine rosin for something I can’t recall, and even ear wax for fever blisters She stopped short on uri e in the ear for earaches, and used warm sweet oil and glycerin instead. Her friends were convinced the world would blow up when Sputnik landed on the moon. The old ways were the safe ways. The lady in this story may not have had irrational fears. The placebo was not real medicine but an experiment. I love that she declined.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 19, 2019 at 5:20 am

    We’ve made so much progress in medicine since soda pills I can’r help but wonder what is next! Just a couple of days ago I heard that very soon all surgeries will be done by robots. Can you imagine that?

    • Reply
      aw griff
      November 19, 2019 at 7:04 am

      That’s scary. Can you imagine a computer glitch in a robot?

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        November 19, 2019 at 10:25 am

        Or Russian hackers?

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