Appalachian Food Seasons

Spring Tonics in Appalachia


Lots of folks believe in taking a spring tonic to jump start your body after a long winter of being cooped up indoors eating a diet lacking in fresh vegetables. The blood was thought to thicken and get sluggish in the winter months. Spring tonics were thought to thin the blood and make it more vibrant.

Probably the most common spring tonic is to simply eat a big bait of fresh greens. Other tonics include molasses and sulfur, yellowroot, sassafras tea, castor oil, and more!

In my latest video I’m talking about spring tonics.

Hope you enjoyed the video! Did you or do you take a spring tonic?


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  • Reply
    June 6, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    My family is from Sicily, when they first moved to Toronto, Canada in 1948 they survived on foraging in their neighbourhood….dandelion, wild asparagus, wild spinach, plantain and other “weeds”. They were used to foraging. When in need eat the weeds!
    Great website and vids.

  • Reply
    Tracy G Bruring
    April 18, 2021 at 6:43 am

    I love sassafras tea. I remember walking the woods outside Matewan WV with my granny hunting the roots. I am trying to get it to grow here in N TX but I have not had luck so far.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    April 11, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    My mother Miss Julie would take me all over the yard gathering wild salad as she called it(spring tonic) she would gather briar leaves snd dock and sheep sheer to just remember a fewThis was so sweet good boiled then fried ind bacon grease. She would gather poke and boil snd scramble eggs in it so good. Oh I am so homesick for my Moutain NC home. I hold no love for Texas.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    I don’t remember taking any of these tonics. I do remember something called Vem Herb or Erb and it seems like there was something called Black Drought and Geritol. There was something mother would give to us that tasted good to me, but I don’t remember the name. I really don’t know what the above medicines were supposed to be good far. Those names may not be correct but they were similar to those names

  • Reply
    April 7, 2021 at 12:31 pm

    I remember that exact explanation. Sassafras actually is a mild blood thinner. We always gathered wild greens with the neighbors in the Spring. I love them still today. Many many years, but I can still taste that cod liver oil in cod fish. Not seen a lot anymore, but it seemed everybody had a big bottle of Pepto Bismol for all stomach ailments.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    April 7, 2021 at 11:16 am

    Castor oil with a spoonful of Apple butter chaser! Also poke salad and sassafrass tea were given in spring in the coalfields of Va. I am not sure why we were given linament mixed with sugar and water….still hate that smell!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 7, 2021 at 9:57 pm

      Blair sold a white liniment that we mixed a tablespoon into a glass of water. I don’t remember what it was supposed to do but it was made to take orally and actually made a pretty good drink. Blair also sold a red liniment that was for cuts and scraps. That stuff burned like fire when we had to have it.

      • Reply
        Lisa Hege
        April 8, 2021 at 11:14 am

        Was the red liniment called Red Oil? My spuse is in the printing profession and swears by it for paper cuts and what not.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    April 7, 2021 at 10:59 am

    Sassafras was our tonic. Mother would make a large pot and we all drank until t was gone.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    April 7, 2021 at 10:55 am

    In the Virginia Blue Ridge, land cress–”creesy sallit”–is one of the earliest greens, growing spontaneously in last year’s cornfields.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2021 at 10:53 am

    I could sure use a Spring Tonic this year.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 7, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Mama told us about being given a big tablet she thought was called “Callitabs”. It was a violent laxative and they tried to avoid it. Mama and her sister, Aunt Gladys, begged to go out on the front porch and take it out there. Aunt Gladys tried to hide hers out on the porch but of course their parents came out to check up on them and found it immediately.

    Mama had a spell of sickness where she was delirious for a time and as she came to to herself, she heard her Uncle Percy saying that she was going to get a big dose of castor oil and her aunt saying, “Hush, Perce!”

    Castor oil was still used fairly recently! My first intestinal exam was preceded by a dose of castor oil followed by a dose of Black Draught. This was quite an experience!

  • Reply
    April 7, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Yes, I remember all the spring tonics my parents gave us. I ran, cried, threatened and begged when the time came to line up. I’m not sure what some of the terrible tasting stuff was used for. The sassafras tea tasted good compared to some of the other blood thinners, worm treatments and something equivalent to modern day colon cleanse. Castor oil, cod liver oil, syrup of black drought, sugar and turpentine and several others should have warnings about the life-long trauma their use can cause children.
    I recently searched the web for a home remedy to rid my lawn of moles or voles. Most commercial treatments include castor oil and pure castor oil is thought to be highly effective. I don’t doubt that for a minute!

  • Reply
    Margie G
    April 7, 2021 at 8:43 am

    I have to say you look especially radiant and pretty in this video! I heard of poke salad which is greens with bacon grease and ramps are big further north in WV. I am convinced when the “authorities” tell something is bad, it must be a real super food like eggs as one example. Sassafras tea is not going to kill you. I watched a deer eat my sassafras tree and he’s alive and well. I like those trees cause their leaves look like mittens! I liked the sassafras poem too!!! Have a great day all of you bloggers of BP&A!!! It’s a day the Lord has made and I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!!!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 7, 2021 at 8:14 am

    We never had a spring tonic by that name. Rather gathering wild greens was the tradition as soon as greenup got going. Because they cook down so much Mom would take a dishpan and gather it full. That took awhile and required wandering around all over. I don’t remember all the names and the plants we gathered. Among them was ‘blue cecil’ (lyre-leaved sage), dandelion, “creeseys” (cress) and if course poke salad. We gathered something that had a pink tinge to the root also but I forget what we called it.

    My Grandma would dig mayapple root, wash it, pack it loosely in a quart jar and fill the jar with water. It was not a spring tonic really, at least not called that. She said it was good for the kidneys. She kept it in the refrigerator.

    Maybe all those things we did; mixed greens, poke salad, birch bark, chewing sassafrass twigs and so on were a version of tonic. At any rate I expect we got something from them we needed after not having had fresh leafy vegetables for some months.

  • Reply
    Wanda E starcher
    April 7, 2021 at 7:07 am

    Good morning Tipper! Here in the hills of Wesr Virginia ramps are also considered a spring tonic.

  • Reply
    Karen Flam
    April 7, 2021 at 7:05 am

    I remember making sassafras tea as a kid.

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    April 7, 2021 at 6:56 am

    Hey Tipper, I heard that rooster crowing. That’ll get you going. And that castor oil will get you going in many ways, mostly to the little house out back. The kids all got going like your Granny did – by running from the big spoon of Castor oil that our Mothers held out in a big spoon. ….I wonder if anyone remembers Hadacol (sp) which was purported to put a spring in your step.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 7, 2021 at 9:10 am

      I remember my Daddy talking about Hadacol. He pronounced it /had-uh-call/. He said they didn’t have a name for it at first but they “had a call” it something so they called it Hadacol.

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