Appalachian Medicine

Sulfur and Molasses

spring-tonic

spring tonic noun A home medicine taken in early spring and purported to purge the system and thicken the blood. It most often consists of sulfur and molasses, sometimes with whiskey or an herb such as ginseng added.
See also sulfur and molasses.
1982 Powers and Hannah Cataloochee 256 Spring tonic: One teacup of molasses, three tablespoons of sulphur. Stir and take some for spring tonic. 1992 Cavender Folk Hematology 28 During the spring a “spring tonic” was necessary to “thin” the blood and, more importantly, to cleanse or “purify” the blood of the impurities or poison accumulated during the winter. In fact, cleansing the blood of waste materials serves to “thin” the blood as well since the waste material is the thickening agent. 1997 Andrews Mountain Vittles 4 Early spring here in the Valley in ever’ cabin we young uns could always count on our grandmas and mother to line up up and give us a spoonful of their own special remedy . . . spring tonic.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English
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I’ve never taken a spring tonic of any sort, but seeing the mountains come alive with color each spring is a sure enough tonic for my body and soul.

Tipper

Appalachian Cooking Class details

Come cook with me!

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Quinn
    April 12, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    When we were kids, we were served up what I guess might be the winter equivalent of a spring tonic. It was a product called “Father John’s Medicine” and it came in a brown bottle with an orange label. It wasn’t a bad taste but it was distinctive! I think the general idea was that it would keep us from getting colds, or getting sick – I’m not sure, exactly. Many years later, I suddenly remembered it and looked for information about it – before the internet! – and discovered that I could special-order it from the drugstore. The two ingredients I recall were cod liver oil and licorice.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 11, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks Mr. Ammons for the mention of SSS Tonic. I remember it. It had ‘a world of good(?) things’ (as Beatrice Foods says). But the only one I remember was black cherry bark. As best I recall, if the idea that the worst a medicine tastes the more good it does is true, SSS Tonic would do you quite a bit of good.

    Every time I think of tonic I remember a story I read about some kids who had to take a yearly spring dose. Their Mom made it and it was awful. One year they decided the way to get out of it was to make it so bad their Mom couldn’t stand to taste test it and they knew if she couldn’t she wouldn’t give it to them. So on the sly they loaded it up with a rusty tin can, dirty socks, mustard powder, hot pepper, maybe kerosene and other similarly stomach-turning things. Alas, their Mother got a funny look but she choked it down and declared it to be a wonderfully strong batch. “Line up,” she ordered…… They never doctored the tonic again.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 11, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    We never used sulfur and molasses, but I know others did. Dad always gave us red linament or lighting hot drops for what ever ailed us. a spoonful in glass of water sweetened with sugar.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    April 11, 2019 at 11:28 am

    I don’t know what it was called but my Granny would dose us periodically with some vile tasting concoction. She also held the belief that she could “work the meanness out of little boys by giving us a strong laxative when we had violated one of her many rules. She was right on that one. After her laxative had worked, little boys were too weak to get into any mischief.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    April 11, 2019 at 10:39 am

    We, my brothers and sisters took a tonic each Spring. I don’t know exactly what it contained, but I do know it contained molasses.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    April 11, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I sure don’t want to take nothing to thicken my blood. As kids we were given some kind of liquid. You could also rub it on you. It worked. If you had a belly ache or sore , pulled muscle.

  • Reply
    Dee
    April 11, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I do remember faintly my mother talking about spring tonics they were given as children and Black Drought was one of them. When my father was in his 40’s, doctors said he was allergic to sulfur and it made me wonder if my grandmother gave him too much of that stuff. Both my grandmothers believed in giving that spring tonic and they raised a lot of children without a problem so maybe it worked for them.

  • Reply
    judy
    April 11, 2019 at 9:55 am

    What about sassafras teas? my family used it every spring.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    April 11, 2019 at 9:12 am

    ‘Suffer’ was used for a lot of things back in the day. Maybe I was fed the concoction and just don’t remember it. However, I will never ever forget Syrup Of Black Drought (droth). I was forced to take a spoonful for whatever health reason I can’t remember. The dose was given when someone caught me or I got tired of running and finally came home.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 11, 2019 at 8:36 am

    The onliest tonic I ever took was S.S.S. Tonic and Geritol. We did have to take cod liver oil when we were little too but it was in capsule form not a tonic. My parents were fairly modern when it came to vitamins and medicines .

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    April 11, 2019 at 8:27 am

    Mama talked about some pills they were routinely given in spring that she thought were called “Callitabs”. it was basically a purgative and her sister tried to hide hers but of course she was found out and had to take it anyway!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 11, 2019 at 7:46 am

    I’m pretty much in Bill Burnett’s camp. I love molasses, especially the blackstrap kind which is full of iron, but sulfur can ruin that in a hurry. Grandma Minnie was a great believer in sulfur and molasses. Grandpa Joe’s thinking was more to my liking. He preferred a mess of poke sallet. “They’ll both set you free,” (do your own interpretation) he reckoned, “but a bait of polk and cornbread is fine fixin’s.”

    Incidentally, ramps will set you free as well, and if you eat them raw, you’ll likely be free of human companionship for two or three days unless they eat ramps as well.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 11, 2019 at 7:43 am

    I’ve never taken a tonic like the ones mentioned and I would wonder why folks thought they needed a tonic and why they thought their blood had gotten thick through the winter. Perhaps folks thought that when they were less active through the winter that resulted in thicker blood, in the same way molasses gets thicker when the weather is cold.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 11, 2019 at 6:56 am

    I remember being given cod liver oil. Afyer throwing it up a few yi.es along with what ever else was in my stomach it stopped

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 11, 2019 at 6:22 am

    There used to be (may still be) a patent medicine called “Indian River Tonic” that my Dad was a firm believer in. It supposedly built the Iron in your Blood which it may have since it tasted like a rusty nail, under protest my three sisters and I got a dose just as sure as Spring rolled around. Many times he had to hold us to pour this terrible liquid into our mouth, I’m sure his intentions were pure but it sure made us dread the arrival of Spring. I’ll stick to my tonic of a good mess of Ramps or sometimes several messes just to be safe.

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