by Clay Coppedge
there were drug stores and grocery stores, there was the land.
Before there were doctors, there were medicine men and folk healers,
who often took what they learned from the Indians and applied it to
the same uses.
Today we can drive the countryside and see grasses, flowers, weeds,
critters, trees and the like. Modern-day herbalists and naturalists
can still see a drug store.
Some of the treatments used in the early days, which some people still
remember, might appear today as cruel and unusual punishment.
Take the asafetida bag, or the granny rag. Please.
The asafetida bag, a supposed cure-all in its day, consisted of a
fetid gum resin that carried with it the pungent taste and odor of
A granny rag was "a flannel cloth smeared with suet or lard, camphor,
dry mustard, turpentine, or coal oil and some other 'medicines' for
good measure," according to John Q. Anderson in his book "Texas Folk
Other unusual punishments, er, treatments included mixing a tea made
from large bugs, preferably cockroaches, and drinking it to cure lockjaw.
A suggested cure for stuttering was to take the shank bone of a newly
killed calf and hit the patient in the mouth with it. We're pretty
sure this cure wasn't designed by a stutterer.
We can also imagine that chickens hated to see people get bitten by
a snake because a popular cure for snakebite involved ripping a live
chicken in half and applying one of the halves to the snakebite. The
chicken would turn green, which meant that the poison had presumably
gone from the human victim to the unfortunate barnyard fowl.
all pioneer cures were so bizarre. Or bloody. Medicinal teas were
made from lemon mint, the bark of slippery elm, chamomile, huisache
and other plants. Mesquite tea was used to treat coughs while gumwood
was used to ease the symptoms of colds, asthma and rheumatism. Jimson
weed was also used to soothe asthma attacks. Desert willow flowers
were made into a brew for people with heart and lung diseases. Yarrow
leaves were chewed to tame a toothache.
The purple coneflower, common on the native Blackland Prairie, is
better known today as Echinacea, which may or may not boost the immune
system, depending on which study by which group you choose to believe
on any given day.
can find a lot of these types of teas and herbs not only at the local
health food store but also on the shelves of mainstream grocery and
drug stores. Texas Cooperative Extension estimates that 40 percent
of Americans use herbs for health reasons and that nearly $5 billion
is spent annually on herbal medicines.
Howard Garrett, who has a radio show called "The Dirt Doctor" and
a newspaper column by the same name is a regular featured speaker
at the Lampasas Herb and Art Fest. He believes herbs are the world's
most interesting plants.
"They make beautiful landscape choices, are useful for cooking, controlling
insects and disease pests and are effective for improving the immune
system," he says. "Some make you more alert, some make you feel better
and some can even help solve serious medical problems."
Despite the popularity of medicinal herbs and teas, skeptics abound.
"Sure, herbs are natural," extension nutritionist Jenna Anding said
a couple of years ago at the Blackland Income Growth Conference in
Waco. "So is lead. So is arsenic."
Still, most of the herbal remedies and supplements on the market today
have to be at least as good, and a lot more agreeable, than that old
stand-by, the asafetida bag.
© Clay Coppedge
April 11, 2006 column
Folk Medicine 1,33 Cures, Remedies, Preventives
in the folk medicine of the Texas-Mexico Border...