Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brown Ink, Flu & Garlic

As the medicinal plant person on a book project, I was granted access to the University archives. Some of what I gleaned may be useful to us in present time, with nasty flu on the prowl.

Work in the archives meant pulling on surgical gloves and requesting early Pharmacopoeias and frontier journals from the beady-eyed Librarian. She served as mother hen over irreplaceable resources.

I'd stagger with armloads of research to a long table and settle in. The Pharmacopoeias opened to centuries-ago journeys on foot, horseback and by canoe. 

Herbal lore of Native Americans was included in those early days, first the coastal and Canadian tribes, then inland and over the Appalachians into wildly new flora (and fauna!)
The fragile, old journals particularly moved me. Their brown ink had been quill-penned, and was hand-made of oak galls: 

In those days penmanship was taught, a "copperplate" script, which one of my grandmothers still wrote.

Spelling was idiosyncratic; there was no school system per se

Those few children who learned to read in the American wilderness were taught from the Family Bible or in one room log schoolhouses heated by fireplace or pot-bellied stove. 

Kit Carson, notorious agent of Manifest Destiny, for example, hobnobbed with presidents, but was quite illiterate, though fluent in many frontier languages. 

(He was married to a Native American woman till she divorced him by throwing his gear out of the teepee, and then, to a young Spanish beauty!)

Frontier physicians of variable training visited patients at the end of forested trails and river fords, on horseback or buggy, carrying surgical instruments (saws...) and medicament.

A recommendation for ague, pneumonia, high fevers, which I read in a physician's hand-written, leather-bound journal, was to save a twentieth century girl years later. Or so it seemed.

A modern MD had told a mother that her daughter could not chance another severe reaction to antibiotics: Find organically raised meat.

I had an organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which was how the mother found me.

Had just dashed in from tractor work, intending to grab a bite of lunch when I picked up the long-ringing telephone, to hysteria.

My friend's daughter had been diagnosed by their family physician with scarlet fever. The Mom was leery of hospitals and brought the girl home to hopefully sweat it out. 

The fever was still rising; would I come?

I sat down.

"Are you there?" she shouted.

"Yes. Thinking... I'm on the way. Here's what you do..."

I mixed a small bottle of olive oil with anti-microbial essential oils and went roaring down the mountain to the Carolina Piedmont.

In the frontier physician's journal, lard was used. I had instructed the mother to peel and crush the cloves of a  garlic bulb, one large or two small, and stir it into a jar of cold cream.  

The girl by now was not conscious.

I opened my bodywork table; we spread sheets and lifted her. I smeared the medicinal oil I'd made all over her, front and back. We piled on quilts and comforters, hoping to induce a sweat.

Then, the pièce de résistance: Garlic functions as a natural antibiotic. 

I packed the garlicky cold cream onto the soles of her feet, and soles only; it's caustic to tender flesh. Covered it with a strip of plastic wrap and pulled on heavy socks.

We sat with her. When her eyelids fluttered, we raised her head and gave her spoonfuls of lemon water. Suddenly she began to sweat profusely and drenched the bedding. We brought fresh. 

When she finally came to, we got her to bed, garlic poultices still in place. She slept the better part of a day and night, and woke quite well.

Now, for me personally, this was a terrifying experience. What if the girl had died? 

That said, and this absolutely is NOT medical advice, having organic garlic bulbs on hand is not a bad idea. In interesting times.

Garlic might be used in a poultice or in preparing Thieves Vinegar, also good to have on hand:
Wayfarer's Farm Recipes:


At January 21, 2015 at 5:18 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

wonderful! and so timely during "flu season" I would love to hear more about herbal lore! so enjoy your writing

At January 22, 2015 at 11:32 AM , Blogger Wayfarer said...

Aha, appreciate your feedback, Anon. I'll ruminate some more herb lore stories!


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