When the first European settlers immigrated to the territory that is now Greenbrier County, they brought with them many of the medicinal cures which had been passed down to them by their ancestors for hundreds of years. In turn, these home remedies, which later included several that were learned from the Native American population, continued to be used by their offspring. Some of these remedies are still used to this day, and have proven to be as beneficial now as they were three hundred years ago.
Angelica: Also called Archangel or masterwort, this plant comes from the carrot and parsley family. It was used to make a drink called Carmelite water that was believed to be a cure for headaches and arthritis, an antidote for poisons, and an aid for healing
Asafoetida: This herb was a cure for colds, fevers, and the flu; also, Native Americans believed it could remove evil spirits. It was used by being burnt in a clay bowl in an area where the patient could inhale the fumes. It had a very acrid smell, and was also used to purify the home from evil, and as protection from ill fortune.
Belladonna: Belladonna is a small white flowering plant that blooms in July or August. It is poisonous. It was thought to cure the bite of a rabid dog. It was also used to help capture thieves, rapists and murderers, and brought good luck by being worn in a charm bag around the neck.
Boneset: This plant is a member of the dandelion family, and was the most common herb of Native Americans, who used it to treat colds, indigestion and constipation. It was carried in the pocket to ward off evil, and was mixed with coffee or tea, and given to suitors that parents didn’t approve of, to deter them from courting their daughters.
Buckeye: Buckeye is poisonous if taken internally. It was used in a poultice to relieve backaches, chills and rheumatism, and worn in a charm bag to bring success.
Chamomile: This herb is part of the daisy and marigold families. Made into tea, it promotes sleep and relaxation. It can also be taken to relieve indigestion, cramps and ulcers. It was applied topically to promote the healing of wounds.
Celandine: Celandine was brought to the New World by English colonists. It is a perennial herb that grows along roads and in fields. It is an excellent topical ointment for swelling and skin abrasions.
Cinquefoil: Also known as ‘five finger grass,’ it is used to process leather products and to dye cloth and leather. The roots were used for medicinal purposes.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon comes from the same family as nutmeg. Its uses include pain relief, lowering blood pressure, and aiding digestion. Scented bowls of cinnamon were set around the house to bring peace, happiness and prosperity to the home.
Cloves: This herb is a member of the myrtle and eucalyptus family. It was used to treat gout and as an antiseptic. It was placed around doors and windows to keep evil from entering the home.
Coltsfoot: Medically, this herb is used to treat congestion. It was also used by early settlers as a love potion, and to reduce swelling.
Comfrey: The extract from this plant was used in a paste and wrapped around broken bones to promote healing. It was used as a charm when traveling, to keep the wearer safe and to ensure that nothing was stolen or lost on the journey.
Coxcomb: Coxcomb was considered a magical herb by the Appalachian Indians, who thought it could call forth the dead, provide invisibility, and mend broken hearts. Medically, it was made into a paste and applied to wounds to speed up the healing process.
Fennel: Fennel was brought to the New World by Irish and British colonists. It is a natural mosquito repellent and was an aid in digestion.
Fenugreek: This herb is from the bean and pea family. It is used to treat sore throats. It was believed to bring money and power to the user.
Frauenschlussel: Also called Cowslip, this herb can treat migraines and vertigo. Placed under the front porch and around the gate, it was thought to stop unwanted visitors from coming in.
Garlic: Garlic is one of the most powerful antibiotic herbs known to man. It kills bacteria and is used to treat heart disease, stroke, diabetes and tuberculosis.
Henbane: Henbane is a part of the deadly nightshade family of herbs. It has a powerful narcotic effect. It was also used to kill rabid dogs.
Holly: Holly plants, mixed with water that has been blessed, was used to baptize babies. It was also used for protection, and to give someone who was sleeping badly sweet dreams.
Horehound: Horehound is a medicinal herb, used to treat colds and the flu. It was also crushed and sprinkled around the sick bed to promote healing and to bring protection from evil spirits.
Ivy: Ivy was considered to be a protection from evil if planted around a home. It was used externally as an astringent.
Lobeila: This herb, ‘gag root,’ is poisonous. It was used as a wormer and to treat syphilis, which was rampant in the American Indian population.
Mandrake root: Probably one of the most well known plants used by pioneers, it was used to aid in the treatment of circulatory problems, and to promote fertility and prosperity.
Marigold: Marigolds were strung together and hung on garlands over the doors of Appalachian homes to keep evil from entering. Their aroma was believed to promote peace and harmony.
Mistletoe: Mistletoe is a poisonous plant. It is used to treat high blood pressure, cancer and tumors. It was also used by settlers for healing, and in love potions.
Nettle: Native American women drank nettle tea when expecting a child to strengthen the baby and ease the delivery, as well as to increase their milk supply. It was also used to reduce blood pressure, and to relieve hay fever and prostate enlargement.
Pennyroyal: Pennyroyal used by the Native Americans in their beehives. It makes an excellent topical ointment for wounds, and was used as an herbal flea collar for animals.
Rue: Rue was used to help in the recuperation of illnesses. It was also used as a disinfectant.
Sage: Worn in a charm, sage was believed to protect the wearer from the Evil Eye. It was used it to treat headaches, colds, measles, insomnia, epilepsy and intestinal worms.
Skunk Cabbage: Medicinally, this plant was used to treat asthma and other lung ailments.
Slippery Elm: It was used as a topical cream for wounds, and as a cure for sore throats.
Solomon’s Seal: This plant was given as a drink to aid in the healing of broken bones.
Sunflower: Sunflowers were planted in gardens to guard against insects, and the seeds were eaten by the settlers. Boiled down, they were used as a hair tonic and to treat snake bites.
Vervain: It was used in charms to bring peace, love, prosperity and healing. It was used by the Celts as a medicine for kidney stones, while Germans used it for pain relief.
Many of the above herbs and plants can be found in our modern medicines. During this festive time of the year, I am always thankful for the early pioneers who first discovered their curative properties and passed them on to future generations.