I’m reading a book called Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. Today, I read the chapter “Medicine,” where the author describes medical care without doctors or over-the-counter treatments—they didn’t have the money for such aid. Given today’s challenges with and dependence on healthcare, I find the remedies and treatments she describes intriguing, so I thought I’d share some—not to suggest that anyone adopt these approaches but rather in the interest of carrying forward the lore:
- Bee stings: Apply baking soda, black mud, or ear wax.
- Canker sores: Chew (but don’t swallow) a green pepper.
- Minor cuts and scrapes: Apply spider web.
- Earache: Have an obliging uncle blow tobacco smoke into the ear and plug it up with cotton.
- Rusty nail or barbed wire punctures: Apply peroxide to bubble the poison out.
- Deep cut: Apply a chaw of tobacco or fresh charcoal.
- Stone bruises: Soak foot in extremely hot water 2x/day.
- Blood poisoning (evidenced by red streak coming from wound): Soak infected area, lance and drain, apply peroxide, wrap with bandage, low activity. Repeat soaking, lancing, flushing with peroxide, and wrapping daily until red streak disappears.
- Collapsed lung: Lie on other side.
- Colds: Apply flannel packet of hot, fried yellow onions and goose grease to the chest; or eat onions baked in ashes.
- Wart removal: Peel a medium potato, take it to the middle of a nearby road, place it on a flat stone, and stomp it flat. Do not look at the stone or visit the site for two weeks.
- Child swallowing a bobby pin: Eat mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. Sauerkraut doesn’t digest in younger children, so the pin will become entangled in the ‘kraut and pass through the body.
Medicinal supplies in every household: Vaseline, lard, baking soda, boric acid, salt, camphor, alum peroxide, Vicks, and iodine.
Interestingly, Kalish proudly reports that nobody in the family ever developed a life-threatening infections (I might argue that blood poisoning is threatening), though one horse did need to be put down for developing lockjaw from a barbed wire injury. Yet in a later chapter, she also mentions that half of her grandparents’ children (four of them) died by age two...
Nevertheless, I think I will stomp on a potato if I ever get a wart.