Sunday, November 14, 2010


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. 

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