Recently my seven year old niece, Cailin, was in my care and coughing her head off with the latest respiratory ‘thing.’ So I took some flannel (formerly an infant burb cloth) slathered it with Vicks Vapor Rub, folded the cloth so it wouldn’t stick to her shirt, and laid it on her chest. This way her skin is protected in case she’s sensitive to the rub–I broke out in an itchy rash last year. Then I laid a warming pack filled with rice that can be reheated in the microwave and is cushioned by fleece against her shirt/chest and wrapped her in a blanket, periodically reheating the pack. After this, I got out the Olbas oil and anointed her temples, added a few drops to a basin of steaming water for her to inhale. Although complaints of ‘it smells funny’ and ‘stings my eyes’ — ‘close them,’ I answered, and other arguments arose, her coughing eased. I’d done the same thing I reminded her last week for her cousin, my seven year old grandson, and it greatly lessened his cough.
I told her she’d come to the ‘Granny Woman’ who used herbs and old-fashioned remedies to cure. Her eyes widened at that. To emphasize my point, I went into the sun space and picked a handful of the ‘Vicks’ plant, Plectranthus purpuratus, a pungent mentholated herb given to me years ago by an old mountain woman who swore by its powers. Easily rerooted, I’ve kept it going and used it myself–just smelling the leaves opens your head–but Cailin was a little put off by the powerful aroma and glad I wasn’t making a concoction from this, or the mustard plaster I’d told her about. Later on, though, my sister said how vastly impressed Cailin was, declaring I knew lots of stuff about how to make you better. Even prattled away to the doctor about her amazing Aunt Beth who now probably thinks I’m a quack.
Back to the Granny Women, historically, they were elderly women from ‘back in the holler’ reputed for their healing and midwifery abilities. The term is often associated with ‘Appalachia.’ However, I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Appalachia. We refer to the specific mountains. But I digress. In a time and place when doctors were few or nonexistent and no one had the money to pay them anyway, the Granny Women were relied on for the wisdom and practices passed down to them by the hardy females who’d gone before them. Sure, a dollop of superstition, and at times, a little white magic, was mixed in with their practical herbal remedies, but they did a lot of good. In the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, these women were invaluable. Some of my friends remember their family calling in the Granny Woman when they didn’t know what to do for an ailment or injury. Officially, these women are no longer with us. Unofficially, they are. And many know far more than I.
An interesting article on Appalachian Healing Traditions. For more on the real Vicks Plant click the above link.
*Cailin with kitty Pavel (a little sticky from something) image by daughter Elise
*Old mountain house in the Blue Ridge, image by my husband Dennis.