Old-Time Remedies from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

With all the colds and flu about, and slipping on the ice, I thought this post might come in handy.

These cures are recorded in Shenandoah Voices written by late Shenandoah Valley historian and author John Heatwole.  I knew John and much admired him.  He’s left a wealth of information behind in his books. He interviewed country and mountain people and compiled their remedies. The images are from the valley and mountains and all taken by my family.

Early spring in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
‘For a sprained ankle take catnip, sprinkle salt on it and bind it to the ankle.’

‘Mullein tea’ was also used for sprained ankles. The leaves of the mullein plant were boiled in vinegar and water and the ankle was bathed in it while it was still warm.

Turpentine was also rubbed on a sprain. You never covered it or it would burn.

Catnip tea was made for children with the colic. I mix a little catnip in with my mint for tea. It’s good and soothing.

Queen Anne’s Lace made into a tea is said to relieve backache. (You don’t want to confuse Queen Anne’s Lace with poisonous hemlock.)

summer hills and pasture in the Shenandoah Valley

Sage and honey tea is a good brew to give to someone with pneumonia. Drinking tea made from aromatic sage is said to keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.

Lobelia tea was used by Thomsonian herb doctor Gabe Heatwole as a purge. Lobelia is an annual or perennial plant of the bellflower family. It’s very pretty and does not want to grow at my house, prefers a moist creek bank. *Lobelia is also called ‘the puke herb’, thus the reference to its being used as a purge.

Goldenseal and Comfort Root (Pinelands Hibiscus or Cut-leaf Hibiscus) teas are good for an upset stomach.

If you have kidney problems, swamp root tea can be used for relief. *Swamp root is one of those old patent medicines that originated in the late 1800’s, akin to snake oil.


Greasy mustard plaster was used on the sufferer’s chest for a deep cold. To avoid being burned by the mustard, this plaster was made with lard and spread on a cloth that could be laid on the sufferer’s chest without burning. Another non-burning plaster was made with mustard, lard, and egg whites.

A family in Singers Glen used a mustard and lard poultice for pneumonia. When the patient’s chest started to turn red, it was removed. The patient was washed off thoroughly, and then a hot onion poultice was applied.

My very country mother-in-law spoke of using mustard plasters on the chest laid over a piece of old flannel.

Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains

For a bad cold or pleurisy, they’d put lard on your chest with salt sprinkled on it of a night.

A tea made of peppermint leaves will stop a stomachache. *I drink peppermint tea for my stomach and it really does help.

Pennyroyal tea was used to break a fever, for upset stomach and to treat the common cold. It’s of the same family as mint and yields aromatic oil, but it has health cautions. *Never Ever imbibe the essential oil as it’s deadly. The leaves may be brewed into a tea, but do not drink pennyroyal tea if pregnant. It can cause miscarriage. Go easy on pennyroyal in general.

During the Civil War, some Valley soldiers chewed slippery elm bark when in battle or on the march. It was said to relieve thirst and hunger.

Miss Gray Pifer of Mt. Crawford said that ‘horehound grew down near the creek. Mama made a horehound syrup with brown sugar for coughs.’

I love horehound drops.

Owl Cat in the garden

(Owl Cat in one of my flower/herb beds)

In Page County a woman said that her grandfather smoked a corncob pipe, and if a child in the family had an earache, he’d blow smoke in the ear as a cure.  She also said for spider bite, you should cut a piece from a new potato and hold it against the bite. Eventually the potato will turn black as it absorbs the poison.

*I was bitten at night while sleeping in my bed by a spider. Fortunately it wasn’t poisonous, but it really stung and I was up putting on witch hazel, rosebud salve, aloe, Benadryl, and, and, and. Forgot about using a potato. Never did find that darn spider.

4 responses to “Old-Time Remedies from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

  1. Very helpful, Beth. I love your posts about herbal remedies. I remember you mentioning Mr. Heatwole before, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always love learning about herbal remedies.
    Sue B


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