The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

About Mountain Medicines

By Nancy B. Collins © 1987

Issue: October, 1987

When I was very young, we lived at a place we called the Old Hole. The reason we called it the Old Hole was because it was down between two mountains and the sun did not shine there much all day. Seems to me we could see the stars in the daytime.

This place was between Vesta, Stuart and Meadows of Dan, Virginia. There was a creek that winded around at the foot hills and made the place more alive.

I guess one could say it was a sort of pretty place. There were some waterfalls and lots of wild flowers such as mountain laurel, honeysuckles and wild ivy all over the hills.

The old house we lived in was not much to live in. It was all run down. So were many houses we lived in before.

My dad was good at fixing old houses up to live in. He went to work and patched it up and we lived there about two years.

We cleared some new ground and had a garden. We children liked to get out with our dad in the spring time and burn stumps and brush. He would cut them down in the fall of the year and by spring they would be in good shape to burn. We had a cow and a few chickens. As far as living, well it was down right tough going all the way.

We had some good times. There were things we did besides sitting down and feeling sorry for ourselves; which we could have done very well.

I remember one of the most interesting things we did was going into the mountains looking for Ginseng. This I guess would be called a herb with roots that people used for medical purposes. It is believed it originated from China.

In the spring of the year was a good time to look for this, Ginseng. It sold well and was hard to find. Back in 1908 it sold for about $20.00 an ounce when it was dry.

We had some good times going into the hills looking for Ginseng. It had a top sort of like strawberry leaves with a few berries on top of it.

Mom and us children would scatter out and find it and Dad would sit down on the ground and scratch every little root out. Sometimes we would find enough to make one or two ounces in a day. When it was dug up we had about two pounds when it was green. When it was washed good and put in an oven and dried out about four hours, most of it went away. We would wrap it and send it to Stuart and sell it.

People in the mountains made tea out of it and said it was good for many things.

I was a small child but I heard some farmers talking about it and they said it would make a better man out of them. I think now I understand what they meant. There were many things said and done when I was a child that I had to wait before I could understand. I understand that Ginseng has a special ingredient that is used as an aphrodisiac stimulant for the body.

While we were looking for Ginseng, we looked for heart shaped leaves that grew on the hill sides. This plant had beautiful shaped hearts for leaves. They were sort of purple and blue and in the spring of the year they would bloom under the ground or right at the ground. The blooms were very pretty bell shaped and were purple on the outside and on the inside they were deep red with little white petals coming out of the bell.

Mom said that her grandmother taught her how to make a salve out of the blooms that would heal burns. She cooked the blossoms in some water and boiled them down almost dry and they formed a sort of jelly and she would put this up in a jar to use on burns and bruises. In those days in the mountains, doctors were scarce and they stayed very busy. Home remedies were about all the mountain people had to depend on.

My dad had kidney stones real bad when we lived there. He was hemorrhaging and Mom was worried for there was so little could be done. She called the doctor and he said there was nothing he could do until the stone passed, then he could give him something to stop the bleeding.

A Mrs. Pettigrew came to our house to get my dad to fix her glasses. He was so sick he could not fix them that day. She spent the night. She told Mom that she had heard of people making tea out of yarrow and drinking all they could of it and the stone would pass. She and Mom gathered some of it in the field. They poured boiling water over it and let it steep awhile. He drank all he could and in a few hours the stone passed and in a few days the bleeding stopped. My dad got able to fix Mrs. Pettigrew's glasses and she left. I am glad that she came and helped to get my dad all better. I was glad when she left. She had false teeth. Us kids had never seen anyone with false teeth. Don't think she liked children very much. When we were around her (if Mom was not there) she would let her teeth down and they would come out of her mouth and she would jump at us. This would just about scare me to death. They did not make pretty teeth like they do today. They were big and had red, orangey gums.

We had some good neighbors that lived about a half a mile. There were five boys and one girl. The girl's name was Lucy, they called her Biddy because she always followed them around. They worked hard and were good neighbors. They were all just about grown. The parents thought the girl, Biddy, should go to some school away from the country and go to school some place better than they had there.

Her dad finally got her all fixed up in some sort of business college in North Carolina. She was doing quite well until she met a young man we shall call a city dude. His parents were quite well off. He had never worked anyplace. His parents had always hired the work done. The dude had a fine horse and always wore fine clothes.

Biddy had known the dude about six months. She was going home for Thanksgiving. The dude wanted to go with her and meet her family. She told him she would ask her mother if it would be all right for him to go up with her.

Biddy's mom said bring him on up. She would like to see him. They made connections with the little Danville & Western train and went on up to Stuart. When they got there the dude said who is going to meet us. Biddy said no one, we will just walk. It is only about four miles. He said that seems a long ways to walk. She said we will make it in no time.

They got about half the way and they came to a creek. It had been raining a lot and the foot log had washed away and the creek was up quite a bit and was a bit muddy. He said how in the world are we ever going to cross this creek. She said we will just have to pull our shoes off and wade (which she had done many times). The dude said no not me I have never waded in water like that. He said it is even muddy.

Biddy pulled her shoes and stockings off and got her bags and waded on across. He just stood there and said I just can't. You will have to go get a horse to take me across. She kept begging him.

She went back across. She said I am as strong as any man. Get on my back and I will carry you across. He said I just never could do that. She finally persuaded him to get on her back and she took him across. When they got across they sat down and laughed. He said please promise you will never tell anyone you carried me across the creek.

In a few years they got married and she told her family and they all laughed and laughed. He finally got used to the creeks and the rough roads.

The dude's parents almost disowned him for marrying a country girl but they finally accepted it and built a country home up there to live in the summer time.

We had many good times while we lived in the Old Hole and some bad times. Guess the good times outweighed the bad.

I would just like to go back there and see the country. Maybe I will sometime.