The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Mountain Remedies - Sure To Cure Or Kill

By Charles B. Martin, Sr. © 1984

Issue: June, 1984

After years of observation and a considerable amount of research, I am convinced that the roots of modern medicine can be traced to the older citizens of the "Bible Belt." It appears that an often quoted passage of scripture may have given birth to the idea of professional healing.

When I was a boy the scriptural admonition, "physician, heal thyself," was the most abused bit of advice in the Book. As a matter of fact, this verse of scripture sort of became the "Hippocratic Oath" of the hills. Knowledge of this verse seemed to be the only qualification many of the country folks needed to launch them on a career of healing. Not only did they try to heal themselves, they expanded this advice to include their children, their neighbors, their mules and any stranger who sojourned in their midst. Anything or anybody who seemed to be "under the weather" was a candidate for their medical practice.

This zeal for healing led to the discovery of an untold number of medical concoctions, nearly all of which either burned like hell, smelled like a billy goat or caused your taste buds to relocate in the opposite end of your anatomy.

Also, for the industrious practitioners of "mountain medicine", there was an endless supply of ingredients to experiment with. Everything that caught their eye or came within their grasp was suspected of possessing magic healing properties. Nothing seemed exempt, whether living or dead, moving or lying still. Their reasoning appeared to be that, if the Lord put it here, He must have put it here for a purpose. (And what nobler purpose could there be than to be used for healing?)

Surprisingly enough, some of their medications were actually fit for human consumption, and modern research has confirmed the therapeutic value of a number of their cures. For instance, garlic has been proven effective in the control of high cholesterol levels in the blood. It appears that a steady diet of garlic is just as offensive to your cholesterol as it is to your nose.

Personally, I have always felt that garlic owes a lot of its success as a medicine to its ability to penetrate almost anything. I know of nothing else, except electricity, that can penetrate the entire length of the human body. You can rub garlic oil on the soles of your shoes and a few minutes later, smell it on your breath.

Lately, the advocates of a diet high in garlic have been making some far reaching claims about its effectiveness in preventing heart attacks and other usually fatal ailments. I have even heard them swear that they have never known a true garlic gourmet dying from heart attack or cancer.

Now this statement may be true, but I have a different opinion as to why it doesn't occur. I believe that anyone who eats large quantities of garlic never lives long enough to develop any fatal disease. I think they die prematurely of a broken heart, brought on by social rejection.

Without a doubt, garlic, herbs and a balanced diet, mingled with a reasonable exercise program, could contribute to your better health. However, none of these could ever compare with the healing properties of the all time, number one country remedy. This ungodly potion was called "Sheep Nanny Tea."

The origin of "Sheep Nanny Tea" is completely shrouded in mystery. No living soul will admit to brewing the first cup. Nonetheless, I have always felt that the inventor of this beverage should be awarded the Nobel Prize for either medicine or secrecy. From its debut until today, this cure has always held an air of dark mystery. All adults were sworn to absolute silence. Under no circumstance could they reveal the ingredients in this preparation to any child.

Even when I was growing up, it was the same as it is today with folks who use this brew. There just wasn't any use in us kids asking our Ma, "What's this smelly stuff made of?" This question only brought sidelong glances between your parents and smug, knowing looks from the older kids.

I think it was only natural that I developed a suspicion of this medicine long before my first taste. I had watched my neighbors and my parents fix it up before. Also, us kids talked about it a lot when we slipped out behind the barn to smoke "rabbit tobacco" or "cornsilks". Anyway, I didn't like the smell and I liked even less the fact that my Dad always seemed to bring the raw materials for making it back from the sheep shed.

I had noticed that whatever it was they were cooking was always tied up in a little cloth bag and boiled in a small cup of water on the kitchen stove. It kind of reminded you of the little tea bags used in making tea today.

Anyhow, after the boiling was done, they were always careful to burn the bag in the stove or your Ma would take it outside and drop it in the toilet hole. This ritual alone caused a lot of us mountain kids to develop a total distrust of "Sheep Nanny Tea".

Since I have grown older and learned a lot more about country medicine, I am even more curious about "Sheep Nanny Tea". Why didn't the inventor make "Cow Nanny Tea" or even "Goat Nanny Tea"? From my observations, there isn't anything about a sheep that is suggestive of either good health or longevity. As a matter of fact, I have never known a sheep who wasn't born with the ambition to die as soon as possible.

Another trend I have noticed is the use of placebos (sugar pills or inert chalk pills) in modern medicine. These seem to effect a lot of cures through suggestion. Faith appears to be the catalyst for their success. In other words, if you believe it will work, it will work. I am confident this placebo therapy came as a result of the lessons learned from "Sheep Nanny Tea."

In conclusion, I still rank "Sheep Nanny Tea" far above sugar or chalk pills. Regardless of its ingredients or origin, the world has never known a better preventative medicine. It prevented us country kids from complaining about any illness, real or imagined. Nothing short of death knocking at your door could compel you to admit to feeling bad. You always feared the cure more than the ailment after only one encounter with "Sheep Nanny Tea."