Being an eccentric compilation of fact and fancy as relates to the herbs and flowers of Elizabeth Goodweather’s Full Circle Farm with occasional digressions into folk remedies and lore of the southern Appalachians. On No Account should the folk remedies be used in place of medical attention. The lists will be added to from time to time.
Bay Laurel ~ (Laurus Nobilis)
Culpeper says: “It is a tree of the Sun and under the celestial sign Leo, and resisteth witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do the body of man, and they are not a few.” In colder climates bay is not hardy and is best kept in a pot that can be removed to a greenhouse or a sunny window. It can grow very large.
Dried bay leaves are excellent seasoning for bean soups, chicken and yellow rice, and good additions to the water used to boil shrimp. Ground fine and mixed with olive oil and Cajun seasoning, they can be put under the skin of a turkey before roasting or deep frying. A dried bay leaf kept with rice or other grain deters insects.
Rosemary ~ (Rosmarinus officinalis)
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” (Hamlet) Another half-hardy perennial, rosemary does well in a pot, as long as it is not allowed to dry out. Creeping rosemary adapts well to a hanging basket and the contorted woody trunk and branches of an older rosemary can be trained as a bonsai. Rosemary dries well and the dried needle-like leaves make a delicious rub for poultry or pork when mixed with olive oil, crushed garlic, and grated lemon rind. The fresh leaves are even better. Try kneading them into focaccia or tossing with butter and lightly steamed carrots. The flowers are a delicate addition to fruit salads. Legend has it that the flowers were once white but when the Virgin Mary laid her blue cloak over a rosemary bush to dry, the flowers changed to blue.
Sage ~ (Salvia officinalis)
“Drank with vinegar, it is good for the plague.” Culpeper recommended sage as a curative for any number of ills. Small wonder that its Latin name is the root word for salvation. Sage is very hardy and long lived in the garden. Ornamental in the flower bed, with its pebble-textured gray-green, purple, or variegated leaves and panicles of light purple, sage is a bully in the kitchen and needs to be used in moderation. Try a few fresh leaves, chopped and sautéed in olive oil with diced tomato and chopped garlic. Stir in some cooked canellini beans. Top with a bit of grated Asiago. This lifts canned beans to new heights.
Nasturtium ~ (Tropaeolum majus)
Nose-twister (the literal translation of nasturtium} was first known to the Incas and became popular in Europe and the Orient, thanks to the acquisitive and far-ranging explorers of the 16th Century. The petals, leaves, and seed pods are all tasty in salads. The young leaves are peppery and reminiscent of water cress. Cut them into thin strips and mix with butter or cream cheese as a sandwich filling. Pickle the seed pods in vinegar for a caper substitute.
Violet ~ (Viola appalchiensis)
The wild purple violet of the mountains is disappointingly odorless and can be an invasive garden pest. But the sight of a bank covered with a mat of these hardy blossoms is breathtaking. And the same blossoms can be added to green salads as a lovely edible decoration.
Dandelion ~ (Taraxacum officinale)
Its jagged edged leaves which account for the name “Tooth of the Lion” are an unwelcome sight in gardens and lawns everywhere. Herbalists however value its diuretic powers. (An old name for dandelion was ‘Piss-a-beds.’) The young leaves are good in salad or can be briefly sautéed with bacon and seasoned with a little balsalmic vinegar.
Chickweed ~ (Stellaria media)
Culpeper calls it “a fine,soft pleasing herb under the dominion of the Moon.” Herbalists have long known it as a healing agent, whether applied topically or taken internally. It is delicious added to a salad of mixed greens. Harvest with scissors by shearing the tops of the rich green clumps before they are in full flower.
Jewelweed ~ (Impatiens capensis or pallida)
The common jewelweed of the Appalachians grows happily in moist and shaded spots. Its lovely dangling orange (or, less frequently, pale yellow) flowers account for another of its common names – lady’s earrings. Fat seed capsules that will explode at the slightest touch give it still another name – Touch-me-not. Jewelweed is often found near poison ivy and the juice from jewelweed’s crushed stems can soothe the itching caused by its unpleasant neighbor.
Ramps ~ (Allium tricoccum)
This wild onion grows in colonies in rich, damp woodland soils. It has a strong garlic aroma which, many say, will come out of the pores of any who eat it raw. Best gathered in the early spring, the bulbs can be fried in bacon grease (or other fat) with potatoes. Or beaten eggs can be added to the cooking ramps for a dish of scrambled eggs and ramps.
Branch Lettuce ~ (Saxifraga micranthidifolia)
A spring delicacy, branch lettuce is found at the higher elevations, growing in damp spots or at the edge of the cold mountain streams (locally called ‘branches.’) It can be eaten raw in salad but is traditionally served as “killed lettuce,” wilted by the addition of some hot bacon grease. A little chopped onion and a touch of vinegar completes the dish.
A Cure for Diaper Rash
Scrape a dirt dauber’s nest off the wall and remove and discard any larvae. Crush nest (a clay-like substance) to fine powder. Put powder in the center of a white handkerchief and make into a little bag. Use this to powder the baby’s bottom. (The powder is brownish-gray and not very attractive, but I found that it worked when commercial salves and powders did not. VL)
To Wean a Baby
Dab soot from the chimney or stove pipe in a big circle around the nipple before offering the baby the breast. Usually it will frighten the baby, causing it to lose interest in nursing and accept milk from a cup. (I have no personal experience with this one, having been unwilling to scare my baby. VL)
Help with Teething Pain
A mole’s foot in a little bag around the baby’s neck will help to lessen the pain. (Again, no personal experience! VL)
Shirley Igoe, a reader from Topsail Island, NC, writes: “I grew up in Missouri, in St. Louis, but my parents were both from the Ozark Mountains and their dialects and phrases are almost identical with the mountain people that are neighbors of Elizabeth. I was particularly intrigued with the ‘mole’s foot’ that was placed on the young girl’s baby. I wore a mole’s foot around my neck until I was five years old and ready for school. My paternal grandfather was half Cherokee and he insisted that all his grandchildren wear them. I never was exactly sure why, other than an aunt who told me in later years that it warded off ‘the colic’ in babies. It obviously had other curative to preventative powers, since I wore it so long.
To Ease the Pain of a Bee Sting
If you’re near the house, dab on a little household ammonia. If you’re out hiking, urine contains enough ammonia to be efficacious.
For every fog in August there’ll be a snow in winter.
For a Cough
I was serving on a jury some years ago when I began to cough uncontrollably. I asked to be excused to get a drink of water and the high sheriff of our county, a legendary breaker-up of moonshine stills, escorted me to the water fountain. He told me that the best thing for a cough was a toddy of whisky, lemon juice, and honey. I later learned he kept a little store of the seized moonshine that he dispensed to sufferers.
The toddy was a mainstay of my childhood—during cold season, my Alabama-bred grandparents kept a glass of this ambrosial mixture and a spoon on the mantelpiece of their bedroom. Whenever my brother and I spent the night with them, we invariably invented hacking coughs just for the pleasure of being dosed with half a spoonful of toddy.
To Stop Bleeding from a Cut
A dusty cobweb, of the sort no good housekeeper would tolerate, wadded up and applied to a cut will usually stop the bleeding right away. One of my dogs had a profusely bleeding cut on the very edge of her ear. A band-aid simply wouldn’t adhere so I found a nice, dusty cobweb (from a dark corner in the basement, of course) and applied it to the cut. Not only did the bleeding stop at once, but the cobweb formed a kind of instant scab which stayed on for days.
For Good Health in Winter
Catch a falling autumn leaf in your hand to stay free of colds all winter.
To Prevent Arthritis
Carry a buckeye (horse chestnut) in your pocket to ward off arthritis. (My grandfather, an old Alabama farm boy, did this all his life, even when he was the president of the largest bank in Tampa. He also was climbing the oak trees in his yard to remove Spanish moss, well into his eighties.)
For Year-Round Health
My Grandmother always insisted that we get wet in the first rain of May so that we’d be healthy all year. She lived to 91. Up here in the mountains they say if you walk barefoot in the first good ground-covering snow you’ll be healthy all year.