Day 4: Fevers

Up until about fifty years ago, and much later in some remote places in the Ozark Mountains, a fever was a deadly foe for anybody that caught one. Folk doctors have developed a lot of successful ways of breaking fevers, some involving plant medicines other’s involving what might appear to be works of “hocus pocus,” but regardless, these cures have stuck around because of how effective they are. If they didn’t work no one would remember them. So I’d like to give some examples of these fever cures from a few different traditions.

1. Ozarks

Vance Randolph:

“Dr. W. O. Cralle, of Springfield, Missouri, writes me that some backwoods friends of his have used a tea of onions and wild lobelia with great success, in cases of ‘pneumony fever.'”

“Boneset tea is a favorite remedy for chills, fever, and ague. A tea made of elderberry roots is good, too. Some people have great confidence in blade-fodder tea, especially if the fodder has been kept in a dry place. Seneca-root or rattlesnake weed (Senega) is said to make a mighty fine chills-and-fever medicine. The unfermented juice of the little wild possum grapes is supposed to cure malaria. Uncle Jack Short of Galena, Missouri, says that he used to drink gallons of peach-bark tea every fall for his ‘ager’; also a tea made by boiling sheep manure, with a little spicewood added to kill the unpleasant taste. Fanny D. Bergen observes that ‘in central Missouri one is recommended to take for ague a whole pepper-corn every morning for seven consecutive mornings.’ The plant known as fever-root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) is also used to reduce fevers and is a mild sedative as well. A gentleman in Cyclone, Missouri, tells me that his family made a ‘chill remedy’ that was in great demand; the exact formula was kept secret, he says, but the main ingredient was crushed burdock seeds.”

“To cure malaria, chills, fever, and ague all you need is a hickory peg about a foot long. Drive it into the ground in some secluded place, where you can visit it unseen. Do not tell anyone about this business. Go there every day, pull up the peg, blow seven times into the hole, and replace the peg. After you have done this for twelve successive days, drive the peg deep into the earth so that it cannot be seen, and leave it there. You’ll have no more chills and fever that season. If the cure doesn’t work, it means that you have been seen blowing into the hole, or that you have inadvertently mentioned it to somebody.”

“Some families are accustomed to treat chills-an’-fever by placing an ax under the patient’s bed. Since this procedure is also used in “granny-cases” to relieve the pains of childbirth, there are many jokes and wisecracks about it. I once went to see a very fat man, who had malarial fever. He stayed in bed as the doctor ordered and took the doctor’s medicine, but his wife held to the old superstition and insisted on putting an ax under the bed. I noticed this when I came into the room, and asked: ‘What’s that ax doing there? You expecting burglars?’ He laughed and clasped both hands over his great paunch, twisting his face in a ghastly imitation of a woman in labor. ‘Naw,’ he answered, “just expectin’!'”

“Many people think it is a good idea to burn feathers from a black hen under the bed of a fever patient. I have seen the feathers of black chickens dried and saved in little paper bags for this purpose. For night sweats some hillfolk put a pan of water under the bed; I have known the wife of an M.D. to do this in her own home, without the doctor’s knowledge. May Stafford Hilburn says that ‘if the case was persistent we sprinkled black pepper in the water. Usually in three nights an improvement could be noticed, but in some cases it might take a week. This remedy seldom failed. In fact, I do not know of a case where it did fail.'”

Granny Gore:

“‘Had lots of cures for colds and pneumonia. One of them was smokin’ ’em with the cobs. You took and surrounded them with a steamin’ hot blanket and put smoking corncobs around them to smoke out the fever. Once’t a lady tal’ a doctor that she had tried smolcin’ ’em with the cobs, he asked what color she used, and she replied white. He tol’ her next time to use the red cobs. Then skunk oil an’ mutton taler was a good cure, and possum grease. Take a fresh kilt animal and render the grease from him, and rub thoroughly on the patient. Slippery elm bark tea is good. Bile the leaves of a slippery elm or the bark and drink the juices. Coal oil and honey is still used fer cough and pneumonia.'”

2. Louisiana Creole/Cajun

“Make a tea with elderflowers and drink that.”

“When someone has a fever give them tea made with marsh elder. Give them a cup three times a day.”

“Boil wormwood flowers, then put the water in a tub.  Heat it up, then put the person over the vapor. Make sure they’re covered well.”

“Pick elderflowers on Saint John’s Day and then dry them in the sun. When they’re really dry make a tea with them and drink three small cups a day.”

“You boil wild wormwood and make a tea, then you drink that three or four times a day.”

“Some of us give malomé rouge. We boil that and take it three times a day. At the end of three days it will cut the fever.”

“You take some red willow bark from off the side facing the setting sun. You put the bark in whiskey. Then you in put nine nails that have never been used and put in nine green coffee beans. Then you add a little bit of wormwood tea. Then you add two doses of quinine in there. Drink a spoonful of that tea three times a day.”

3. Pennsylvania German Braucherei

John George Hohman’s Pow-Wows or Long Lost Friend

Good morning, dear Thursday! Take away from [name] the 77-fold fevers. Oh! thou dear Lord Jesus Christ, take them away from him! + + +

This must be used on Thursday for the first time, on Friday for the second time, and on Saturday for the third time; and each time thrice. The prayer of faith has also to be said each time, and not a word dare be spoken to anyone until the sun has risen. Neither dare the sick person speak to anyone till after sunrise; nor eat pork, nor drink milk, nor cross a running water, for nine days.

Write the following letters on a piece of white paper, sew it on a piece of linen or muslin, and bang it around the neck until the fever leaves you:

A b a x a C a t a b a x
A b a x a C a t a b a x
A b a x a C a t a b a
A b a x a C a t a b
A b a x a C a t a
A b a x a C a t
A b a x a C a
A b a x a C
A b a x a
A b a x
A b a
A b

Write the following words upon a paper and wrap it up in knot-grass, (breiten megrich,) and then tie it upon the body of the person who has the fever:

Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat.

Jerusalem, thou Jewish city,
In which Christ our Lord, was born,
Thou shalt turn into water and blood,
Because it is for [name] fever, worms, and colic good.

Pray early in the morning, and then turn your shirt around the left sleeve, and say: Turn, thou, shirt, and thou, fever, do likewise turn. (Do not forget to mention the name of the person having the fever.) This, I tell thee, for thy repentance sake, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. If you repeat this for three successive mornings the fever will disappear.

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