There are a number of Appalachian tales and remedies for fighting fevers. In a nutshell, Appalachian folk medicine is a mix of healing practices from the Appalachian region that are primarily Native American, European, and African. The climate and diseases of the Appalachians affected how medicines were used because the most common conditions could require the most different treatments. These ancient cures have a great deal of wisdom. Although I’m writing this to explore a historical subject, as a legacy of how locals have treated fever; it’s not intended to replace medical attention if you’re having respiratory symptoms or other medical problems. It is meant to be beneficial for herbalists, whether they are clinical or folk.
Fighting Fevers with Plants
In Appalachia, many plants have long been celebrated for their potential healing properties. Here are just a few of the plants that were traditionally used to help lessen fevers:
Yarrow – also known as “thousand-leaf” or “milfoil”, yarrow has a long history of being used to help reduce feverish symptoms. The plant contains active compounds called cumarin derivatives, which are thought to be responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Boneset – boneset was an important herb among Cherokee Indians who believed it could bring down fevers quickly. It’s also known for its diaphoretic properties, which helps induce sweating and further lower body temperatures.
Mint – mint has been used by Appalachian healers to cool hot tempers as well as hot bodies! It contains menthol, an oil with cooling and potentially antibacterial properties; this makes it especially useful for treating fevers caused by bacterial infections such as strep throat or sinusitis.
Black Pepper – fever and the accompanying chills were treated with brandy and black pepper. African folklore is the source of the use of pepper in Appalachian traditional medicine.
Mullein – they often smoked dried mullein leaves to treat catarrh. Although smoking is not something I would advise doing today if you have phlegm, people have long utilized smoke to help with the condition.
Ginger – known to be good for fevers
Sage – use cooking sage (not white) steeped into a strong tea for a fever.
These days, many doctors continue to recommend natural remedies such as herbal teas or tinctures (concentrated extracts made from herbs). True to Appalachian tradition, modern herbalists often combine multiple herbs with complimentary actions (for example using yarrow alongside boneset) in order to target different aspects of the feverish condition. Always check with your doctor before trying anything new!
Old Wives Tales for Curing Fevers
Put an onion in their socks. A sliced onion placed directly against the skin is thought to draw out heat from the body, and placing it inside a sock helps keep it in place.
Soak feet in cold water. This age-old method of relieving fever has been around for centuries, as cold water can help pull heat away from the body while also providing some soothing relief to tired feet!
Apply a mustard plaster. Mustard contains compounds like glucosinolates which may have anti-inflammatory effects, theoretically making this remedy useful for reducing fevers. To make a mustard plaster mix equal parts dry mustard powder with warm water; then apply the paste directly onto the chest or on either side of the neck. The sensation of warmth is said to relax muscles and draw heat away from the body.
Eat oranges or applesauce with honey. Both oranges and apples contain high levels of vitamin C which may help combat infections that cause fever; plus, adding honey can make this traditional remedy even sweeter.
For chest congestion, Mix some whiskey with rock candy to create a thick syrup, then consume a few spoonfuls throughout the day.
Make an onion poultice by roasting an onion, wrapping it in cloth, beating it until the juice soaks the material, then applying the cloth to the chest.
Superstitions and Magical Methods for Fighting Fevers
When it comes to curing fevers, some people turn to superstition and magical methods. While none of these remedies have been proven to work scientifically, many cultures around the world believe them to be effective. Here are some of the more common superstitious and magical practices for combating fever:
Wearing a red string around your wrist. This ancient practice is said to protect the wearer from evil spirits that cause fever. It’s believed that if one wears a red string while ill, they will be able to drive out the fever with just a few days.
Burning sage or incense. In some cultures, burning herbs and fragrances is thought to cleanse away negative energy that may be causing a fever. Try lighting up some sage or incense in your bedroom in order to purify the air and cool down your body temperature naturally!
Climb a tree using only your hands. When you jump down, the fever is left on the branch you were holding onto.
Anointing yourself with oil or holy water. Certain oils like frankincense and myrrh are seen as having healing powers when applied topically; ditto for holy water which is thought to cleanse any evil spirits causing fevers away from its taker. Be sure not to overdo it though; applying too much can cause skin irritation!
Wrap red yarn around the forehead three times and leave there for a quarter of an hour. Remove the yarn, wrap it around a large twig from a birch tree and bury it.
Today, many doctors recommend natural remedies like herbal teas or tinctures made from plants like those in the Appalachian Mountains. As with any home treatment, always check with your doctor before trying anything new; but adding a bit of Appalachian folk wisdom into your recovery plan may be just what you need!