Old time Remedies and Superstitions

Old time remedies and superstitions

By Margaret Graham
Introduction by Elizabeth Davis

In March of 1782 a grant of land was given to five men in Middle Stewiacke, containing in all, about twenty-five hundred acres.  The men were William Kennedy, James Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Timothy Putnam and Simeon Whidden.This was bounded on the west side by the land of the Indian Grant, which grant was two miles square.The Indian Grant started at the brook, on the east side of the property which is now owned by George Taylor, extending across the river beyond the farm where J.P. Brenton lived, then due west to the Johnson property, and two miles north to a point on the Brookfield road, and back to the starting point.

The Indians were never troublesome or vicious, but if they could, they would take advantage of one in a bargain!

The first white man to set foot on Indian land was a Mr. Rutherford, near what was later the Rutherford and Corbett property. Tradition has it that he purchased the land from an Indian, paying with a bottle of rum and a little pig.

The Indians lived well.  They hunted in the dense forest, fished in the streams, and the diseases of the white men were unknown to them.

Remedies and superstitions

An old lady born in 1845 is responsible for most of the following.

Everyone must have a dose of sulphur and molasses in the spring – it was a cleansing!
Tansy tea was very good for ailing animals – I never remember any human taking it.
Steeped gold-thread root was a cure for sore mouths in babies.
Steeped red clover blossoms was very good for “striking out” measles or any disease with a rash.  Other things were mentioned, not quite so palatable.
Sweet poultry tea was good for something in children, I’m not sure what.  “Mint Tea”, made from sprigs of wild mint that grew along the brook, was excellent to help cure a cold.  (There were two kinds of mint – peppermint and horsemint. Only the peppermint was good.)  Onions boiled with sugar to a thick syrup was also good for a cold.  Red peppers (the hot kind) soaked in vinegar, was taken for sore throat, needless to say, in very small sips!  A few drops of fir balsam on a spoonful of sugar, and a woolen sock tied around one’s neck and left all night was also good.
A spoonful of cream-of-tartar in a glass of sweetened water was “cooling” for a fever.
Ginger tea was given for a “belly-ache”.
Nutmeg Tea was given for diarrhea. (A city cousin of seven years was given this at our house and went home and told his mother that Aunt L. gave him “maggot tea:!)   Steeped leaves of wild raspberry was also given for this ailment.
A concoction of steeped wild cherry bark (preferably black cherry), fir bark, juniper twigs and lion’s paw was the best appetite restorer I ever saw.
Goose grease in molasses was good for a cough if taken internally.  Rubbed on the chest and covered with hot flannel, it loosened a cold.  If this failed to work, a mustard plaster usually did the trick.  I was badly blistered by this as a youngster during a bout of pneumonia.  Minards Liniment rubbed on the chest, covered with a brown paper was also a cure.  A salt herring strapped to the sole of each foot was helpful in the case of typhoid.
A cloth wrung out of soda water and placed on the forehead would ease a headache.
A woolen sock leg filled with coarse salt and well heated was used as a pillow for earache or toothache.
A baby must not be shown himself in the mirror until he was a year old or he would be unlucky.  A baby born with a “caul” or “veil” was very fortunate.  Also anyone whose hair grew in a “widow’s peak” on the forehead was supposed to be lucky.
An old couplet runs:
Trust no man, not even your brother
Whose hair is one color and moustache another.
If you were going away, even if only a mile down the road,and a black cat crossed the road in front of you, turn back and stay the rest of the day, or bad luck would overtake you.  A squirrel was considered lucky.
If, in the course of your rambles, you counted the white horses you saw, after counting 27, the first man you shook hands with, you would without a doubt, marry!
If the kitchen fire refused to burn brightly, then your husband was angry at you.
If you accidentally spill some salt, you must immediately throw a pinch over your shoulder if you wish to avoid dire effects.
The first time you see the new moon, make sure you are not looking over your left shoulder.
It is not a good omen to have someone dressed all in black at your wedding.
“Happy is the bride that the sun shines on,”, but “Happy is the corpse that the rain falls on”.
A poultice of soap and sugar was good to draw out infection.  Also used for this purpose was a poultice of bread and milk with baking soda added.
The rind of salt pork was a cure for puncture wounds, such as that caused by a rusty nail.
A cold tea bath was a help for sore eyes or cold tea leaves, after steeping, bandaged on the eyes was also good.
A liniment made of egg whites and turpentine was a help in case of sprains.

Note: This account is found in Stories of the Stewiacke Valley, collected and printed during the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980.