Friday, October 7, 2016

FOLK MEDICINE

On a recent trip to the east coast of Georgia and Florida, we went into a bookstore at St. Mary’s Island, Georgia and picked up a book about the Okefinokee swamp entitled Okefinokee Album, a volume by Francis Harper and Delma E. Presley that documents the heritage of people who live in the “land of the trembling earth.” While leafing through a chapter that includes potions for “whatever ails you,” I became interested in the folk medicine cures suggested by old-time Okefinokee practitioners. The chapter reminded me of the research I’d done on folk medicine and traiteurs while writing a young adult book entitled Martin’s Quest.

Traiteurs and other believers in folk medicine possess a veritable encyclopedia of cures for warts. The old-timers in the Okefinokee swamp suggested cures that didn’t include the element of prayer, but traiteurs in Cajun country often combined (and still do) home remedies with making the sign of the cross over the place affected by warts. In Martin’s Quest, Grandma Eulalie advises her grandson to take a piece of white bread, break it into two pieces and make the sign of the cross on his finger with one of the pieces, then feed the bread to his dog, Jean Sot.

Chitimacha Indians in Charenton, Louisiana, from whom many traiteurs acquired some of their treatment practices, didn’t use the sign of the cross, but treated warts with fig juice during the time when the moon was shrinking.

In the Okefinokee Album, folk healers treated warts in several ways. One healer advised the person being treated to take as many grains of corn as he had warts and tie them in a rag, then carry them off and throw them down where someone else would pick them up. A person would come along, pick up the rag and carry it back to the owner, and the warts would disappear. Another healer advised a person to slip over to his neighbor’s house and steal a dish, rub it on the warts, then throw the dish away and the warts would vanish with the dish. Some practitioners advised selling the warts that appeared on a person’s hand. The buyer would give the seller of warts a penny or a nickel, and the warts would disappear. The last treatment recommended by a practitioner was to bleed the wart, put the blood on a grain of corn, and give it to a chicken.

The cure for cow warts was a treatment in which the cow’s owner would find a rotten piece of wood, hit the animal across the back of its neck so that the piece broke and fell on each side of the animal. While performing this feat, the owner would say, “Go away warts,” and the warts would disappear from the skin of the cow.

Folk medicine is also still practiced in many remote areas of the Appalachians, but I haven’t come across a book on healers who live in the hills. However, I intuit that they have even more cures for warts. From what I’ve read and researched, people in the South must have been plagued by warts at one time! I was always told not to pick up frogs as they carried warts!

I believe in prayer therapy and have also read many books about alternative medicine, none of which involve folk medicine, but I think that chiropractors, massage therapists, vitamins, acupuncture practitioners, have their place in this era of over-medication. I just finished a series of treatments performed by a chiropractor on an ailing back and leg and after six sessions, can now get through a night sans pain.


I conclude with a bit of levity, a priceless, one-line recipe for curing stuttering recommended by a man named Jackson Lee and recorded in Okefinokee Album: Eat mockingbird eggs!


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