Prior to the days of modern medicine, man depended solely on home health remedies to fight off illnesses and disease. For hundreds of years, Indian tribes relied on many kinds of herbs and plant roots whenever they became ill. In more severe cases, their witch doctor or medicine man was called in.
Our early explorers and fur traders were often helpless when stricken with some unknown disease and many perished because little was known to combat their illness. Some of the more dreaded diseases of the world during past centuries were smallpox, diptheria and cholera.
Thousands of Indians died from different smallpox epidemics of the past years, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a dreaded disease ‑ one very hard to control. It spread very rapidly, wiping out entire families.
Many of our early explorers and fur traders died from scurvy. For many years the cause of scurvy was unknown. Later it was established that a lack of vitamins, mainly Vitamin C, contributed to this illness. The entire crew of the Franklin expedition of 1845‑48 perished from this disease.
Dysentery was common in the United States and Canada during the early years. It was a communicable disease and due, for the most part, to bad sanitation and the eating of spoiled foods which resulted in bad cases of diarrhea. Many inmates of jails and soldiers fighting the early wars fell victim to this disease.
Diptheria was another serious disease. It was a dangerous, infectious disease of the throat, usually accompanied by a high fever.
Although there were some cases of cholera in North America, it was a much greater problem in India and Pakistan. This was an acute disease of the stomach and intestines. Very little in the way of home remedies was effective with any of these dreaded diseases.
Our pioneers, many of whom lived in remote areas, were able to overcome certain illnesses by the use of home health remedies. Some of the remedies were proven while others were questionable. A severe chest cold required a hot mustard plaster applied to the chest. A bee or wasp sting was treated with baking soda applied to the area of the sting with a damp cloth ‑ a mixture of mud also had the same results. A sore throat was treated by gargling a solution made up of salt and water.
Our early pioneers had health remedies for stopping nose bleeds, removing freckles, treating bad sprains, curing pimples, sunstroke, colds and hoarseness. There were many other home health remedies as well. A novel health cure for relieving asthma called for a muskrat bide applied to the chest with the fur side facing the skin.
Early pioneers believed certain foods helped to ward off illnesses. They believed spinach bad a direct effect upon complaints of the kidneys. Many thought that dandelion greens were good for the kidneys as well. Asparagus was known to purify the blood, they believed celery acted admirably upon the nervous system, that tomatoes were good for the liver and onions and garlic were good for the circulatory system. White onions were recommended as a remedy for insomnia.
During the last century, especially in the United States, snake oil salesmen made their rounds selling fake medicine. They travelled in a buggy van which carried a large supply of bottled medicine. They always attracted a large crowd by first performing a sideshow. At the conclusion of their show, some long winded snake oil salesman would then address the large gathering, bragging of the many illnesses his snake oil would cure. In many cases his bottled medicine was nothing more than colored water spiked with alcohol. Once the throng was relieved of their money for this useless medicine, the snake oil salesman would leave town and go through the same procedure in another nearby town.
Today, very few home health cures are used. Now people visit a doctor and he writes out a prescription for different pills or medicine which can be picked up at a nearby drug store.