The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 3, 2013

Appalachian home remedies cure almost everything

By John Blankenship

— Home remedies. You know what I’m talking about. Folk treatments: the odd wisdom of our mountain forebears, herbs and ointments, teas and tonics, powders and salves.

Well, as it turns out, some of the old remedies popular in Appalachian culture for generations evolved over hundreds of years from all over the big blue marble, according to a reader from Hinton who sent me an interesting e-mail.

The woman has collected an assortment of health tips now being assimilated into the American medicine cabinet from abroad-especially for men.

Here’s one you probably haven’t heard of: kill germs with garlic. It seems that the Russians have been rubbing garlic cloves on nicks since World War II, when their scientists discovered that garlic contains antibacterial compounds.

Some others: Eat spinach after a bender. Oriental medicine prescribes spinach tea as a hangover cure, and eating a bowl of spinach will help you convalesce just the same. That’s because spinach is rich in vitamin C, iron, magnesium, potassium and water — all of which alcohol purges from your body, causing you to feel terrible hours later.

Sunburned? Break into your wife’s stash of herbal tea after you come home from the fishing hole, or after you finish putting new shingles on the roof. Don’t drink it; let it cool and swab it on your body to cool sunburn, just like they do in Taiwan. Tannic acid, after all, alleviates the sting of the burn.

Using vinegar as a shampoo? Up north, it’s a folk remedy. Just mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a quart of water, and rinse your hair with it in the shower. The vinegar normalizes your scalp’s pH balance to help eliminate flaking.

Here’s another one: Brew coffee to breathe easy when pollen is aggravating your nasal passages. Asthma rates are lower in South Africa than in the United States. It might just be the coffee, but some physicians say that caffeine relaxes the smooth muscle in the airways, just like the asthma drug theophylline.

And if hiccups bother you, take a page out of the Norwegians book: rub an ice cube on your Adam’s apple for a minute. Apparently the coldness interrupts the reflex arc from your brain to your diaphragm that causes hiccups.

The Irish seem to have a lower incidence of diabetes than Americans, and some researchers think it’s because they use honey instead of refined sugar in cooking and flavoring their food. Honey takes longer to digest than sugar, so it requires your pancreas to produce less insulin, according to some natural health secrets from around the world.

At the same time, a study in France found that cheddar cheese contains substances that make tooth enamel twice as resistant to sugar and also neutralizes the harmful effects of plaque. It seems to make the French more resistant to tooth decay but not invading armies.

Most country folk, meanwhile, probably think that eating fresh berries in the summertime causes diarrhea (or what our ancestors called the flux). Actually, blueberries are a rich source of anthocyanosides, which are natural compounds that kill bacterial strains that cause diarrhea. Since the berries thrive wild in the Swedish countryside, the Swedes find them to be a handy home remedy for the trots. (Try a half cup of dried blueberries the next time you’re afflicted with the green-apple runs, but keep a bottle of Pepto-Bismol or Imodium D handy just in case.)

While we’re at it, let’s mention that the Italians rub their skin with olive oil and camphor (available in drugstores) to soothe sore muscles. When rubbed on the skin, the mixture increases the blood flow to reduce soreness. You’ll smell like dinner, but it’s worth it.

And if you’re plagued with clogged arteries, here’s another one for you. The reason that men in Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries have lower rates of heart disease than American men: Their diet is heavy in wine, fish and hearty salads — all rich in sources of nutrients known to promote cardiovascular health.

A slew of similar remedies are available on the World Wide Web, but some of them are a tad far out, even for one who grew up hearkening to elders expounding on the mysteries of homegrown cures.

I’ll list a few, but I cannot vouch for their effectiveness.

- China: pretend you’re a windmill and beat a headache.

- Korea: pinch your ears, stifle a food craving.

- Japan: eat sushi, keep your hair.

- Quebec: chew wintergreen leaves, ease a toothache.

- Hawaii: use pineapple rind to soften calluses.

- Bermuda: run in the sand, get a pedicure.

- Mexico: eat beans, lose weight.

The last entry is too much of a gas to ignore.


Top of the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: