Lett's Set A Spell

Healing foods and remedies are popular folklore
Feb. 10, 2013 @ 12:00 PM

Cough! Cough! “Why, Honey Child, you’re barking like a dog! Let me get you somethin’ for that cough.” Every few hours my Aunt Gladys (who lived across the road with Grandpa) dished out a teaspoon of her cough syrup consisting of 1/3 honey, 1/3 lemon juice and 1/3 whiskey. The texture was yucky, but the taste was palatable and my symptoms subsided. Looking back, I’m not sure whether the concoction cured me or if the whiskey made me forget that I had a cold and cough! 

My Grandpa (Puzie Lett) said his parents swore by onion treatments for “every ailment known to man.” They were cooked and then wrapped in a rag and placed on the chest for colds and lung problems. Sometimes onions were combined with cornmeal to create such poultices. Sliced, roasted onions bound on the feet were used to break up a cold or cool a fever. Crushed raw onions were applied for headaches.

Grandpa said onion juice was squeezed on wounds, and when mixed with honey, it was good for hoarseness and croup. He even claimed onion juice could also grow hair on a bald head, cure fits and heal the bite of a mad dog, but I never saw any evidence and I haven’t read anything in “The National Enquirer” to back up his claims. Meanwhile, I’ll add some onions to my culinary concoctions and salads just in case.  

MY AUNT GLADYS endorsed the adage “feed a cold, starve a fever.” Since I was prone to long bouts of bronchitis, she enjoyed fixin’ different foods and coming up with various remedies. She fed my cold well — perhaps a little too well — but my infections were stubborn and fought to hang on for weeks. However, Gladys was determined to cure my ailments once and for all. Gladys’ number one cure-all for colds, croup, flu, fever and respiratory disorders was chicken soup.

In recent years even scientists have noted that there is something special about chicken soup and that it seems to break down mucus in the lungs, making it easier to expel. Garlic, an ingredient in the soup, has gained a reputation for being a natural antibiotic that fights infections. 

Aunt Gladys liked using her red pepper from the garden and believed that the spicier the chicken soup, the more likely it was to get rid of mucus. She had dried the red pepper pods for use as a taste-enhancer and a tonic. She claimed that this cayenne pepper, known as capsicum, was “good for the blood, heart and circulation.”

Gladys also created a poultice from red pepper to fight infections, like the time Daddy split his toe wide open on a blade from the disk that plowed the fields. Within a few days it was a much bigger, whiter toe. Red pepper to the rescue — Gladys sprinkled some cayenne right on the wound and wrapped it with cheese cloth. Sure enough, the swelling decreased and the pus dried up right away.  

ASTHMA WAS A constant companion during my childhood. Aunt Gladys suggested an asthma treatment — drink strong black coffee, which I tried, and the caffeine kept me awake half the night. I easily resisted another notion for curing asthma some neighbor had told her about — roll spider webs in a ball and swallow.

Daddy (Bud Lett) had his own remedies — he made me take a teaspoon of honey every day throughout the year as a treatment for my asthma. He believed honey was good medicine for a variety of ailments, and especially anything related to infections. He swore by the miracles of molasses, too, and since I was an anemic looking child, he said I needed this food for the blood. No argument here as I downed it with butter and hot biscuits! 

When I think about home-from-school sick days as a child, I remember that Mama (Ruby Lett) would cook my favorite meal: fat, juicy hamburgers and freshly-cut flat potatoes — first called spuds and later referred to as French fries. Mama made them from potatoes grown on the farm or the large Irish variety bought at the grocery store.

Meanwhile, the dessert Aunt Gladys always brought me was rich cream, fresh from the cow, poured over strawberries she had picked, mixed with sugar, and frozen. The sweet taste elevated my blood sugar so high I didn’t have a care in the world, and isn’t happiness the best cure of all?  

AlexSandra Lett is a professional speaker and the author of “Natural Living, From Stress to Rest;” “A Timeless Place, Lett’s Set a Spell at the Country Store;” “Timeless Moons, Seasons of the Fields and Matters of the Heart;” “Timeless Recipes and Remedies, Country Cooking, Customs, and Cures;” and “Coming Home to my Country Heart, Timeless Reflections about Work, Family, Health, and Spirit.” Lett can be reached at (919) 258-9299 or LettsSetaSpell@aol.com.