Lett's Set A Spell

Tonics, laxatives and other old timey remedies
Mar. 03, 2013 @ 12:00 PM

Through the years Grandpa (Puzie Lett) never tired of advocating and administering tonics, laxatives and potions. Every spring, the many young’uns on the Lett farm were given a dose of a dry yellow substance called sulphur, which was considered a tonic to purify the blood. Also, the entire family would often spread a little sulphur powder on their arms and legs to ward off ticks and fleas. 

Daddy (Bud Lett) and his brother Gilbert got more than their share of tonics. “Bud and I tried to hide in the barn when the castor oil and Black Draught powder combination was given out but they always caught up with us,” Gilbert told me. “We had to take it once a month whether we needed it or not.” Black Draught was considered the laxative made by the Devil himself!

One time when I was about 10 years old and was moping around like a sick puppy, Grandpa said, “Sandy Lynn, you’ve got bad bowels. Ain’t nothing wrong with you that a dose of Black Draught won’t help!” Meanwhile, Aunt Gladys, queen of cures, commented, “Honey Child, you just need a tonic.” 

As we three “young’uns” — Jimmy Doyle, Mary Carolyn and me — grew up on the Lett farm, we were also required to take two teaspoons of that yucky-tasting sulphur twice a year as a tonic. Each spring, as Mama (Ruby Lett) made us help her carry out the mattresses and pillows for sunning, Daddy followed in the footsteps of his father and lined us for our annual dose of Black Draught. I’m not sure if he felt we really needed a purge or if it was only fair that we suffer the misery like our ancestors before us!

COUNTRY FOLK also advocated enemas. Since they thought clean bowels meant less ailments, they assumed decaying food collected in the stomach and led to illness. Mama and Daddy were trained in that school of thought, too. When Mama brought the red hot water bottle out of the cabinet and handed it to my sister Carolyn and me, we knew it was time for those dreaded enemas. 

One popular homegrown tonic was dandelion greens. Aunt Gladys picked them straight from the yard and nearby fields because they were tasty and also considered a healing weed. “Dandelions are good for the blood ... they are like a tonic and eating them gives you more energy,” she told me. She added leaves to various dishes in the kitchen and also dried some for brewing into tea.

A neighbor made dandelion wine each year and shared a bottle with Aunt Gladys, who took a sip now and then for various ailments — only for medicinal purposes, mind you! Today, with all the chemicals on grass, those dandelions might be more foe than friend.  

ON THE LETT FARM, baking soda was considered the best remedy for ailing tummies. The scientific term for baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Since it helps maintain the pH balance necessary for health, it helps indigestion, sooths stomach aches and treats heartburn. Another remedy for indigestion was adding one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to 1/2 glass of water for sipping slowly.

Through the years vinegar became known as the best treatment for shingles — an ugly, itchy rash “10 times worse than chickenpox” – according to Aunt Gladys, when applied topically several times a day for relief and healing. Gladys also recommended another remedy for shingles — oatmeal made into a paste and applied liberally. 

Meanwhile, I experienced a challenging bout with shingles last fall and discovered my own natural remedies, but that’s another story for another day.

I continue to advocate what Aunt Gladys believed, “Nature gave us everything we need to heal ourselves.”  

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.