Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer and some old-fashioned remedies

My grandmother, Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer (1857-1959) was considered a "Granny Woman." Among other things, she had a knowledge of herbal medicine, she was a mid-wife, and she compounded formularies that could relieve some of the illnesses that beset her own large family and others in the surrounding Choestoe community where she lived.

Some of my cousins and I have often wondered what happened to her hand-written remedies that she referred to faithfully as she boiled up soothing teas and recommended old-fashioned remedies to the country folk living round about her. Then, sending for a doctor was not always an option in the years in the 19th and early 20th centuries when she lived and practiced her folk knowledge.

Did she get the knowledge from her mother or grandmother and aunts who got their information from the Cherokee Indians who once lived on the land these early settlers occupied? Maybe so. Or perhaps the remedies were passed down, generation to generation, from their European roots as early American settlers with names like Collins, Souther, Hunter, Dyer, England--the list of ties could go on--settled this land. My thinking is that Grandmother Sarah's formularies were a combination of these two sources and perhaps some of her own knowledge of what worked by trial and error method.

I can remember as a child when we visited Grandma Sarah's house that faced Brasstown Bald Mountain, we children would be warned not to "touch or play with" Grandma's roots that hung on pegs to dry on the back porch of her house. These were drying in order to make her medicines to help sick people. I often wondered how the strange, twisted roots could possibly aid people. Did they have to swallow portions of them in order to become well? My best plan, I thought, was to stay well and healthy so I could avoid such monstrous-looking roots being crushed up and forced into my body in dark, bitter teas. Little did I know then that the teas Grandma knew how to make were the antidotes for many an ailment, and highly welcomed by her neighbors.

Take, for example, ginseng, known better to our mountain forebears as 'sang. The ginseng root was harvested from the mountains where it grew wild in the olden days. How it got from its native China and Korea is left to speculation. Perhaps it was brought over the "land bridge" believed to have formerly connected the great continents of the earth and over which the first Native Americans may have traveled. In doing some research on the plant, I found that it was the most famous of the old Chinese herbal remedies, having been used for more than 5,000 years. Imagine the kings of Chinese dynasties being treated by court physicians on this very herb. That's how far back its history goes.

Nowadays, because the plant is still in great demand, growers are cultivating it. The plant takes about six years to mature and grows up to two and one-half feet in height. It has a yellow taproot, resembling a carrot but with more prongs. It is the root that is beneficial for medicinal purposes, and was one of the roots I saw as a child drying on pegs on my Grandmother's porch.
Ginseng as a tonic is believed to aid the heart and circulatory system. It also is a balm for the brain and aids in concentration, even among the aged with dementia or what we currently call Alzheimer's disease. Ginseng boosts the immune system and is held by many to be an aphrodisiac (sexual stimulant). Ginseng in various forms can be found nowadays in health food stores.

This is not my Grandmother's formulary for Ginseng Tea but one I found by researching folk remedies. I might urge, "use with caution." If ginseng tonics are taken for more than three months or in higher dosages than recommended, sleep disturbances, restlessness or anxiety can result.

Ginseng Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of grated ginseng. Steep for 10 minutes and strain. This tea will sharpen concentration, even in the elderly.

Ginseng Tonic: Take 20 to 30 drops of ginseng tonic (from a health food store) daily to prevent heart disease. If you have low blood pressure, this tonic can stimulate blood flow. Beware of using it if your blood pressure is high already.

Ginseng for the Bath: Add grated ginseng root to warm bath water to help you relax and sleep well.

Ginseng as a Food Supplement: Sprinkle a pinch of grated ginseng over your soup or food. This is as effective as buying the more expensive commercial ginseng soup.

As the familiar saying goes, "We've come a long way." But with Medicare, Medicaid, and the more recent Medicare D for prescription drugs that give us a headache when we present our "non-approved" on the "formulary" prescriptions for filling, we could wish we knew what our grand and great-grandparents knew about making do with what they had. It must have worked then. My Grandmother Sarah lived to be within two months of 102 years of age.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 16, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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