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Folk Remedies in the Early History of the Ozarks

By David Burton, Civic Communication Specialist and County Program Director with University of Missouri Extension

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — There were very few physicians in the early Ozarks, but there were “granny-women” or medicine women who served the area well.

Many residents used the best folk remedies they had inherited from the past. Some worked, some worked despite their toxicity, and some did not work at all.

“Frankly, the remedies varied and who used them also varied,” said David Burton, county engagement specialist in community economic development, University of Missouri Extension.

Presented here are some folk medicines and remedies used in the early Ozarks.

To cure yellow jaundice, eat nine chicken lice on bread and butter.

To help your heart, scrape off the black stuff (creosote) off the skillet and use it in a tea (the creosote stimulated the heart).

To care for colds, rub on coal oil (kerosene or turpentine) or rub on a mixture of skunk grease and mutton tallow.

To prevent a toothache, pick up old jawbones, walk back 12 steps and drop it over your head.

For eczema (acne), rub on black hen’s blood.

For warts, rub them with a dish rag and bury the rag; go to the crossroads and throw nine rocks in different directions; or charm them away.

For stomach problems, consume the pulverized lining of chicken gizzards.

For sinus problems: find mold on the door of an underground cellar. Breathe nine times deeply into the mold for each nostril and make a cross in the middle of the hand each time. Do this three times for every other day for nine days (what they were getting from the mold was penicillin)

For sick babies, give them wild artichoke; and for boils, use poultices, (soap mixed with sugar). For a goiter on neck: take the hand of a dead person and have the hand touch the goiter.

For child asthma, take a child out and measure the child’s height on a board and at that place on the board you auger out a hole and put a lock of child’s hair in the hole. Then you store it up with hickory cork. When the child grows beyond that, the asthma will be gone.

The early Ozarks of the late 19th to early 20th century was much more rural than it is now.

“Over 3 million people currently live in the 92 counties of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, that make up the region known as the Ozarks,” said Burton.

Four rivers make up the boundaries of the Ozarks: the Mississippi to the east, the Missouri to the north, the Arkansas to the south, and the Neosho to the west.

For more information, or to contact David Burton, go online to