Herbs Our Ancestors Used

This information was found on a place mat at the restaurant at The Ozark Folk Center. (A joint effort of the Committee of 100 and the Ozark Folk Center). I received permission to post this information.

Linda Haas Davenport


Herbs were an important part of the pioneer household, whether as food, as coloring and dye for gunstocks, furniture, quilts, clothes, or as medicine in a time when there were few if any doctors available. A family's health depended upon the knowledge and skills of the oldest person in the household. They grew or gathered plants, dried and preserved them for winter use, kept seeds from year to year, and passed plant-starters along to the children as they were married and moved away.

A traditional homestead her garden was simply plants stuck around a doorway, on the cellar or along the side of the cabin or garden spot, in no particular order except maybe arranged according to when they were acquired, or closer to the door because they were used more often. The homesteader would probably not have spent the time to make walks and beds in the hard times of those early years.

Here's a List of just a few of the herbs our ancestors used.

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BASIL: was used to keep flies out of houses, sometimes as snuff, and as a cure for travel sickness. Good herb with tomatoes.

ALKANET: was a healing herb used before antiseptics. One old recipe for a wound dressing called for alkanet pounded with oil and mixed with dried earthworms!

CARAWAY: was a treatment for baldness, and it was once believed that items containing a caraway seed couldn't be stolen.

BERGAMOT: was a tea and healing plant. This was the tea that replaced "English Tea" after the colonists threw the imported tea overboard at the Boston Tea Party.

DILL: hass been used for the past 5,000 years as a cure for hiccups. Soothes digestion, flavors pickles, salads and relishes.

THYME: was once used by magicians to see elves.

FLAX SEED: was once used t remove foreign things in the eye be place a flax seed in the affected eye.

MUGWORTH: was a dream inducer (in pillows); a traveler with mugworth leaves in his shoes was believed able to walk 40 miles before noon!

TANSY: drove off moths and bugs, kept away flies and was used as a cure for freckles.

MARJORAM: would ensure a happy marriage, so was often given in or on a wedding present.

CHAMOMILE: this was the tea that Peter Rabbit was given by his mother after he'd eaten too many beans and radishes. Soothes tummys and encourages sleep.

LAVENDER: prevented headaches, induced pleasant dreams (in pillows) and was thought to "still the passions of the heart"

ELDERBERRY: was used for jellies, wines, fact lotions, eyewashes, friters and cake flavorings.

IRIS: is a healing herb, was used as a freckle remover and is still used as a potpourri fixative and perfume ingredient.

HOREHOUND: was taken by anyone who was being poisoned by their step-mother. Used also as a gnat repellent and an ingredient in cough drops. Was also used in candy (Horehound Candy was popular all the way up to the 1950s).

VERVAIN: was used to keep away enemies and stop barking dogs.

VIOLETS: were often used as a treatment for rheumatism of the RIGHT wrist.

MINT: treated dog bites, soothed stomachs, cured hiccups and repelled rats.

PENNYROYAL: repels fleas, ticks and bugs, and was once a specific for sore thumb joints.

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