Sawbones: Appalachian Folk Medicine


This week on Sawbones, Dr. Sydnee and Justin are passing your baby around a table leg as they explore the history of Appalachian folk cures live from Huntington, WV.

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Music: "Medicines" by The Taxpayers


Kerosene & sugar

I grew up in eastern Kentucky and had heard and seen many of these "remedies." Per your hope that kerosene & sugar was topical, think again. When my dad thought we might have "worms" which were supposedly common since we owned hogs, he'd give us 1 Tbsp of sugar with 6 drops of turpentine. I actually grew a taste for it which was all kinds of bad, I know.

We also took blackstrap molasses for iron, had well-chewed tobacco held to our bee stings, vinegar-drenched paper bags wrapped our sprains limbs, and smothered under a tent of heavy quilts sitting on a chair over a pot of boiling water for fevers, to name a few other such cures.


Hey Sydnee and Justin,

Although I grew up in California, I come from a long line of Appalachian bloodstoppers. The power to stop bleeding is supposedly passed down through familes, from a woman to her son or from a father to his daughter. I wasn't aware of my family history until my "crazy" uncle began to tell people that my grandmother had taught him to be a bloodstopper and practitioner of folk magic. My mother told me that my uncle was lying, since my grandmother would have never been involved in any form of witchcraft. However, I recently discovered that she had been the one lying, because my grandmother had sworn her to secrecy.

The most common method bloodstoppers turn to is the blood verse, which comes from Ezekiel 16:6: "And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live."

Mom says my grandmother preferred the following spell: "Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem and baptized in the river Jordan, which washes the blood off of [Insert Name Here]."

When I suggested that we develop an experiment to put the spells to a test, my mom said, "It only works if you really believe it will." How convenient. I'm grateful that I never received a potentially fatal cut as a child. I would have been totally screwed.


Still being used :)

Dear Sydnee and Justin,
I live in TN and we still do a lot of these "natural cures". My grandparents bought a small dog when my mom had ashma it didn't cure her ashma but she loved the new pet lol. Also last year I was subbing a local school and one of the students got stung by a bee the teacher quickly lit a cigarette and started smoking it then put the used tobacco on the sting. Just thought you would want to know, and I ansoulutle love your show :)

Rebecca gore