A red pepper instead of aspirin! What would you say if you went to the doctor with a cold and he handed you a red pepper or mint leaf to treat it? It may sound strange, but the pioneers used seeds, blossoms, and other plant parts to try to cure their colds and ease their aches and pains.
Since many pioneer homes were isolated, it usually fell upon the mother to care for the family when they got sick. She learned by trial and error which roots, seeds, and blossoms might help cure her family’s ills. The medicines were usually made by dropping dried leaves or roots into boiling water and letting it stand for five minutes. When a pioneer mother discovered an effective remedy, she’d be sure to share it with the other sisters at church on Sunday.
Hot peppers dried by the fire were made into a broth to treat colds. Pine needles were also boiled in water, and then the water was drunk for treating colds. Sagebrush dotted the brown valley when the pioneers arrived in Utah. It was used to treat ailments of the liver and the eyes. Many believed that sage helped a person have a long and healthy life. Dry mustard mixed with flour, or pine tar mixed with turpentine, was often spread on a cloth and placed on the chest to relieve congestion in the lungs.
The pioneers didn’t chew spearmint gum, but spearmint was prescribed for an upset stomach, nausea, or kidney stones. It was also thought to prevent swelling and inflammation. The tangy mint flavor made it a pioneer favorite.
When a child came down with a fever, a pioneer mother often boiled parsley to ease the fever. Parsley was also used for jaundice (a liver disease) and gallstones (a gall bladder condition). Raspberry and strawberry leaves were used to treat flu and/or diarrhea. Many believed that raw or cooked garlic helped heart disease.
Sometimes the women experimented, mixing plants with household ingredients. A paste of oatmeal, linseed oil, buttermilk, and baking soda was concocted to ease insect bites or bee stings. Mud or clay mixed with turpentine, crushed chrysanthemum leaves, butter, and salt might also ease the pain of a bite. A paste made of turpentine and brown sugar was sometimes applied to stop bleeding.
Some of the pioneer remedies are still used today, but most have been replaced by new and more effective medicines. There were no hospitals for early pioneer families. Mothers had to rely on Heavenly Father and the plants of the land to care for their families.