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The Settlement of the Appalachian Frontier: Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage

The Settlement of the Appalachian Frontier

Sharing information, stories, and ideas for teaching students about the settlement of the Appalachian Frontier. Focusing on the little-known people and history of Southwestern Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, and Eastern Kentucky.

Location: Nickelsville, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dictionary of 18th Century Herb Usage

Doctors were few in Colonial America and very scarce on the frontier. Consequently people usually had to treat their own illnesses and accidents. A variety of herbal plants, some they brought with them from Europe and some native, were their primary source of medicinal relief. Many modern medicines in use today were originally derived from these plants, attesting to their effectiveness. What follows is only a very incomplete list of commonly used herbs.

Chiefly used as flavoring when cooking. Used dried as snuff to relieve headaches and colds. Also used as a strewing herb. Basil is in the mint family, native to Africa, Asia, India and Iran. It was brought from Europe to America in the early 1600s and by 1774 was grown commercially in Virginia. Its clove like flavor made many foods more appetizing. Colonists used this herb, also called St. Joseph wort, in salads and soups, especially pea soup. Powered basil leaves were used as a snuff and thought to clear the head.

Used for bee Stings. Bee Balm is a member of the mint family. It is native to North America but colonists soon sent seeds to Europe for their friends to plant and enjoy. Tea brewed from its leaves was called Oswego tea and was used as a substitute for china tea after the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

Burnet or Salad Burnet was carried to New England by the Pilgrims. Its cucumber flavored leaves added zip to salads, casseroles and soups. It was put in wine to which it "yeeldeth a certaine grace in drinking".

Caraway can be found cultivated and wild in the United States, Europe and Asia. Seeds were used in bread, cookies and other recipes, and as a flavoring in cordials. The boiled roots of caraway were eaten by native Americans and recommended for those with a cold, weak stomach. A tasty tea can be made by steeping 2 tbsp of caraway seed in 2 cups of boiling water for 10 minutes and then sweetening with honey.

Infused as a tea for indigestion and gas. Strewing herb and insect repellent.

Early leaves in salads. Used medicinally as a poultice to heal wounds and reduce swelling.

Coriander is an annual in the parsley family. It has become naturalized in this country, but is a native of southern Europe and Asia Minor. Colonists employed this spice in breads, desserts and pickles. The seeds were chewed as a breath freshener. Early distillers used oil of coriander in flavoring some whiskeys.

Used in salads and for cooking. Dill was used to flavor soups, salads, breads, stew, fish, potatoes, sauces, pickles and gin.

To treat skin diseases in sheep and horses. Also as a diuretic and for coughs.

Fennel leaves were used in salads, stews and vegetables. The seeds were used in pies and other baked fruits as well as breads.

For "female hysteria," melancholia and constipation.

Culinary uses as a flavoring.

For gout, rheumatism, fever and melancholy.

Used to make a cough syrup. Often used with honey and other herbs. Mixed with plaintain for snakebites. Soaked in fresh milk to repel flies. The leaves are used for flavoring beer, cough drops, honey and for making tea. Leaves should be gathered just before the flowers open. To make candy, steep two heaping teaspoons of dried horehound in one-cup water for half an hour. Strain. Put the leaves in a cloth and press or twist to get the remaining flavor. Add 3 ½ pounds of brown sugar to the water and boil until it reaches the ball stage. Pour into flat, well-greased pans ad mark into sticks or squares with a knife. You can adjust the taste by adding more tea.

Strew on the floor to prevent the spread of infection. Also used to treat respiratory illnesses.

"A women’s best friend."

Strewing herb and insect repellent.

Infused as a tea for headaches, indigestion, nausea. Distilled as a treatment to clean and heal wounds.

Similar to celery in taste, used in similar manner. Also used to treat kidney stones.

Used in cooking. Also to cure insomnia, nasal congestion and loss of appetite. Sweet Marjoram was used to flavor stews and soups.

Culinary uses. Seeds used as a diuretic.

Breath freshener. Leaves infused as a tea. Peppermint was also introduced early to the United States. It also went wild. However, since it prefers wetter land, it is not as prevalent as spearmint. Peppermint leaves were chewed to sweeten the breath. Peppermint oil was used to flavor tea, foods, crème de menthe and medicine.

Strewing herb. Flea and mosquito repellent.

Used in salads. As a poultice to heal wounds and the seeds to prevent miscarriage.

QUEEN ANNE’S LACEAs a diuretic and for kidney stones. Seeds used as a method of birth control.

These are the round red fruits formed from the flowers of the wild rose. It is the seedpod of the plant. Tea can be brewed from the hips, or they may also be dried. It is best to gather rose hips in late fall after the first frost when they are bright red. To make rose hip tea, boil dried rose hips with water – the longer it boils, the stronger the tea. Sweeten with brown sugar.

Oil used as a rub for sore muscles. promotes liver functions. Culinary uses.

Externally to cure warts, ringworm and poisonous bites. Internally as a treatment for colic and epilepsy. Decocted for earaches.

Culinary uses as a flavoring for pork, sausage and poultry. Medically in combination with other herbs for headaches. Decocted and as a mouthwash for sore throats and infected gums.

For vinegars and as a pot vegetable. As a poultice for infected wounds. To remove stains from linen.

Spearmint was brought to the United States by some of the earliest immigrants. By 1672 it was growing wild. Spearmint leaves were used to make tea, jellies and sauces. The leaves were sugared and mixed with sugared leaves of rose and wild violet to make a candy.

The leaves to treat burns and wounds. The flowers as a tincture for melancholy.
STINGING NETTLESEarly spring leaves used in salads. A mixture of the seeds, bayberries, gunpowder and honey for rheumatism. Leaves used to line cheese press, and dried as chicken feed.

Seed as a vermifuge for children. Root used to treat gout.

Used in salads and to flavor foods.

Culinary use as a flavoring. Medicinally for toothaches, gout, headaches, and to cure nightmares. Used as an antiseptic. Thyme was brought from Europe by the earliest settlers. Sprigs of thyme were placed on lard and butter to keep them from becoming rancid. It was used to flavor soups, stews, meat, cheese and egg dishes, seafood and vegetables.

Leaves can be chewed for toothaches.