Yarb Tales for Arkansas Women Bloggers
Tina Marie Wilcox
The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.
Suddenly, it is autumn, with vacillating temperatures, social events and children back in school. These factors play together to the benefit of germs that pass between people that attack the upper respiratory system, be they bacteria or virus. It has always been so; human bodies catch colds, especially when it gets cold outside. There is hardly anything better for colds than a good soup.
The Ozark Folk Center showcases the seasonal activities of Ozark folks getting ready for winter. Food storage was of major importance, being that, during our time period, before the advent of rural electrification, an automobile in every driveway and a convenience store on every block, if you didn’t dehydrate, store roots in a cellar and can, you could starve! Making sure that plant remedies were put up and handy was just as important as having foodstuffs.
Herbs have been allies for people, easing and shortening symptoms and lending comfort, since earliest recorded history. In the Ozarks, settlers, with roots in Europe, knew the benefits of the alliums, sage and thyme in the battle to breathe and swallow while in the throes of a cold.
Onions, leeks, chives and garlic are foods that help the folks that eat them stay healthy. When the germ is mightier than the herbs and the tickle in the throat turns to trouble, these sulfur-containing alliums can still help. Old timers still remember their mothers sprinkling sugar on a cut onion and spooning the resulting sweet syrup into their mouths to quiet the croup. Onion plasters were applied warm to the chest and covered with flannel to break up mucus in the lungs. Soup, heavily laced with garlic or any of the aforementioned alliums lend their sulfur to the fight to kill the germs that multiply in mucus.
Soup and stew was a convenient way to prepare stored vegetables and preserved meats. It was handily simmering at the back of the wood cook stove to ladle up for the entire family, both the fit and the ailing.
Think about the wisdom in these old ways. The greatest volume of soup is H2O. Water that has been heated to a simmer produces steam that, when inhaled, loosens phlegm. “Getting plenty of fluids” helps to flush the system. The foods in homemade soup are nourishing. Vegetable soup stock is prepared by simmering large chunks of onions, scallions, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes and even dandelion roots in lightly-salted water for an hour. The vegetables are then strained out of the broth. Bay leaf, cayenne and peppercorn may be added during this time of extended heat.
Adding a tablespoon of dried thyme or sage to a quart of soup stock and then covering the pan with a lid for ten minutes before serving makes an herbal infusion. The thyme and sage contain essential oils that are volatile. Both the flavor and the medicinal benefits will leave the soup in the form of steam if added to the soup too soon.
These herbs can help kill some of the germs that are causing the problem and can also work as decongestants to expel the mucus. I think of thyme specifically for coughs. Sage tea is my go-to herb for sore mouth and throat.
All that said, our forefolks had the wisdom to use the plants and some folks still do. Nonetheless, a smart person knows when to call the doctor. We live in an amazing time, with access to past knowledge and modern medicine. Take good care of yourself this fall and winter. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!