So Do You Want Mustard on Your….Chest? –Tanya Hanson

I’m not a sickly person. In fact, during my years teaching school, it was often more trouble to miss school than gut it out. And I get flu shots religiously every fall.

Nonetheless, I came down with two nasty cold/viruses during the flu season of 2009-2010 and needed medical care for a horrific cough and ear infection that had me deaf in one ear. Scary! Some of the doctor’s advice was no-brainer: rest, liquids, and salt water nasal spray. Therefore, Dr. Quinn fanatic that I am, I wondered how folks fared during cold season in days of yore.

 Some remedies from our homesteadin’ ancestors still prevail: Breathing steam. Cooking up a pot of savory chicken soup, and mixing up Hot Toddies. (not necessarily together LOL). However, the old “feed a cold starve a fever” has definitely lost favor. Light exercise, fresh air, and good nourishment have proved to be essential to a quick return to health.

Peeking through stuff for this post, I found a number of homemade cough remedies:

        ** 2-3 drops of kerosene on a teaspoon of sugar.

        ** Equal parts of oil of peppermint, friars balsam and tincture of red lavender. Also served drop by drop on a teaspoon of sugar.

       **  Syrup made from wild cherry bark, mullein leaf, slippery Elm powder, coltsfoot leaf, lobelia leaf, pleurisy root, elecampane root, and licorice root.

      **  Syrup made from honey, lemon and glycerin.

For sore throats, homesteaders and city dwellers like usually dosed with teas made from sassafras or black currants, and the always popular and effective lemon and honey. A gargle of sage and alum mixed in a glass of water supposedly helped as well.

 Cold and canker sores could be eased with tea made from the berries of wild rose bushes, or a daub of potash.

The concoction of one clove of garlic mixed in a cup of warm  milk was said to lessen the duration of the cold. Interestingly, today’s doctors know that an active compound in garlic, allicin, is an expectorant.

Another everyday kitchen ingredient, the onion, served importantly as well. The housewife would slice an onion and put in the sickroom. Supposedly the contamination was drawn into the onion so no one else got sick.

Furthermore, a few drops of onion juice into an infected ear was said to clear up the miserable condition in just two or three applications! (OK, not even on my worst ear day would I have tried this.)

In 1918, the following flu ointment was developed by druggist, J.D. Higgenbotham during the flu epidemic of 1918.

2 large jars white Vaseline
2 oz. turpentine
1/4 oz. menthol crystals
2 cakes of camphor gum
1/3 oz. oil of peppermint
1/4 oz. eucalyptus
1/4 oz. oil of wintergreen

The ingredients were melted and mixed well over low heat and store in covered jars.

 However, when all’s said and done, the most formidable routine therapy was the mustard plaster. I’d come across it once or twice in the books I read as a child, and the word “plaster” freaked me out.

This was apparently a very powerful treatment: To prepare, dry mustard, flour, and lukewarm water were made into a paste. The plaster was then spread on a piece of muslin big enough to cover the chest, then covered with another piece of muslin over the top, placed on the chest with tape. The chest needed to be checked in a few minutes for signs of allergic reaction or blistering. The plaster was removed after about a half hour.

One old wive’s tale suggests using the white of an egg instead of water to prevent the blistering of the skin, and that’s shown on the “recipe” above.

While I’m sure many of the above herbal treatments are still affective today, Sunday’s Parade magazine had a list of old-time cold remedies not recommended to try at home LOL. I think I’d rather cough, sneeze, and burn up than Eat snakeskin, Stuff garlic gloves up my nose, or Rub my feet with tallow and turpentine and Hold them against a wood stove.  Yikes!

Stay healthy out there!

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33 thoughts on “So Do You Want Mustard on Your….Chest? –Tanya Hanson”

  1. Hi Vicki, I too loved the tie-in with the garlic. I can’t even imagine holding my feet to a wood stove with tallow and turpentine all over them. Whew! Thanks for stopping by today. oxoxxo

  2. What fun info. I remember my Daddy using the kerosene with sugar for a cough.And,Lord forbid we should have a little sniffle,on went the awful smelling campra oil,with hot towel overnight.If you could survive the smell you would be better in the morning.Onion juice oh yea, I remember the urine of a stranger use for earaches.DON’T have an earache or DON’t tell.Things have progressed, haven’t they,although some of the old things may be better.I am a nurse,and I know that vaseline with sugar for a cankersore/bed sore works well.Also, Maalox with a heat lamp supervised,of course, can get to hot, also works.I worked with old timers,but they way worked better than some of the new and improved meds.

  3. Hi Tanya,
    Kerosene on a sugar cube was my grandmother’s recipe for menstral cramps. I remember saying to her “Kerosene will kill you.” She very pertly replied, “Well, I’m still here!”

    Fun post. Thanks!

  4. This is just great. My personal favorite is the onion poultice which was similiar to the mustard plaster. You would cook the onions to soft stage, wrap in cloth and then apply to the chest.

    Mustard was also put in a pot of hot water, the feet were put in the pot for as long as possible. This was supposed to help with circulation and with the flu.

    It’s flu season now but I don’t think I could get my hubby to make a poultice for me!

    Peace, Julie

  5. Onion and garlic may not be the most pleasant remedies, but they work! My mom’s cure for the painful ‘swimmer’s ear’ is a clove of garlic wrapped in gauze put into the ear. Several of us have tried it with success.

    All this reminds me of the introductory verse to one of the Sons of the Pioneers’ old songs:

    Now, prairie folks assure you
    There ain’t nothin’ that’ll cure you
    Any quicker than the medicine they fix up for themselves.
    With their sulphur and molasses,
    Pepper, tea and mustard plasters,
    And their camphor bags and flannel rags that line the bunkhouse shelves.

  6. Tanya, interesting post.

    Some of those old remedies couldn’t have been any worse than some we have today. Each time I read or hear the possible side effects of some prescription drugs I cringe.

    Stay well!

  7. My mom did mustard plasters when I was a kid.

    I can’t remember much about it. I think it’s got a really strong smell and it’d clear your sinuses. And my skin would get hot. Of course I think the concoction WAS hot, so maybe somehow the mustard would keep your chest warm? Like a hot water bottle would?

    I think a lot of this stuff was just strong smelling so your nose would clear out.

    Beyond that I suppose it kept you busy feeling like you were at least TRYING something while the illness ran it’s course.

  8. Hi Tanya,
    Some of this sounds worse than the ailment to be cured. I can remember the tents over hot, steamy, smelly stuff to breathe in for a stuffy head. But also the Mentholatum spread across the chest with a flannel rag over it and pinned around the neck.
    Great Post. It is a wonder all of us lived through some of the concoctions.

  9. Tanya,

    I didn’t know you were also a teacher. Ahh…a fellow survivor. I have never had a flu shot. I have an aversion to shots (but I also have an aversion to the flu). I guess after 25 years, I’ve built up a resistance to germs of all types!

    Great post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  10. Hi Tanya,
    GREAT POST, AS ALWAYS! Mom told me time and again about how her dad would blow cigarette smoke into her little sister’s ear when she had an earache. They also did the kerosene on a teaspoon of sugar for cough/sore throat. LOVED THIS POST!
    Cheryl P.

  11. Loads of interesting information! I often had earaches as a child and the smoke in the ear was one way my pain was lessened. I had a spider bite while vacationing with an aunt and uncle in California and a doctor reccomended the spittle of someone who chewed tobacco. One uncle often made a cough remedy of equal parts of lemon, honey and whiskey. Can’t remember if it really helped but I know it often made me sleep.

    My mother would spread Vick’s vapor rub on our chests and the bottom of our feet and cover it with a warm cloth and send us to bed under mountains of blankets.

    I, too, had bouts with colds and earaches last winter and lost the hearing in both ears temporarily.

  12. Wow! What a load of great feedback! Iv’e been away from the computer for a while and will try to catch up.

    April, you sound like you could have written a first-hand account of some of these remedies! thanks for posting today.

    You, Tanya S, and Mary C…yeah, the kerosene thing sounds SO scary!

    Good to see you all here.

  13. Julie and Elisabeth, I doubt I’d ever have thought to try onions and garlic, but it sounds like we’re lucky somebody did! Hmmmm, onion plaster. And the garlic gloves in the swimmers ear…I’ll have to try that on my hubby. He’s gotten it twice from snorkeling in Hawaii.
    Yee-haw. Thanks to those brave pioneers and thanks for chiming in today.

  14. Margaret, I agree with you. Whenever I listen to a commercial on some new drug, I wonder who on earth would take something with all those dreadful side effects.

    Hey Kathy! Good to see you here. Last year the doc. did presribe a high-strength Sudafed….I had to sign special papers about it being a FELONY to give my pills to anybody else because kids makea drugs out of it. $500,000 fine! I warned my hubby, don’t touch my pills LOL.

    Thanks for posting today, friends.

  15. Mary J, and Connie, Vicks VapoRub was definitely a big part of my childhood. Chest, even nose. I actually like the scent, but maybe because it made me well! No feet, though. But I remember being bundled up in a ton of blankets, too.

    Thanks for stoppoing by today.

  16. Hi Mary M, yeah, I survived 20 years in the high school English teacher trenches, but then I subbed first and second graders for a few years. All their little hugs got me so sick from flu a few years ago that I started getting the flu shot. Knock on wood…I’ve escaped the gnarly thing so far this year.

    Cheryl P. cig smoke? Well, at least it would ahve been warm. My mom used to put a warm drop of baby oil in the sore ear. I recall that working, too.

    So thankful to everybody for posting today! oxox

  17. Oh, forgot this one about the mustard plaster. I think packets of how to do it are still available today. I agree with you, Mary C, about the smells clearing out the sinuses (for me, eating horseradish works wonders…I mean, when I eat it on food, it does it. So it probably would work wonders when I’m sick.) I also wonder who started the mustard plaster remedy the first time.

  18. Great blog, Tanya. A good friend of mine had a lot of respiratory sickness as a boy, and he talks about his mother putting mustard plasters on his chest. He still remembers how hot and painful it was – it really did blister.

    Very grateful for today’s easy OTC medicines.

  19. hi Elizabeth, yikes. It must have been hard for a parent to do that to her little one. Sometimes the cure seems worse than the illness. I wonder if the blisters were worth it, and how soon people got well from that treatment. Thanks for posting, filly sister. oxoxo

  20. Tanya, what a crazy-cool post! I’m amazed (yes, and sometimes grossed out, not gonna’ lie! LOL!) Glad modern medicine has made progress….but, you know what they say, sometimes the old remedies are the best! Well done!!

  21. Thanks, Marianne, my dear friend. I totally agree. Hubby and I are definitely on board to try the garlic remedy for the next swimmers ear. The OTC didn’t work At All.

    So glad you could stop by! oxoxox

  22. Higgenbotham’s ointment sounds a bit like Vicks VapoRub.
    Chicken soup and honey lemon tea, with a shot of brandy for medicinal purposes, tend to be the old reliables in our family. The only one I remember being used mid-1900’s warm clove oil. Used to treat ear aches, a few drops would be put into the ear and some cotton to keep it from leaking out. I don’t know how effective it was, but is felt good. Sure sounds better than onion juice to me.
    I can remember my mom putting a spoonful of Vicks in a pan of steaming hot water, having us sit with our face over it, then draping our head with a towel to loosen congestion.

    Thanks for another interesting post.

  23. Tanya, after being sick for four and a half weeks I’m about desperate enough to try this mustard plaster. Sign me up. I’ve had it with this upper respitory infection and bronchitis. I can’t ever remember sick for so long. And then to make matters worse, I got the flu last weekend and am just getting over it. This year did not start out well for me.

  24. HI Patricia, you’re very welcome. I remember using cloves for a toothache once. I too remember breathing Vicks steam. It really helped.

    Linda, I am so sorry you’ve been laid so low, filly sister. The mustard plaster must work. It seems to have endured. I sure hope you feel better soon. oxoxox

    Paty, congrats on your new release! I will definitely remember some of these sinus openers. So glad all of you stopped by Wildflower Junction for me!

  25. I lost my Mom last January and all these years I have tried and tried to remember what she put in that mustard plaster. She used to make us kids wear one to bed every night. We never had a cold at all. Also guy who roomed with us had us eat butter and onion sandwiches during the winter and my Grandma (with Cherokee blood) made us drink lots of hot tea.
    Loved this.

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