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Column: Mama’s home remedies might have nipped the coronavirus in the bud
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

I’ve often thought about my mama in this time of COVID-19. I wondered how she would react.

Mama was not afraid of going to the doctor, but she often tried some home remedies and over-the-counter medicine before resorting to a doctor visit. I’m pretty sure she would have taken the vaccinations.

Mama thought that Vicks Vapo-Rub or Vicks Salve, as we called it, was a cure-all for many ailments. She would apply it to your chest and then top it with a piece of flannel cloth that she warmed up in the dryer.

She also believed in a concoction of honey, lemon juice and a shot of bourbon. We had a neighbor who traveled a good bit and Mama would get one of those miniature bottles of whiskey to pour into her mixture. Mama would have never made it as a bartender. She never failed to get the combination too strong in one direction or another. You would either burn from a potent amount of booze or enough lemon juice to make you wince. I don’t know if it really worked or if I was just so anxious to get out of bed to avoid another dose.

There was a lady who lived in our town who would make a mustard plaster for someone who was suffering from pneumonia. A mustard plaster was a piece of cheesecloth that was coated with dry mustard and some other substance. We had a neighbor who had a bad case of pneumonia and she sent him a plaster and in a day or so later he was much better.

I don’t know how that would work on COVID-19.

I used to watch the county music shows that ran on Saturday afternoon TV. They were mostly sponsored by patent medicines. There was Hadacol, which was a liquid mixture of vitamins. It also contained 12% alcohol, which made it a popular seller in dry counties in the south. There were some drugstores in dry towns that sold it by the shot glass.

One town in Illinois would allow it only to be sold in liquor stores.

The man who owned the company was Dudley LeBlanc, a Louisiana state senator. He was not a doctor or a pharmacist, but was said to be one heck of a promoter. Time magazine once said that LeBlanc was “a stem-winding salesman who knows every razzle-dazzle switch in the pitchman’s trade.”

There were other tonics at the time, such as Geritol, which was advertised on the Lawrence Welk Show and SSS Tonic, which was pitched on shows like “The Porter Wagoner Show.”  Wagoner was a tall man with a blonde pompadour who wore sequined suits with wagon wheels emblazoned on them. He appeared with a comic named Spec Rhodes and a woman he called “our gal singer.” Her name, by the way, was Dolly Parton.

There was an assortment of liniments, salves, headache powers and cold medicines that were mostly sold by patent medicine companies in the south. A few of them are still around.

Mama knew enough homemade remedies that she seldom had to resort to the store-bought stuff, with the exception of Vicks Salve. I don’t know what effect it would have had on COVID-19, but she would have given it a try.


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.