Thursday, February 20, 2014

Excerpt from Two Little Savages

An Irish-Canadian servant girl from Sanger now became a member of their household. Her grandmother was an herb-doctor in great repute. She had frequently been denounced as a witch, although in good standing as a Catholic. This girl had picked up some herb-lore, and one day when all the family were visiting the cemetery she darted into various copses and produced plants which she named, together with the complaint that her grandmother used them for.

"Sassafras, that makes tea for skin disease; Ginseng, that's good to sell; Bloodroot for the blood in springtime; Goldthread, that cures sore mouths; Pipsissewa for chills and fever; White-man's Foot, that springs up wherever a White-man treads; Indian cup, that grows where an Indian dies; Dandelion roots for coffee; Catnip tea for a cold; Lavender tea for drinking at meals; Injun Tobacco to mix with boughten tobacco; Hemlock bark to dye pink; Goldthread to dye yellow, and Butternut rinds for greenish."

All of these were passing trifles to the others, but to Yan they were the very breath of life, and he  treasured up all of these things in his memory. Biddy's information was not unmixed with error and superstition:

..."Lightning never strikes a barn where Swallows nest. Paw never rested easy after the new barn was built till the Swallows nested in it. He had it insured for a hundred dollars till the Swallows got round to look after it. ...

"Now, that's Dandelion. Its roots makes awful good coffee. Granny allers uses it. She says that it is healthier than store coffee, but Maw says she likes boughten things best, and the more they cost the better she likes them.

"Now, that's Ginseng. It has a terrible pretty flower in spring. There's tons and tons of it sent to China. Granny says the Chinese eats it, to make them cheerful, but they don't seem to eat enough.

"There's Slippery Elm. It's awfully good for loosening up a cold, if you drink the juice the bark's bin biled in. One spring Granny made a bucketful. She set it outside to cool, an' the pig he drunk it all up, an' he must a had a cold, for it loosened him up so he dropped his back teeth. I seen them myself lying out there in the yard. Yes, I did.

"That's Wintergreen. Lots of boys I know chew that to make the girls like them. Lots of them gits a beau that way, too. I done it myself many's a time.

"Now, that is what some folks calls Injun Turnip, an' the children calls it Jack-in-a-Pulpit, but Granny calls it 'Sorry-plant,' cos she says when any one eats it it makes them feel sorry for the last fool thing they done. I'll put some in your Paw's coffee next time he licks yer and mebbe that'll make him quit. It just makes me sick to see ye gettin' licked fur every little thing ye can't help.

... There were many lessons good and bad that Yan might have drawn from this; but the only one that he took in was that the Black-cherry bark is a wonderful remedy. The family doctor said that it really was so, and Yan treasured up this as a new and precious fragment of woodcraft.  -- From Two Little Savages by Ernest Thompson Seton

I was reminded of this by Gagdad Bob's remark the other day, as well as the fact that this is about the time we would dig sassafras.  There's still sap in the roots.  I have it in abundance here.  If I manage to get away this week, I might dig down and get a few.  I'll have to call my older sister for the making of the tea, however.  It's been too long, and I was too young the last time we made any at home.

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