(The following was written by Yvette L. Maurey, and is reprinted from “Reflections”, a collection of local stories available at the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum).
The colonial medicine chest included such homemade items as creams for softening and whitening, hair rinses, setting lotions, mouthwashes, acne cures, baldness preventions, and hiccup cures.
Insects have a natural dislike for most herbs. Before window screens were available, a potted basil plant on a windowsill deterred flies from entering. Peppermint in a vase will keep flies from lighting nearby, and one such vase could always be found on Colonial dinner tables. Crushed catnip, spearmint and peppermint leaves sent ants on a detour when sprinkled on their trails. Cockroaches will stay away from areas sprayed with oil of peppermint, singly or combined with oil of rosemary. Lavender and rosemary repel moths, as do tansy, wormwood and spearmint leaves. These herbs were often strewn about on cabin floors or stashed with stored clothing.
Small wreaths of these aromatic, insect repellent herbs were hung in windows and doorways, and were pleasing to the eye, as well as practical.
The dying process of yarn and fabric in the frontier household was a common practice, and found to be no more difficult than other necessary chores. Selected leaves, barks, twigs or hulls from certain plants or trees were boiled hard to remove the color, then strained. A mordant was added as a color-binding agent. Vinegar, alum, and cream of tartar where common mordants, and the correct one must be used according to which plant dye was being used. Indians burned cedar bark and added the ashes to dies as a mordant.
Another factor in the dying process was the type of kettle used: copper for light colors, and iron for dark. Intensity of colors was determined by the cooking times, simmering gently from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Cloth or yarn was dyed first in one color, then in another to effect a third color. Yarn was often dyed before it was made into a finished product.
In these modern times, herbs have again become popular, and medicinal and other uses are sometimes believed to be “the new way.” We should never forget the rich inheritance we have in the use of herbs, especially those native to this country.
I leave you with this recipe for Zippy summer tea:
1 part lavender leaves
1 part peppermint leaves
Steep in hot water, or make sun tea.
Never boil herbal teas.