17 Old Time Granny Cures That Still Work

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I’ve been sick for three days, but I’m getting better now. The good news is, it has only been three days, not a week or more.

Thanks to some old time cures – some in use for over 100 years in parts of the southern Appalachians, some for longer – I’m on the mend. The Granny healers of the southern Appalachians and Ozark’s were often the only practitioners of healthcare in poor rural areas. Some of the uses described here have come from watching primates in Central and South America and then brought north with wandering tribes. One even goes back thousands of years! Today, the third day, I’m still weak but my cough has let up some and my fever is gone. How did I do it? Read on!

1. White Willow Bark

Native Americans used it as a pain reliever and fever reducer. Granny healers followed along and found it to be antispasmodic. Science figured it out and synthetically made aspirin with similar ingredients. Caution: do not give to children under 19 years of age due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome.

(Find white willow bark here.)

2. Foxglove

It has long been used for heart ailments. It contains digoxin, and is a plant in the digitalis family. Caution: take only under the direction of a knowledgeable healer. Even a small amount too much can be fatal!

3. Common Thyme

Thyme contains thymol which is known to be antiseptic, antibiotic and antiviral. Before the advent of antibiotics, it was mashed and used to medicate bandages.

(Find organic thyme leaf here.)

4. Dandelion

Dandelion has long been used as a decoction to fight bile and liver problems.

(Find organic dandelion leaf here or in your own yard!)

5. Pumpkin, Corn and Tomatoes

All of these contain carotinoids, powerful antioxidants that are shown to lower mortality rates from chronic disease. Basically, it was believed you would live longer if you consumed these.

6. Mint

Many types of mint grow natively near me in  the southern Appalachians. One type is Mountain Mint. It is a course bladed, strong scented mint that has been used for fever reduction and as an antibiotic. It is showing some promise as a smoking alternative for respiratory conditions.

(Find organic mint tea here.)

7. Black Cohosh

Native Americans used it for arthritis pain and muscular aches. This was passed on to Granny healers, who discovered its hormone balancing effect on women. Caution: Avoid black cohosh if pregnant or nursing.

(Find organic black cohosh root here.)

8. Blueberries

As a food, of course, they have been used since the beginning of their time on earth. Native Americans found part of their food preserving power as an antioxidant. It was a mixture of elk, bison or deer meat, dried to almost brittle, pounded down to powder, mixed with its own weight in fat and then dried berries added and mixed in. This would keep for weeks if not months.

9. Burdock

Its root has been used for its diuretic properties.

(Find organic burdock root here.)

10. Cranberry

It has long been used for it’s ability to heal the urinary tract. When asking my doctor a few years ago what he thought, he said to try it if I want, but there’s no proof it’ll work. Hundreds of years of usage told me it would. There are several over the counter products available now containing cranberry for bladder infections. Go figure.

11. Elderberry

I think more than anything else, this is what saved me from a prolonged illness. Elderberry has been used for years as a cure-all. Indeed, it’s high antioxidant count will wipe out most colds, flu and other respiratory ailments. I’ll share my glycerite recipe below.

(Learn how to make your own elderberry cough syrup here.)

12. Ginseng and Goldenseal

Be sure to buy from reputable growers and buyers. Ginseng and goldenseal have both been hunted to near-extinction near my home. Commercial growers are available, though the percentage of active ingredients is somewhat reduced. At current rates of over $600 a pound for ginseng, you can see why it’s in demand. Over 400 plants used for herbalism are at risk for extinction, according to the Botanic Gardens Conservation International. Caution: You should not use goldenseal if you are pregnant or have hypertension.

(Find organic ginseng root here and organic goldenseal here.)

13. Hawthorn

Hawthorn has long been used for heart problems. There are no precautions for this plant, even for those on medications and with a pacemaker.

(Find organic hawthorn leaf/flower here.)

14. Mallows

Originally, “marsh” mallow was boiled with water and combined with sugar to make a soothing throat treatment. (The marshmallows of today bear no resemblance to the original.) However, any of the mallows can be used, including rose of sharon, hibiscus, okra and even the non-native roselle.

15. Nettle and Goldenrod

Every good Granny knew these were great native herbs to use for allergies. Nettles were and still are especially good for hay fever. They are filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Wait, doesn’t goldenrod cause hay fever? No, that’s been a myth for many years. It gets the blame because the showy yellow flowers and more visible. Another plant that blooms at the same time is responsible for all the sneezing. This is the ragweed, both great and small. Try growing the cultivar “Fireworksfor a great autumn display with plenty of herbal punch.

(Find organic nettle leaf and organic goldenrod here.)

16. Echinacea

The Purple Cone Flower contains berberine and other alkaloids. It is great for supporting the immune system. (Read more about echinacea’s benefits here.)

(Find organic echinacea here.)

17. Yellworoot

Another great herb that has been used for centuries that contains berberine. Both echinecea and yellowroot are alkaloids, making them bitter. Sick animals are known to seek out bitter plants, which purges them of internal parasites.

It is estimated that 80% of some Asian and African nations use herbal medicine as a primary source of health care. The Granny healers knew it, and so did the Native Americans that came before her and shared what they knew. Who’s to say we wouldn’t be healthier as a whole if we adopted even some of their practices??

Elderberry Glycerite


  • 1 cup of cooked elderberries (These can be toxic if used raw. You can also get dried elderberries from your local health food store or online here.)
  • 1 cup vegetable glycerine (Get this liquid from a health food store, local pharmacy, or online here.)
  • pint jar with tight fitting lid (find these here)


Place your elderberries in the jar and cover with the glycerine. Place the lid on tightly and shake a bit. Place in a sunny windowsill for a week or so, shaking daily. It should turn a rich purple-red colo. Test with a toothpick dunked in the liquid. It should be quite strong. Let it set a few more days if needed. Drain through a coffee filter and bottle in a glass jar with a dropper lid. Label and store in a dark, cool place.

Instructions for use

Place 5 drops on your tongue a few times daily until you no longer feel like the walking dead. You can’t overdose on this, but it may color your urine. This is normal!


photo credit to James Benninger

About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Miranda Martin says

    You said “smoking alternative” for respiratory conditions. What did you mean by this?

  2. Jerry Snow says

    In my opinion, Home Remedies such as these are the future of health care. Can you imagine the reaction to a statement such as this just a few short years ago? This guy is nuts! When you consider the escalating cost of medicine, doctor & hospital visits, combined with the loss of & inability to afford insurance – what are the choices?

  3. Deborah Davis says

    These remedies remind me of the ones my southern grandmother used to make when I was a litle girl. Thanks for sharing these. My favorite was the rock candy and brandy cough syrup she made when we had colds. My brother used to sneak and drink more than he should!

  4. Liz says

    Correct way to prepare elderberries is to steam them in a double boiler with a spout that the juice runs from as the berries burst when steamed. This juice once boiled and the necessary sugar added can then be used for elderberry wine (add the rum once all cold), syrup (add sugar or gelei) or whatever you wish. You can also use the pulp to make jam by adding the necessary ingredients.

  5. Genny T. says

    Re: Cooked elderberries
    Can you please explain the correct way/procedure for cooking the elderberries? I want to make sure I do it properly and that they won’t be toxic. Thank you!
    Pflugerville, TX