Traditional Ocracoke Home Remedies

(Collected by the Ocracoke High School Yearbook staff, 1972-1973, with minor editing)

General Diseases

  • Drink sulfur and molasses to keep disease away
  • Use collard leaves on your forehead to bring down a fever
  • Drink whiskey and camphor for a headache
  • If you have the runs, use paregoric [a camphorated tincture of opium]
  • For chicken pox take a black hen or rooster; boil with the feathers still on and apply on the pox
  • To bring out the measles, drink sheep turd tea [According to the 1992 book, Roll Me in Your Arms, Unprintable Ozark Folksongs and Folklore by Vance Randolf, “A tea made by boiling ‘sheep dumplings’ is a familiar backwoods medicine. In fact, the laxative properties of the feces of small animals of the ruminant family (and also of small or nursing human children, in the German Dreck-apotheke since the sixteenth century) is known to almost all pastoral populations in the world. A chemical obtained from the droppings of young goats, under the name of capryllin, is at present the active ingredient in one of the two most popular commercial laxatives; the active ingredient in the other one being much less harmless.”
  • For rheumatism, carry a potato in your pocket
  • For heartburn scrape a potato very fine and eat it
  • For a bone in your throat, eat some hard, cold bread
  • To remove corns on your feet, use corn salve
  • To remove [intestinal] worms, use worm fuse [a “bad tasting” liquid patent medicine taken internally]
  • Use chill tonic for typhoid fever [“Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic,” was a quinine based patent medicine developed in 1878 that was designed to fight malaria. Though not exactly “tasteless” it remained a popular remedy for half a century]


  • People used a midwife when a baby was to be born
  • For a pretty navel on a baby, take a raisin with no pit and wrap the raisin in an old scorched rag about 4” X 4”. Then tie the rag to the baby’s cord with a belly-band. This will make the navel cord rot quicker.
  • For the first few days after the baby’s born, keep quilts over the windows so that no light reaches the baby’s eyes


  • For a cough make a syrup from onions and sugar
  • Drink a mixture of lard and molasses


  • Hang an asafetida bag (a cloth bag containing the pungent, even noxious smelling, brown resin extracted from the root of an oriental plant [Ferula assafoetida]) around your neck
  • Take five drops of spirits of turpentine on sugar (per dose)

Eye ailments

  • Rub a peeled potato on your eye
  • For a sty, rub your index finger on the palm of your hand until it gets warm. Then hold it on your eye


  • Take a bull rush and rub on your warts. Then put it back in the same hole you pulled it from
  • Take a glass of vinegar, and place a penny in it. Soak your wart a couple of times a day until it goes away
  • Steal your mama’s dish rag and bury it


  • Get a member of the opposite sex to urinate on a cotton ball and place into your ear


  • Drink soda mixed with hot water
  • For baby cramps, use flag root


  • Apply red of egg with Octagon soap
  • Take the white of potatoes and put on the boil
  • Pennyweed leaves take fever out. Wash the leaves and place on swelling till it has gone down


  • For a bee or wasp sting, use snuff, already wet from a woman’s mouth
  • For a jelly fish sting or stinging nettle, roll in the sand
  • For a burn use lard or butter
  • Urinate on a mullein leaf for a sprain
  • Place a mixture of sulfur and pine tar on an itch
  • Also for the itch, you can use a mixture of gun powder and vinegar with a little kerosene added



In addition to the remedies cited above, I share the following paragraph from last month’s Ocracoke Newsletter, written by a native of nearby Portsmouth Island who was born in 1894:

“I had never been attended by a physician until my oldest child was born.  My Grandmother Roberts, who grew up on Cedar Island, came to live with us and grew an herb garden.  Like most of Portsmouth, it was a spot of enchantment.  Her plants were for flavor, fragrance and physic: hot mint tea for colds, sassafras tea and yaupon tea to purify the blood in Spring, steeped feverfew [a medicinal herb] for reducing fever, larkspur for stings and bites, and a great store of additional remedies such as rinsing out nasal passages with sea water, sulfur and molasses for the blood, mustard plasters for chest cold, honey for a cough, burnt alum and boiled red oak bark for sore throat, turpentine and salt, fat pork applied to cuts, soap and sugar applied to boils, and waxed green myrtle bushes to drive away fleas and insects.”