Western MA Folk Remedies for Wellness

Miscellaneous Remedies


“I use Chicken Soup for everything, it is soul food. Using herbs and spices like Pepper, Paprika, and Cayenne help to warm the body and clear the sinuses.” – Diane Todrin

“I use Chicken Soup for everything, it is soul food. Using herbs and spices like Pepper, Paprika, and Cayenne help to warm the body and clear the sinuses:

Chicken Soup

  • small fryer chicken
  • 4 or 5 ribs of celery
  • 4 or 5 carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 4 or 5 onions cut in quarters
  • ginger sliced into 10 quarter size pieces
  • 1/8 cup whole peppercorns
  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • 1 Tbs. Thyme
  • salt to taste

Honor the chicken and give thanks.

Fill large pot with cold water and add chicken. Stove should be on high. When the water comes to a boil, lower the flame to medium low. The chicken will release a tan scum as it begins to boil. Scoop this out. When pot has been cleared of scum, add all other ingredients simmer for 4 hours. Strain, chill and then remove fat that accumulates on top. Heat and eat.” —  Diane Todrin

“My unabashed plug for the health benefits of my personal lifestyle: After years of thinking about it and procrastinating, I finally embraced a way of eating that has proven so beneficial to my health that I am still discovering new positive effects. And while I think it’s important to have a working repertoire of remedies for what ails us, I think it’s even more important to know how to live without dis-ease!

“This is what works for me: no refined carbohydrates and no forms of refined or concentrated sugar (except what naturally occurs in fruit, eaten whole). This means eating only whole-grain products, and avoiding all forms of sugar, including fruit concentrates, honey, raw sugar, politically correct sugar, anything ending in -ose, and artificial sweeteners.

“The refined carbohydrates (white flour, organic wheat flour, white pasta, rice noodles, and anything that does not have the word “whole” in the ingredient list) turn into sugar in our bodies, and have the same effect metabolically speaking. I also do some very simple food combining: I eat fruits by themselves, protein/fats meals without starchy carbohydrates, and carbohydrates meals without fat/protein. I believe this results in more complete metabolizing. It certainly improves digestion and makes “gas” and “fullness” a thing of the past.

“The benefits for me have been amazing: my energy level is on an even keel all day; I lost the extra weight that I’ve been dragging around for 10 years; a recent trip to the dental hygenist was pain-free, blood-free, and tartar-free; my knee and “arthritis” pains have disappeared; my life-long allergic reactions to mosquito and bee bites don’t happen any more; junk food cravings have disappeared. In general, I feel more energetic, more positive, and sleep like a rock. I have come to believe that sugar and refined carbohydrates (the bulk of the modern American diet, and even the modern vegetarian diet) in combination with a sedentary lifestyle are responsible for most of what ails us, be it physical or emotional. I am also amazed that decades after the expose of the “empty calories” of white bread, that our supermarket shelves contain nothing but.  Worse yet, we now have a plethora of products, both in supermarkets and in so-called health food stores, which use deceptive labeling practices to dupe the public into thinking they’re getting whole grain products.

“Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now.” —  Grace Edwards

“Sylvester Graham (who lived on Pleasant Street in Northampton, just where the restaurant Sylvester’s is now located) is remembered today only as the inspiration for the graham cracker – In the 1830’s he was a celebrated and controversial minister turned health lecturer who blamed Americans’ health problems on their habit of eating large quantities of rich, spicy foods washed down with alcohol and caffeine-laced drinks. Graham advocated a diet of vegetables, plain bread made from coarse, unbolted wheat, and other bland natural foods combined with a regimen of sleeping on a hard mattress, fresh air, pure water, exercise, and sexual restraint to lead to a happier, healthier life. I think he would have fit right into the Valley today!” —   Tony(a) Lemos

“One way I like to prepare for winter is to do a little cleansing before going into the stagnant energy time usually before Thanksgiving when it starts to get cold. It is too cold a time of year for a “no food” fast, so fasting on vegetable broth or clear broth with some miso, is nice. Drinking as much as you like daily for as much as 3-4 days. I find that this helps me prepare for the winter. I like to repeat this in the spring.” —   David Fisher, Natural Roots CSA (Conway, MA)

Editors note: “Good broth will resurrect the dead,” says a South American proverb. A cure-all in traditional households real homemade broth (stock) made from bones of chicken, fish or beef builds strong bones, assuages sore throats, nurtures the sick, and invigorates the spirit. Once again science validates what our grandmothers knew. Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons — stuff like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.

“Stocks play a role in all traditional cuisines—French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, African, South American, Middle Eastern and Russian. In America, stock went into gravy, soups and stews. Back then most animals were slaughtered locally and nothing went to waste. Bones, hooves, knuckles, and tough meat went into the stock pot and filled the house with the aroma of nourishment. Today stock has virtually disappeared from the American tradition as we prefer to buy clean individual fillets and boneless chicken breasts, or grab fast food to eat on the run.

“The best medicine I have ever known of to keep my daughter healthy and to help her get over illness has been nursing (breastfeeding). I had the privilege of nursing my daughter till she was almost 6 years old. For the first four and a half or so of those years – while my milk was still sweet and abundant, on the rare occasions when she was sick, we would both slow down our lives and spend long stretches of time lying down and nursing and nursing. I have wondered if maybe it is more than just a coincidence that the word “nurse” is used to describe both breastfeeding and caring for a sick person. I literally nursed my daughter back to health whenever she was sick in those early years, and it was the most natural, most satisfying way I have ever had for helping her recover from illness. Nursing provided my daughter with the comfort of having her mother hold her close- it provided her with lots of fluids, it provided her with easily digestible nutrients and living food – a link to help from her mother’s immune system. The sucking/swallowing action of nursing helped relieve my daughter of discomfort from post-nasal drip. She recovered very quickly from the few illnesses she had during those nursing years. I felt it was important to mention nursing because it is such a wonderful, natural way of promoting health and healing which is often overlooked or misunderstood these days.

“On a related note, here is my folk wisdom on recovering from a plugged milk duct:

  1. Deeply knead and massage the affected breast, trying to work the milk through the ducts toward the nipple openings.
  2. Nurse often on the affected breast, offering that side first whenever you nurse.
  3. Take hot showers and massage the breast with hot water.
  4. Get as much rest as you can.
  5. Sleep with a hot water bottle on the affected area.

Now that my daughter no longer nurses through an illness, when she is not feeling well I encourage her to eat miso soup and brown rice. We have both found warm miso soup to be a very soothing food during illness, and I know that it is a good source of fluid and easily-digestible nutrients (like breastmilk, miso soup is a living food; the organisms in the soup help break down the vegetables’ starches into sugars), and I think the wet saltiness of the miso soup can help bring a person back into balance, especially if one of the factors that seemed to bring on the illness was eating too many yin foods.

Miso Soup

  • water (about 3 cups)
  • kombu, soaked and chopped (1 approx. 3″ x 10″ strip)
  • carrots, scrubbed and chopped (2)
  • celery, chopped (2 stalks)
  • onion, chopped (1 medium)
  • burdock root, peeled and chopped
  • miso (I usually use a dark miso, such “South River” brand ‘Hearty Brown Rice Miso”) (about 2 tablespoons, or to taste)

“Soak kombu in a mug of water for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put water in a pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Drain kombu, chop, and add it to the water. Boil for about 5 minutes. Chop carrots, celery, onion, and burdock. Reduce the flame to medium and add the chopped vegetables to the pot. Cook for 5 or 10 minutes more. Reduce the flame so that the soup is no longer boiling (boiling kills the living organisms in the miso). Put miso in the mug and dip it into the pot to get a couple of tablespoons’-worth of broth into the mug with the miso. Mix the miso and broth into a thick slurry, then add the miso slurry back into the pot of soup and stir. Remove from heat. Warm miso soup is very soothing during illness. Refrigerated miso soup is a wonderful thirst-quencher in the summer (my daughter loves it!)” —   Joanne Levy

Editor’s note: Have you tried South River’s Wild Leak and Dandelion Miso? mmmm Made locally in Conway, MA.

Old Fashioned Chicken Stock

  • 1 whole free-range chicken
  • 4 quarts cold filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley

“If you are using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and the gizzards from the cavity. Cut chicken parts into several pieces. Place chicken pieces in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar and all vegetables except parsley. The water should begin cold, slow heating helps bring out flavors. Add vinegar (an herbal vinegar is a plus) to the broth to help extract calcium — remember those egg shells you soaked in vinegar until they turned rubbery. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour. Heat the broth slowly. Bring to a boil, Effluvium (commonly know as scum!) will rise to the surface, this should be carefully removed with a spoon. Reduce heat, cover and continue to simmer. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley. This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.

“Remove whole chicken or pieces with a slotted spoon. Use this chicken for salads, enchiladas, sandwiches or curries. Strain the stock into a large bowl and reserve in your refrigerator until the fat rises to the top and congeals. Skim off this fat and reserve the stock in covered containers in your refrigerator or freezer.

I like to add the following immune strengthening herbs to my winter broths, they add flavor as well as much healing potential: garlic, ginger, reishi mushroom, shitake mushrooms, seaweed, astragalus root, codonopsis root, burdock root, lycuim fruit, and siberian gingseng root. I usually steep them through a muslin bag.”  —   Tony(a) Lemos

Molly’s ways of getting better when she is sick:

  • Eat nice, warm, Miso Soup.
  • Get lots of nice love, hugs, and kisses.
  • Sit in front of the fire.
  • Read a book.
  • Sleep for one whole day and have meals in bed.
  • Stay home from school for about three days.
  • Have an adult hold you for a while.
  • If you cannot or do not want to stay home from school, then you might be able to have your teacher hold or comfort you.
  • Feed yourself at meals and when you need to.
  • Nurse for a while.
  • Draw a picture on paper.
  • Color a coloring pad.

—   Molly Levy 6½ years


“Heather Horak (massage therapist) taught me that the lungs and intestines share a meridian, meaning that they have a relationship with one another. She told me that when I’m constipated, I should breathe deeply, to relax the intestines. It really works!” — Dar Williams


“From my Mom’s bag of tricks: for earaches she used a Salt Sock. It was a sock that was filled with salt, and when we complained of an ear ache she heated it up in the frying pan and then we laid on it with our aching ear. (I suppose a microwave oven could also heat it up nowadays) This is a very warm and comforting memory of mine.

“For earaches, soak a raisin in warm mineral oil until it swells up and the put it in the sore ear and cover with a cotton ball.” — Diane Todrin, Underground Salon, Cosmetologist, (Northampton, MA)

Editor’s note: Try this with infused Mullein or Garlic oil instead of mineral oil. To make this fill a pint jar with mullein flowers and a few peeled and chopped garlic cloves. Cover with olive oil. Let sit in a warm place for a couple of weeks. Some people like to gently heat this until the oil becomes really garlicky smelling! Strain. When applying this oil it should be heated to mother’s milk temperature. Try placing a Garlic clove in your ear and cover with a hot towel. It is less likely to get stuck than the raisin!

“I also have a use for salt (funny, it’s a substance I don’t use much!) but when you have a canker sore in your mouth, wet your fingertip and dip it in some salt. Then place it on the canker sore for a minute. It will bring tears to your eyes and you’ll salivate like crazy but usually the sore goes away quickly after that.”  —   Kim O’Connell, Music Teacher/Aromatherapist/Aspiring Herbalist (Northampton, MA)

“To treat styes: Wash your face completely. Boil water in a kettle. Put a tablespoon of salt into a cup. Put the boiling water in with the salt. Take a Q-tip and stir it around in the hot salty solution. Place the still warm (the warmer the better) Q-tip directly onto the sty. Do this twice a day for 15 or so minutes at a time. Try to keep the water as hot as possible but, mind you, don’t burn yourself!!! It usually takes just one day after this treatment to draw out whatever is causing the sty to occur and whatever ook that has to follow it. To avoid any re-infection keep rinsing your eyes for several days after the treatment has worked.” — Louise Lundrigan (Ashfield, MA)

“For puffy eyes- slice cool cucumbers or potatoes. Place slices over moistened eyelids and let rest there for 15 minutes.” — Lauren Mills (Williamsburg, MA)


“I have also used plantain to relieve poison ivy rash. I had heard that poulticing chewed-up plantain on poison ivy rash would relieve the rash, so I tried that, but I discovered that for me, just placing the poultice on the rash only provided momentary relief. I later discovered that if I very vigorously rubbed the chewed up plantain into the rash, letting it scratch the itching till it burned, really working it in (despite having heard it is best not to scratch the bubbly rash), this relieved the itching, and the rash disappeared by the next day.” — Joanne Levy

“You have heard of putting toothpaste on zits or Visine to remove the redness, right?”  —  Rachel Zingone, Sweeties, (Northampton, MA)

“Years ago my daughter had a terrible case of poison ivy on her feet and ankles. I sent her off to school wearing sandals with blistering poison ivy. The school nurse sent her back to me! My daughter was on prescription medicine for the poison ivy when a neighbor told me about an old remedy that had come to her through an American Indian acquaintance, and provided me with the plant Sweet Fern.

“Sweet Fern grows in many places in Franklin County; it grows more like a small shrub than a fern. Locate one. Pinch off 10 or so branches. Take a kettle and stuff the sweet fern leaves and branches into it; add a couple of quarts of water. Cook slowly for half to 3/4 of an hour. The water will turn a deep greenish-brown. Remove from heat and using tongs (or some such implement) remove the cooked leaves and throw them out. The remaining “tea” is what you use as the remedy; but don’t drink it. Use an old washcloth or clean rag (the “tea” stains) dab the area where the poison ivy is located with the sweet fern tea; even to the blistered area if there are blisters. Do this several times a day. I have had excellent results within 24 hours.

“The sweet fern plant appears after poison ivy plants appear in the spring so I usually “can” small jars of sweet fern tea that I made this year to use next year. Put in clean jar while very hot. Label jars: Sweet Fern for poison ivy.” —  Nancy L. Dole, Books & Ephemera (Shelburne Falls, MA)

Editor’s note: Blanche Cybele Derby taught me this one. Sweet Fern also makes a yummy tea. Cover a handful of dried leaves with boiling water. Steep for ten minutes, remove leaves add honey to taste. Can be mixed with wintergreen or Mint for extra flavor. See Blanche’s beautifully illustrated book, My Wild Friends: Free Food From Field and Forest.


“Bites and bee stings: use a poultice made of bread soaked in warm milk, put it on the sting, and let it dry to draw out the poison.” — Mindy’s paternal great grandmother


“If you’ve got a little feminine itch and you think a yeast infection may be coming on, here’s what I do . . . Take a big juicy clove of garlic; peel and slice a bit off of each end. Score all the way around the clove by lightly cutting fine lines into the first few layers. With your finger, insert into the vagina as far as you can, but make sure that you can still get it out (seek assistance if needed). Leave in for several hours or overnight. Remove and dispose, repeat as necessary. It’s great for clearing the sinuses too.” — Anna Engley (Greenfield, MA)

For more from this series, check out these posts from A Cure for What Ails

Tony(a) LemosTony(a) Lemos

Tony(a) is the director of Blazing Star Herbal School in Ashfield, MA, she also maintains an herbal medicine practice in Western Mass. She is a graduate of Natural Therapy at Raworth College in England and has apprenticed with many influential herbalist, including Susun Weed. She has taught at conferences and festivals all over New England, including Green Nations Gathering, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest and the Women’s Herbal Conference.  Tony(a) is presently working on her next community supported project, a collection of the spirit and wisdom of the valley’s women offering alternative remedies and support for those dealing with Post Partum Depression and related condition.  A call for submissions will follow. — A Cure for What Ails appears on the second Tuesday of every month.

Information provided on Hilltown Families (HF) is for informational and entertainment purposes only.Opinions expressed on HF are that of the writer and not necessarily that of HF. All health and wellness related information is for entertainment purposes only and should not be used to substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis.

One Comment on “Western MA Folk Remedies for Wellness

  1. When my daughter was very young she had a stubborn diaper rash that did not respond to prescribed creams, so Dr. Ilse Lewy, my pediatrician suggested the following as a last resort:
    Brew very strong tea (6-7 tea bags in a cup of tea). Dump this strong tea into a baby-sized bath tub. Add lukewarm water, and set the baby into the bath and soak the affected bottom for 10-15 minutes. Clears the rash overnight.

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