Herbs and Medicinals in the Backcountry
OverviewGOAL: To introduce students to backcountry lifestyles related to the battle of Cowpens.
The student will relate common plants to the development of the medicines that might have been used during the time of the Battle of Cowpens.
The student will use cognitive skills in answering questions posed by the facilitator.
The student will use science skills and knowledge by identifying plants and the parts of the plants that were used to make medicines.
The student will use sensory skills to see, feel, taste and smell plants and medicines.
The student will describe how the lifestyles of the early settlers and soldiers were related to the ecosystem of the area.
In the backcountry, the early settlers had few neighbors and practically no doctors. When an injury occurred they dealt with that in the best manner they could. Sickness was a constant threat, and herbal medicines were administered because herbal remedies were the only medical knowledge available. Since the earliest of times, knowledge of herbs, both cultivated and wild, had been passed down from generation to generation by oral traditions. Settlers had to rely on these oral traditions or trial and error. Most families in the eighteenth century had a kitchen garden, which contained vegetables as well as herbs.
Doctors were few and far between, and the only requirement to become a physician was to call oneself a doctor. In addition, in most families there was usually one woman who possessed the knowledge necessary to treat the family.
Many women died in childbirth, and many children died in infancy. Simple illnesses could worsen into fatal diseases even with the use of extensive herbal remedies. It was a difficult way of life by present-day standards.
The isolation of towns and neighbors was one preventative to the spread of infectious diseases, but when soldiers from different geographical areas came together in camp, disease went on the rampage. The younger soldiers were more susceptible to the illnesses, while the older soldiers seemed to have a better immunity to the illnesses. As an example of the killing power of diseases within the soldiers’ camp, musketry or bayonet killed 1,000 Americans, 1,200 received battlefield wounds, 6,000 more were interned in prison camps, while a staggering 10,000 lost their lives to illness.
Physicians sometimes knew little of diseases, and even less of bacteria and viruses. There were no diagnostic tools such as stethoscopes and thermometers. Little was known of the inner workings of the body, so doctors made diagnoses by simply observing the patient. Patient treatment for diseases included better food, cleaner water, laxatives, emetics (for vomiting), enemas, blistering (a caustic solution was applied to the skin to raise blisters; it was thought that it drew the inflammation out of the body), and bloodletting (again, drawing the sickness out.)
Herbal remedies for minor illnesses and injuries included teas, poultices and ointments made from the leaves, bark, roots, seeds, flowers, and fruit of various plants that were available in the nearby woods or that could be grown in the settler’s herb gardens. Willow for pain or fever, sage for coughs and colds, comfrey for bruises and broken bones, peppermint or chamomile for upset stomachs, ragweed for bee stings, onion and mustard poultices for coughs and colds are among some of the herbal remedies that the settlers used.
1. Using slides, book pictures or plant cuttings, have the students identify plants and ask the following questions: What is this plant called? (Perhaps include the scientific name, if appropriate)
Is this a helpful or harmful plant? (Stress the importance of knowing how harmful some plants can be - i.e., poison ivy, mushrooms, etc.)
In what sort of conditions would this plant grow?
What part of the plant could be used as medicine (the leaves, bark, root, flower, seeds, etc.?)
2. Discuss the uses of herbal medicines in colonial times and today.
1. Bring resource books on plant identification. Have students search Cowpens National Battlefield for plants that could be made into medicine. Students should list the plants they found and their possible uses. They may not pick the plants.
2.Provide small limbs to re-enact supporting a broken bone with a pair of sticks. Carry the play-acting further by discussing what might happen if the application of medicines to the wound did not work and the condition worsened.
1. Have students compose a journal of a soldier who has been wounded and describe his experience with medicine and healing. Alternately, the journal entry could be of a mother caring for and healing a sick child.
2. Have students compile a booklet or brochure of helpful and harmful plants in their own local area.
3. Discuss the scientific properties of plants.