King of the “standards” was turpentine, a product of the pine
forests. On every mantel board, be it ramshackle cabin or pillared mansion, turpentine
occupied a place of medicinal leadership. It was the universal medicine. Long before
Louis Pasteur established his germ theory, southerners were combating infections with
turpentine and pine resin. Everything from a cut finger to worms, backache, kidney
trouble, sore throat, rheumatism, croup, pneumonia, toothache, and earache was treated
with this cheap native antiseptic. Children with colds gagged at heaping spoons of sugar
dampened down with it. Turpentine had three important medicinal requisites: It smelled
and tasted bad, and burned like the woods on fire. Southern kidneys paid a heavy price
for its frequent use.
There were scores of other medicines, such as Epsom salts,
saltpeter, copperas, sulphur, and bluestone, which were looked upon as staple goods.
Salts were bought in large quantities and sold in smaller amounts for nominal prices.
But, like turpentine, these medicines were regarded as being mild and necessary to rural