Whether simply entertaining or now backed my modern science, old wives tales are fascinating. In the absence of modern medicine and conveniences, women (and men) of the past had to make due with what was available to them. They were self-sufficient because there’s was no other way to be.
On Facebook, in a Off-Grid and Homesteading group I belong to, someone had the brilliant idea to collect other members’ old wives tales. The post quickly had more than 800 comments.
Most old wives tales were followed by other members adding how their grandparents used to tell them that, or that they do what was recommended and it works every time! Some helpful members even commented on how that particular old wives tale is now backed by modern science.
I was so taken by this string of ancient wisdom, passed on to 1000’s of others via this very modern conception of social media, that I copied and cataloged all of their wisdom.
None of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA. Some of these I wouldn’t even recommend, but included them anyways as part of an interesting glimpse into our ancestors’ lives.
I am also going to print a copy of this post to keep on hand in case of a long-term power outage. Living off the grid or without access to modern medicine might make some of these old wives tales invaluable.
I hope you enjoy what I’ve collected, and add even more down in the comments section! I’ll keep this post updated as I learn even more!
Bee Stings and Bug Bites
Mud, jewel weed, raw honey, tobacco, plantain, dandelion or mullein, a paste of baking soda and water were all used to treat bee stings or bug bites. You can make a little packet of baking soda and paper towel. Put the packet on the sting and pour some vinegar over top.
Apply honey for a bee sting, Vinegar for a wasp.
Create a soap and mustard poultice with bread in it. Applied as hot as possible to “draw” everything out.
Apply a damp tea bag to the bite or sting. The theory behind this one is that the tannins in the tea dry the skin out and draw out any inflammation or poison.
Create a poultice made from mud dauber nests and water and apply to a bee or spider bite.
A slice of raw potato can also draw out poisons.
In a similar fashion, a poultice made from baking soda and water works.
Apply a slice of raw onion on a sting.
Apply a poultice made from soap and sugar. Leave overnight.
Apply a poultice made from Epsom salt.
Soaking the area in warm soapy water will soften the skin and make the splinter swell.
Place a small piece of bacon over the splinter overnight. It should be easier to remove in the morning.
Mayonnaise hair mask to suffocate lice and then comb them and the eggs out.
A vinegar wash and hot hair drier will supposedly kill lice.
Old Wives Tales About Treating Colds and Flus
Mix together a hot toddy or 1 Tbsp of honey, 1 Tbsp lemon and 1 Tbsp whiskey.
Another version of the hot toddy calls for a teaspoon, 1 Tbsp of honey and about 4-6 drops of eucalyptus in warm water.
Drink the juice of one raw onion.
Slice an onion and cover with a bit of honey. repeat until jar is full. Cover and let set for 24 hours. Strain and toss the onion for cough syrup.
Create a poultice of dried mustard and warm water then spread it on rags and lay the rags against your back for 20 minutes, then front for 20 minutes. Repeat every 2 hours.
Another version of this is to just apply the poultice to the sick person’s chest until it dries.
Breathing dried mullien smoke will supposedly bring up all the phlegm from your lower lungs.
Strong star anise tea – 3 cups water, 1/2 cup star anise, simmer for at least 20 minutes with lid on to capture steam. You can reuse the star anise twice more. Inhale the steam, drink the tea with a little honey. Drink 4x a day.
Put a clove of garlic in eat sock. As you walk, the clove is crushed and absorbed into the skin.
Old Wives Tales To Get Rid of Warts
Wake up early and wash your hands in the morning dew.
Break the stem of a dandelion in half and apply the milk to your warts.
A continued application of iodine is supposed to get rid of warts.
Rub a dried bean on the wart and bury it in the ground. By the time it rots, the wart is gone.
Rub a piece of raw beef on your warts and bury it.
Another version has the patient rub a piece of raw bacon on the wart and bury it in the backyard.
Some people “buy warts” by rubbing a penny on them. That person can never spend the penny or the warts will come back.
In Cajun French people who bought warts were called “traiteur” or “faith healer”.
In Appalachia, buying warts is considered an old conjure woman spell.
Rub a wart with a white rock (or cloth), wrap it up and put it in the middle of a cross road
A 7th son could remove a wart.
Bury a potato under a tree and walk away and don’t look back.
Raw apple cider vinegar with the mother.
Rub chicken bones on warts at night.
Rub half of a freshly cut potato on a wart and bury the other half in the yard.
If you nail a snail to a fence the wart will supposedly fall off.
Old Wives Tales to Treat Acne
Catch the morning pee of a pregnant cow and dab it on face and anywhere else needed. Leave dry for 15 minutes and rinse. Repeat every morning until it’s gone.
The story goes that slaves would take medicinal doses of 100% pure gum spirits of turpentine to stay healthy, and that, in the past, school children would line up to take a spoonful of turpentine with sugar.
Not necessarily “purifying the blood” but in the olden days in Appalachia, people would take a spoonful of caster oil every Spring for an intestinal “Spring Cleaning”.
Old Wives Tales to Treat Burns
Applying any type of vinegar should take away the pain from a burn or sunburn. Soak a washcloth in vinegar and let it sit on the affected area for 3 minutes.
Create a medicinal oil made from St. John’s Wart, harvested on St. John’s day – left in the sun for a few days.
Liberally apply the gel from an aloe vera plant (my Grandmother used this every summer on me).
Press a white potato, cut side down, on the burn.
If you burn your finger cooking, grab an ear lobe to take the pain away.
If you burn yourself cooking, apply an egg white.
Make a strong tea and soak a cloth in it and apply to sunburns.
Tomatoes can supposedly treat a burn.
Apply a poultice of mullein leaves on a burn.
Tea made from the roots of queen of the meadow.
Old Wives Tales About Treating Boils
Apply salted pork to the boil.
Apply a thin slice of onion under your band aid to draw out infection.
Eating raisins soaked in gin is supposed to help with the pain from arthritis.
Poke berry wine or a salad made from the leaves of the poke berry bush.
DISCLAIMER: all parts of the poke berry bush are poisonous, however many parts have been used by all peoples medicinally.
Sprains and Bruises
Apply witch hazel topically to any muscle pain.
Apply a poultice of epsom salt and leave it on until it dries.
Rub butter on any bumps and bruises
Keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol with mint and aspirin in it for sore muscles.
Iodine for bruises
A poultice made from comfrey can be applied to bone bruises or broken bones.
Rub tiger balm onto sore muscles and wrap with a hot, steamy towel.
One reader’s grandmother would rub WD40 on anything that hurt.
Cuts and wounds
Break open a puffball mushroom over a cut to stop bleeding.
Spiderwebs have often been used to clot blood as well. The idea is that spider webs are high in Vitamin K, a naturally blood clotting compound. If you’re interested in the chemical components of spider webs, check out this study.
Let a dog lick a wound if they’re interested in it.
Spanish moss pressed into a wound will stop the bleeding.
Lamb’s ear absorb blood and help it clot more quickly. It also contains antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Create a plantain poultice for cuts. Native Americans and old timers would create a “spit poultice” where they would chew up a leaf of plantain and create a poultice with their spit.
Press a piece of plain white bread onto a cut to stop the bleeding.
Pine resin has also been used to treat wounds.
Honey was used for wound healing by the Native Americans before the United States was established. It has antibacterial properties and seals the wound to protect it. Now the medical community is getting on-board and selling “Medihoney”. I personally have used honey with great success on proud flesh on my horses.
Applying kerosene when you step on a nail or shut your fingers in the door will supposedly take the pain away immediately.
Apply chapstick to cracks on hands or feet daily to protect and reduce the pain.
Peel the bark off of a tickle tongue tree and chew on it to instantly numb.
Put a whole clove against your gum to treat a toothache.
Old Wives Tales to Treat Fever
Cut 2 onions in half, put them in panty hose and the sliced sides were tied to each wrist and each ankle.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Put a few potatoes in bed with you while you sleep.
Place a bar of Irish spring soap under the sheets in your bed and sleep with it.
Rows have to be straight because God wants everything straight as an arrow.
Rows should run North to South.
When planting seeds, always plant three in a hill – one for the good, one for the crow, and one to grow.
You can make a spray from tobacco and use it as a pesticide – not good for certain types like tomatoes.
Plant crops that grow above the ground during a waxing moon, and plants that grow below the ground on a waning moon.
Burying a piece of iron next to your roses is supposed to make them more fragrant.
Green walnut juice is supposed to treat ringworm.
Tobacco juice as well.
Applying fingernail polish to ringworm supposedly suffocates the fungus.
Burn a paper bag and blow the ashes away after it’s burned down. Once cool, dab your finger in the resin and apply to the ringworm.
Old Wives Tales to Treat Foot Fungus
Soak feet for a few minutes in a mix of 1 cup of turpentine in very hot water.
Make trumpet vine “tea” from the leaves to treat toenail fungus and athletes foot. Soak your foot in it daily. It takes about 6 weeks for toenail fungus because it’s in the bed, but about two weeks for athletes foot soaking twice daily.
Make a thick paste from green walnut husks and water. Paint the feet.
Put walnut leaves in the shoes.
To cure athlete’s foot, one member recommended soaking your feet in warm water mixed with apple cider vinegar and baking soda. Dry well and rub Vicks into your feet to moisturize. Let your feet air dry and use only cotton socks. You may want to get rid of all of your contaminated shoes and use bleach in your shower – spray and leave it to dry for 20 minutes before rinsing with very hot water.
Another option is to pee on your own feet in the shower, and then wash them clean.
Mix the tobacco from a few cigarettes with fresh warm mud in a disposable bag. Leave the affected foot in the bag for half an hour. Throw bag away. Repeat every few hours with a fresh batch of mud. If you don’t have cigarettes available, use loose leaf tea.
Old Wives Tales Concerning Babies
Catnip tea or caraway seed tea or a bit of onion juice is said to cure colic.
Toast a piece of bread completely black, then soak in boiling water. Let it cool will supposedly also treat colic.
Cabbage leaves will dry out a breastfeeding mother’s breasts and help wean a child.
Cabbage leaves will also help “draw out the milk” and treat clogged milk ducts.
Breastmilk will supposedly help treat eye infections like pink eye, diaper rash and ear infections.
Urine was also dripped into the ear to treat ear infections.
Fill a sock with rice and warm in a microwave. Place on the ear for an ear ache or the jaw for a toothache.
Another person’s grandma would put warm sweet oil on a teaspoon and pour it in their ears for ear aches.
Predicting the Sex of a Baby
If you’re craving salt (potato chips, pretzels, and popcorn) you’re having a boy.
If you’re craving sweets (ice cream, chocolate, and candy) you’re having a girl.
Crush up a mud dauber’s nest until it’s a fine powder and apply to the baby’s bottom.
Cornstarch can be applied to a baby’s bottom to absorb any moisture and protect from future diaper rashes.
Some women would brown regular flour in a pan or in the oven and use, cooled, on diaper rash.
Put rolled oats in a sock or cloth bag and add to a warm water bath.
Pure lard will supposedly clear up diaper rash as well.
Take a shot of apple cider vinegar (or any vinegar in a pinch) to stop a sudden asthma attack.
Old Wives Tales Concerning Animals
Apply raw eggs and milk or sardines to a snake bite
Chopped up onion to draw out the poison. If you don’t have an onion, you can use a potato.
Consume mall amounts of tobacco as a dewormer for parasites.
A bath made from poke berries to treat mange on your dogs.
Rub a gold ring on a sty to make it go away.
Luck or Superstitions
Never wash clothes on New Years Day – you could wash somebody out of your family.
Don’t sweep someone’s feet with a broom.
Don’t sit directly on the ground.
For ghosts or haunted areas, hang a measuring tape on the door handle. (Jamaica)
For ghosts, leave change outside of the house and a candle in the window. (Ireland)
For ghosts or bad spirits, leave a braid of garlic hung by the door.
Open up your front and back doors as the New Year rolls in to let out the bad things and bring in the new.
Bringing in eggs after dark will bring bad luck.
If you happen to drop silverware (or in some versions – a dish towel), it means company is coming.
Keep a pair of metal scissors in the freezer. Whenever someone has a nosebleed, put the cold scissors on their back on bare skin.
Mint or lavender will supposedly treat a headache.
A poultice made from instant coffee and water, applied to a cold sore many times throughout the day is supposed to kill the Herpes virus and prevent cold sores in the future.
A damp washcloth or rag, sprayed with a mixture of white vinegar and essential oils can replace dryer sheets.
Having spiderwebs in your house will supposedly make it warmer. (A great excuse not to dust!)
Peeing on stains on clothes and scrubbing it well before washing it supposedly gets rid of stains.
Throw a whole potato into every tomato dish to absorb the oils. (The reader who submitted this one also commented on how the kids would fight over who got to eat that one oily potato!)
Another idea was to throw a whole apple into vegetable beef stew to make it more flavorful and add a bit of sweetness for an hour or two.
Use a small amount of sugar to cut back the acidity of any tomato dishes.
Sprinkle black pepper around where you find mice droppings to stop them from coming back.
Oatmeal baths to reduce inflammation.
Bleach mixed with water or witch hazel to dry the blisters.
Predicting the Weather
Red at night traveler’s (or sailor’s) delight. Red in the morning, travelers (or sailors) take warning.
If a dog is eating grass it’s going to rain.
You can tell the weather for tomorrow by looking at the sky when it’s dark out. If the stars are out, it will be nice tomorrow. No stars, then you’ll get some sort of precipitation tomorrow.
For every fog in August, there will be a snowfall during the Winter.
If you notice more than the usual amount of spiders around, it will be a harsh Winter.
Issues of the Mouth
Make a tea from the bark of a red oak tree. Swirl in your mouth to treat infected gums but DON’T SWALLOW.