Uncovering the Rich History of Southern Herbal Remedies

Uncovering the Rich History of Southern Herbal Remedies

by Esme Addison

When it comes to herbal remedies, the south has a long and storied history. I grew up in North Carolina with a father who used herbal remedies and taught me about the importance of using them as an alternative to traditional medicine on occasion. I’m such an advocate of herbal remedies that I’ve created an entire mystery series set in an herbal apothecary. It’s called the Enchanted Bay Mystery series, and it’s full of herbs, herbal tea and remedies.

I am constantly reading and researching herbs… So you can see why the history of herbal remedies has always intrigued me.

Herbal remedies have been used by southern folk for generations to treat everything from colds and flu to more serious ailments. And while modern medicine has largely replaced natural treatments, there is still a strong interest in herbal remedies among many southern folk. So let’s take a look, shall we at the long and storied history of herbal remedies in the south and how they’re still being used today.

Grab your herbal tea, pull up a chair and let’s learn a little bit about southern herbal lore.

A Timeless Southern Tradition

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries as a natural, effective way to treat a variety of common ailments. Historically, this practice was particularly popular in the Southern United States, where local access to herbs and traditional knowledge of their medicinal qualities gave Southerners a unique opportunity to take control of their own health and well-being. Today, herbalism is still incredibly popular in the South – each county has its own culture and history of herbal remedies ranging from widely-used teas to potentially novel medicines made from homegrown local plants.

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This trend not only reflects an interest in taking care of one’s body with natural methods but is also strongly tied to local culture and traditional medicinal practices that have been passed down through generations. By relying on herbs that are grown right on a doorstep or even gathered wild, Southerners can ensure they are getting effective relief while supporting an important part of their community’s culture and history.

Herbs Unique To The Southern United States

Here is a list of herbs that are native to or grow well in the southern United States and have a history of use in herbal remedies:

  1. American ginseng – used to support the immune system and improve energy levels
  2. Goldenseal – used as a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory
  3. Black cohosh – used to relieve symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  4. Bloodroot – used as a expectorant for respiratory conditions and for skin issues such as warts and skin tumors
  5. Devil’s club – used as a natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory
  6. Mayapple – used as a digestive aid and for the treatment of skin conditions such as warts and eczema
  7. Passionflower – used as a natural remedy for anxiety and insomnia
  8. Queen’s delight – used as a natural remedy for gynecological issues such as heavy menstruation and painful periods
  9. Skullcap – used to reduce anxiety, stress and insomnia
  10. Yarrow – used to promote healthy skin and as a natural remedy for digestive issues and minor wounds.

In the south, herbal remedies are an age-old tradition – they are relatively easy to grow, affordable and accessible which has made them a popular choice in homes across the region for centuries. Whether you want to grow them yourself or purchase from a local farmer or reputable dealer, there is a seemingly endless range of herbs that can be used for all kinds of ailments.

Southern Folk Medicine

Southern Folk Medicine has its roots in a variety of cultural traditions, including Native American, European, and African American communities. The practice of southern folk medicine has been shaped by the unique environment and resources of the southern United States, including its climate, topography, and the abundance of wild plants.

Families and communities have passed down knowledge of local plants and their uses from generation to generation, and this knowledge was often shared between neighbors and communities. Southern Folk Medicine often incorporated the use of plants and other natural materials for a variety of purposes, including treating common ailments such as headaches, digestive problems, and skin conditions.

Healing Traditions of Rootworking

Rootworking is a traditional African American folk tradition that is centered around the use of natural materials, such as herbs, roots, and minerals, in the creation of remedies and treatments for various ailments. This tradition has been passed down through generations in the southern United States and is still practiced today by many in the African American community.

Rootworkers have a deep knowledge of local plants and their medicinal properties, and they use this knowledge to create remedies for a wide range of health issues, including digestive problems, respiratory issues, and skin conditions. These remedies may include teas, tinctures, salves, and poultices, and they often incorporate ingredients such as ginger, sassafras, and lobelia.

For physical ailments, rootworkers would often use a combination of herbal remedies, spiritual practices, and rituals to treat conditions such as headaches, colds and flu, digestive problems, skin conditions, and pain. For example, they might use a combination of ginger, garlic, and cayenne pepper to make a tea to soothe a sore throat, or use castor oil to treat skin irritations.

In addition to physical complaints, rootworkers were also called upon to address emotional and spiritual problems, such as love and relationship issues, bad luck, and negative energy. In these cases, rootworkers would use a combination of herbs, roots, and other natural materials, along with spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, and ritual, to help heal and protect their clients. For example, a rootworker might use rose petals, lavender, and cinnamon to create a love-drawing sachet, or use salt, sage, and bay leaves to cleanse a home of negative energy.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, African American herb doctors and healers, also known as root doctors or conjure women, were highly respected members of their communities and were sought out for their expertise in using herbs to treat a variety of health problems.

Herbal Wisdom Of The Appalachian Mountains

Appalachian herbal traditions are deeply rooted in the cultural heritage of the communities that have lived in the region for centuries, including the Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled in the region. With its unique climate, topography, and abundance of wild plants, the Appalachian region has been a source of inspiration for herbalists for generations.

In Appalachian herbal traditions, a variety of herbs were utilized for medicinal purposes, such as mayapple, goldenseal, and black cohosh. Mayapple was used to treat digestive problems and as a mild laxative, while goldenseal was valued for its ability to treat infections and its anti-inflammatory properties. Black cohosh was used to relieve menstrual cramps and other symptoms related to women’s health.

Herbs also played an important role in spiritual and ceremonial practices among the Irish and Scottish settlers who practiced Appalachian herbal traditions. For example, pennyroyal was used in purification rituals, and mullein was used in rituals related to protection and warding off evil spirits.

Native American Herbal Traditions

Throughout history, Native American communities in the south have used a variety of herbs for medicinal purposes, including wild indigo, bloodroot), and black cohosh. Wild indigo was used as a remedy for respiratory infections, while bloodroot was used as a topical treatment for skin conditions and as a purgative. Black cohosh was used to treat a variety of conditions, including headaches, menstrual cramps, and menopausal symptoms.

In addition to medicinal uses, many Native American communities in the south also used herbs for spiritual and ceremonial purposes. For example, sweetgrass was often used in smudging ceremonies to purify and cleanse objects and spaces, while white sage was used for purification and protection.

From Kitchen to Medicine Cabinet

Traditionally, people have cultivated herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and chamomile for teas and healing balms; whereas others such as mint and fenugreek have been employed either in cooking or as medicinal poultices.

In this day and age, many southern households still find themselves tending their own gardens dedicated to these powerful natural cures using seasonal fruits and vegetables for home remedies. Herbal remedies offer a safe alternative to more traditional treatments and have recently become even more popular due to their naturalness.

If you live in the southern United States and considered yourself a bit of a natural-remedy fan, then you are likely familiar with some of the herbs often grown in this particular region. Herbal remedies that thrive in southern climates such as echinacea, goldenseal, and elderberry have been used for centuries for treating illnesses and conditions naturally.

Kitchen Herb Gardens

The combination of using herbs for both food and medicine was a natural one, as many herbs have both culinary and medicinal properties. For example, herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme, and sage are commonly used in cooking, but also have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties that make them useful for treating common ailments.

Kitchen herbal gardens have a long history in southern homes, where families have grown their own herbs for both food and medicine. This tradition can be traced back to the early settlers of the South, who brought with them their knowledge of herbal remedies from their homelands.

In southern homes, kitchen herbal gardens were typically located near the kitchen, making it easy for families to access the herbs they needed for cooking and for making remedies. Some of the most commonly grown herbs in southern kitchen herbal gardens were mint, basil, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, and rosemary.

From strengthening your immune system to aiding digestion and wound healing, these three herbs offer an abundance of therapeutic benefits when included as part of a holistic healthcare regimen. While many people choose to grow their own herbs for ease of access, these popular remedies can also be found blended into products like teas, tinctures, balms, and capsules in both local stores and online retailers. So no matter where you live in the south—or even beyond it—you can benefit from these potent yet natural remedies!

Who knew that in the very kitchens of our Southern homes lived a trove of herbal remedies waiting to be discovered? The tarragon, rosemary, and even the humble oregano all contain powerful healing properties. The basis of many effective teas and salves, common kitchen herbs can be used to promote wellness and peace on a daily basis. Some of the few lucky enough to know this family secret swear by these herbs’ renowned health benefits.

Medicine Cabinet

In the South, people have traditionally kept a variety of herbs in their home medicine cabinets to address a range of common ailments. Some of the most commonly used herbs include:

  1. Calendula: used to treat wounds and skin irritations.
  2. Echinacea: commonly used to boost the immune system and treat colds and flu.
  3. Ginger: often used to treat nausea and indigestion, as well as to reduce inflammation.
  4. Peppermint: frequently used to treat digestive issues, headaches, and to freshen breath.
  5. Rosemary: a popular herb that can be used to improve memory, reduce stress and anxiety, and to boost circulation.
  6. Sage: often used to treat sore throats and oral infections, and to improve memory and cognitive function.
  7. Yarrow: traditionally used to stop bleeding, reduce inflammation, and to treat fevers and colds.

These herbs were often grown in home gardens and were used both in cooking and in home remedies.

Teas, Tinctures, Salves And More

Herbal remedies have been a part of many traditional cultures for centuries, including in the southern United States where an array of plants and herbs provide so much natural healing. In the south, these remedies come in the form of teas, tinctures, salves and other forms – each providing an easy-to-use method to reap the health benefits.


Herbal teas and infusions have been a part of herbal remedy traditions for centuries, and continue to be widely used today for their medicinal properties. In the southern United States, herbal teas and infusions were a staple in traditional cultures, including African-American, Native American, and Appalachian communities.

Herbs were steeped in hot water to make teas and infusions, which were used for a variety of purposes, including treating colds, soothing upset stomachs, promoting healthy sleep, and improving overall health. Some of the most popular herbal tea blends in the south include chamomile and mint for relaxation, ginger and lemon for digestive support, and elderberry and echinacea for boosting the immune system.


Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts made from herbs and are a traditional form of herbal medicine that has been used for centuries. In the southern United States, tinctures were a popular form of herbal remedy, particularly in African-American, Native American, and Appalachian communities.

Tinctures are made by soaking herbs in high-proof alcohol, which helps to extract the medicinal compounds from the plant material. The resulting liquid is then taken orally, typically by adding a few drops to a glass of water or directly under the tongue.

Tinctures were used to treat a wide range of ailments, including digestive issues, headaches, and insomnia. Some of the most popular herbal tinctures in the south include ginger for digestive support, passionflower for anxiety and sleep, and echinacea for boosting the immune system.

In traditional southern communities, herbal teas and infusions were often made with locally sourced herbs, and passed down from generation to generation. Herbs were often grown in home gardens or foraged from the wild.


Salves have a long history of use in the southern United States as a form of herbal remedy. They are made by combining various herbs, oils, and other ingredients to create a topical ointment that can be applied to the skin to address various ailments.

One of the traditional oils used in southern herbal salves was flaxseed oil. This oil was made from the seeds of the flax plant, which was native to the southern United States and widely cultivated for its fibers as well as its oil. Flaxseed oil is high in fatty acids and has been used as a moisturizing and healing oil for the skin, helping to soothe dryness and irritation.

Another oil commonly used in southern herbal salves was hemp oil. Hemp, like flax, was also native to the southern United States and was grown for its fibers as well as its oil. Hemp oil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, making it an effective ingredient in salves for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Castor oil was also frequently used in southern herbal salves. This oil is extracted from the seeds of the castor plant and is rich in fatty acids and vitamin E, making it a highly moisturizing and nourishing oil for the skin. Castor oil has been used for centuries to help soothe dry, itchy skin and promote healing.

In addition to oils, various herbs and other ingredients were added to southern herbal salves to enhance their medicinal properties. Some of the most popular herbs used in southern salves include calendula, comfrey, and lavender. These herbs were chosen for their healing and soothing properties, as well as their ability to nourish the skin and promote skin health.

Essential Oils

The most common essential oils used in the South for herbal remedies included lemon balm, peppermint, lavender, rosemary, and chamomile. These herbs were either grown in local gardens or foraged from the wild, and then distilled to produce the essential oil.

Lemon balm essential oil was used for its calming and soothing properties, and was often added to baths or used as a massage oil to relieve stress and anxiety. Peppermint oil was used to soothe upset stomachs and headaches, while lavender oil was applied topically to promote relaxation and healing. Rosemary oil was used for its energizing properties and was often added to massage oils to increase circulation. Chamomile oil was used for its calming properties, and was often added to teas or used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation.

Essential oils were also used in combination with other natural remedies, such as tinctures, salves, and teas. They were valued for their potency and versatility, and played a crucial role in the Southern tradition of herbal healing.

Herbal remedies have long been a part of traditional medicine in the southern USA and are still an important component of many people’s healthcare regimens in the region. These natural treatments offer many advantages, such as being safe, affordable, and easy to access through local grocers or health stores.

In addition, many home-grown herbal remedies have even been passed down generationally within families. With the recent surge in interest surrounding their use, it is no wonder that herbal remedies continue to be popular in the southern USA and can provide a highly effective form of alternative medicine for those looking to improve their overall health and well-being.

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