It goes without saying that our Wendish and German forebearers encountered illnesses and maladies of all sorts. How did they deal with them? Let’s take a look at some of the remedies used to give relief and/or to bring about desired results for maladies, dating from the days back in Germany, all the way into the 1940’s here in Texas. Hold on to your hats, because you may not believe that our forebearers could do such things. In fact, you may even find some of the methodologies offensive. But, what you are about to read contains both documented material and oral tradition. So, as Ripley would say, “Believe It or Not.”
The Lebenswecker was not a uniquely Wendish remedy at all. In point of fact, its very name is German and means “Life Awakener”. It was, however, utilized frequently by many of the Wends of Texas, and was, according to its users, very effective. The device was created by one Carl Baunscheidt in Germany. It is a long narrow instrument, about 9″ in length. At one end is a cylinder containing some 30 short, but very sharp needles. In the handle is a coil spring which can be retracted by pulling back on the narrow end of the instrument. When released, the spring forces the needles out, allowing them to penetrate the skin. Prior to doing this, an oil, called Baunscheidt’s Oel, was applied to the affected area of the body. The Lebenswecker was applied. Upon so doing, pussules of blood would form, allowing the oil to enter the the newly formed wound. It was believed that this then would release toxins from the body and thus bring healing. According to the instructions on the box, the device could be utilized for maladies of all sorts, including but not limited to: regulation of circulation of the blood, Rheumatic paiin, headaches, toothache, cramps, asthma, quiney, diseases of the eye and ear, stiffness of the joints, tetters, jaundice, hemorrhoids, Green sickness, gout of all forms, inflammation of the throat, syphilis, apoplexy, inflammation of the brain, pneumonia, colic, thypus fever, cholera, yellow fever, asphyxia, and more. An actual printed booklet came with the purchase of the instrument, showing the most effective places to administer the treatments for various diseases. In the 1860’s, the device could be purchased for the price of $8.00, with a bottle of the necessary “Oleum Baunscheidtii” (its Latin name) or Baunscheidt’s Oel (German) or Baunscheidt’s Oil (English) for $2.25 per bottle. Carl Miertschin, the last man in the Serbin area to speak fluent Wendish, recalls having had the device used on him several times. He related that on one occasion he had the mumps and that his mother utilized the device on him. He maintained that, as a result, his bout with the mumps was healed.
This remedy was likely learned by the Wends and Germans from other settlers in the Central Texas community. The name (once again a German name) is literally translated as “fright tea”. The tea is brewed from a tall growing thistle (with a pinkish-purple blossom) which grows prolifically in Central Texas. When the blossom of the thistle dries, the dried remains plus the seeds (called Schreckkreuter) are brewed into a tea. The brew apparently has a tranquilizing affect and was used ubiquitously among the Wends and Germans of Central Texas.
PLASTERS , POULTICES AND LINAMENTS
Plasters, poultices and linaments of various types were used for a variety of reasons. In virtually every case, however, they were used to either draw out toxins or to simply give topical relief to an area. Because of the many varieties, we will focus on only few in this article.
The mustard plaster was certainly not unique to the Wends or to the Germans. It was, however, commonly used within both cultures. This plaster was made with a combination of dried mustard, flour and water, mixed into a paste. Having reached the desired consistancy, the plaster was placed on a cloth (often a used flour sack). The mustard in the concoction could possibly burn the skin if too much was introduced. Therefore, if too much mustard had been introduced, another cloth was placed over the layer of plaster and then the plaster applied to the chest. If, on the other hand, not as much mustard was introduced, the plaster was applied to only one cloth and then the plaster applied directly onto the skin. Mustard plasters were used especially in cases of respiratory illnesses or flu like symptoms. The plaster was left on for a period of 20-30 minutes, the affected area cleaned with a warm, moist cloth and then reapplied. This process could be repeated for a period of up to 4-6 hours, watching carefully that the skin did not begin to blister.
Another common poutice or plaster was made of hog lard and kerosine. Again, care had to be taken to carefully proportion the kerosine to the lard. Ovbiously, lard kept the kerosine from blistering the skin. This plaster was typically applied to a cloth and then directly to the skin. Most usually this poultice was used to combat pneumonia or respiratory illnesses. This writer can attest to the absolutely miserable sensation of having this poultice applied to the chest.
Another plaster or poutice was very often used in the Manheim, Paige, and Fedor areas. This is due to the fact that it was devised by one Otto Schade, who was considered a “doctor” because of his his medicinal skillls. While he had no professional training that we know of, he was a sought after “doctor”, often prefered to genuine doctors that could be found in Giddings and surrounding areas. Schade had a rather extenisve library of remedies which he had brought with him from Germany. He also ordered homeopathic medicines from Germany, a practice not unique to him. Theodore Kilian, son of Pastor Jan Kilian, too ordered homeopathic medicines such as Nux Vomica (also called the “poison nut” and is made from the seeds of the strycnos tree, the source of strychnine) which was used for flu like symptoms… and hangovers. Among other of the pills that Kilian kept in his homeopathic wooden medical box were Bryonia (for wounds, gout, etc.), Staphisagria, for rheumatism, and very nearly 25 other viles of homeopathic pills for a variety of ailments. Back to Otto Schade, however. He developed several rather reknowned salves which were known as “Schade’s Salba” and were used for a variety of ailments. One such salve including the following ingrediants: dried elderberry flowers (cooked, as in a tea but without too much water), unsalted butter, bees wax and sheep tallow. The exact measturements are not known. Another salve that Schade made took on the consistancy of hardened wax and was green in color. It had to be melted before it as appliied and was known for drawing out all manner of toxins from the body. Schade also had children go out and collect certain spiders and certain types of frogs from which he would extract poison sacks and, in the case of the frogs, a fluid from the eyes… all of which he would use in mixing certain of his medicines. Unorthodox as all this may sound, Schade was a sought after “doctor”, despite his gruff and unpleasant bedside manner. If a remedy couldn’t be found at home, folks in the area would say, “Besser ihn/ihr zu Schade nehmen” (Better take him/her to Schade). If Schade couldn’t help, then a “city doctor” would be sought.
There were, of course, in those early years, a variety of liniments available for the use of easing “aches and pains.” This was universally true and certainly not exclusive to the Wends or Germans. However, there were liniments “marketed” to German consumers. Such liniments were given German names and the instructions for usage were written in German. While the contents may have been exactly the same as any other liniment, because they were “marketed” in German, folk of German and Wendish heritage were inclined to purchase them. One such linament was called “Forni’s Heil Oel Liniment” ( Forni’s Healing Oil Liniment). Some of the ingredients included: Camphor, Chloroform, Oil of Cloves, Oil of Sasafras, Oil of Turpentine… and 72% alcohol. This liniment was to be applied every two hours to the affected area using a massage application method, and after application, covered with a flannel cloth. And do you know what? It worked well. I can attest to this, having had it applied to me on numerous occasions… for everything from muscle aches to insect bites.
SUNDRY OTHER MEDICATIONS
The contents for various medications in those early years were not nearly so regulated as they are today. Therefore, medications could be ordered by mail very easily and were marketed in newspapers, the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, notwithstanding. One need only peruse issues of the Volksblatt and one can find medications advertised. These medications, if not available in apothocaries, could be ordered by mail. To begin to list all such medications here would be impossible. However, there were a couple that were commonly used in those early years… and continued to be used into the 1950’s. They are as follows:
1. Knorr’s Genuine Hien Fong Essence or Green Drops.
“Hien Fong” or “Greendrops” were likely to be found in virtually any Wendish or German household in the early 1900’s. The liquid concoction was, as described, green in color. Some of its ingredients were: alcohol, gum camphor, Oil Aniseed, Oil Fennel, Oil Lavender, Oil Rosemary, Oil Peppermint, Oil spearment, Extract Hydrastis, and extract of Bay Leaf. This medication was used for several purposes. Among them were sore throat, head colds, digestive disturbances and diseases of the gums and teeth. The medication was strong and when ingested needed to be diluted with a teaspoon of sugar (not unlike the lyrics of the Mary Poppins song ‘A Teaspoon of Sugar’). For gum or tooth ache, however, it was applied undiluted to the affected area of the mouth… but, look out for a bitter taste and a burning sensation.
2. Forni’s Alpen Kräuter
Like “Green Drops,” “Alpen Kräuter” was to be found in virtually any Wendish or German home in the early 1900’s. “Alpen Kräuter” was used as a laxative and for upset stomach. Among its ingredients were: 14% alcohol, sennel, fennel, mandrake root, peppermint, spearment, mountain mint, horsemint, sarsaparilla, sassafrass, hyssop, blessed thistle, dittany, ground ivy, Johnswort, lemon balm, sage, and yarrow. Now, with those ingredients, one can see why it was an effective laxative. If that wouldn’t “get you going,” not much would. In the early 1900’s, an 18 ounce bottle could be purchased for $1.90.