Thursday, March 30, 2006

Planting by the signs

In this time of vernal equinox when days grow longer, fresh warm breezes stir the budding trees, and the sun's rays paint nature with golden newness, we who had the privilege of growing up on a farm have a built-in system that hears the call of overturned soil to plant seeds into rows and watch the miracle of growth.

The "preacher" in Old Testament days exclaimed: "To everything there is a season...a time to plant...(Eccl. 3: 1-2).

And when the story of creation was recorded in Genesis, the writer declared that the lights created in the firmament would divide day from night and "be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years" (Genesis 1:14b).

I grew up on a farm that produced well for our family and others with whom we shared our bounty. We sold that beyond our needs for money we used to purchase things not produced on the farm, for improvements to the farm, and for those annual taxes on the land.

My father planted and harvested by "the signs." He believed in them, and the astronomical calculations presented either in "The Old Farmer's Almanac" (in continuous publication since about 1796) or "Grier's Almanac" founded by a Georgian, Robert Grier, and in continuous publication since 1807. These references were frequently consulted at our house. But what is more, through using the signs and his own expertise as a farmer, the results of his efforts proved that, combined, the system worked.

I wish I had listened more closely to him and my other relatives who planted by the signs. Was this system just superstition, or was there wisdom in their assiduous following of the Zodiac to plant and harvest?

I did a little "googling"(you who are computer internet users will know this is researching via internet). I was amazed at the plethora of sights that lauded "moon gardening" or "planting and harvesting by the signs." Likewise, the two almanacs my father used faithfully when I was a child have numerous sites to applaud their still sought after wisdom.

In tracing the history of lunar cycles and "signs" for doing ordinary tasks of daily living, I discovered that texts have been uncovered for this astronomical knowledge as far back as 8,000 years, or when the earth was in the waning stages of the Ice Age. Moreover, the various civilizations, from the ancient Sumerians, the Mayas, the Chinese, the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, the Highland Scots and the native American Cherokee (who were farmers, as well) had knowledge of and practiced signs.

Was it folklore or is there authenticity in "moon gardening"?

It should not surprise us of the twenty-first century that scientific discoveries have authenticated the subtle interactions between sun, moon and planet earth. Our ancestors were not practicing superstition, but proven methods of gaining the best results through working with Nature. After all, had the account of creation not said that in the firmament of light there were "signs" for "seasons...days...years?"

Planting by the signs can be extremely complicated. But the simplest method is to think of the phases of the moon as "waxing" (or growing from a sliver at the new moon to the full moon, first and second quarters) and "waning" (third and fourth quarters as it grows to a sliver in its last quarter). In its 29-day journey around the earth, the moon passes through all twelve signs of the Zodiac. The signs are divided into four "elemental" groups, either water (Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio), earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn), fire (Leo, Aries, Sagittarius) or air (Gemini, Aquarius, Libra). The "fertile" signs are when the elements of water and earth are in the ascendancy. The "barren" signs are in the periods of fire and air.

Above-ground crops (or those producing harvest on plants above-ground) are planted in the waxing (or growing) stage of the moon. Among these are peas, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and the like. Underground crops (such as potatoes, beets, radishes and carrots) should be planted when the moon is waning.

Even though you, as I, do not have many elderly forebears still alive to consult for a lesson on "planting by the signs," we can still purchase handy references, the well-known almanacs like "Grier's" and "Old Farmer's." Or we can access interesting articles on internet that show this long-ago practice of "seeking the signs." Again this method is in great favor among present-day gardeners. Away back in 1562, a man by the name of Thomas Tusser wrote in his "500 points of Goode Husbandry":

"Sow pease and beanes in the dark of the moone,
Who soweth them sooner, he soweth too soon;
That they with the planet may rest and arise,
And flourish with bearing most plentifully and wise."
And remember, too, that Good Friday, especially in the afternoon of that day, is a good day for planting. Best wishes, gardeners. May your "green thumb" follow the signs.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 30, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer and Herbal Tonics

One of Grandmother Dyer's recommended spring tonics was sassafras tea. The sassafras bush grew readily on mountain farms in small clumps at wood's edge or along stream banks. Roots and bark of the sassafras bush were gathered and dried for later use. An old saying about the value of sassafras tea to the system was that "if you drink sassafras tea in the month of March, you won't need a doctor all year."

It was believed to purify the blood and was helpful in the treatment of colds, fevers, and the ague.

A song helped to advertise the values of sassafras as a medicinal plant: "In the spring of the year when the blood is so thick/There is nothing so fine as a sassafras stick./It tones up the liver and strengthens the heart,/And to the whole system a new life doth impart." (from The Foxfire Book 2, 1973, p.50). Boil the roots or bark in water. Sweeten with honey or sugar and drink as spring tonic.

That first mess of greens in the spring was also considered a boost to the system. Spring greens must be gathered while young and tender or they will have a bitter taste. Among those eaten by mountain families in early spring were dandelion greens, poke "sallet" or pokeweed, dock and wild mustard. Gather plenty of the selected green, as volume shrinks with cooking. Parboil, or cook first in plenty of water; drain and wash, and then cook again, seasoning to taste. Recipes for these various wild greens have been passed down in families. Poke sallet, for example, after parboiling, can be put into an iron skillet with shortening and fried. When almost done, break in two or three eggs and scramble with the greens. Serve with vinegar or pickle juice.

Violet leaves and flowers are both edible and grow in abundance in the woods or on lawns in early spring. The leaves are rich in vitamins C and A. Violet leaves may be cooked separately or mixed with mustard greens for a spring "sallet" treat. The petals of the violet flower may be used to make a delicate jelly by using pectin to thicken the jelly.

Gathering wild ramps or leeks has become a modern-day pastime for hikers. "Ramp tramps" are often planned for certain areas where the plant is known to grow in the woods and can be found most readily under maple trees. Some mountain towns have ramp festivals in the spring. Ramps, a very odiferous plant, akin to wild onion and wild garlic, have a "bad breath" quality that remains with those who eat it for three or four days. The advice for would-be ramp gatherers is to go into solitary confinement for a few days after your mess of ramps.

Last week's column looked at ginseng and its uses. Another native medicinal plant is goldenseal. Like ginseng, it was over-harvested and became scarce in its natural habitat of moist woodlands. It is now being cultivated, but does not grow well unless the goldenseal farmer can provide an environment very similar to its moist, woodland habitat.

Goldenseal roots and rhizomes, the underground stems, are harvested in the fall and dried for medicinal purposes. Goldenseal has antibiotic properties and is prized for healing infections and inflammations. For a healing tea, use one teaspoon of dried pounded root in one cup of boiling water. Steep for 15 minutes. Strain and use as a gargle for sore throat. It is useful for stomach upsets by mixing a teaspoon of goldenseal powder with 1 teaspoon of honey. Take the syrup twice a day for 3 to 4 days until stomach upset and diarrhea clear. Goldenseal is in the "bitters" classification of herbs and will leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Drink plenty of water when ingesting goldenseal syrup or tea.

Sweet flag (acorus calamus) roots are gathered dried and used to make tea, powder, liniment and balm for the bath. It is useful in treating indigestion, flatulence, joint pain caused by arthritis or injury, and for a calming bath.

For the last several years, people have become interested again in herbal medications. Health food stores sell many of the emollients that were once made by my Grandmother Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer, “Granny Woman,” and used as she sought to meet the medical needs of her family and her neighbors.

Alternative medicine and natural healing are on the rise. A word of caution is in order. Many of the health store products are not approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

Extensive and controlled testing has not been conducted to verify claims. And we in this modern age have not been taught, as were our ancestors, to recognize healthy edible plants and herbs. Therefore, walk with caution the forest trails as you seek to gather your own herbs, and beware of those that can be lethal if used in the wrong manner.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 23, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer and some old-fashioned remedies

My grandmother, Sarah Evaline Souther Dyer (1857-1959) was considered a "Granny Woman." Among other things, she had a knowledge of herbal medicine, she was a mid-wife, and she compounded formularies that could relieve some of the illnesses that beset her own large family and others in the surrounding Choestoe community where she lived.

Some of my cousins and I have often wondered what happened to her hand-written remedies that she referred to faithfully as she boiled up soothing teas and recommended old-fashioned remedies to the country folk living round about her. Then, sending for a doctor was not always an option in the years in the 19th and early 20th centuries when she lived and practiced her folk knowledge.

Did she get the knowledge from her mother or grandmother and aunts who got their information from the Cherokee Indians who once lived on the land these early settlers occupied? Maybe so. Or perhaps the remedies were passed down, generation to generation, from their European roots as early American settlers with names like Collins, Souther, Hunter, Dyer, England--the list of ties could go on--settled this land. My thinking is that Grandmother Sarah's formularies were a combination of these two sources and perhaps some of her own knowledge of what worked by trial and error method.

I can remember as a child when we visited Grandma Sarah's house that faced Brasstown Bald Mountain, we children would be warned not to "touch or play with" Grandma's roots that hung on pegs to dry on the back porch of her house. These were drying in order to make her medicines to help sick people. I often wondered how the strange, twisted roots could possibly aid people. Did they have to swallow portions of them in order to become well? My best plan, I thought, was to stay well and healthy so I could avoid such monstrous-looking roots being crushed up and forced into my body in dark, bitter teas. Little did I know then that the teas Grandma knew how to make were the antidotes for many an ailment, and highly welcomed by her neighbors.

Take, for example, ginseng, known better to our mountain forebears as 'sang. The ginseng root was harvested from the mountains where it grew wild in the olden days. How it got from its native China and Korea is left to speculation. Perhaps it was brought over the "land bridge" believed to have formerly connected the great continents of the earth and over which the first Native Americans may have traveled. In doing some research on the plant, I found that it was the most famous of the old Chinese herbal remedies, having been used for more than 5,000 years. Imagine the kings of Chinese dynasties being treated by court physicians on this very herb. That's how far back its history goes.

Nowadays, because the plant is still in great demand, growers are cultivating it. The plant takes about six years to mature and grows up to two and one-half feet in height. It has a yellow taproot, resembling a carrot but with more prongs. It is the root that is beneficial for medicinal purposes, and was one of the roots I saw as a child drying on pegs on my Grandmother's porch.
Ginseng as a tonic is believed to aid the heart and circulatory system. It also is a balm for the brain and aids in concentration, even among the aged with dementia or what we currently call Alzheimer's disease. Ginseng boosts the immune system and is held by many to be an aphrodisiac (sexual stimulant). Ginseng in various forms can be found nowadays in health food stores.

This is not my Grandmother's formulary for Ginseng Tea but one I found by researching folk remedies. I might urge, "use with caution." If ginseng tonics are taken for more than three months or in higher dosages than recommended, sleep disturbances, restlessness or anxiety can result.

Ginseng Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of grated ginseng. Steep for 10 minutes and strain. This tea will sharpen concentration, even in the elderly.

Ginseng Tonic: Take 20 to 30 drops of ginseng tonic (from a health food store) daily to prevent heart disease. If you have low blood pressure, this tonic can stimulate blood flow. Beware of using it if your blood pressure is high already.

Ginseng for the Bath: Add grated ginseng root to warm bath water to help you relax and sleep well.

Ginseng as a Food Supplement: Sprinkle a pinch of grated ginseng over your soup or food. This is as effective as buying the more expensive commercial ginseng soup.

As the familiar saying goes, "We've come a long way." But with Medicare, Medicaid, and the more recent Medicare D for prescription drugs that give us a headache when we present our "non-approved" on the "formulary" prescriptions for filling, we could wish we knew what our grand and great-grandparents knew about making do with what they had. It must have worked then. My Grandmother Sarah lived to be within two months of 102 years of age.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published March 16, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Through mountains mists a light in the mountains, Part 2 Truett McConnell College, 1946-2006 Holding Forth The Flame of Knowledge For Six Decades

We continue the exciting story of how Truett McConnell College, Cleveland, GA, grew from the foundations of the Hiawassee Academy (1886-1930) and the Blairsville Collegiate Institute (1904-1930). In this 60th year of the college’s founding, we celebrate the fanning of the flame of knowledge that sprang up and kept growing because people nourished the vision.

The George Truett Junior College, Inc.

From 1930 through 1944, the flame of an institution of higher learning lay dormant. But many people remembered the Hiawassee Academy and the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. The flame was there, awaiting another ignition.

Another Mountain Preachers’ School was held at Blairsville in July 1944.

Who preached the sermon that ignited the flame as Rev. Ferdinand C. McConnell had done in 1886? The person’s name is not known to this writer, but several factors were present to remind the gathered preachers that the time was right to propose a new Christian college in the mountains.

Dr. George Washington Truett died July 7, 1944. He had become a model for visionary ministers who set aggressive goals and worked to reach them. The ministers talked about establishing a college in his memory.

The Great Depression was past. America’s involvement in World War II, although taking a toll on young lives, had brought a raise in economic levels through work associated with the war effort. Many of the young men who would be returning from war when it ended would desire an education.

The vision was born in the hearts of several men. Among them were the Rev. Claud C. Boynton, Rev. L. Clinton Cutts, Dr. W. A. Taliaferro, John B. Payne (layman), Dr. Leslie S. Williams, Dr. James M. Nicholson, Mr. Frank Shuler (Union County Superintendent of Schools and a layman), and Rev. Clarence Voyles. Mountain preachers and mountain laymen seized the vision, fanned the flame.

After the Preachers’ School had ended, the above-named men met for prayer and discussion in the basement of First Baptist Church, Blairsville, where Rev. Claud C. Boynton was pastor. The dream was turned into a plan. The flame of knowledge was again ignited.

After several meetings, a committee drew up a charter and the men approved it.

The charter named the new school the George Truett Junior College, Inc. It was legally filed in Superior Court of Union County, Ga., on September 15, 1944.

A Firm Foundation and Founding

Desiring that the college have a firm foundation and adequate sponsorship, the next step was to present the plan to the Georgia Baptist Convention. Dr. Leslie S. Williams, professor at Tift College, Forsyth, gave the resolution at the Georgia Convention on November 13, 1944. The recommendation was referred to the Convention’s Executive Committee for study. Rev. Claud Boynton and others spoke in favor of the resolution.

At the 1945 Georgia Baptist Convention, the resolution to establish Truett Junior College passed and an appropriation of $25,000 was designated from the convention’s educational funds. A committee was appointed to “recommend…the best location and plans for securing additional financial support.” (from Georgia Baptist Convention Minutes, 1945, pages 80-81).

A “Committee of Ten” was appointed by the Convention’s Executive Committee to do preliminary work relative to site and fundraising. From November, 1945, through March, 1946, various north Georgia towns vied for the college’s location and pledged land, money and endowment. Blairsville was among the towns vying for the location.

At the March 12, 1946 meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, the announcement was made that Cleveland, Georgia would be the site.

Several factors entered in. The location was still within a mountain county. The college would draw students from a broad area of Georgia and elsewhere, and having the college south of high mountains such as Unicoi Gap and Neel Gap would facilitate access at a time when the state and nation were still recovering from effects of World War II, scarcities in tires and transportation. Citizens of Cleveland had pledged more in acreage, building materials, money and utility services.

The Christian Index, newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, announced in its July 11, 1947 issue that the new college to honor the late Dr. George W. Truett and Dr. Fernando C. McConnell would be located at Cleveland, Georgia.

A massive area-wide rally was held in Cleveland, Georgia on July 23, 1946, the official founding date of Truett-McConnell Junior College. Rev. L. Clinton Cutts, then pastor of First Baptist Church, McCaysville, Ga., temporary chairman of the Interim Board of Trustees, presided. A large crowd of Convention officers, ministers, and citizens of a broad area attended the rally. Five persons who had attended the Hiawassee Academy when the Rev. George W. Truett taught there were present. They were Mrs. J. Miles (Maggie) Berrong of Hiawassee; Mr. B. R. Dillard of Dillard; Mr. and Mrs. Andrew P. Ritchie of Clayton; and Mr. John A. Earl of Lakemont.

Sixty years had passed since the Rev. F. C. McConnell had ignited the spark for education on the courthouse steps in Hiawassee. From Cleveland, Ga., the flame was kindled and the vision was stirring toward reality.

A New College Opens Its Doors

Much work ensued from the July 23, 1946 founding date until the college opened doors to students on September 15, 1947. Facilities for classes and administrative offices had to be arranged. A curriculum and faculty had to be assembled. Plans for accreditation had to be drawn up. Arrangements for boarding students to live with citizens in the town were made.

Fifty-four charter students and eleven faculty and staff met in convocation with the first president, the Rev. Dr. Loomis Clinton Cutts leading the processional. In a little more than a year, Dr. Cutts and others had formulated plans and the word was “Go!” Much cooperation had brought about a miracle in little more than a year.

I was in that first group of students meeting on September 15, 1947. We had a vision. I had a distinct sense of mission and calling to be in that place at that time in a brand new college. It was exhilarating and motivating. And so has it been in the sixty years since to remain closely associated with the “light in the mountains.” In this sixtieth anniversary year, the vision continues. The flame still glows brightly, has taken on a new aura. “Veritas liberat” is the motto, “Truth liberates.”

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 2, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.