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A wasp sting sent me on a quest for home remedies. Here is what I found.

‘Menacing Beauty,’ the photographer titles this photograph of a yellow jacket wasp, an image captured not long after she was stung by one of its kin. The pain put her on an immediate search for home remedies for bee stings.
‘Menacing Beauty,’ the photographer titles this photograph of a yellow jacket wasp, an image captured not long after she was stung by one of its kin. The pain put her on an immediate search for home remedies for bee stings. Special to the Sun Herald

Ever sipped burnt-toast tea for an upset tummy? Put moist tobacco on a bee sting?

If so, you know some priceless home remedies.

Drawing a blank on household medicine? Get a notepad and head to the oldest relatives of your clan to download their brains about family remedies. There is a good reason why these cures have passed from generation to generation. They usually work.

Who’s to say if it’s a psychological placebo effect or a real cure? Who cares? It’s family tradition!

Sadly, home remedies aren’t quite the treasured hand-me-downs of generations gone by. That’s why I suggest asking the sage among us before these home treatments disappear into the ether of time.

Not a prescription

I’m not writing a home prescription. That would be unwise and potentially litigious in today’s society. But like most things, there are good and bad homemade cures, and we must be wise in how we chose and use them. Ones that haven’t killed off the generations before us definitely have potential.

Take Mom’s burnt toast tea. I suspect she learned it from her mother, who was an early 20th century country nurse, the kind that helped birth babies when the doc wasn’t around. Today, most people who get an upset stomach just open their medicine cabinets and grab that pink bismuth stuff.

I don’t think we ever manufactured stomach ailments to get Mom to make her special tea but it was fun to watch, even if a bit odoriferous. Burnt bread definitely smells up a house.

How it’s done

Basically you char bread, scrape the charcoal bits into a cup of hot water, steep, strain and drink.

Does it work? In my childhood memory, it does. By the time the last of us siblings came along, the ritual had been replaced with the store-bought stuff in the medicine cabinet. Kinda sad.

A modern-day cure?

So why am I writing about home remedies? Blame it on the bees.

A yellow jacket wasp, to be exact.

The other day I am picking tomatoes and bend my elbow to reach inside a plant. The motion apparently catches a yellow jacket in flight and he lets me know his displeasure. Ouch!

I don’t know what will happen. Although I’m an outdoorsy type, I can’t remember being stung since I was 9. And I fainted.

Am I one of those folks who gets a bad allergic reaction from stings? I am about to find out.

Emergency?

I run inside, turn on my cell phone to call 911 — if need be. After a few minutes, there’s no dizziness so instead I tap the Google microphone icon to talk.

“What do I do for a yellow jacket sting?” I ask Ms. Google, the disconnected feminine voice that seems to know everything I ask her.

“According to so-and-so, make a paste of baking soda and water and put on immediately.”

Follow instructions

With no light headedness, I head into the kitchen to do as instructed. Oddly, at the same time I get a “how ya doing?” text from a Virginia friend. I confess my close encounter with a yellow jacket. He texts back, “Slice a tomato and put a slab of it on the sting. The acid should counteract it.”

I plop a slice of beefy red on top of the baking soda paste. Double ouch!

I continue with Ms. Google to see what else she suggests, which turns out to be ice and diphenhydramine. I root in the medicine cabinet, find a Benedryl and pop in my mouth. Ice on top of tomato and baking soda, however, just doesn’t seem do-able.

Oddly, for someone who rarely texts, I get another one from a Gulfport friend.

“Tobacco, wet tobacco” she replies after I relate my sting saga. “That’s an old Southern remedy.”

Of course. I’ve forgotten that one but certainly remember hearing of it.

“Oh, you don’t smoke,” she concludes, “so you probably don’t have any tobacco.”

LOL, LOL, LOL

If I weren’t standing in the kitchen with baking soda paste and tomato juice running off my arm and puddling on the floor, I might LOL her, which is text talk for “laugh out loud.” The sting hurts too much. I can’t laugh. Not even digitally.

The crux of this story is that the baking soda, the tomato and Benedryl keep my arm from swelling badly. An hour later, I wash off the mixture and get out the ice pack. The sting still hurts like the dickens when I crawl into bed, but by morning all I have is a small bump.

That’s when I start thinking about endangered home remedies and wish I’d confronted Mom and Grandmother with a notebook and the right questions about their conventional and sometimes secret home cures. The latter includes Uncle Elick’s now-lost miraculous salve for drawing out skin boils.

Hope it’s not too late for some of us to record these magic elixirs. We shouldn’t depend on the modern Miss Googles of the world to do our family preservation work.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.

USE THIS ONE PLEASE Yellow Jacket menace

“Menacing Beauty,” the photographer titles this photograph of a yellow jacket wasp, an image captured not long after she was stung by one of its kin. The pain put her on an immediate search for home remedies for bee stings.

Credit: Kat Bergeron

OPTIONAL yellow jackets 3 too many

Yellow jackets are great defenders of the colony. They have lance-like stingers with small painful barbs, compared to the larger barbs in honey bees, and are capable of stinging repeatedly.

Credit: Kat Bergeron

OPTIONAL yellow jacket single walker

Yellow jackets are pollinators but their aggression at defending their colonies, often built in the ground, makes them unwanted near houses.

Credit: Kat Bergeron

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