Goldie and the Heal All PlantBy Sharon Brown (Sharran)
August 24, 2010
Goldie was the one who wore taffeta dresses that rustled when she walked. I think she just wanted everybody to know she was there because she never stopped moving and that dress never stopped rustling. After the Goldie with yarrow in the church episode, it seemed that I saw Goldie much more often. Some days she wore her gold brocade dress that swished, and some days she wore her purple satin dress that swooshed, but always the rustle announced her appearance at Aunt Bett's front door. I thought at the time that her dresses sure did resemble the drapes that I saw at the funeral parlor, particularly the dark purple ones. I thought better of mentioning that, but when it came to the brocade dress, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. "Why Miss Goldie, your dress matches my Gramma Ell's company couch. It's right scratchy, an' I bet your dress might be awful scratchy too. And heavy, why I remember when Gramma Ell covered that couch, an' that brocade was way too heavy for me to lift."
My Aunt Bett changed the subject real quick, and asked Goldie what was ailing her. Goldie wasn't as anxious to change the subject: "Well, Lawdy mercy, Bettie Ann, that chile sure can talk, it'll get her in big trouble one day. I'll have you know, little missy, that I order all my clothes from the Montgomery Ward catalog and I only get the best." Her tone told me that "Little Missy" was not a term of endearment.
But she finally answered Aunt Bett: "Well, I got these pains, and one runnin' up an' down the inside of my throat. I also got a hurtin' in my back that won't stop for nothin'. I was wonderin' if you had anythin' on hand that would take care of all of it. I hate to waste my money on potions, so I baked you a cherry cobbler as payment if I end up with a debt."
I had to bite my tongue. She didn't want to waste money on potions, but she sure wasted money on those swishy dresses she ordered from Montgomery Ward. They didn't any more go with her personality than a butterfly with a toadfrog. I opened my mouth to tell her so and Aunt Bett saved my life by saying: "Goldie, I don't have any potions made up today, but I got the healall plant and it's 'bout ready to use. If you give Sharon yore telephone number, she can call you when it's ready."
We had recently got phone lines up the holler, and my daddy who was forever buying whatever new gadget that came out, had talked the telephone people into putting a line all the way up our road till it connected with the line that went over the mountain into Virginia. Aunt Bett would not talk on the newfangled thing, but she would ask me to make any calls that she needed made. Now Goldy, not to be outdone by anything new that anybody had, went right out in the road and talked those telephone men into hooking up a line to her house; she even cooked them dinner and baked them a pie. The men had mentioned it to my daddy, so everybody knew how Goldie had conned her way into getting a telephone. Dad had legitimate business that connected him to several southern states, so he had a reason for one. Goldie, on the other hand, didn't work, and none of her friends or family had a phone, so I wondered who she thought she was going to talk to. I sure hoped it wasn't me.
In the meantime, Aunt Bett had a special plant that she called the healall plant. If that word tangles all around your tongue, you might want to say it as "heal all". She used it for those folks who mostly needed attention instead of medicine. Goldie was one of those, except for the time in church when she had a nosebleed. The healall plant, Prunella vulgaris, grew wild in the mountains, and never failed to come up every year. It hardly needed any care and was easy to pick as often as needed. A lot of folks just let it grow wild in places where they didn't bother to grow anything else. Aunt Bett would dry some for winter usage, but during the warm months if she needed it she would just go out and pick it, or send me to do it for her.
Goldie hemmed and hawed around a bit, and finally she gave Aunt Bett her phone number, but she said she wanted to hear from Aunt Bett when it was ready, since she didn't think a little girl should be using a telephone. She also took her cherry cobbler and swished her way back up the road to her house. Well, for goodness sakes. That Goldie just made me so mad. But Aunt Bett kept me busy helping gather healall, and getting an infusion ready for Goldie.
Healall had several uses at that time, it was used to relieve internal irritations, and as a food its leaves were cooked in soups and stews. It does have a bittery taste, but that is from the tannin in its leaves, and the bitterness can be removed by washing the leaves well. A salve made from a decoction of its leaves was used in treatment of wounds or infected skin areas. As a tea, it was used for diarrhea, sore throat, and sometimes for internal bleeding. Aunt Bett most often used the whole plant when making decoctions, but for infusions she only used the leaves. A little tidbit for you here: even though the blooms are a lavender color, a lovely olive green dye can be made from the flowers, the leaves and the stem.
I gathered the healall for Goldie's infusion, washed the leaves, and got them ready to be doused in water and boiled on the stove for only a few minutes. Actually Goldie could have waited and taken it with her, but Aunt Bett nor I wanted her company for any length of time. So the concoction boiled, then we strained it and let it cool. Aunt Bett was going to put it into a large brown bottle with a cork stopper and she would then write the instructions on a gummed label that I got to lick and place on the bottle. It was all ready to deliver, and Aunt Bett said: "Now, chile, I want you to call Goldie tomorrow and tell her that her medicine is ready. We want her to think it took us a while to make it, so she won't think she's being cheated out of nothin'."
Then Aunt Bett winked at me.
The next day I ran down to visit Aunt Bett and to ask her again what I should say to Goldie. Aunt Bett said: "Just say, Miz Potter, Aunt Betty Ann got your infusion ready. She will be waitin' for you to come pick it up."
Ok, so I was ready to make the dreaded phone call, and somehow I knew it would not be a good one. I dialed the number, and just as sweet as anything, Goldy answered the phone: "Hellllooooo? Who's there, this is Goldie," and her voice sounded like honey and syrup it was so sweet. I thought I might have a wrong number.
"Miz Potter, Aunt Bett says to tell you that your infusion is ready for whenever you can pick it up."
"Now who'd you say this was? I don't take no calls from no children, so don't you be botherin' me anymore!" Slam!
I ran back to Aunt Bett's house to tell her what happened. Aunt Bett stopped in her tracks, thought for a minute, then she took the infusion and poured it out in the middle of her daisy patch. "I reckon those daisies need that tea more than Goldie ever did need it. Don't you worry none 'bout that Goldie, chile. We don't worry 'bout things we can't fix. And Goldie, well she's one a them things that can never be fixed."
"But Aunt Bett, she didn't even leave you any of that cobbler pie, she just took it right back up the road with her." And Aunt Bett said: "Honey chile, you better believe when Goldy got home, she took off that ugly brocade dress, and alla them tight undergarments, and she sat herself down and ate every bite of that cobbler. That's why she acted like she didn't know you, she ate up all her pay, and doncha know she probly cain't ever stuff herself back into that brocade dress from Montgomery Ward. Don't you worry none, we won't be seein' Goldie for awhile."
And we went right in to Aunt Bett's kitchen and she taught me to bake an apple pie.
Verification of Aunt Bett's information came from here: http://www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Prunella+vulgaris and http://www.yinessence.com/news.html
All photos of the healall plant are from Dave's Garden Plant Files. Thanks to these great photographers for the use of their photos: Melody, creekwalker, kniphofia, and the photo of healall as ground cover is by jacobhugh. The photo of the old phone is from Public Domain images.