Old Ways: Moonshine most important to Dark Corner for medicinal reasons

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 14, 2018

It’s difficult to believe that my last column in the Bulletin was the 150th Twice-told Tale on Dec. 28, 2016.

No wonder folks keep asking, “WHEN are you going to write more about the Dark Corner?” I had promised to do so, just hadn’t intended for it to be this long.

The distillation of moonshine, both legal and illegal, was extremely important to the Dark Corner for three major reasons: medicinal, cultural and economic.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Since the entire northwest corner of the state (land that belonged to the Cherokee until 1777) was never really part of the plantation economy, a barter society between this area, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee was, of necessity, dependent upon the distillation of moonshine.

It was the only way that most families could get their hands on cash, which was extremely important when the property tax man came. It was no cash, no land, on the spot; no three-year redemption period like today.

Moonshine (known as whiskey and “water of life” to Scots-Irish and borderline England immigrant ancestors) was a definitive part of the Appalachian mountain culture. It was a sin to get drunk; it was not a sin to drink the homemade elixir.

But it was the blending of moonshine with an array of natural herbs and spices in medicinal formulas that impacted every member of every family in the Dark Corner in maintaining health and well-being. It was so important in this regard that even some of the preachers kept a small, 20-gallon copper pot still for medicinal purposes.

On a few occasions, my Twice-told Tales included instances of medicinal moonshine, particularly a blend of various roots, bark and leaves in curing a chronic deficiency in vitamin B3 (niacin), and some modern-day recipes for the flu, a hacking cough and a queasy stomach.

I documented how white lightnin’ was placed underground in charred barrels (insides burnt to be charcoal) for a period of time at a constant temperature. This changed its color to that of a light bourbon and made the now “chartered” whiskey not only smoother to the taste but smoother to better blend with herbs and spices.

These types of age old recipes will be a recurring part of this new column, along with other herbal formulas for both internal and external use. You will be made aware of a vast collection of natural, curative applications that preceded the dawn of Big Pharma and its man-made, synthetic formulas.

You will learn of the very rich soil of this mountainous area, which supports a large number of native flora and fauna, and can grow virtually any type of plant. The importance of rotation in crops, planting by the signs of the Zodiac and best use of our pristine water supply will be delineated.

A myriad of other natural ways of living without man-made synthetics and alternative approaches by well-known organizations, museums and other entities that are not hell bent on destroying the natural world around us will be presented.

Perhaps an occasional interview-type column with an expert in a specific field will be presented, assisted, where possible, by photographs or drawings for illustrating a particular point.

At least, that is my vision. I hope you will want to share it.