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Folkways Folk Healers


Most of what we think of as traditional folk healing has involved the use of herbs and plant based medicine for healing when no other medical help was available. Today, when medical help is easy to find, many people cling to the use of plant based remedies. Today's herbalists are skilled practitioners who are proving that the traditional use of such remedies was more than just superstition.

  Bob Liebert, Herbalist

"People in town joked that I was a witch doctor."
Bob Liebert
When Bob Liebert first started learning about Ozarks herbs and folk remedies, he spent a lot of time talking with "old-timers" who had grown up eating the wild greens their mothers would pick and drinking the springtime and fall tonics their parents would make. Even though Grannywomen specialized in medicinals, it was common for Ozarks families to know and use the many plants around them for sickness prevention. 

Liebert says every one of the old-timers he talked with knew a few plants and their purposes. "But every one of them would also say that their grandpa or grandma knew about many more," he says. Liebert recognized that the old knowledge about medicinal plants was dying. So he set out to gather up as much of that knowledge as he could in addition to studying the many books on herbal medicine. He started making some of the remedies by preparing liquid solutions, called tinctures, from the different medicinal herbs that literally grow in his, and most any, Ozarks backyard. 

The hills, hollows, glades and bottomlands of the Ozark mountains are "some of the most prime herb places in the country," Liebert says. Unlike many other areas of the country, where only a certain variety of plants grow well, the Ozarks is home to a broader variety of plants. On one south-facing glade hillside, for example, you can find plants that are just as happy in the desert as in the Ozarks. On another hillside - down in the shade - you can find plants that migrated south in front of the glaciers during the ice age and that are still re-seeding and growing here because it's cool enough in certain spots for them to thrive. Many other species of plants came to the Ozarks with the settlers, who brought seeds both on purpose - to make the herbal medicines they were familiar with available in the new land, and by accident - in animal feed and other supplies. 

Liebert says he can find just about any kind of herb he needs on his land on Teeter Creek, a tributary of Bryant Creek. He now has his own business: Teeter Creek Herbs. When he started selling his tinctures in 1985, he says some of his best customers were people from the area. "People in town joked that I was a 'witch doctor' but they knew what it was about because they had a background." Thirteen years later, many more scientific studies have shown the effectiveness of some of the folk remedies. And people are able to buy them because Liebert and other herbalists are keeping the old knowledge alive. "I feel like I'm carrying on an Ozarks herbal tradition," he says. 


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Written by Patty Cantrell.