A longstanding Appalachian folk healing tradition has been upheld for centuries as a gift of knowledge passed down through generations of Appalachian Mountain women. This gift, most often bestowed to family members as a lineage, combines the intimate knowledge of midwifery, plant medicine, herbal remedies, healing charms, ritual, and the power of prayer. The women who uphold this tradition are known as Granny Women.
History suggests that while most granny women have professed to be Christians, their approach to Christianity is very animistic (Ward, 2017). The cornerstone of their healing practice comes from a richly diverse set of traditional customs.
The first European explorers arrived in Appalachia in the late 1500s, but it wasn’t until 1700+ that an outpouring of immigrants came to the area. The Scots, Irish, and English who had settled in the rural region held reverence for nature and herbal remedies as practiced in the Old World from which they came. The Cherokee and Choctaw people were the indigenous tribes in the area. Traditionally, their healing practices involved using plant and herbal medicine, coupled with spiritual rituals. Once the settlers were well established in the area, the tribespeople shared their knowledge of medicinal customs with them. The melding of the Old and New World healing methods, the act of birthing babies, the roots of mysticism, and the principles of Christianity became standard practice for the healing ways of the granny women of the area. Eclectically, this practice became known as mountain magic.
Typically, granny women receive(d) no formal medical training other than the lineage of knowledge passed down through the years. Sometimes bartering for services but never charging a monetary fee, they are considered indispensable to these rural areas. Their deep-rooted practice of natural healing, spiritual ritual, religious belief, and mountain practicality became mainstream to the way of life in the rural communities. Currently, most of these healing techniques are still used by the granny women of Appalachia today.
“Whether it’s rooted in the Bible, Mother Nature, or good, old-fashioned common sense, there’s no denying that even now, there’s something enchanted in it (Ward, 2017).”
Ward, B. November 21, 2017. The Long Tradition of Folk Healing Among Southern Appalachian Women. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/southern-appalachia-folk-healers-granny-women-neighbor-ladies.
As a singer, songwriter, storyteller from swampy southern roots and natural mountain high’s I respectively honor the “Granny Women of Appalachia” with song…. (Special thanks to Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki and James Prendergast for their outstanding musicianship in capturing the sound of the times).