Herbalist
Portrayed by Erica Loius-Onsager

My portrayal of an herbalist, or herbal physician, has been based on many women, both Northern and Southern. Doctors were only consulted in dire emergencies, as medical care in the Nineteenth century was crude and in many cases, the cure much worse than the actual illness. Most of the time, midwives and herbalists were asked to help. In that spirit, when the war brought injuries and disease to the armies, many women did leave their homes and families to bring healing to the hospitals, which in most cases had no idea of sanitation. These intelligent females lead the way back to health for many men.

Nearly all households had gardens with herbs for medical and culinary uses. Women cared for their families and neighbors with remedies made with flowers, herbs, trees and vegetable plants. All found through listening to their elders' lore in their area about familial and Indian cures.

Violet flowers could cure melancholia, parsley cleared the "spots" (blemishes) and the combination of chamomile and catnip (a mint) steeped together were calming in a tisane (herbal tea). Compresses, foments and ointments made by crushing plants applied to bruises, sprains and arthritic joints comforted the sufferer. Anise seeds, along with other seeds, were carried as tiny snacks, used to stop hunger pangs. Called "go to meeting seeds", one could surreptitiously chew a few during overlong sermons, sweetening to breath and halting boredom.

My interest in Civil War history started with a family camping trip in early July, 1968 in Gettysburg. It was kept alive by reading throughout the years, living in The Upper Peninsula of Michigan (200 inches of snow- huzzah!) and Oregon. In the mid 1990s, while living in Wisconsin, working in theatre, volunteering at humane societies, and being an avid gardener, I somehow discovered the Wild West and Civil War reenactment communities. In the meantime, the rest of my family had gravitated to live in the Gettysburg area, and in 2001, moved closer to them in G'Burg, even spending evenings telling ghost stories with one of the tours in town, but now reside in Ladysmith, Va, halfway between Richmond and Fredricksburg, a hotbed of history and, yes, I do have an herb and vegetable garden.

Erica Onsager
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