In rural Bailey, North Carolina, there is a small museum, The Country Doctor Museum. This lovely museum houses many historical artifacts, medicines, and tools from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s. Each item holds a story and is wonderful to view to learn more about how medicine was practiced during that time period and led to both modern medicine and modern herbal medicine.
When first stepping into the museum you are first greeted by these lovely containers filled with colored liquid. These vases were present outside of every doctors office and near entrances to towns. The colors of the liquid inside were to designate the general health of the community. In times of sickness the color would be red and warn people to stay out of the town or risk getting sick themselves. When green, all was well in the village.
On the other side of the room was a large glass case filled with jars of herbs and chemicals used in the medicine making practice. Many of these herbs we still use today like cinnamon, myrrh, and gentian. There were also things we defiantly stay away from today like mercury and sulfur that were commonly used in the healing practices of country doctors.
Into the next room we took our tour where there were many homeopathic remedies that were used when this museum was a physicians office. While the labels are now faded, the museum regularly does new chemical tests on the contents so their catalogs of each item is well maintained.
Seeing how these remedies were used in conjunction with herbs was a nice change for me as an herbalist. So often we think of homeopathy and herbal medicine as being two separate field but a country doctor had to know how to do everything, including surgery, to keep his community healthy.
A third room in the main part of the museum offers a history of nursing and dentistry in rural North Carolina. It was lovely to see how much nurses played a role in caring for the community especially during the many outbreaks of illness that our history showed during this time period.
The final room we went to had lovely historic cars on display as well as an Iron Lung, used for those who had suffered from polio and were still healing. This museum also had a separate display for various medicines used during the different polio outbreaks as well as information on the history of eradication of this disease that continues even today through out the world.
Even though it was raining during my visit I was able to take a peek behind the museum at their herb garden. It was lovely to see and I recognized most, if not all of the plants as ones we would regularly use today, including some rarer ones that we don’t tent to grow in our gardens any longer.
I very much enjoyed my time at this museum and I hope if you are in the area you will take an hour of your time to go on a tour and learn a bit more about the community of herbal medicine that existed 100-150 years ago in our country.