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Herbalist brings nature’s pharmacy to UNCP

December 15, 2004

Mary Sue Locklear brought nature’s medicine chest to UNC Pembroke November 22 for a discussion of the benefits of native herbs.

mary_sue_locklear.jpgA Native American from the Wakulla community near Red Springs, Locklear said she learned her craft from her mother who learned it from her mother. Through speaking engagements and publishing a book, she is working to preserve the practice.

“Blood root is the first thing I ever went out to gather for my mother,” Locklear said. “My sister had jaundice. There were 21 of us, so we couldn’t afford a doctor.”

Necessity was the wellspring of knowledge in the practice of traditional healing.

“Yarrow was used by the Confederate Army when they ran out of supplies,” she said. “It stops bleeding and prevents infection.”

From chapped lips to insect bites to severe burns to hair loss, Locklear has something in her apothecary to help the healing process.

“I wore wigs for 15 years because I was embarrassed that my hair was so thin,” she said. “I make a shampoo with herbs and a vinegar-based rinse. It’s a lot better than it was.”

Locklear also knows remedies that go beyond herbs.

“I also blow fire,” she said of the practice of taking the heat from burns. “It’s a gift my mom passed on to me.”

However, there is another ingredient, which works well with medicine, old and new, Locklear said.

“As long as they have faith, it will work,” she said. “It’s nothing I’ve done. It’s because of God.”

Locklear and her husband, the Rev. George Locklear, spoke to a gathering in UNCP’s Multicultural Center. It was part of the center’s continuing program of “Celebrating and Embracing Diversity One Day At A Time!”

The herbalist is publishing a book this winter with recipes for many, many ailments. It will include photographs of the herbs that she collects locally.

Locklear offered this sample recipe for weight loss: two tablespoons of brown apple vinegar, one tablespoon of honey and mix into a glass of water; drink it 30 minutes before a meal to suppress the appetite.

She rattled off a litany of herbs and remedies: chickweed for high cholesterol, sage for insect repellant, eucalyptus for burns, catnip for the baby’s colic and milkweed for asthma. Herbal remedies are tried and true, passed down generations of country folk, and safe, she said.

“I only work with what I am familiar with,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell nobody nothing if I haven’t experimented with it and used it myself.”

Locklear said many cures have been lost in the modern era, and some herbs, like ginseng and ginger root, have disappeared locally from over-harvesting. The Internet and grocery stores carry some raw materials for her cures.

At times herbal remedies and cooking - both crafts passed from mother to daughter - are one.

“Sage is good in stew, but good for memory loss too,” Locklear said. “I like to put basil in my spaghetti. It’s good for hornet stings.”

Some of the wisdom that was passed to Mary Sue Locklear from her ancestors goes beyond herbs to folk wisdom. She has tips on many subjects, including making soap.

“If you make soap on the full moon, it will be soft,” she said. “If you make it on the new moon, it will be hard and last longer.”

Locklear is pleased by the commercial explosion of herbal remedies in the drug store, but there are many, many more cures still to be “discovered” by modern science.

“Even the medical profession is going back,” Locklear said. “Doctors at Duke (University) are working with spider web to stop bleeding.”

She said her own research continues. A root called “black hoe” that her mother told her about years ago remains a mystery. The art and science of herbal remedies continues to be rediscovered, as Locklear investigates more herbs and medicines.

Today, the Locklears live near St. Pauls, and Mary Sue makes and sells salves, ointments, syrups and crèmes. For information about herbal health and beauty aids, please call her at 910.865.4285.

For information about UNCP’s Multicultural Center and its programs, please call 910.521.6508 or email