Looking behind the scenes of local herbalist’s lifestyle

By Chase Davis – cdavis8@unca.edu – Contributor | April 15, 2015 |

Ralph Kisselburg flipped through a binder full of pictures of brown recluse spider bites he has treated over the years.

He said the green bark of a wild hydrangea, applied to the bite, will draw the venom out.

Standing up, he  pointed to four Native American paintings were next to a collection of about 100 arrowheads.

“An Indian friend of mine painted these for me,” Ralph said. “He was shot dead in a bar because he was with the shooter’s estranged wife.”

Kisselburg,  90, lives in Candler, and is locally known for treating people and animals with medicinal herbs.

Kisselburg’s wife of 69 years shouted across the room, telling him to turn on the lamp so that he could see better.

When the lamplight flickered on, he grabbed a photo of a small log cabin with a mud chimney.

“This was the home in Murphy my Pa built that I grew up in during the Great Depression,” Kisselburg said. “During the Great Depression, herbs were the only medicine we had. We went out into the woods and the fields to get them.You could call a doctor and you might get one in a week or you might not get one at all.”

If someone had pneumonia, they had to treat it themselves. Boneset tea will raise a person’s body temperature and burn the infection out, Kisselburg said.

During the Depression, Ralph and his family also relied on the outdoors for food.

“When we ran out of meat we had to go into the woods and dig up groundhogs, and catch possums, rabbits, squirrels, anything you could get your hands on,” Kisselburg said.

Kisselburg said he acquired his knowledge of herbs from his mother, father, and the Cherokee Indians. When he lived in Cherokee County, he had Cherokee friends who taught him how to fish and live among nature.

“I get criticism all the time for the work I do. People believe that it’s all just old folks’ tales,” Kisselburg said. “They don’t believe in healing. They’ll only believe something that a physician or pharmacist tells them.”

Kisselburg said he believes modern medicine is man’s biggest joke. Doctors make money by treating people, not by actually curing them.

Plants are not his only interest. Kisselburg said he has also played the accordion for around 40 years.

“Playing music is the most soothing thing you can do,” Kisselburg said. “I still play with my band every Sunday. I play for my own entertainment and anyone who wants to listen.”

Ralph’s wife, 88-year-old Ruth Kisselburg from Murphy, said she has always enjoyed listening to Ralph play the accordion. Even after several decades she still is not tired of the sound.

Growing up, Ralph Kisselburg’s idol was Natchee the Indian, a fiddle player. Kisselburg said he tried his hand at the fiddle when he was younger. Then, one day, his father needed wood for the fireplace, and he heard him break the fiddle over his knee.

Taylor Rains, a 19-year-old from Indian Trail, met Ralph while working in Candler.

“From talking to him for a little bit about his work I got the impression that he really values everything nature has to offer,” Rains said, “and that he believes synthetic medicine can be more of a burden than benefit.”

Kisselburg said the biggest conflict he has faced was five years ago, when something happened to his brain after he moved from his Asheville home. He would get stuck in a stare that he could not get out of, and he was not able to converse with anyone.

“So they put me over in St. Joe’s on the fifth floor for about two weeks,” Kisselburg said. “That floor was a lockup where they kept insane people. They were going to let me die. I had developed a kidney infection, a blood clot, and was dehydrated. My beard had grown out down to my chest.”

He said his daughter came down from Utah and interrupted a doctor’s meeting to demand Kisselburg be treated, threatening to sue the hospital.

Kisselburg was moved to a small room and his kidney infection and blood clot were treated.

“After they treated me I started to come out of it, Kisselburg said. “So I’m still here today and I’m going to be here awhile longer.”

After much prodding, modern medicine may have eventually saved his life, but Kisselburg said he still believes that nature is the best doctor.

 

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