Nasty Folk Medicine

A neighbour recently wrote a history of the community where I grew up. It was an interesting read; lots of old pictures of  and contained numerous pictures of houses and places I recognized as well as many that were gone before my time. Much was familiar, and some was new. All in all it was an enjoyable read.

In one section, she listed a few home remedies her grandmother had told her about. A couple such as ginger tea for an upset stomach or peppermint tea for a cold are still used today. Some however, have rightly been left behind.

  • Sore throat—goose grease and turpentine placed on an old woollen sock or a piece of flannel and breathe the fumes.
  • Pneumonia—mustard plaster made of equal amounts of mustard and flour and perhaps some lard. Mix well and place on cloth; place on patient’s chest and watch for skin burns.
  • Colds and infections—onion poultice made from heated onions on a cloth and applied to chest.
  • Cough—onion cough medicine made by boiling molasses, vinegar, and onion.
  • Skin sores—bread poultice made preferably of the crust of home-made bread. Sprinkle it with Epsom salts or spread with homemade butter. Moisten it with hot water and apply to sores three or four times each day.
  • Ear ache—blow smoke into your ear
  • Warts—Gillett’s lye applied to wart

The use of candles has replaced blowing smoke as a remedy, although the treatment has expanded to include removing toxins and curing other imaginary ailments.

A cursory look around the web yielded a number of other not-so-pleasant folk remedies. Here are a few.

To treat acne, apply urine to the skin. If more drastic measures are needed, take two puppies before they can see, chop off their heads and hang them up by the heels to bleed.” After you collect the blood, mix it with white wine and apply to affected areas.

For infant’s diarrhoea, cut the lining from a chicken gizzard and let it dry. Then put it in boiling water to make a tea. Give 1 teaspoonful to your baby every half hour.

Sore throat is a common ailment and has a  number of treatments:

  • wrap your own dirty socks around your throat
  • wrap bacon around the throat before bedtime
  • stuff the painful ear with a moist wad of chewing tobacco
  • put a few drops of urine in the affected ear

Rheumatism can be particularly painful, and if Granny’s Rheumtiz  Medicine fails to stop the pain you can improve the potency. One way to do that is to kill a rattlesnake before it had a chance to strike, skin it, dry it, and then put the remains your jug of corn whiskey.

Taking the discolouration out of bruising can be done by using a silver coin and a peeled, freshly hard-boiled egg. Slip the coin vertically all the way into the egg until its top edge is even with the top of the egg. Place the warm (not hot) egg on the bruise and leave it there for 30 minutes.

Worried about shingles and want to avoid the varicella-zoster vaccine? Try hanging a turpentine-soaked string around your neck.

To cure cold sores, simply apply earwax.

To prevent the 25% chance of death from tetanus make a tea with ground up insects and other bugs, the preference being cockroaches, and then drink it.

One of your children stutters? Take the shank bone of a freshly slaughtered calf and hit the stutterer in the mouth with it

Infections were a major source of death, and before antibiotics, difficult to treat. Some things to used included mud, spiderwebs, and animal dung (particularly from cows or horses).

In tropical areas malaria is still a common problem, but so are the possible treatments: tablets of compressed spider’s webs, or even the live spiders.

When Mediterranean people had head aches a shock by an electric eel was administered.

Blindness can be crippling. and since they can apparently see in the dark, apply the blood of bats.

Animal droppings (from cow, sheep, pigeons, dogs, cats, and even more animals) have also been used to cauterize wounds, cure baldness, rid people of intestinal parasites, eradicate jaundice and epilepsy, and many other disorders.

In looking at the list two things are obvious to me. First, these are all ‘natural’ but at the same time they are all messy, smelly, and in some cases downright nasty. Modern ‘natural’ cures keep the natural and drop the ick factor. Supplements, homoeopathic cures, and other folk remedies or Traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic treatments are sold as pills, powders, lotions, or liquids. There are no poultices smelling of onion, or things that burn such as lye. No fresh bat blood, cockroaches, or puppy blood. Forget about turpentine, earwax, or freshly killed rattlesnakes. Some of these may be used in some parts of the world or in small populations, but Western society has mostly left these behind.  Urine therapy is one exception to this rule, and is recommended by some, although probably practised by few.

Also, none of these are designed to align your chi or affect meridian lines. They are attempts to treat specific ailments that were constant plagues in communities. These died out, not only because of the unpleasantness, but because actual effective treatments were developed. Rather than follow in the footsteps of these, now enlightened, people, practitioners and user of CAM treatments still believe in supernatural causes and treatments.

Despite the disappearance of most of these ‘icky’ treatments, one common property of alt-med treatments used today is a strong dose of steamy bull dung.

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One Response to Nasty Folk Medicine

  1. JimB says:

    My grandmother was prone to the ferocious infections, especially around cuticles. She would make up bread poultices using only bread she made herself, not commercial bread. She swore to the ‘drawing effect’ and overnight a massive pus filled sore would disappear with no secondary infections. Other than that one thing, she was no believer in folk remedies at all, but it seemed to work for her.

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