CLOSE

19 Wildly Dangerous Home Remedies From 100 Years Ago

It's hard to understand just how far medical science has progressed over the last hundred years ... until you look at what passed for standard, advisable treatment back then. Here are 19 doctor-approved ideas from Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada by Dr. Thomas Jefferson Ritter, originally published in 1910.

1. Without the luxury of over-the-counter decongestant to soothe a stopped-up nose and scratchy throat, early-20th-century doctors advised an at-home method that would surely result in a malpractice suit. The three step process advised patients to smoke mullein leaves (making sure to exhale through the nose, of course), syringe a mixture of boric acid and water into the nostrils several times a day, and "frequently inhale" a mixture of ammonia, iodine and carbolic acid.

2. If the previous method failed to work, a "spray of a four-percent solution of cocaine" or direct application of a cotton ball soaked in an even stronger solution in the nostril was recommended for "immediate relief."

3. For a nosebleed, find "an old brown puff-ball from the ground," remove the insides and put it in the nose. Let it "remain for some time." In case you're curious what a puffball is, it's a kind of fungus.

4. No puffballs available? That's okay! A "similarly effective" method for curing that nosebleed suggests raising the arms above the head, applying ice or cold cloths to the neck or spine, and in extreme cases, "ice may be applied to the scrotum or breasts" while simultaneously syringing warm saltwater into the nostrils.

5. Here's a "splendid" liniment for sore throat:

Olive oil (half-pint), ammonia (half-pint), turpentine (half-pint), one egg. Shake until the mixture forms an emulsion. Apply to the neck and throat until a blister forms. Wipe clean and apply cold cream.

6. Suppose blistering your neck doesn't relieve your sore throat. What then? Cocaine, of course. Mix it with warm water and some olive oil and "paint it into the throat." Alternately, sucking on a cocaine lozenge before eating "will be found very useful."

7. Croup can be scary,especially for first-time parents. Should you travel back to 1900 and find your baby coughing spasmodically in the night, a "tested and true" treatment your neighbor might recommend is a spoonful of sugar. Not scary at all, actually. But before you give it to the kiddo, just put a few drops of kerosene on it. The idea, apparently, is to induce vomiting, which it probably does.

8. For asthma: "inhale chloroform." Assuming chloroform isn't readily available, other options include smoking saltpeter, the smoke of burning coffee, or cigarettes containing thornapple.

9. Tapeworms giving you grief? Two doses of the following mixture was considered an "excellent remedy": Castor oil (half an ounce) and turpentine (15 drops). Alternately, you can mix the previous two items with a cup of milk, but there's no indication that this makes it better.

10. If you find you're losing some hair, here's a quick and easy fix: Make some sage tea. Now mix it with an equal part whisky. Now take a sip, then add "a dash of quinine" to the cup and spray, paint or rinse over the scalp as often as needed, at least twice a day.

11. A slightly stronger anti-hairloss method (and one that's "guaranteed" to produce results) is to rub a blend of almond oil, rosemary extract, wine, distilled water, and mercury bichloride into the scalp every morning until your hair grows back or unexplained death, whichever comes first.

12. For dry, chapped skin: Spoon a few ounces of sour cream into a flannel cloth. Tie up the ends. Bury the cloth in some dark, soft soil and leave overnight. Dig the cloth back up "mid-morning" and apply the "enriched" sour cream to hands, knees, heels and elbows as needed.

13. Eczema is a challenging condition and there doesn't seem to be a universally effective treatment. Still, we do not recommend trying out the following DIY wash formula:

Mix half an ounce of laudanum with seven and one-half ounces of "sugar of lead," [that's lead(II) acetate]. Soak into gauze strips and apply to afflicted parts.

14. Lice are persistent and it may take several different treatments to get rid of them. One such treatment? Pure kerosene. Again, watch for the blistering, and make sure you follow up with some cold cream—24 hours later, when you're supposed to shampoo it out.

15. Got a problem with body lice? Just get some blue ointment. It's only 20% mercury, so you may need to apply it several times per day.

16. Ringworm is highly contagious and nothing to mess around with. If you find yourself stranded in 1905 with a case of the unsightly infection, mix some gunpowder with vinegar to form a thickish paste. If one application doesn't do it, two or three should knock it right out.

17. Anyone with acne can tell you it's difficult to treat. That's why there are so many products available now. But it seems our great-grandparents had no idea what to do, because a mixture of lard and ground cannabis indica seems counter-effective and is illegal in most states.

18. Got a sunburn? Mix together equal parts cornstarch and oat flour, then drop in a dram of lead carbonate. Just dust it wherever, no worries.

19. For canker sores, there are many, many recommended treatments that have been "proven effective" by brave and no-longer-alive people, including tomato juice, half a lemon held against the area, rinses of baking soda and boric acid and vinegar. Or if you're feeling especially bold, a piece of raw chicken skin can be applied to the sore and left "until no longer painful."

Just to reiterate: None of these are healthy or advisable. Please don't put puffballs in your nose or lead on your scalp.

arrow
Lists
7 Health Tips From Ancient Physicians
Portrait of Galen
Portrait of Galen

If you feel bombarded by conflicting advice on how to stay (or get) healthy, you’re not alone. Intermittent fasting, juice cleanses, and low-carb diets are a few of today’s health trends, but fashionable health advice is nothing new. Consider these health tips from ancient physicians, which range from surprisingly relevant to downright absurd. (Just don't consider any of it actual medical advice, of course—that's what modern physicians are for.)

1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DREAMS.

Galen, a Greek physician who treated Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius among others, wrote hundreds of texts about medicine starting around 150 CE. Galen believed that what you dream about can indicate your overall level of wellness and reveal specific ailments you might be suffering from. Before you call him a quack, keep in mind that he acknowledged that some dreams are simply a random assortment of the day’s events, rather than a direct message about the state of one’s health. As he wrote in On Diagnosis in Dreams:

“The vision-in-sleep [dream], in my opinion, indicates a disposition of the body. Someone dreaming a conflagration is troubled by yellow bile, but if he dreams of smoke, or mist, or deep darkness, by black bile. Rainstorm indicates that cold moisture abounds; snow, ice, and hail, cold phlegm. ... But since in sleep the soul does not produce impressions based on dispositions of the body only, but also from the things habitually done by us day by day, and some from what we have thought—and indeed some things are revealed by it in fashion of prophesy ... the diagnosis of the body from the visions-in-sleep that arise from the body becomes difficult.”

2. DON’T CHANGE YOUR DIET TOO QUICKLY.

Line engraving of Hippocrates
Hippocrates

Greek physician Hippocrates, now known as the father of medicine, wrote several works chock full of health advice. In On Ancient Medicine (written around 400 BCE, although the dates and authorship of the text are somewhat disputed), he explains the wisdom of treading slowly when it comes to making adjustments to your diet. As he explains it, some people are used to eating only one meal per day, while others feel better eating two meals per day. If someone who is accustomed to eating once per day suddenly adds another meal to his schedule, disease can occur.

“But there are certain persons who cannot readily change their diet with impunity; and if they make any alteration in it for one day, or even for a part of a day, are greatly injured thereby. Such persons, provided they take dinner when it is not their wont, immediately become heavy and inactive, both in body and mind, and are weighed down with yawning, slumbering, and thirst; and if they take supper in addition, they are seized with flatulence, tormina [abdominal pain], and diarrhea, and to many this has been the commencement of a serious disease, when they have merely taken twice in a day the same food which they have been in the custom of taking once.”

3. DRINKING TOO MUCH BOOZE CAN CAUSE PIMPLES.

As Galen explains in the Art of Physick, people with high body heat, red cheeks, and a cheerful disposition have a sanguine complexion. Such people, he argues, are more prone to certain conditions such as fevers and phlegm. Luckily, Galen tells sanguine patients how to achieve an optimal diet and exercise program for their body type. He warns that drinking too much beer, ale, and wine can cause a variety of maladies, including scabs, abscesses, fevers, and red pimples.

“Inordinate drinking of strong beer, ale, and wine, breeds hot rhewms scabs and itch, St. Anthony’s fire [a skin infection], quinsies [an infection behind the tonsils], pleuresies [pain when breathing], inflammations, fevers, and red pimples.”

4. BEANS AND FLOWERS CAN FIGHT DYSENTERY.

In On Regimen in Acute Diseases, Hippocrates lays out an easy plan for fighting dysentery, an intestinal infection that causes severe diarrhea. Luckily, no pharmacists are needed for this treatment, but you will have to track down some beans and plant shoots, if you don’t already have them on hand.

“For dysentery. A fourth part of a pound of cleaned beans, and twelve shoots of madder [a Eurasian plant] having been triturated [ground to a fine powder], are to be mixed together and boiled, and given as a linctus [a medicinal syrup] with some fatty substance."

5. IF YOU’RE PREGNANT, STAY AWAY FROM HAMMOCKS.

Detail of a woodcut depicting ancient herbalists and scholars, including Soranus
Detail of a woodcut depicting ancient herbalists and scholars, including Soranus

Scholars credit Sushruta as one of the earliest surgeons and the author of The Sushruta Samhita, a Sanskrit medical text written sometime around 600 BCE. The text warns pregnant women to avoid certain activities, such as fasting, falling, and taking medicine that causes vomiting. But some of the guidelines may sound strange to modern readers. According to Sushruta, pregnant women should not ride a horse, swing on a hammock, or sit on uneven ground, lest those activities cause the fetus to prematurely detach from the uterus.

“Sexual intercourse during pregnancy, riding on horseback, etc., or in any sort of conveyance, a long walk, a false step, a fall, pressure on the womb, running, a blow, sitting or lying down on an uneven ground, or in an uneven posture, fasting … use of emetics or purgatives, swinging in a swing or hammock, indigestion, and use of medicines which induce the labor pain or bring about abortions, and such like causes tend to expel the fetus from its fixture. These causes tend to sever the child from the uterine wall with its placental attachment owing to a kind of Abhighatam (uterine contraction) just as a blow tends to sever a fruit from its pedicel.”

6. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO GET PREGNANT, TRY SNEEZING.

Soranus, a Greek physician who worked in Rome around the early 2nd century CE, had plenty to say about menstruation, contraception, and abortion. As he wrote in Gynecology, sneezing can expel semen from a woman’s body and serve as an effective birth control method. Just remember to squat before you start sneezing.

“And during the sexual act, at the critical moment of coitus when the man is about to discharge the seed, the woman must hold her breath and draw herself away a little, so that the seed may not be hurled too deep into the cavity of the uterus. And getting up immediately and squatting down, she should induce sneezing and carefully wipe the vagina all round; she might even drink something cold.”

7. USE BURNING IRON TO CURE YOUR HEMORRHOIDS.

Hippocrates wrote at length about hemorrhoids, and his writings on the subject survive to this day. In On Hemorrhoids (400 BCE), he offers several methods to remove the offending piles. One of his tricks, which entails burning the hemorrhoids with pieces of hot iron, requires the patient to purge the day before. Sounds like fun.

“I recommend seven or eight small pieces of iron to be prepared, a fathom in size, in thickness like a thick specillum [speculum], and bent at the extremity, and a broad piece should be on the extremity, like a small obolus. Having on the preceding day first purged the man with medicine, on the day of the operation apply the cautery. Having laid him on his back, and placed a pillow below the breech, force out the anus as much as possible with the fingers, and make the irons red-hot, and burn the pile until it be dried up, and so as that no part may be left behind. And burn so as to leave none of the hemorrhoids unburnt, for you should burn them all up.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
arrow
Medicine
Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios