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19 Wildly Dangerous Home Remedies From 100 Years Ago

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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.

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The Body
11 Facts About the Thumb
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The human body is an amazing thing. For each one of us, it's the most intimate object we know. And yet most of us don't know enough about it: its features, functions, quirks, and mysteries. Our series The Body explores human anatomy, part by part. Think of it as a mini digital encyclopedia with a dose of wow.

When it comes to the fingers on your hand, the thumb definitely does its own thing. Thumbs only have two bones, so they're obviously shorter, and they play a very important role that no other finger can claim; thanks to their unique saddle-like joint shape, and a little muscle known as the abductor pollicis brevis, you can bend and stretch your thumbs opposite your fingers to grip things. This is why they're known as "opposable thumbs." To bring you these 11 facts about the thumb, Mental Floss spoke with three experts on this unique digit: Barbara Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon in Houston; Loren Fishman, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, in NYC; and Ryan Katz, attending hand surgeon at the Curtis Hand Center, located at the Medstar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

1. OPPOSABLE THUMBS MAY HAVE FREED UP OUR ANCESTORS' MOUTHS FOR LANGUAGE.

The evolution of a thumb helped our ancestors evolve to be better at defense, allowing for throwing and clubbing activities. Moreover, Fishman says, it may have even contributed to our cognitive function. "Some say this is why we have language," he says, "because we can hold things in our hands and [therefore] use our mouths for something else—such as discussing the functions of the thumb."

2. THUMBS HAVE THEIR OWN PULSE.

You might have noticed that medical professionals take a pulse with the middle and index finger. The reason is because there's a big artery in the thumb, the princeps pollicis artery, and arteries pulse, making it difficult to feel a pulse in a neck if you're using your thumb.

3. THE THUMB SEPARATES US FROM OTHER ANIMALS. MOSTLY.

"The thumb is wonderful. It evolved in such a way that we can use it to do so many amazing things, and it's one of the things that separates us from other animals," Bergin says. A handful of other animals, mostly primates, have opposable thumbs, or toes, as the case may be. These include orangutans, chimpanzees, a phylum of frogs known as phyllomedusa, some lemurs, and giant pandas—although their thumb-like apparatus is really just an extra sesamoid bone that acts like a thumb.

4. TOES CAN BECOME THUMBS.

If you should lose a thumb, fear not, says Katz. "It can be rebuilt by surgeons using your big toe." This specialized surgery uses microvascular surgery techniques to transfer your big toe to your hand, where it will function almost exactly as your thumb did. "The toe is then brought to life by sewing together small arteries and veins under a microscope," Katz says, a complicated surgery that has become vastly more sophisticated over the years. The second toe can be used too, as you can see in this medical journal, but we warn you: It's not for the faint of heart.

5. … BUT IS A THUMB WORTH LOSING A TOE OVER?

It may not seem like a big deal to lose one thumb—after all, you've got another one. But Katz cites the American Medical Association's "Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment" [PDF], which states your thumb is so important that a complete amputation "will result in a 40 percent impairment to the whole hand." In fact, they claim that it would take "a complete amputation of the middle, ring, and small fingers to equal the impairment of an amputated thumb."

6. IT'S BETTER THAN HAVING YOUR HAND SEWN TO YOUR FOOT.

Katz also points out that "there used to be a common surgical procedure for thumb reconstruction, where the patient's hand was sewn to their foot for a period of time." This procedure was called the Nicoladani procedure, after the German surgical innovator Carol Nicoladoni. "It was a precursor to transplant surgery and plastic or reconstructive surgery as we know it today," he says.

7. YOUR THUMB MAKES AN ASTONISHINGLY WIDE VARIETY OF MOTIONS.

Other than pinching and grasping, Katz points out that the thumb "translates, rotates, and flexes all at once." This coordinated set of motions provides strength and dexterity. "Thus it's the thumb that allows us to easily pen an essay, turn a nut, pick up a coin, or button a shirt."

8. THAT DEXTERITY ALSO MAKES IT FRAGILE.

The thumb may appear to only have two knuckles, but it actually has a third, right above the wrist. This is called the first carpometacarpal joint. If that starts to hurt, or gets big enough to look like a bump or a mass, you may have carpometacarpal joint disorder (CMC), a common condition that is partly genetic and partly from repetitive use, according to Bergin. "You can get arthritis in the other joints, too, but this one is the most debilitating," she says. "First it becomes painful, and then you lose the ability to use it." Surgery can help with the pain, but it won't restore full mobility.

9. PAIN IN YOUR THUMB MAY REQUIRE LIFESTYLE CHANGES.

Bergin suggests small lifestyle changes so you don't need to grip anything too hard can make a huge difference, such as buying milk jugs with handles or using an electric toothbrush. "There are a lot of things we can do [to help] on a daily basis that shouldn't affect our quality of life," she suggests.

10. SWIPING RIGHT MIGHT BE DANGEROUS.

While we generally associate thumb arthritis with older people, Bergin says she now sees it in people in their forties and even thirties. Other studies have suggested that frequent phone use can be damaging. "There must be a genetic component to premature wearing of the thumb," she says. If it runs in your family, it's a good idea to be proactive and try to avoid repetitive gripping activities.

11. WHAT IT MEANS IF YOUR THUMB IS NUMB.

If instead of pain you're experiencing numbness of the thumb that extends to your index and middle fingers, you may be showing early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Fortunately, this isn't an emergency. "The condition takes a long time to become a big problem" Bergin says. People can sometimes help the condition by wearing wrist braces and getting physical therapy. If you just can't take it, "you can get surgery at any point if you failed to improve with bracing," she says. The surgery can reduce mobility, but it should take away the numbness and pain.

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photography
This Is What Flowers Look Like When Photographed With an X-Ray Machine
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Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Peruvian Daffodil” (1938)

Many plant photographers choose to showcase the vibrant colors and physical details of exotic flora. For his work with flowers, Dr. Dain L. Tasker took a more bare-bones approach. The radiologist’s ghostly floral images were recorded using only an X-ray machine, according to Hyperallergic.

Tasker snapped his pictures of botanical life while he was working at Los Angeles’s Wilshire Hospital in the 1930s. He had minimal experience photographing landscapes and portraits in his spare time, but it wasn’t until he saw an X-ray of an amaryllis, taken by a colleague, that he felt inspired to swap his camera for the medical tool. He took black-and-white radiographs of everything from roses and daffodils to eucalypti and holly berries. The otherworldly artwork was featured in magazines and art shows during Tasker’s lifetime.

Selections from Tasker's body of work have been seen around the world, including as part of the Floral Studies exhibition at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in San Diego in 2016. Prints of his work are also available for purchase from the Stinehour Wemyss Editions and Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Philodendron” (1938)
Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “Philodendron” (1938)

X-ray image of a rose.
Dr. Dain L. Tasker, “A Rose” (1936)

All images courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery.

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