Hooked on Tonics: Snake Oils, Hangover Cures, and Other Questionable Medicine

Stick Out Your Tounge
Snakes, you just can't trust "˜em. First they go around getting us humans kicked out of paradise, then they (or, rather, their oil) become synonymous with quacks and patent medicine. Snake fat, you see, was once believed to have curative powers and no snake fat solution was more curative than "Stanley's Snake Oil," the brainchild of cowboy Clark "The Rattlesnake King" Stanley. The King made a name for himself hawking his wares at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, where he dressed in flamboyant western togs and convinced thousands of customers that his oil could cure everything from mosquito bites to rheumatism. Despite the snake oil's miraculous reputation, Stanley was careful to point out that it was for external use only. Good thing. When the U.S. government finally ran some tests on the stuff in 1917, they found it contained a few ingredients you wouldn't want down the hatch, including: mineral oil, used to (roughly) cure constipation; camphor oil, which is used primarily as embalming fluid; and turpentine, a key ingredient in paint stripper and Vap-o-rub. As for the promised oil of rattler, that snake Stanley had used easier-to-acquire beef fat instead.

Turn Your Head and Cough

Hairballs aren't so pretty when they turn up on the rug, but during the Renaissance these frankly gross gastrointestinal phenomena were prized for their powers of healing and protection. While we're familiar with the wet, stringy hairballs kitty leaves behind, the pharmecuetical version, called bezoars, were more like pearls and were formed in the stomachs of goats or other cud-chewing animals. People believed these glassy masses of compressed hair and food could suck poison or even rabies out of the body. Members of the Medici family, who controlled much of Europe at the time, carried them around obsessively, though not without reason, as poisoning members of the Medici family was something of a continental sport. The bezoar lives on in today's medical literature, but mostly in the psychiatry section. Doctors occasionally have to remove them from the stomachs of people who obsessively chew their hair.

I'm Not A Doctor But I Play One On T.V.
Part of the fun of selling patent medicine was becoming a major celebrity. Or, at least as much of a celebrity as was possible in the pre-mass media 19th century. The seven daughters of former preacher Fletcher Sutherland found their ticket to stardom when they started selling a mixture of vegetable oil and alcohol, marketed under the name Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower. With a collective hair length of 37 feet, the girls were their own best advertisement and they toured the country for 38 years, eventually becoming some of the best-known women in America and earning some $2.75 million. Not even death could stop this public relations steamroller. When the youngest sister, Naomi, died in 1893, the others simply replaced her with a well-maned actress. But, as anyone who's watched "E! True Hollywood Story" knows, fame is a harsh mistress. By the 1920's the sisters were broke. Promise of a film version of their lives brought them to Hollywood, but after the deal fell through and another sister died the others were forced to leave her ashes in California, unable to afford a burial.

Veghospital.jpgTake Two Pigs And Call Me In The Morning
Folk medicine in Ireland relied heavily on the belief that you could magically transfer illness from a person to an animal (usually a pig or a donkey). These "transference cures" were especially popular for curing mumps and whooping cough. When Irish immigrants settled in America, they brought their belief in transference with them. In Appalachia, for instance, people once believed that the surest cure for a crick in the neck was to rub your neck on a tree a hog had just rubbed against.

It's All In Your Head
Folk medicine wasn't just about inventing cures; sometimes practitioners went that extra mile and invented a whole disease. Take "white liver," a disease that supposedly caused white spots to appear on said organ, but who's external symptoms affected organs of a different kind. Sufferers of the white liver, which were primarily women, were said to have insatiable sex drives. In the 19th century American South, women who had survived more than one husband were sometimes known as "white livered widders," the idea being that they had, in effect, pleased their husbands into and early grave. Although Americans have pretty much replaced white liver with nymphomania, the term is still popular in Jamaica. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for victims of white liver, there is no known cure.

Feel better about your HMO yet? There's more info on questionable medical practises where this came from. Check out mental_floss volume 3, issue 5.

8 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Stranger Things season two is in the books, and like we all hoped, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to an addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as the wait for a third season begins. But for everything we don’t know about what the next year of Stranger Things will bring us (such as an actual release date), there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming well into 2018. While the show hasn't been officially greenlit for a third season by Netflix yet, new details have already begun to trickle out. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season three so far.


The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up, and instead of having the kids look noticeably older without explanation for year three, the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”


If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer said in an interview with IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

Ross Duffer did stress, though, that as of early November, season three is basically “… Matt and me working with some writers and figuring out where it’s going to go.”


The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season three premiere (whenever that may be).


The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for the latest season of the show—probably a bit too much. Talking to Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

The good news is that he also told the site that this wealth of cut material could make the writing process for the third season much quicker.


Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by 11-year-old Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”


The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.


We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and executive producer Shawn Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.


Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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