The historical medical uses for leeches (some of which are still being practiced today) are pretty well known. But being covered in blood suckers is still nowhere near as gross as many of the medical treatments of the past covered in this great article on io9.
What could be worse than serving as a king-sized snack for blood-hungry leeches? Well, how about a little dose of powdered mummy?
From the 12th through the 17th century, any European apothecary worth his smelling salts kept a supply of mummy powder on hand. Mummy was the health food of the Middle Ages, guaranteed to cure everything from headaches to stomach ulcers, and plasters made from mummy powder were often slathered over tumors.
Can't stand the flavor of dried out old dead guys? Well, maybe you could benefit from something fresher—like, say,
In ancient Rome, human liver and blood were considered powerful treatments for epilepsy, and it was best if that liver was fresh and came from someone healthy, strong, and brave (no livers of the yellow or lily variety, please). So, if you suffered from epilepsy, it might behoove you to hang out around the colosseum, just in case one of those healthy, strong, brave gladiators happened to get a sword through the gut.
Of course, as medicine progressed, gladiator liver fell out of favor as an epilepsy cure. Instead, people turned to distilled brain cocktails:
In the 17th century, distilled brains rather than raw liver was prescribed as an epileptic cure. The English physician John French and the German chemist Johann Schroeder both recorded recipes for gray matter cures, although French's was the less appetizing of the two. French recommended grinding the brains of a young man who had died violently to a pulp, and then steeping them in wine and horse dung for half a year prior to distillation. Schroeder called for a more floral cerebral tincture, infusing three pounds of human brain with water of lily, lavender, and malmsey.
Say what you will about leech therapy, but at least it doesn't require resorting to cannibalism. Click on over to io9 for more horrifying historical medical treatments.