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15 Historical Hangover Cures

Sherman/Three Lions/Getty Images
Sherman/Three Lions/Getty Images

As long as there has been alcohol—and humans have known about it—there have been hangovers. And as long as there have been hangovers, humans have been scrambling to find a cure for them. Unfortunately, although we’ve had since about 7000 BCE to figure this out, the challenge has been met with only moderate success at best. Here are some of history's more bizarre attempts to help revelers through the day after a long night out. While they almost certainly won’t work on your wicked morning-after headache, you’ve got to give some credit for innovation here.

1. TREE SAP AND BIRD BEAKS

When folks found themselves hungover in ancient Assyria—which included present-day Syria as well parts of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey—they liked to grind up the beaks of birds and mix them with myrrh, the fragrant resin of the Commiphora tree, and then eat it. Myrrh is normally just used for perfumes and as a tincture, not in its highly pungent resin form, so it’s even odds that eating it would be any better than just going without and suffering the hangover. And that’s to say nothing of the bird beak part.

2. PICKLED SHEEP’S EYEBALLS

Many cultures seem to recommend consuming pickled things to cure a hangover—and in Poland, you’re supposed to drink pickle juice straight up. But Mongols from the era of Genghis Khan took it a step further: They prescribed a breakfast of two pickled sheep’s eyes. This supposed cure is still used in the region, although now they chase it with a glass of tomato juice; it’s known as a “Mongolian Mary.”

3. LICKING YOUR OWN SWEAT

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Some Native American tribes believed that “sweat swishing” is the only way to rid yourself of a pesky hangover. What you do is, you have yourself a workout the morning after, lick up the toxins that your body has expelled, and swish them around in your mouth. You gotta spit it all out afterward, though, or it won’t work. Or don’t spit it out, and then it also won’t work. No matter what you do with your sweat, this probably won’t work.

4. SNORTING TREE IVY JUICE

If you wanted to shake it off in 17-century England, author and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper advised “stuffing the nasal passages with the juice of tree ivy.” Culpeper also made a career out of blaming certain diseases and afflictions on astrology, so you may want to take everything this guy said with a grain of salt.

5. LEMONY ARMPITS

In Puerto Rico, some would-be revelers opt for preventative measures—by rubbing a slice of lemon or lime into their armpits before a night of boozing. Some versions say you only need to do this on your “drinking arm.” The science-free explanation is that it’s said to keep you hydrated.

6.  PRAIRIE OYSTERS

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Introduced at the 1878 Paris World Exposition, this remedy has nothing to do with actual oysters—nor, seemingly, any prairies: It’s just a raw egg in a shot glass with whiskey and Tabasco. Some variations add vinegar and/or Worcestershire sauce.

7. FRIED CANARY

The ancient Romans were pretty hardcore about their days-long parties, and through Pliny the Elder, we know that they liked to fry up a canary and eat it for breakfast the morning after a bender. (Raw owl's eggs and sheep’s lungs were another Roman anti-hangover brunch fave.) Ah, so that’s why they named a beer after him.

8. RABBIT DUNG

Cowboys in the American West thought that if you went outside and got some rabbit pellets, made a tea out of them, and drank it, your hangover would disappear. Now, it’s true that rabbit poop contains salts and nutrients—such as potassium—that might have been depleted while you were tying one on last night. But nowadays, you can probably just eat a banana or something.

9. BURYING YOURSELF IN WET SAND

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Irish legend dictates that if you want to cleanse yourself of a hangover, you need to do is go to the river and bury yourself up to your neck in wet river sand. The idea is that it will chill you and get your blood pumping, in the manner of a cold shower. No word on why river sand has stronger curative powers than ocean sand, or whether you’re allowed to have someone help you.

10. COCA-COLA AND MILK

In the 1930s, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City served its post-blitz patrons a glass of Coca-Cola and milk. The head barman claimed that after someone drank it, he or she would “take a little nap, and after that, you feel wonderful.”

11. SKULL DUST AND DRIED VIPER

In 17th-century England, a physician named Jonathan Goddard sold a product that he called Goddard’s Drops, which were comprised of powdered human skull, dried viper, and “spirit of hartshorn,” which we now call ammonia. Not just any skull would do, though—it had to be the skull of person who had recently been hanged. King Charles II swore by them.

12. HIGHLAND FLING

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For centuries, the Scots have relied on a special concoction to kill that next-day headache: Mix a bit of corn starch (known as corn flour in the UK) into some buttermilk, heat it up, season it with salt and pepper, and guzzle it down. The drink shares its name with a dance that was popular in the 1800s.

13. BULL PENIS SOUP

Caldo de cadran, or bull penis soup, is the national hangover cure of Bolivia, and it’s pretty flamboyant to behold—considering that the penises are served whole and that they average about a foot-and-a-half in length. Once the penis has simmered in a rich, concentrated broth for about 10 hours, pieces of lamb, beef, chicken and boiled egg are added, along with rice and potatoes. The dish is also considered an aphrodisiac and is said to cure back pain, too.

14. VINEGAR ON THE TEMPLES

A helpful hint from the 19th-century Medical Adviser for dealing with a hangover: Just drink a lot of vinegar, then rub some into your temples. If this doesn’t work, it advises you to strip naked and try dumping a bucket of water over your head.

15. RAW EELS

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A favored cure in Medieval Europe was raw eels for breakfast, and in Portugal specifically, the standard hangover cure was to eat a lamprey boiled in wine and its own blood. (No, a lamprey is technically not an eel, but folks may or may not have known that in the 1200s.)

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History
How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
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Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

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Did Queen Victoria Really Save Prince Albert From Drowning in an Icy Lake?
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many British queens have also served as daring emergency rescuers. But when the moment arose, Queen Victoria was ready to save the day. In 1841, she saved her husband, Prince Albert, from an icy lake he had fallen into while skating.

The incident didn't need much dramatization when it was included in an episode of the PBS drama Victoria. It really was a life-or-death situation, and 21-year-old Victoria was the hero.

On a cold February day in 1841, Victoria and Albert, who had married almost exactly a year earlier, went for a walk around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Albert, an avid sportsman who loved to skate and play hockey, strapped on his ice skates and headed out onto the lake. In a diary entry, Victoria wrote that the ice was smooth and hard that day—mostly. As he skated toward her, she noticed that the ice around a bridge looked a little thin.

"I, standing alone on the bank," she wrote in her journal that evening, "said, ‘it is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below." By her own telling, Victoria screamed and reached out her arm to him, holding onto her lady-in-waiting, the only attendant present.

Albert grabbed Victoria's arm and she was able to pull him to safety. He had cut his chin and was dripping wet, but returned home, took a hot bath and a nap, and was up a few hours later to socialize when their uncle Leopold (Victoria and Albert were first cousins) came to visit.

"Her Majesty manifested the greatest courage upon the occasion, and acted with the most intrepid coolness," an account of the event that appeared in The Times a few days later proclaimed. "As soon as the Prince was safe on dry land, the queen gave way to the natural emotions of joy and thankfulness at his providential escape."

Albert recounted his side of the experience in a letter to his step-grandmother, Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. "I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies," he described, when "I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help." (Both the queen's diary entry and the newspaper account give the lady-in-waiting a little more credit, suggesting that she at least served as an anchor for the queen as she reached out to the prince.)

According to The Times, the problem was bird-related. That morning, the groundskeepers in charge of the various waterfowl that called the lake home had broken the ice around the edges of the water so that the birds could drink. By the time the queen and the prince arrived, those spots had frozen over with a deceptively thin layer of ice.

Thanks to Victoria, though, Albert emerged from the incident with little more than a bad cold and went on to live for another 20 years.

Had Albert died that day on the ice, it could have completely changed European history. Victoria and Albert had already had a daughter, and the future King Edward VII was conceived around this time. If Albert had died, seven of Victoria’s children wouldn’t have been born—children who were married to nobles and rulers across Europe (during World War I, seven of their direct descendants were on thrones as king or queen). And if the future Edward VII hadn’t been conceived, Albert died, and everything else remained the same, it’s possible Kaiser Wilhelm II may have become the ruler of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

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