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15 Historical Hangover Cures

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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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Courtesy New District
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Food
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
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Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.

PICKLEBACK HISTORY, AS WE KNOW IT

As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.

THE PICKLEBACK'S UNCLEAR ORIGIN

Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.

SO, WHY PICKLES?

Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.

WAYS TO PARTAKE

While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.

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