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

iStock

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

iStock

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

iStock

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

iStock

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

iStock

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.)

Jane Austen's Handwritten Letter About a Nightmarish Visit to the Dentist Is Up for Auction

Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

For about $100,000, you could own a tangible reminder that Jane Austen hated going to the dentist, too—even when she wasn’t the patient.

After escorting her three nieces to a dentist named Spence in 1813, Austen was so appalled at the dental practices of the time that she described them to her sister Cassandra in a letter, which could now sell for $80,000 to $120,000 at an auction later this week. Smithsonian reports that the value is so high partially because only 161 of an estimated 3000 letters written by the celebrated author still exist; the rest were destroyed by Austen’s family after her death, possibly to avoid personal matters from leaking to the public.

jane austen letter about the dentist
Bonhams

This letter doesn’t contain anything particularly private, but it does provide some intimate insight into Austen—who famously remained unmarried and childless herself—as a doting aunt and sister.

“The poor Girls & their Teeth!” she wrote. “We were a whole hour at Spence’s, & Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all … we heard each of the two sharp hasty screams.”

While Austen doesn’t speculate about whether or not the work on the aforementioned nieces’ teeth was necessary, she definitely had an opinion about Spence’s treatment of her third (and favorite) niece Fanny.

“Fanny’s teeth were cleaned too—& pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold & talking gravely … but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischief to parade about Fannys [sic].”

If you think a visit to the dentist is uncomfortable in the age of anesthetics and easily accessible milkshakes, you can imagine that getting teeth filed, filled, and pulled in the early 19th century was a full-fledged nightmare. The main fix for a cavity was simply pulling the tooth out, which the Jane Austen Center explains was often done with a pelican or key, both metal instruments that were braced against the gum and then twisted to tear out the tooth.

In addition to the horrifying dental report, Austen also writes about her mother’s improving health, a visit to a family friend, and a department store shopping trip.

Bonhams will include the letter in their annual Americana and Travel auction in New York on Wednesday, October 23.

Curious to know more about the woman behind Pride and Prejudice? Check out eight intriguing facts here.

[h/t Smithsonian]

12 Amazing Facts About Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great moved to a foreign land as a teenager and became one of the most important leaders in its history. During her 34-year reign, she transformed Russia’s culture while expanding its borders. Here's what you need to know about the unlikely ruler, who is the subject of not one, but two series: HBO's Catherine the Great, which debuts on October 21, 2019, and Hulu's The Great, slated for 2020.

  1. Catherine the Great's name wasn't Catherine.

The woman who would become Catherine the Great was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst on April 21, 1729 (Julian Calendar) in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland). She was the daughter of Christian August, a minor German prince and general in the Prussian army, and Princess Johanna Elisabeth, who had connections to the Russian royal family.

Despite being a princess herself, young Sophie wasn’t exactly a top-tier member of the European nobility. But thanks to her mother’s campaigning, she was chosen to marry Karl Peter Ulrich (later known as Tsar Peter III), heir to the Russian throne. The couple wed on August 21, 1745. Sophie converted to Russian Orthodoxy—despite her Lutheran father’s objections—and took on a new Russian name: Ekaterina, or “Catherine.” Her official title would be Empress Catherine II (Peter the Great's second wife had been Empress Catherine I).

  1. Catherine the Great's marriage to Peter the III was rocky.

Catherine and Peter were an ill-matched pair: Catherine was bright and ambitious whereas Peter, according to Britannica, was "mentally feeble." Catherine didn’t like him: “Peter III had no greater enemy than himself; all his actions bordered on insanity,” she wrote in 1789. Her memoirs portray the Tsar as a drunk, a simpleton, and somebody who “took pleasure in beating men and animals.” Whether these statements are accurate or not, Catherine and her spouse were clearly unhappy, and they both had extramarital affairs. Catherine had at least three affairs, and hinted that none of her children were her husband's.

  1. Catherine the Great overthrew Peter the III so that she could rule.

Peter III assumed the throne on January 5, 1762, and was immediately unpopular. He enraged the military by pulling out of the Seven Years’ War and making big concessions to Russia’s adversaries in the process.

Eventually, Catherine believed that Peter was going to divorce her—so she worked with her lover, Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, and her other allies to overthrow him and take the throne for herself. In July 1762, just six months after he took the throne, Peter III was deposed in a coup d'état. Eight days later, he was killed while in the custody of one of Catherine's co-conspirators.

With Peter out of the picture, Catherine became the new empress of Russia. She was formally crowned on September 22, 1762. She never married again, and took numerous lovers during her long reign.

  1. Voltaire was basically Catherine the Great's pen pal.

Catherine, a bibliophile, built up a collection of 44,000 books. Early in her reign, she began a correspondence with one of her favorite authors: The great Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Russia fascinated Voltaire, who had written a biography of Peter the Great. Catherine would never get the chance to meet him in person, but through these letters, she and Voltaire discussed everything from disease prevention to Catherine's love of English gardens.

  1. Catherine the Great annexed Crimea.

Russian interest in the Crimean Peninsula long predates Vladimir Putin. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 to 1774, Catherine seized the landmass, thus strengthening Russia’s presence on the Black Sea. And her conquests didn’t end there. Over 200,000 square miles of new territory was added to the Russian empire during Catherine’s rule. Much of it was acquired when the once-independent nation of Poland was divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Tsarina Catherine’s slice contained portions of modern-day Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine.

An illustration of Catherine the Great.
iStock.com/traveler1116
  1. Great Britain asked for Catherine the Great's help when the Revolutionary War broke out.

In 1775, the Earl of Dartmouth approached Catherine with a request for 20,000 Russian troops to help Britain put down the colonial rebellion in America. She refused. As the war continued, British diplomats kept trying to establish an alliance with Russia, hoping that the Empress would either send military aid or, failing that, pressure France into abandoning the American cause. Catherine did neither. However, out of concern for Russian shipping interests in the Atlantic (and elsewhere), she did attempt to mediate an end to the violence between Britain and its rebellious colonies in 1780.

  1. Alaska was colonized on Catherine the Great's watch.

Russian explorers had been visiting Alaska since 1741, but the empire didn’t set up its first permanent colony there until 1784, when merchant Grigory Shelikhov sailed to Kodiak Island and established the Three Saints Bay Colony. Later, in 1788, he visited Catherine in St. Petersburg and asked if she’d give his company a monopoly over the area’s lucrative fur trade. She denied his request, but thanked the explorer for “[discovering] new lands and peoples for the benefit of the state.” Russia’s colonial presence in North America would continue long after Catherine’s death—and it wasn’t limited to Alaska.

  1. Catherine the Great embraced inoculation.

Thomas Dimsdale, an English physician, built upon an existing technique for immunizing people to smallpox. The technique involved finding a carrier of the ailment, then taking a blade dipped in a very, very small amount of "the unripe, crude or watery matter" from that person's pustules and injecting it into the patient’s body. In 18th century Russia, smallpox claimed millions of lives, so Catherine was eager to see if Dimsdale’s strategy worked. At her invitation, he came to Russia and quietly inoculated the empress. The procedure was a success, and with the Tsarina’s encouragement, Dimsdale inoculated about 150 members of the nobility. Before the end of the century, approximately 2 million Russians had received smallpox inoculations.

  1. A rebel claimed to be Catherine the Great's dead husband.

Catherine’s Enlightenment-fueled beliefs didn't lead to the demise of serfdom. According to Marc Raeff in his book Catherine the Great: A Profile, "During her reign it was possible to buy and sell serfs with or without land, buy whole families or individuals, transact sales on the estate or marketplace; contemporaries termed all this ‘veritable slavery.'”

The unjust arrangement triggered 160 documented peasant uprisings in the first 10 years of Catherine’s reign. The best known of them was Pugachev’s Rebellion (1773-1775) [PDF], which was organized by Yemelyan Pugachev, a veteran of the Russo-Turkish wars. To win support, he introduced himself as Catherine’s deposed and deceased spouse, Peter III (even though Pugachev looked nothing like Peter). Pugachev and his followers enjoyed some big military victories early on, but after a crushing defeat in August 1774, their revolution fell apart. Pugachev was captured and executed in Moscow on January 10, 1775.

  1. Catherine the Great's art collection was the basis of St. Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.

In 1764, Catherine purchased a set of 225 paintings—including works by Rembrandt and Frans Hals—from a Berlin dealer, and founded the Hermitage with those works. Catherine went on to buy or commission thousands of additional pieces for her budding museum. Today, the State Hermitage Museum has more than 3 million items in its collections.

  1. Catherine the Great was Russia's longest-serving female leader.

Thirty-four years after assuming the throne, Catherine passed away on November 6, 1796. The monarch was succeeded by her son, Tsar Paul I.

  1. Wild rumors flew after Catherine the Great's death—including that one about the horse.

A lot of rumors sprung up in the wake of Catherin's death. One said that she had died while on the toilet, while another—the most persistent tale, and a completely unfounded one—claimed that Catherine the Great was crushed to death while attempting to have sex with a stallion. Where exactly the story came from is unknown; an autopsy determined that the empress had actually died of a cerebral stroke.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER