“Unusual” Medical Cures Found in History

I thought to look at what was acceptable medical practice during the Regency era and all through the past. We know, for example, that the lack of what we would now call “proper” medical procedures caused Princess Charlotte to lose her life in childbirth. However, what else was popular over the years?

Bloodletting was very common. For thousands of years, medical practitioners clung to the belief that sickness was merely the result of a little “bad blood.” Bloodletting probably began with the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, but it didn’t become common practice until the time of classical Greece and Rome. Influential physicians like Hippocrates and Galen maintained that the human body was filled with four basic substances, or “humors”—yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood—and these needed to be kept in balance to maintain proper health.

Asthma could be cured by eating boiled carrots for a fortnight, according to British evangelist, John Wesley.

Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas Jefferson Ritter’s Mother’s Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, published in 1910, tells us we would cure asthma with chloroform, or we may be rid of ringworm by rubbing a paste-like mixture of vinegar and gunpowder on the infected area, or to cure chapped hands by burying cold cream wrapped in a cloth overnight, which a person would unearth the next day and rub the cold cream on his hands, or to mix a drop of tincture of nux vomica (commonly known today as ‘strychnine’) in a teaspoon of water to cure severe headaches.

People drank a mixture containing powdered gold during the Middle Ages as a cure for muscle pain. Edible gold is still being purported. See The Health Benefits of Gold.

To cure a hangover in the Wild West, people would drink a tea made of rabbit poo. “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.'” [15 Historical Hangover Cures] The Roman author Pliny the Elder suggested drinking a mixture of owl eggs and wine for three days to cure a hangover. Would someone really have the same hangover for three days?

Trepanation is the oldest form of surgery and also one of its most gruesome. As far back as 7,000 years ago, civilizations around the world engaged in trepanation—the practice of boring holes in the skull as a means of curing illnesses.

Image of the painting The Extraction of the Stone of Madness, completed around 1494 by Hieronymus Bosch, demonstrating medieval trepanation. The work illustrates trepanation to remove a stone from the patient’s head and presents one artist’s view of the surgical procedure and medical knowledge during that time. The work is displayed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. ~ https://thejns.org/focus/view/journals/neurosurg-focus/36/4/article-pE9.xml

Chocolate was once thought to be a cure for venereal disease, or so thought some French doctors during the 1500s.

Published in 1685, The Manner of Making of Coffee, Tea and Chocolate by French merchant and “pharmacist” Philippe Sylvestre Dufour included a recipe for medicinal chocolate that included sugar, cinnamon, chilies and “the water of orange flowers.” (Wellcome Library, London) ~ https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/healers-once-prescribed-chocolate-aspirin-180954189

Mercury was once used as a popular elixir and topical application. Moreover, Chinese alchemists prized liquid mercury, or “quicksilver,” and red mercury sulfide for their supposed ability to increase lifespan and vitality. From the early 1900s, mercury was used to cure sexually transmitted diseases.

In the later part of the 1800s in the U.S., some doctors gave their patients a transfusion using milk instead of blood. Big Think tells us, “The first injection of milk into a human took place in Toronto in 1854 by Drs. James Bovell and Edwin Hodder. They believed that oily and fatty particles in milk would eventually be transformed into “white corpuscles,” or white blood cells. Their first patient was a 40-year-old-man who they injected with 12 ounces of cows’ milk. Amazingly, this patient seemed to respond to the treatment fairly well. They tried again with success. The next five times, however, their patients died.”

The Book of Phisick tells us to cure epilepsy, one should cook a strong man’s hair with a deer leg-bone, turn it into powder, then eat it leading up to the new moon.

Animal Dung was used as a cure all for a variety of diseases and injuries. Although this sounds disgusting by modern standards, research shows the microflora found in some types of animal dung contain antibiotic substances.

Along the same vein of thought, ancient Egyptians used crocodile dung suppositories for contraceptive use.

Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine, attempted to cure baldness by smearing pigeon poop on the person’s head.

Mental Floss tells us, “‘The Red Book of Hergest is a Welsh manuscript from around 1382 that contains some herbal remedies, including one to remove drunkenness that involves “eat[ing] bruised saffron with spring water.’ Sadness could be cured by saffron, too, at least in moderation—according to Hergest, ‘If you would be at all times merry, eat saffron in meat or drink, and you will never be sad: but beware of eating over much, lest you should die of excessive joy.'”

“Corpse Blood,” an elixir made of human flesh, blood, and bone, was used to cure migraines and stomach issues. According to History.com, “The Romans believed that the blood of fallen gladiators could cure epilepsy, and 12th century apothecaries were known for keeping a stock of “mummy powder”—a macabre extract made from ground up mummies looted from Egypt. Meanwhile, in 17th century England, King Charles II was known for enjoying a draught of ‘King’s Drops,’ a restorative brew made from crumbled human skull and alcohol.”

To cure rabies, The Book of Phisick tells us, “Tak[ing] 40 grains of ground liverwort and 20 grains of pepper in half a pint of milk … take this quantity four mornings together, then use of Cold Bath, every other day, a month.”

In the early 1900s, the customary cure for hay fever was a 4% solution of cocaine up the person’s nose. Cocaine was commonly used to cure indigestion, hemorrhoids, and fatigue.

History.com also tells us of a woman’s “Wandering womb.” It says, “According to the writings of Plato and Hippocrates, when a woman was celibate for an extended time, her uterus—described as a “living animal” eager to bear children—could dislodge and glide freely about her body causing suffocation, seizures and hysteria. . . . To prevent their wombs from going on walkabout, ancient women were counseled to marry young and bear as many children as possible. For a womb that had already broken free, doctors prescribed therapeutic baths, infusions and physical massages to try to force it back in position. They might even “fumigate” the patient’s head with sulfur and pitch while simultaneously rubbing pleasant-smelling lotions between her thighs —the logic being that the womb would flee from the bad smells and move back into its rightful place.”

Sources Used:

Big Think

History.com

Mental Floss

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
This entry was posted in history, medicine, medieval and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Unusual” Medical Cures Found in History

  1. kayelem says:

    FYI: Whichever of your references had the Mongols drinking tomato juice centuries before tomatoes were brought into Europe from the Americas needs to be crossed off your list of valid sources.

Comments are closed.