Medicine Through Time: Weird and (somewhat) wonderful
Historical medicine has the ability to delight and intrigue, especially when cures and remedies include things that seem a little odd to us today. From attempting to cure the bite of a mad dog to treating worms, there are also a lot of illnesses that we don’t often see today. While many may seem silly to us, at the time these remedies are consistent with medical understandings of the time. Purging is perhaps one of the most curious remedies to illness. Purgatives were a common remedy for most ailments. If the body’s humours were imbalanced the excess humours needed to be removed from the body. Purging was a key way to do this. By removing the toxic excess humours, it was believed the body would recover. The only thing it would definitely result in was dehydration and a lot of trips to the toilet!
When reading the recipes, be sure to note some of the ingredients. From a dog’s tongue to viper water, there are a few remedies you wouldn’t want to try. Some combinations are also a little strange. Mixing sherry with crushed snails is one such mixture. A lot are plants you can still find in your garden or local woods today, like scammony, comfrey and Saint John’s wort.
There are also a lot of complicated-sounding names for a number of ingredients. A few are quite disgusting. Isingglase or isinglass is the oil made from pressing a fish. Venice treacle is actually called theriac. It was an expensive cure all made up of various different plants and animals, most often snake flesh. You’ll see a lot of ingredients like adder’s tongue because it was believed snakes contained their own anti-venom. Dragon’s blood is actually a type of tree resin. Often used as a dye or pigment because of its rich colour, it was also used for curing stomach and chest problems.