Not long ago I was watching a television show that mentioned something about a snake oil salesmen. I have thought about it off and on since then and recalled what was probably the last days of the era of traveling medicine shows and patent medicines.
My only recollection of an actual medicine show was when I was still young, probably a pre-teen. A man in a black suit had set up hjis table on the sidewalk at the corner of Crews’ store. He had a partner who plucked out some pretty good tunes on a banjo. This, of course, was to attract people.
The fellow launched into his sales pitch about the miraculous healing powers of the elixir whose formula was a secret blend of wild herbs and roots handed down from generation to generation by Indians. He, of course, was descended from Indian ancestors. This was why he was trusted with the formula.
After claiming that the concoction would cure almost anything from in-grown toenails to brain tumors, he asked for a volunteer to come forward. And one fellow did. The salesman told the man that he could pour a little of the almost colorless liquid into the volunteer’s hand and, if he had rheumatism, it would turn red. Which it did.
After that, several people were eager to fork over the price of a bottle (I forgot the cost) and hurry home to cure himself and his wife . I learned later that the alcohol content of the tonic helped to assuage the disappointment in the actual healing powers.
The common ailments of the day were given names that are all but gone today. Catarrh, quinsy, goiter pleurisy and dropsy, along with rheumatism and ptysic (pronounced tizzick) were the ailments most commonly treated by different home remedies.
Quinsy was a throat problem which is what we would call tonsillitis today.
Pleurisy was an inflammation of the lungs.
Dropsy was an accumulation of fluids around the heart.
Rheumatism has become arthritis and St. Anthony’s Fire was a strep infection. St. Vitus’ Dance was involuntary movements of the face and limbs. I think the name today is chorea.
Blood poisoning ,or lockjaw, was the fear if you stepped on a rusty nail. Tetanus shots handle that problem today.
The grippe was the name given to influenza ao its symptoms.
Vaccinations have all but eliminated the once dreaded diphtheria, whooping cough, ot tussis, small pox and scarlet fever.
Boils were all too frequent back then but not so much today.
As exotic as some of the ailments might sound, the treatments and cures were even more so. For instance, many jokes have been made about goose grease and molasses but it was no joke to that generation who used that concoction for a cough or sore throat.
Likewise, a good dose of sulfur and molasses in the spring had a cleaning effect on the innards.
A woolen sock, filled with salt, heated and used as a pillow was good for a toothache or earache. A poultice was good to draw out infection. Also, bread and milk with some soda water added was good for infection.
Salt pork rind was good for boils and puncture wounds. I myself, have had a piece of pork fat tied with a rag bandage on a painful boil. I think it worked. Later, we were introduced to a black salve to help boils come to a head.
Some old-timers used a mixture of egg whites and turpentine for sprains.
All kinds of leaves were brewed to make a tea for healing different ailments. After drinking the tea, you could put the leaves over the eyelids and it helped a headache.
Many of the cures and treatments seem far-fetched, and they are, but science today has verified that many of the old remedies do indeed have healing qualities. In fact, some modern drugs are derived from some of the same sources as as the ones used by our ancestors.
Another cure that I know something about personally was something called an acifidity bag. As best I can recall, it was a lot of aromatic stuff including onions and other herbs and roots tied up in a piece of cheesecloth and boiled. The result was rather aromatic (stinky) concoction worn around the neck for a variety of ailments. Most, I think, were breathing related.
Save your e-mails. I am not licensed to treat your ailments. Anyway, I don’t have the ingredients needed to compound the cures.
I am old enough to remember being treated with some of the home remedies. Something worked. Whether it was the medicine or the loving care with which it was administered, I don’t lnow….or care.
Paige Cline is a long time columnist for the Independent Herald.