By: Paige Cline
Not long ago I was watching a television show that mentioned something about a snake oil salesman. I have thought about it off and on since then and recalled what was probably 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 pretty young, probably a pre-teen. A man in a black suit had set up his table on the sidewalk at the corner of Crews’ store. He had a partner who plucked out some pretty god tunes on his 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 is why he was trusted with the formula.
After claiming that the concoction would cure almost anything from ingrown toenails to brain tumors, he asked for a volunteer to come forward. and one fellow did. The salesman told the man that he would 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 forget the cost) and hurry home to cure himself…and his wife. I learned later that the alcohol content of the tonic helped to assuage any disappointment in the actual healing powers.
The common ailments of the day were all 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 as a throat problem which is what we call tonsillitis today.
Pleurisy was an inflammation of the lungs.
Dropsy was an accumulation of fluid around the heart.
Rheumatism has become arthritis and St, Anthony’s Fire was a strep infection. St. Vitus’ dance was involuntary movement 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. Vaccinations have all but eliminated the once dreaded diphtheria, whooping cough, 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 the concoction for a cough or sore throat.
Likewise, a good dose of sulphur and molasses in the spring had a cleansing 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 baking soda added was good
Salt pork rind was 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 your eyelids and it helped a headache.
May of the cures and and treatments seem far-fetched, and they are, but science today has verified that many of the old-time remedies do indeed have some healing qualities. In fact some modern drugs are derived from some of the same sources as the ones used by our ancestors.
Another cure that I know 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 or lady’s hose and boiled. The result was a 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 know….or care.
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