Dragon’s Blood, Earbagrace and the Pain of Piles

17th Century medical compendium

Quite a few of the Militia, mostly the distaff side, were sick with one thing or the other this past weekend and unfortunately, I got the curse too  and have been home with the crud since Wednesday. Being sick is NOT how I want to spend my sick days. Now that the fever has abated   somewhat and I am in my right mind again (which, depending on who you talk to, is a debatable phrase), I’m sitting propped up in my bed, writing tablet on knee ala Tom Jefferson (who was not the P***y that Charlie Sheen thinks he is), I got to wondering what people would have done back in the day when faced with the crud or related maladies. Recently an old  book of home remedies was auctioned in England. The couple who own it was cleaning out a deceased maiden aunt’s  house and almost threw it in the trash but they salvaged  it at the last minute and the book provides a glimpse of stock remedies of the time. Read on: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/4937924/Book-of-household-remedies-and-spells-from-the-18th-century-to-be-auctioned.html    (Photo attributed to MASONS taken by J. K. Donalds) , if you read this, you know know what “earbagrace” is)

I don’t have ’em but if I did, the cure for the pain of piles would definitely be the thing that , I would think ,make the original malady just a fond memory by comparison. Notice the receipt reads .. cures the PAIN of piles; it doens’t say ..cures Piles. The distinction comes, I think from one who may have experienced piles and needed the larger problem  to whine  about….It involves a BIG onion and hot coals…

” ‘Take a great onion core it and fill it with b[utter] or oyle and roll it in embers until it is soft. “Then binde it to the place.” OUUUUUCH!!!!!!!!!!  Our schnauzer, Hermie, used to get what Dad lovingly described as a “Hot A..” Whenever he snuck table scraps that were too rich that he shouldn’t have had anyway, shortly after, Hermie would  scoot around the floor like his little heinie was on fire. I wonder if the cure  would do the same thing to people? Is this the origin of the phrase “Pain in the butt”?

For the common cold, the book advises to “Take your Sallet (a type of small onion) Oyle and a pinte of faire water.

“Boyle it with an earthen pott in your wax then shred the herbs very small and the rosemary and planting water into the pott. “Let it boyle a little then bruise the Dragons blood very small and putt them in letting them boyle a little. “Then take the turpentine and wash it three times in faire water and the last time in rose water them put it into the pott.” 

Dragon’s blood is a resin from a certain kind of palm tree used today mostly to color varnish sooooooo, An onion-turpentine-rosewater-wax-potting water  aka red paint thinner; yep, that’ll do ‘er! Can’t be any worse than some of the over the counter stuff we get today. Heck, most pills have the same wax that we use to give our cars a nice shiny finish.  At least I understand the old ingredients….

Most cookbooks of the time came complete with a section on how to cure common ailments and every housewife worth her salt was conversant with these cures. Some of the things like making whiskey toddies, barley water, chicken soup we still do today (Grandma Polombo’s cure-all: 1 healthy shot Rock N’ Rye, 4 oz. boiling hot water, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a spoonful honey , 1 camomile teabag. Steep and glug. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If it doesn’t make you tipsy, it will kill anything in you!) There was one exotic cure, though, in Eliza Smith’s Compleat Housewife (1753) that sounds rather “fishy”


“A Method to cure a Cold”

The Compleat Housewife: or The Accomplished Gentlewoman's CompanionThe Compleat Housewife: or The Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion
–Colonial Williamsburg

Take pearls, crab’s-eyes, red coral, white amber, burnt hartshorn, and oriental bezoar, of each half an ounce; the black tips of crabs-claws three ounces; make all into a paste, with a jelly of vipers, and roll it into little balls, which dry and keep for use.

I don’t know about the crab eyes and viper jelly, sounds of Cleopatra to me but crushing good pearls, coral,  and the rest of the necklace?  Well!!!  What respectable woman would do that???

In 18th century France, grave diggers used to drink a concoction of wine loaded with crushed garlic as  they thought this would prevent them catching the plague. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/garlic-000245.htm I had an aide once in school who crammed her ears full of raw garlic when she had an ear-ache and made my poorly ventilated office smell like a greek salad until I cured her of it by leaving a BIG BOTTLE of Ralph Lauren’s Infinity perfume (which is HORRIBLE) on the filing cabinet and telling every kid to spray at least one spray before they left the place and then close the door really quick. When she complained of the unholy stench, I threatened to kill her if she opened the door.  She got the message after a few days! I have a friend who, at the beginning of flu season, eats 10 cloves of raw garlic a day. He never gets the flu but then who can get that close ?

I guess if one was wealthy, one could go to a day spa and sweat it out or “take the cure”. The Romans did it; of course they knew how to rid themselves of the fetid water later.  Jefferson, himself, took the cure from time to time in the oldest spa in the colonies, the Warm Springs Bathhouses in Warm Springs, Va, just up the road a little. Jefferson Pools; Oldest Bath House in the Colonies However, this  might have made some of the more finniky take stock and pause before they took the plunge.

In Tobias Smollet’s novel, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771), the character Matthew Bramble complains about this practice to his doctor, who has recommended a water cure: “I can’t help suspecting, that there is, or may be, some regurgitation from the bath into the cistern of the pump. In that case, what a delicate beveridge is every day quaffed by the drinkers; medicated with the sweat and dirt, and dandriff; and the abominable discharges of various kinds, from twenty different diseased bodies, parboiling in the kettle below” http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/18century/topic_4/fiennes.htm

FINALLY, around these here  parts, ol’ Mrs. Price ,who used to come to school at least once a week  to do a little volunteering , used to make up asfidity bags and give them to her grown unmarried teacher son, a really nice, funny guy,  and me who she thought was a helpless Yankeegurl-Heathern, filled with things noxious when either of us would get sick . I think she felt it her duty to guard the health of  her only begotten son but dang if I know why she targeted me with that  little bag of pure putrid from time to time.   I don’t even remember what  Mama  Price used to put in that unholy smelling bag

(Fillet of a Fenny Snake,
   In the Cauldron boil and bake;
   Eye of Newt, and Toe of Frogge,
   Wool of Bat, and Tongue of Dogge,
   Adder’s Fork, and Blind-worm’s Sting,
   Lizard’s leg, and Howlet’s wing,
   For a Charm of powerful trouble
   Like a Hell-broth boil and bubble.

Macbeth, Act IV, i  )

 and dang if I knew why I even hung  it around my neck   at school when I was sick but it sure didn’t make me popular with my students. I have to say, though, thinking about it, my head didn’t remain stopped up very long.  http://www.catfish1.com/forums/f175/asfidity-question-5994.html I suspect it was the cowpie, like what people used to pick up and put into their neck clothes back in the day when they had sore throats. If the  smell didn’t kill you, you would be cured, my son!

I’m sure in a few hundred years, people will look back and think some of the things we do to cure ourselves are quaint, archane and outright bizzare but, you know what? I think I’ll pop my pills, take my zinc, blow my nose, roll myself up in my electric blanket and keep to Grandma’s toddy recipe.

18th century medical curiosities:

(this one’s for you, Chadwick; check out the male chastity belt!) http://18thcenturyminds.wikispaces.com/Medical+Procedures+and+Medications

George Washington’s  Medical report (I bet he would have high insurance premiums!) :  http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/washhealth.html

Medical remedies from 18th century Limerick, Ireland:  http://www.limerickcorp.ie/media/medical%20remedies.pdf

Schiele Museum : http://www.gastongazette.com/articles/museum-18671-century-schiele.html

EXCELLENT WordPress blog dealing a lot of latter 18th century topics: http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/12/21/cure-for-a-cold-18th-century-style/

Pioneer and older cures: http://www.goclinton.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3166&catid=1575&Itemid=112


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