Old Remedies


My mom gave me an old book the other day. It was a 1916 copy of “The People’s Home Library,” which is a big, thick book with about 40 tons of information in it. It gave advice about all kinds of things, including homeopathic medicines, diseases of the nervous system, recipes, herbal remedies and the correct way to set a table.

It was very interesting, if a little outdated. For instance, asthma sufferers were advised to burn or smoke saltpeter paper. Onion poultices and skunk oil were recommended for coughs and colds. Tuberculosis was to be treated with small doses of arsenic. It makes you wonder how anybody survived those good ol’ days!

But then I got to thinking about our modern medicine and high tech everything and how we stay healthy in our modern world. No more weird homemade remedies nowadays! If we catch a cold, we take drugs! When we get an infection, we take drugs! If we get a rash or a hangnail…drugs! And maybe some of those drugs aren’t any more effective than those old-fashioned remedies. 

I did a little research on the internet and…wow! It turns out the old book isn’t completely crack-pot. In fact, some of those old remedies are just as good now as they ever were! For instance, onion juice is really good for earaches! It’s homeopathic, it’s cheap, and it works. Score one for the old book. 

Then I looked up skunk oil. This was amazing. Skunk oil, not to be confused with the skunk’s spray, is the oil obtained by frying a skunk. That’s right, a real live skunk…well actually, a real dead skunk… is fried up and the drippings are rubbed on a person’s chest as a “fast cure to the common cold.” 

I believe this is because anyone who was faced with getting their chest rubbed with skunk oil would make a miraculous recovery, no matter how sick they were! Nowadays, you can buy skunk oil already made, which is a huge relief to anybody who was planning to catch, kill, skin and fry a skunk.

Then I researched saltpeter paper. In the old book, people with asthma were told to burn saltpeter paper and inhale the smoke. Saltpeter is potassium nitrate, and is used in gunpowder. Saltpeter paper is just paper that has been soaked in saltpeter. But this old remedy was a bomb. Several web sites said the same thing: Modern medicine does not approve of asthma sufferers smoking saltpeter paper! No way, no how, not even a little bit! 

After that, I got a little side-tracked. In researching whether arsenic is still used for tuberculosis, I discovered that duct tape is great to treat warts. Dryer sheets can be used for cleaning, and toothpaste can be used to relieve bug bites.

It all made me realize that although our modern world has its problems, it’s not a bad time to be alive. After all, we have old books to teach us things and remind us of how tough people used to have it, but we also have high technology to make life better. 

And, no matter what anyone says, life is better with duct tape. 

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