A Coffee Enema?

105182105411181CDPBy Neva Bodin

Back in the days, before Medicare, Obamacare, specialists and health insurance, most people relied on their own remedies for treating illness. My mom had a lot of them.

If I had a cough, a spoonful of sugar with a little pepper sprinkled on top held in the mouth until it dissolved often stopped the cough. Until one middle-of-the night dose turned out to be SALT and pepper! Mom had dipped into the wrong jar. I remember licking the pillow to get the salt off my tongue. The coughing stopped though.young girl sick

Now, I know that remedy makes sense, as pepper is a bronchodilator. And it loosens mucus. How did my mother know back in the early to mid-1900’s?

Mustard Plasters were a staple treatment way back when. Pepper is the most popular traded spice in the world, and mustard is the second most popular. I have many memories, being a somewhat sickly child, of lying on the bed with hot, burning, plasters on my chest or back.

Mustard Plasters could be bought in drugstores then, and from the internet today. Brands included B & B, and Musterole. My mother made her own. Four Tablespoons of flour and two Tablespoons of Dry Mustard mixed with very warm water sandwiched between two flannel cloths applied to the chest and back to relieve congestion of the chest.

And when Dad missed the nail and hit his thumb, a bread and milk poultice applied via a homemade thumb stall drew out the pus and inflammation. Today’s saline soaks probably mimic nature’s salinity of raw milk, which probably added some healthy bacteria to bolster the immune system too.

surprised baby jpegAnother story in our home was the coffee enema. Eww, you say! Even if you like coffee this may give you unpleasant images during your next cup. But my mother said one of her sisters gave birth to a little baby who wouldn’t breathe. Another sister, a nurse, took the little boy (who was born at home), and gave him a coffee enema. He grew up to be a pharmacist.

my baby pic 001
My baby picture.

But the advent of more modern medicine was good too. When I was six weeks old, we lived in a two room house with no insulation or basement. Winters in North Dakota were cold. I contracted pneumonia and not expected to live, was baptized at 2 a.m. in preparation for my death. But my aunt, an army nurse at an army base 60 miles away, knew of a new antibiotic that only the army could secure at that time.

In the early 1870’s it was noted that mold inhibited the growth of bacteria, and penicillin was discovered. However, it was in 1944 that Pfizer labs began mass production of an acceptably purified form to treat illness. I was born in early 1945. My aunt hand carried the drug from her base to the hospital where I lay dying. And…well you can guess the rest of the story.

So, people are innovative, resilient and smart. No matter what era they live in. Ancient medicine is often a prototype of the modern. And remember advice handed down through the ages: A merry heart is good like a medicine. (Proverbs 17:22).




19 thoughts on “A Coffee Enema?

  1. I am always fascinated by early remedies. It also ties in with the research I am conducting on the early women doctors. Some were really great and others…well let’s just say it is a miracle the folks made it.

    My father, also born at home in 1930, was 3 months premature and weighted 2lbs. 9oz.. They put him in a shoebox on the oven door and gave him a shot of whiskey every hour. As you can see it did work, by age 13 he was 6’2″ and weighed 175. Doris


    1. How interesting! Must have been the whiskey that caused the growth? My mother was a premie weighing 3 lbs and placed in a shoe-box on the oven door also. Isn’t it amazing what happened without special nurseries? Thanks for sharing.


  2. I remember mustard plasters and warm oil for an earache (which could have been disastrous if the ear drum had burst). I had penicillin early too–lots of it because of constant sinus infections and bronchitis. Oddly enough it’s the one antibiotic I can still tolerate. Allergic to all the modern ones.

    One of my kid’s pediatricians did his residency in Pennsylvania Dutch country and for teething pain, instead of a sedative like a later doc offered, he suggested lemon juice, honey and whiskey to rub on the gums. Worked great.

    I do think, even before big Pharma took over, that the allure of new, “modern” medicines distorted our thinking and many excellent older practices were tossed out and replaced with ultimately less effective methods. More and more we’re discovering awful side-effects that bring into question the use of the new stuff.


    1. That is the truth. And it’s amazing how many times whiskey was a remedy, even for babies, to help colic, sleep, etc. I think common sense helped people use the right amounts of some homemade remedies and in the right circumstances, as well as tradition. Thanks for reading.


    1. I still use chicken soup, made some homemade for my husband last fall who was really sick when I got home from a 2 week trip to care for my sister. He got better within a day! Thanks for reading. Neva


  3. Wow. What a story, Neva. Thank goodness your aunt came through. People have forgotten what it was like in pre-antibiotic days. I believe Woodrow Wilson’s son died from a blister he got playing tennis without socks.

    I was researching home remedies for some fiction I keep playing with, set in a much less technologically-advanced society. I went through all the Firefox books at the library looking for info (scanning contents…. didn’t read the whole batch cover to cover.) Some of those old remedies make sense and some are just bizarre.

    I was a kid in the 70s as well, Kate. The nice thing about being sick was it was the one time I was allowed to drink unlimited amounts of 7-UP.


  4. I love hearing about old remedies, especially since we’re learning, as you said, that the science behind them is sound in most cases. Great story and I’m glad you’re aunt got you penicillin in time. 🙂


  5. Mom would want me to drink ginger ale when I had an upset stomach and poached egg after being sick to my stomach. I do remember when I was in elementary school the doctor would come to the house when I was sick. I also remember going to a doctor’s office or clinic with an attached pharmacy. Also, when we lived in California and I was about 10, mom would take me to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital to the clinic there. My breech birth neck was operated on at the hospital there when I was 11.


  6. Instead of mustard plasters, I got Vicks VapoRub on my chest with a hot towel over it. And there was ginger ale or 7-Up with dry crackers for stomach issues. I’ve never heard of the sugar & pepper thing before.


    1. I remember a lot of Vick Vapor rubs too. Made me feel like I was getting better! I got crackers and tea for stomach issues, and Pepto Bismol in later years. Thanks for reading! Neva


  7. Milk toast and cod liver oil were things my mom swore by. Of course, the old Vicks Vaporub was used immediately if one of us started coughing. She always used Vernor’s Ginger Ale for an upset stomach. Good post – brought back memories. In my book Inzared is a healer and I wrote a lot of old remedies into the plot. Thanks Neva for such an interesting post!


    1. I believe I was luck to never get milk toast, but I got cod liver oil daily, along with Vitamin C drops on my tongue. I liked the cod liver oil and the drops. Can’t find anyone else who did though. Thanks for reading.


  8. No matter what ailed you, you got a physic. A headach, cold, not feeling well, there’s a laxative for that. LOL Needless to say, we didn’t complain often. Caster Oil, and later the little chocolate things, I did love them. Pepto Bismal was a go to and still is for me. I had lots of Vick’s rubs and several of the other home remedies, including the warm sweet oil in the ear. Mom had a nurse friend who gave the local kids shots of penicillin and in my care ampiciillin (I was allergic to penicillin). I still use a “Spice rag” on my family. I loved this post, it did bring back memories. Cher’ley


  9. Great post, Neva. I’ve not heard of the pepper as a bronchodilator. I had cod/ halibut liver oil capsules and multi-vitamins daily. Vic vapo rub was for a chesty cough. Milk of Magnesia given once a week was supposed to make the bowels regular but I think it did the opposite. These were all regular things as I grew up. If I had a sore throat (I had a lot of tonsilitis) I was given a knob of butter rolled in sugar which I had to suck slowly to help me sleep. For a cold/ cough I hated a whisky toddy (a small amount of whisky in warm water with a little sugar added) but I could tolerate it better if it was made with my Grampa’s best port! My mum also made the mustard poltices.


  10. Neva, great and informative post. Heard of coffee enemas, but never personally knew of anyone who actually used them. When I was three, my appendix burst just as they were removing it. Without penicillin, I would not be here today. Never knew that about pepper!
    Good post!


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