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.
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.
Another 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.
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).