It's hard to understand just how far medical science has progressed over the last hundred years ... until you look at what passed for standard, advisable treatment back then. Here are 19 doctor-approved ideas from Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada by Dr. Thomas Jefferson Ritter, originally published in 1910.
1. Without the luxury of over-the-counter decongestant to soothe a stopped-up nose and scratchy throat, early-20th-century doctors advised an at-home method that would surely result in a malpractice suit. The three step process advised patients to smoke mullein leaves (making sure to exhale through the nose, of course), syringe a mixture of boric acid and water into the nostrils several times a day, and "frequently inhale" a mixture of ammonia, iodine and carbolic acid.
2. If the previous method failed to work, a "spray of a four-percent solution of cocaine" or direct application of a cotton ball soaked in an even stronger solution in the nostril was recommended for "immediate relief."
3. For a nosebleed, find "an old brown puff-ball from the ground," remove the insides and put it in the nose. Let it "remain for some time." In case you're curious what a puffball is, it's a kind of fungus.
4. No puffballs available? That's okay! A "similarly effective" method for curing that nosebleed suggests raising the arms above the head, applying ice or cold cloths to the neck or spine, and in extreme cases, "ice may be applied to the scrotum or breasts" while simultaneously syringing warm saltwater into the nostrils.
5. Here's a "splendid" liniment for sore throat:
Olive oil (half-pint), ammonia (half-pint), turpentine (half-pint), one egg. Shake until the mixture forms an emulsion. Apply to the neck and throat until a blister forms. Wipe clean and apply cold cream.
6. Suppose blistering your neck doesn't relieve your sore throat. What then? Cocaine, of course. Mix it with warm water and some olive oil and "paint it into the throat." Alternately, sucking on a cocaine lozenge before eating "will be found very useful."
7. Croup can be scary,especially for first-time parents. Should you travel back to 1900 and find your baby coughing spasmodically in the night, a "tested and true" treatment your neighbor might recommend is a spoonful of sugar. Not scary at all, actually. But before you give it to the kiddo, just put a few drops of kerosene on it. The idea, apparently, is to induce vomiting, which it probably does.
8. For asthma: "inhale chloroform." Assuming chloroform isn't readily available, other options include smoking saltpeter, the smoke of burning coffee, or cigarettes containing thornapple.
9. Tapeworms giving you grief? Two doses of the following mixture was considered an "excellent remedy": Castor oil (half an ounce) and turpentine (15 drops). Alternately, you can mix the previous two items with a cup of milk, but there's no indication that this makes it better.
10. If you find you're losing some hair, here's a quick and easy fix: Make some sage tea. Now mix it with an equal part whisky. Now take a sip, then add "a dash of quinine" to the cup and spray, paint or rinse over the scalp as often as needed, at least twice a day.
11. A slightly stronger anti-hairloss method (and one that's "guaranteed" to produce results) is to rub a blend of almond oil, rosemary extract, wine, distilled water, and mercury bichloride into the scalp every morning until your hair grows back or unexplained death, whichever comes first.
12. For dry, chapped skin: Spoon a few ounces of sour cream into a flannel cloth. Tie up the ends. Bury the cloth in some dark, soft soil and leave overnight. Dig the cloth back up "mid-morning" and apply the "enriched" sour cream to hands, knees, heels and elbows as needed.
13. Eczema is a challenging condition and there doesn't seem to be a universally effective treatment. Still, we do not recommend trying out the following DIY wash formula:
Mix half an ounce of laudanum with seven and one-half ounces of "sugar of lead," [that's lead(II) acetate]. Soak into gauze strips and apply to afflicted parts.
14. Lice are persistent and it may take several different treatments to get rid of them. One such treatment? Pure kerosene. Again, watch for the blistering, and make sure you follow up with some cold cream—24 hours later, when you're supposed to shampoo it out.
15. Got a problem with body lice? Just get some blue ointment. It's only 20% mercury, so you may need to apply it several times per day.
16. Ringworm is highly contagious and nothing to mess around with. If you find yourself stranded in 1905 with a case of the unsightly infection, mix some gunpowder with vinegar to form a thickish paste. If one application doesn't do it, two or three should knock it right out.
17. Anyone with acne can tell you it's difficult to treat. That's why there are so many products available now. But it seems our great-grandparents had no idea what to do, because a mixture of lard and ground cannabis indica seems counter-effective and is illegal in most states.
18. Got a sunburn? Mix together equal parts cornstarch and oat flour, then drop in a dram of lead carbonate. Just dust it wherever, no worries.
19. For canker sores, there are many, many recommended treatments that have been "proven effective" by brave and no-longer-alive people, including tomato juice, half a lemon held against the area, rinses of baking soda and boric acid and vinegar. Or if you're feeling especially bold, a piece of raw chicken skin can be applied to the sore and left "until no longer painful."
Just to reiterate: None of these are healthy or advisable. Please don't put puffballs in your nose or lead on your scalp.