Category Archives: Strange cures

1748: Cure baldness with cat dung and onion juice

John K’eogh (1680s-1754) was an Irish priest, theologian and naturalist. Born in Strokestown, County Roscommon, K’eogh was the son of a prominent clergyman from Limerick. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin then undertook study in Europe, before returning to Ireland and serving as chaplain to Baron Kingston in his native Roscommon.

Toward the end of his life K’eogh authored two significant volumes of medical receipts. The first (Botanologia Universalis Hibernicaor, 1735) focused on herbal potions and treatments, while the second (Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748) contained an extensive collection of animal-based remedies.

As might be expected in an 18th-century medical text, the second contains some unusual advice, such as the diverse medical uses of house cats. Their grease, when applied as an ointment, is effective at “dissolving tumours” and “prevails against nodes in the skin”, while pulverised cat liver is “good against the gravel [kidney and bladder stones]” and prevents stoppage of urine.”

Other cat-based receipts mentioned by K’eogh include remedies for eyesight problems:

“The ashes of a cat’s head, blown into the eyes, or mixed with honey for a balsam… is good against pearls [cataracts], blindness and dimness of the sight.”

Several uses for cat’s blood:

“[Cat] blood kills worms in the nose and in other parts of the skin… Ten drops of blood taken out of the tail of a bore cat, drank, cures the epilepsy… A few drops of the blood given in any proper vehicle are good to cure convulsion fits.”

For something to soothe those aching piles:

“The flesh, being salted and bruised, draws splinters and thorns out of the flesh and helps to cure the haemorrhoids.”

And finally, an interesting cure for hair loss:

“The dung, pulverised one ounce and mixed with mustard seed in powder [and] juice of onions… cures the alopecia or baldness.”

Source: John K’eogh, Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica, 1748. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1825: Toughen your nipples with puppies

William Dewees

William Dewees (1768-1841) was an American physician, academic and medical author. Dewees was born to a farming family in Pottsgrove, just south of Philadelphia. Despite a lack of medical training and a rudimentary education, at age 21 Dewees set up shop as the local physician in nearby Abington. He worked to improve his knowledge, however, reading voraciously and studying under the French obstetrician Baudeloegue.

In the 1820s, Dewees authored a series of books on maternal health, midwifery and childcare. His theories were unpopular in Europe, where they were met with scorn and criticism, but Dewees became one of the United States’ most prominent experts on obstetrics.

Like others of his era, Dewees was prone to the occasional wacky theory. He was an advocate of maternal impression – the idea that a woman’s fantasies and experiences could shape or deform her unborn child – and he advised expectant mothers to eat less, not more. Writing in 1825, Dewees also urged pregnant women to avoid sore nipples by toughening them in the last trimester:

“We must rigorously enforce the rules we have laid down for the conduct of the woman immediately after delivery. Besides this, the patient should begin to prepare these parts previously to labour, by the application of a young but sufficiently strong puppy to the breast. This should be immediately after the seventh month of pregnancy. By this plan the nipples become familiar to the drawing of the breasts. The skin of them becomes hardened and confirmed, the milk is more easily and regularly formed, and a destructive accumulation and inflammation is prevented.”

After childbirth, the puppy should be replaced by the infant (in case it wasn’t obvious). The mother should then wash the nipples daily with warm water and soap. She should also avoid compressing the breasts with clothing, Dewees’ advice being to protect them by creating:

“…an opening in the jacket, corset or stays, so as to leave them at liberty.”

In 1834 Dewees was appointed as professor of obstetrics at University of Pennsylvania. He remained in this post until his death in 1841.

Source: William P. Dewees, A Treatise on the Physical and Medical Treatment of Children, 1825. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1725: Cure dysentery with turds from a bone-eating dog

Noel Chomel’s suggested cure for a toothache – stick a red-hot knitting needle in your ear

Noel Chomel (1633-1712) was an estate manager and parish priest from central France. In 1709, three years before his death, Chomel published his lifelong collection of handy hints, recipes and medical receipts. The Dictionnaire Oeconomique, as it was titled, became one of the most popular household almanacs of the 18th century. Over the next 70 years it was reprinted numerous times in several languages, including French, German and Dutch.

The first English edition was translated and updated by Cambridge botany professor Richard Bradley and published in London in 1725. This edition contained advice on everything from cooking to card games, from making soap to managing livestock. Many of its medical remedies called for the use of dead animals and excrement. For example, for “those who piss a bed”:

“Take some rat or mouse turd, reduce it into powder and putting about an ounce of it in some broth, take it for three days together. It is an excellent remedy for this imperfection. There’s [also] nothing better for persons who piss in their sleep… than to eat the lungs of a roasted kid [or] to drink in some wine a powder made of the brain or testicles of a hair…”

For an anal fistula, a “hollowy oozy ulcer in the posteriors”:

“Take a live toad, put it into an earthen pot that can bear the fire, cover it so that it cannot get out, surround it with a wheel fire and reduce it into powder… Lay this powder upon the fistula, after you have first washed it with warm wine or the urine of a male child.”

Lastly, for severe or bloody dysentery:

“Take the powder of a hare, dried and reduced into powder, or the powder of a human bone, and drink it in some red wine. Gather the turd of a dog that for the space of three days has gnawed nothing else but bones, dry it and reduce it into powder, and let the patient drink it twice a day with milk.”

Source: Noel Chomel & Richard Bradley, Dictionnaire Oeconomique, 1725 ed. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1661: Ease swollen testes with butter-fried horse dung

Johann Jacob Wecker was a Swiss physician, naturalist and alchemist of the mid-16th century. Wecker authored several popular tracts on alchemy and medicine. He is perhaps best known for his account of genital malformations, including the first documented case of a double penis, discovered on a corpse in Bologna.

In the mid 1600s, an English physician named Read collated Wecker’s medical and surgical receipts into an eighteen-book collection, Secrets of Art and Nature. The 1661 edition contained hundreds of suggested medical treatments for all manner of complaints – including several cures for “pains of the belly”:

“The heart of a lark bound to the thigh… and some have eaten it raw with very good success.”

“I know one who drank dry ox dung in broth and it presently cured him of the colic… Some do not drink the dung but the juice pressed from it, which is far better.”

“Any bone of a man hanged, so that it may touch the flesh [may] cure pains of the belly.”

“Apply a living duck to your belly, the disease will pass into the duck.”

For excessive bleeding, Wecker suggests a trip to the pigpen:

“To staunch blood… Blood running immoderately out of any part of the body will be presently stopped if hog’s dung [still] hot be wrapped up in fine thin cotton linen and put into the nostrils, women’s privities or any other place that runs with blood. I write this for country people rather than for courtiers, being a remedy fit for their turn…”

Wecker also provides handy beauty tips. He offers recipes for dying the hair numerous colours, including silver, yellow, red, green and several shades of black. There are also remedies for encouraging hair growth and removing unwanted hair, both of which involve rodent excreta:

“To diminish the hair… cat’s dung dried and powdered and mingled to a pap with strong vinegar will do it. With this you must rub the hairy place often in a day, and in a short time it will grow bald… The piss of mice or rats will [also] make a hairy part bald.”

“That hair may grow again quickly, the ashes of burnt bees [mixed] with mice dung, if you anoint this with oil of roses, will make hair grow in the palm of your hand.”

Lastly, for “swollen codds [testicles], Wecker suggests breaking out the frypan:

“Take new horse dung, mix the same with vinegar and fresh butter, fry it in a pan and, as hot as the patient may endure, lay it to the grieved place.”

Source: Johann Wecker and Dr R. Read, Secrets of Art and Nature, 1661 ed. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1758: Man dies from Spanish fly and “furious lust”

spanish fly
The Spanish fly – not really a fly and not specifically Spanish either

In the days before Viagra, medieval and early modern Europeans relied on a number of natural sexual stimulants. One of the most effective – but also most notorious – was ‘Spanish fly’, a substance produced by crushing green blister beetles into a powder.

The active chemical compound in ‘Spanish fly’ is cantharidin, which is produced by the beetles as a defence mechanism. If ingested by humans it causes itching and irritation around the body but particularly in the genitalia and urinary tract of men.

Scores of European doctors prescribed cantharidin for sexual dysfunction and a range of health issues, without fully understanding its workings or dangers. There are several historical cases of cantharide medicines producing satyriasis (excessive sexual lust) or priapism (permanent erection). One case from the mid 18th century apparently proved fatal:

“A doctor in Orange named Chauvel was called to Caderousse, a small town near his home, in 1758. There he saw a man suffering from a similar disease. At the doorway of the house, he found the sick man’s wife, who complained to him about the furious lust of her husband, who had ridden her 40 times in one night, and whose private parts were always swollen.”

Dr Chauvel’s investigations subsequently revealed that the overly excited man from Caderousse was dosed up on a cantharide potion:

“The husband’s evil lusts came from a beverage similar to one given him by a woman at the hospital, to cure the intense fever that had afflicted him. But he fell into such a frenzy that others had to tie him up, as if he were possessed by the Devil… While Dr Chauvel was still present a local priest came to exorcise him, while the patient begged to be left to die. The women wrapped him in a sheet damp with water and vinegar until the following day…”

On their return the following day the patient’s “furious lust” had abated – but only because he was dead. From Chauvel’s description it is unclear whether he was murdered, mutilated after death – or perhaps died during a bizarre act of auto-fellatio:

“…He was dead, as stiff as a corpse. In his gaping mouth, with teeth bared, they found his gangrenous penis.”

Source: Pabrol, Observations Anatomiques, 1762. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1870: Nights in will “redevelop shrivelled breasts”

Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887) was an American physician, phrenologist and writer. The son of a New York farmer and preacher, Fowler studied at Amherst College, graduating in 1834 alongside Henry Ward Beecher.

While at Amherst, Fowler became interested in phrenology, the pseudo-science of ascertaining character and personality by studying the dimensions of the skull. Few academics took this seriously but Fowler nevertheless made money by giving ‘skull readings’ to his fellow students. After graduating he opened a phrenological practice in New York City, which later became quite profitable.

A prolific writer and lecturer, Fowler was also known for his quirky theories and social reforms. In the 1850s he pioneered the construction of octagon-shaped houses, claiming they were easier to build, more spacious and symmetrical and conducive to “a harmonious environment”.

Fowler was something of a progressive, arguing against slavery, child labour and corporal punishment. A supporter of the ‘votes for women’ lobby, his views on women were also relatively enlightened. Nevertheless Fowler was still prone to Victorian naivete about women. Writing in 1870 he told his male readers that slackness in their wives’ breasts could be corrected with a little quality time together:

“Have your wife’s breasts declined since you courted and married her? It is because her womb has declined… and nursing up her love will rebuild both her womb and breasts… Court her up again, as you used to do before marriage. Besides reddening up her now pale cheeks, lightening up her now lagging motion and animating her flagging spirits, you will redevelop her shriveled breasts! Stay home at nights from your clubrooms, billiard saloons and lodges to read or talk to her… you’ll get well ‘paid’ every time you see her bust. And your infants will be better fed.”

Conversely, Fowler warned that continuing to ignore your wife and neglect her emotional needs will produce “two opposite results” – in other words, the more you go out, the saggier they will become. In addition, Fowler was also a vocal critic of women who read novels.

Source: Orson S. Fowler, Creative and Sexual Science, or Manhood, Womanhood and their Mutual Interrelations, Cincinatti, 1870. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1735: Treat snakebite by attaching a pigeon’s anus

John Moore was an English apothecary and pigeon fancier of the early 18th century. In 1735, two years before his death, Moore self-published a book titled Columbarium, or the Pigeon-House, probably the first English book focused entirely on pigeons. Columbarium became something of a rarity, with only six copies believed to exist at one point – though numerous forgeries and reprints later appeared.

Moore’s book became the ‘go to’ resource for pigeon fanciers; it contained information and advice on all aspects of pigeons. Moore described different breeds and colourations, including carrier pigeons, roller pigeons, the ‘Horseman’, the ‘Dutch Cropper’ and the ‘English Powter’. He offered tips on feeding, breeding, rearing and veterinary care.

Moore even listed the medicinal virtues of pigeon parts and by-products. Pigeon dung, for example, is “worth ten loads of other dung” when used for fertilising, tanning or in plasters and poultices. Young pigeon, when roasted, is not only delicious, it “provokes urine” and “expels the gross matters” that stick in the bladder and urethra. Pigeon feathers, burnt and mixed with other ingredients, stops bleeding. Warm pigeon blood can be dropped into the eyes to alleviate pain and blurred vision. Migraines or headaches are eased by applying a live pigeon to the soles of the feet.

In a similar vein, Moore suggested an usual treatment for snakebite:

“The anus of a live pigeon, applied to the biting of a serpent, viper or rattlesnake, draws away the poison and cures the sick, [who will be] renewed as the pigeon dies.”

Source: John Moore, Columbarium, or the Pigeon-House, London, 1735. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1691: Cure your horse with an “angry red onion” in his fundament

The Experienc’d Farrier was a late 17th century guide to breeding, raising, feeding and caring for horses. It was published anonymously by “E.R.” and was reprinted several times between 1681 and the early 1800s.

Much of The Experienc’d Farrier’s tips on good horsemanship are practical and sound – however its veterinary advice is more dubious. It lists numerous treatments for colic or “fretting of the guts by wind”, including giving your horse beer laced with “the powder of a dried stag’s pizzle [penis]”.

Another suggested measure is to “give him a pipe of tobacco at his fundament”. And if your horse is constipated:

“Strip up your shirt as high as your elbow [and] anoint your hand and arm with oil, butter or hog’s grease and put it into his fundament. Draw forth as much of his hard and baked dung as you can get. Take a good big angry red onion, peel it and jag it crossways with your knife. Roll it well in salt and flour and cover it all over with fresh butter and put it up into his body as far as you can thrust it… then walk or ride him about a quarter of an hour.”

Source: E. R., The Experienc’d Farrier, or Farring Compleated, 1691. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1888: A week on the booze saves man from snakebite

In May 1888, a young New Jersey stonecutter, William Gore, was bitten by a rattlesnake near Fort Lee. Having spied a rattlesnake ahead, Gore reached down for a large stone with which to kill it – only to be struck on the hand by a second rattler lurking nearby.

Gore’s brother took him to the local physician, whose treatment was to keep his patient drunk for several days:

“The first thing Dr Dunning did was to give him a dose of whisky, one ounce and a half. This is about three times as much as an ordinary drink of whisky. Gore was put to bed in hospital… The wound was dressed in ammonia and the arm was bandaged… Whisky has been frequently administered in large doses. The object is to keep him continually drunk. He lies in a stupor nearly all the time. Once in a great while, he is able to talk coherently.”

Newspapers reported that Gore was close to death and had received deathbed visits from family members and a Catholic priest. According to later reports, however, Gore made a full recovery:

“William Gore, who was bitten by a rattlesnake at Fort Lee a week ago and has been dosed with whiskey ever since, will be out of the hospital in a few days. Moral: You can be bitten by snakes and cured by whiskey, but you can’t be bitten by whiskey and cured by snakes.”

Sources: The Sun, May 22nd 1888; Fort Worth Daily Gazette, May 28th 1888. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1894: Kansas asylum de-sexes chronic masturbators

In 1894, the activities of Dr F. Hoyt Pilcher, superintendent of the Kansas Asylum for Idiots and Imbecile Youth in Winfield, came to light in the press. According to outraged reports, Pilcher had personally castrated any inmate found to be a “confirmed masturbator”. A total of 11 teenaged boys had so far been deprived of their testicles.

Dr Pilcher was accused of “diabolism” and treating his patients no better than “the farmer treats his hogs”. The Kansas Medical Journal, however, laughed off the press and hailed Pilcher as a hero:

“This abuse weakened the already imbecile mind and destroyed the body. The practice is loathsome, disgusting, humiliating and destructive of all self-respect and decency, and had a bad moral effect on the whole school… Dr Pilcher, like a brave and capable man, sought something better… He could give back a restored mind and robust health, a bestial function destroyed, and he did it.”

Newspaper investigations into Pilcher and his activities continued undaunted. One paper reported that Pilcher was unqualified for the position he held and that he was addicted to drink. There were also claims, apparently corroborated, that Pilcher had raped several young females in his care:

“Mrs Murray, who had been employed by Dr Pilcher in some capacity about the institution, testified that two of the girls, Alice and Nora, came to her crying and testified that Dr Pilcher had taken them into his private office and locked the door and taken liberties with their persons. These stories were further substantiated by Miss Johnson, who was a teacher in the school.”

Pilcher denied any allegation of sexual impropriety, though he reportedly admitted to stripping the girls in his office for an ‘inspection’. Despite these claims, Pilcher kept his job and the Asylum continued to neuter its patients, eventually performing as many as 150 male and female sterilisations. Pilcher retired in 1899 but the Asylum remained very popular among eugenics-driven doctors and parents alike, tripling in size by the outbreak of World War I.

Source: Kansas Medical Journal, vol. 6, September 1894; The Iola Register, Kansas, August 31st 1894. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.