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, the second text contains 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 2016. 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 2016. 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 almanacks 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 2016. 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 called 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 2016. 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 cantharidin 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 cantharidin 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 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.