Rattlesnakes for rheumatism?! Chocolate-covered garlic for a better memory?! Read about these and other weird folk remedies that we would never recommend. Did people really ever do these things?
Smelly acne remedies
Early American settlers had some pretty strange notions when it came to eradicating acne. One involved the application of urine to the outbreaks. Another called for using the water that collected in old tree stumps to bathe pimpled skin. Needless to say, neither has been studied, and neither is worth trying.
Rattlesnake for rheumatism
An old cure for “rheumatism” was to kill a rattlesnake before it had a chance to strike (always a good idea), skin it, dry it, and then put the remains in a jug of corn whiskey. Then, drink the whiskey. No surprise: There’s no science to support this (and it’s a little too dangerous to recommend). But there have been studies at Israel’s Shulov Institute for Science looking at the possibility that snake venom, with toxins removed, could become a potential remedy for arthritis. Venom contains certain peptides — a molecule containing amino acids — that can turn off pain signals, which is handy for a reptile that needs to immobilize its prey. Of course, there’s a fine line between momentary paralysis and death, so we don’t want you trying this one at home.
Back pain cure
We just love this old North Carolinian folk remedy for a bad back: Lie down (presumably outside) and when you hear the call of a whip-poor-will, roll over three times. This remedy may have been inspired by one that hails from Sussex, England. There, folkloric advice calls for the back pain sufferer to roll on the ground at the sound of spring’s first cuckoo. We suspect the rolling had something to do with stretching out sore back muscles — and birdsong is one of the best soul lifters around.
Cure for boils: Let the dead heal the living
This old English remedy, gets our vote for strangest of them all. Apply a poultice to the boil. When you remove the poultice, place it in a corpse-containing coffin. Theory was, the boils would leave you and pass on to the dead person, where they could do no harm.
Weird bruise cure
We admit that this ancient Chinese treatment is probably more fun to read about than to use. You need two things: a U.S. silver coin (dimes, quarters, and half dollars minted before 1964 are mostly silver) and a peeled, freshly hard-boiled egg. Slip the coin vertically all the way into the egg until its top edge is even with the top of the egg. Place the warm (not hot) egg on the bruise and leave it there for 30 minutes. This is said to immediately erase the discoloration.
Disgusting way to clear up a cold sore
We found this one in a book about old home remedies: “To heal a cold sore quickly, put earwax on it.” Naturally, we don’t recommend the earwax treatment, though we do wonder what prompted its inventor to try it.
Infant diarrhea helper
Though we absolutely don’t recommend this treatment for treating an infant’s diarrhea, we do find it fascinating and would love to know what inspired its creation. We offer it up strictly in the interest of history: Cut the lining from a chicken gizzard and let it dry. Then put it in boiling water to make a tea. Give 1 teaspoonful to your baby every half hour.
Earache cures we can do without
These cures should be labeled “weird, wacky and disgusting.” The first, mentioned in several compilations of old home remedies, calls for putting drops of urine in the affected ear. It’s even been written that Elvis Presley’s mother relied on this creepy remedy whenever The King had a childhood earache.
Another gross-sounding trick was to stuff the painful ear with a moist wad of chewing tobacco — or even to blow tobacco smoke into the ear. Thanks, but we’ll pass on all of these. There’s no known science to support any of them.
Boost your memory?
An old, traditional memory-booster calls for dipping garlic cloves in chocolate and eating one to three of them a day. In theory, we think this makes tons of sense — the garlic and the chocolate are loaded to the gills with the kind of antioxidants that protect brain cells. But seriously, in practice? No thanks — we’ll have the chocolate-covered cherries instead, please.
We dug this shingles prevention strategy up from a tome on old healing folklore, but naturally, we don’t give it much credence: As legend has it, hanging a turpentine-soaked string around your neck will keep shingles attacks at bay.
Putting dirty socks to good use
From Merry Olde England spring some mighty strange sore throat remedies. One–which was actually used widely until the 20th century–called for wrapping your own dirty socks around your throat. Our guess? Since sore throats are so contagious, and in the olden days a signal of potentially lethal diseases, the dirty socks were used to keep loved ones as far away as possible from the patient. But that’s just a guess. Another English treatment involved wrapping bacon around the throat before bedtime. Finally, we couldn’t resist passing along this Irish gem: To heal a sore throat, simply apply salt herring to the soles of the feet.