Old remedies spark smiles rather than cures

Old remedies spark smiles rather than cures by Bob Karolevitz The White House Cook Book, about which I wrote last week, is more than just a collection of recipes.

Besides instructions on how to prepare most anything � from nuns� toast to unfermented rusks � it is a veritable treasure chest for health needs and lots of other things you should know.

Of course, in the revised edition of 1925, most of the facts and remedies � which were valid then � are no longer relevant now. In fact, they are almost laughable!

Take poultices, for instance. Mothers used to make mustard plasters to �draw out� the bad stuff in wounds or bruises. They never heard of penicillin or antibiotics then, as they rushed to find the ingredients for a bred-and-milk poultice (which, incidentally, are in the back of the White House book). Obviously, we�ve come a long, long way.

Apparently they used yellow dock leaves steeped in vinegar to cure ringworms; alum and sugar was a favored remedy for croup and whooping cough; and a gargle of sulfur and water did wonders for diphtheria (except that the patient often died).

My copy of the White House Cook Book has a nostrum for everything. It tells you how to cure a toothache, an earache, constipation, hiccoughs, chillblains, sun stroke and lockjaw � but you wouldn�t want to try any of the remedies now.

Can you imagine treating an earache by blowing tobacco smoke in it? That was one of the medications offered � but you had to light up a cigarette first, which was not a no-no then.

Or, say, you wanted to get rid of freckles. According to the recipe in the almost-80-year-old volume, you�d take a tablespoon of freshly grated horseradish in a cupful of sour milk, let it stand for 12 hours, then strain �and apply often.�

Frankly, I�d rather have freckles than go through that gawd-awful mess. The same is true for dandruff, for that you�d mix glycerine, tincture of cantharides (whatever that is?), bay rum, water and rub that concoction into the scalp daily.

Then, if you had bad breath �from catarrh, foul stomach or bad teeth,� you could get temporary relief by diluting a little bromo chloralum in water and using it as a gargle. Of course, everybody had bromo chloralum in their medicine cabinet. Heck, I don�t even know what it is.

Assuming that everyone had bed bugs, cockroaches and rats in 1925, the book devotes considerable space to their eradication. It says, as an example, �to banish rats from the premises, use pounded glass mixed with dry corn meal.� Sprinkling cayenne pepper in their holes will also drive them out.

And for crawling vermin, a mixture of alum in water � applied boiling hot to bedsteads and likely crevices where the pests congregate � will do them in.

The editors have included timely hints for making soap, cleaning silk, removing tar from cloth, preventing rust on flat-irons, purifying cistern water, washing feathers and desooting stove pipes.

They even tell how to remove cinders from the eye with a grain of flax seed. That was when cinders were commonplace from locomotives and faulty chimneys.

All of this in a recipe book yet!

Yes, as I�ve said before, we�ve come a long, long way. It�s too bad there wasn�t a substitute for flu shots.

� 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz

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