I'm not exactly ready to tie a camphor-soaked rag around my head to heal a toothache, but I'm not necessarily against the home remedies I grew up with either.
The problem with the old-school stuff is two-fold -- getting someone younger than 40 to give these remedies a try is tough at best, and a lot of the stuff I grew up with is just gone.
For something simple like a bloody nose, my Mom always said to put a dime between your teeth and upper lip and hold it there. Tip your head back a little or even lie down and the blood would stop. It had something to do with the mercury in the dime. Something dimes no longer have. That's not helping.
For a bad stomach, we got Coke syrup. They sold it at the pharmacy and it was exactly that -- what Coke is made out of minus the water and bubbles -- and it would supposedly settle a sour stomach. It would also kill something as hardy as a dandelion and peel paint off a car. They don't sell it at the pharmacy anymore. Go figure.
I kind of liked my other grandma's remedy for a stomachache. She gave me Ginger ale. You don't feel good and you get pop. Cool. Except now, I get queasy if I so much as smell Ginger ale. It reminds me of being sick to my stomach.
For a bad stomach with the added attraction of diarrhea, Mom gave us kids Paregoric. That stuff was awful. If you didn't already have a bad stomach, it would give you one. It was like drinking diesel fuel.
And they pulled it from the shelves in the '60s because people were getting addicted to the opium in it. Lots of stuff to ponder there.
Castor oil was another of Mom's favorite go-to medicines. If you were spending too much time in the bathroom, producing less than the desired results, you got a spoon of castor oil. And then don't let anybody block your path to the door because you will be on a mission.
If any of us caught a cold, Mom busted out the bucket o' Vicks and sent us to bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of the vaporizer turning the room into a sauna. And no amount of showering or scrubbing could completely eradicate the Vicks smell in the morning.
The preferred method of ridding oneself of a cold involves a cup of hot tea. Pour out half the tea, add honey, lemon, rock candy (if you can find it) and a shot or two of the strongest whisky you have in the house. Drink that as hot as you can, then go to bed in sweat pants and a sweat shirt. Have somebody else tuck you in to where you pretty much couldn't get out if you wanted to.
The plan is to sweat the cold out by morning. Or at least be well lubricated to the point where you don't even know you have a cold until morning. Either way works.
For burns, like from the oven, you just broke off a piece of the aloe plant in the bathroom and rubbed the juice on the burn. If there wasn't a plant, you got out the butter (which sort of "cooked" that area of your skin).
Not all these remedies were as effective as you'd like. Have you ever sat in a tub full of oatmeal water to get rid of the measles? Possibly effective, totally gross. Covering yourself in calamine lotion was no picnic either.
I have sat in a tub full of cool tea trying to ease the pain of a sunburn. Later, the treatment of choice was lathering up the affected areas with Preparation H, which ironically enough was touted as a sunburn oil in the 1930s.
I always wondered what happened to Preparation A through G, and more importantly the people they were tested on.
Mom used either Mercurochrome or Merthiolate on cuts and scrapes. Those red-tinged liquids were supposed to be germ-killers. I thought they were to cauterize the area-- because they burned like hell -- and to mark the spot of injury like a red badge of courage you could show off to friends later.
They were taken off the market because "they sting … and interfere with healing." Imagine that.
I got a gash in my leg once that had I gone to the emergency room would have netted me about 16 stitches. As it was, my Mom worked her magic with Band-aids to "butterfly" it back together, thus saving me from an ugly scar and my parents from a nasty ER bill.
Broken fingers and toes were mended with lots of tape and a Popsicle stick. That's why they come in packages of two. You get to eat one first while Mom rounds up the tape. You give her the first stick and eat the other Popsicle while you're broken appendage is taped up.
The red Popsicles are especially good to have around for toddlers who face-plant a lot while they're learning to walk.
The cold of the Popsicle keeps the swelling down and slows the flow of blood. The sweet taste keeps the kid occupied. You can't cry with a Popsicle in your mouth. It's a proven fact. And the red color keeps mom and baby calm because neither one can see the blood.
Most of the injuries I received growing up always came with Dad's sage old advice, "Don't worry, it'll be better before you get married." And you know what, it always was.
Copyright 2013 Laura Nethken