What common condition was once treated with cow dung? How might oyster shells relieve heartburn? Can eels really cure deafness? Is the secret to stopping a stubborn case of hiccups a simple ingredient found in most pantries? If you were struck by illness or injury in the late eighteenth century, you would most likely have been referred to Scottish physician William Buchan's Domestic Medicine--and, as a result, you may have found yourself administering urine to your ears or drinking a broth made from sheep's brains.
Originally published in 1769, Domestic Medicine was produced for the benefit of those without access to--or means to afford--medical assistance, and copies of the book were found in apothecaries and coffee houses, private households and clubs. In 1797, Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian and his crew even had the foresight to pack a copy before fleeing to the Pitcairns. Derived from folklore and the emerging medical science of the day, some of Buchan's recommendations for how to live a healthy life still ring true: for instance, exercising, enjoying a varied diet, and getting an abundance of fresh air. Others are delightfully dodgy or even downright dangerous, such as genital trusses, the prescription of mercury, or the suggestion that Spanish fly might soothe aching joints.
Bringing together an exceedingly entertaining selection of entries from one of the earliest self-help books, Can Onions Cure Ear-ache? offers fascinating insight into the popular treatments of the time.