15 Bizarre Ancient Remedies You Won’t Believe Existed
In ancient times, and on rare occurrences today, quirky, bizarre medical procedures were the "norm." Here are some that you won't believe were ever considered medicinal.
Tatiana Ayazo/Rd.com, shutterstock
Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like—in ancient Egyptian times, the use of animal excrement for healing was recorded in the Eber’s Papyrus. Dating back to 1500 B.C., a range of feces, from dog and gazelle to donkey, could be used to not only treat wounds but to keep bad spirits away. Some women would place crocodile dung into their vaginas, believing it could serve as a contraceptive. On the other hand, here are 23 old-time home remedies we wish would make a comeback.
Bloodletting is the process of draining one’s blood, which became prominent around 460 to 370 BC., according to the British Columbia Medical Journal. Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, Asians, and eventually Europeans used the method to balance what they believed to be the four major fluids of the human body—blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. An imbalance was thought to make a person ill; migraines and fever were among issues treated with draining blood out of a vein or artery. Bloodletting may have even claimed George Washington’s life in 1799, according to an article from History.com. It wasn’t long after when the practice was largely phased out.
Leeches were key to the bloodletting process, and through the ages, have been used as a treatment for infection, skin diseases, dental afflictions, and nervous system abnormalities, shares PBS. But perhaps their most miraculous attribute has kept them relevant in today’s medicine—leeches secrete specific peptides and proteins that increase wound blood flow, by preventing clotting. Healthline.com noted leech therapy can treat everything from cancer, arthritis, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure to heart disease. These bizarre coincidences are hard to believe.
The National Institutes of Health states that in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, drinking urine was a popular form of treatment for a list of ailments. Ancient Indian Yogic and Chinese documentation praised the golden liquid for its incredible effects, but it was even used beyond medical purposes. Smithsonian Magazine discusses its ancient use as laundry detergent and a tooth whitener.
When you have a migraine, do you ever feel like a nice hole in the head would help? Well, many of our historic ancestors felt drilling an opening into the skull was a reasonable way to treat pain and neurological issues. Surgery actually resulted in fewer deaths than you might think, despite the brain being left exposed. The earliest indications of trepanation date back 7,000 years ago, particularly in Greece, Africa, Polynesia, and even America, but the shocking practice trailed on into the early 1900s. You might want to try these natural (and safe!) remedies for headaches instead.
Taking flight in the Victorian era is one of the grossest dieting fads in existence—the tapeworm diet. Ladies in desperation of the perfect body would consume a tapeworm egg pill in hopes the creature would thrive in her intestines. Ultimately, one could eat until satisfied, while the worm would gobble up the majority, leading to weight loss. Horrifyingly, the “diet” still exists today, with subjects seeking worms from shady clinics or websites. Dangerous symptoms accompany the risky practice, including malnutrition, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, infection, anemia, and fever.
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There’s nothing like winding down with a cocktail garnished with human skull. Wait, what? From the Romans to England’s King Charles II, various cannibalistic preparations were thought to be healing and restorative. Egyptian tombs were often looted, so the inhabitant could be ground into corpse medicine. Richard Sugg, a professor at Durham University, who’s written extensively on the subject stated, “The human body has been widely used as a therapeutic agent with the most popular treatments involving flesh, bone, or blood. Cannibalism was found not only in the New World, as often believed, but also in Europe.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures. When the Black Death was ravaging London in the 1600s, physicians turned to bodily fumes. Experts claimed potent gas could counteract plague exposure, so residents either huffed farts from jars, or kept a stinky animal inside their home, shares CBS News. Considering the widespread devastation of the Bubonic plague, it’s safe to say this one didn’t work.
Ancient Egyptians explored seemingly every possible method to discover cures, and that included using a paste of dead mice to treat coughs, toothaches and other ailments. And how did England treat warts back in the late 1500s? Mice were cut in half and placed over the afflicted area. Luckily for mice, these methods have faded.
Skip the mice and try these natural home remedies when you’re sick instead.
We now know mercury is highly toxic—the Environmental Protection Agency states it is a powerful neurotoxin, causing symptoms like vision loss, neuropathy, lack of coordination, impaired hearing, and muscle weakness. Before this was common knowledge, ancient Persians, Greeks, and Chinese believed drinking or applying mercury to the skin could increase lifespan, or even cure afflictions such as syphilis. Qin Shin Huang, a Chinese Emperor, died from consuming mercury, in efforts to obtain eternal life.
Tooth in the eye
Osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis is a treatment for corneal blindness, and it exists today. The patient’s tooth is extracted, and a lens is placed within a drilled hole. The tooth has to be sewn into the cheek, so it can develop its own blood supply, then is later placed in the eye. Miraculously, it’s proven to work. Shannon Webber, MD, from the University of NSW, and oculoplastic surgeon Greg Moloney, MD, have been performing the surgery at the Sydney Eye Hospital in Australia.
A slew of strange treatments were used to treat vaginal issues in ancient Egyptian times, including the insertion of incense. Considering onions were also inserted to determine pregnancy (if the smell came through on a woman’s breath upon morning, it was assumed she was pregnant), it’s possible it was used as an air freshener for the delicate region.
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We can credit Prussian surgeon J. F. Dieffenbach for the cruel stuttering remedy of the 1840s, the hemiglossectomy. The barbaric procedure entailed partial removal of the patient’s tongue—this was done without anesthesia. Despite the nature of the treatment, the surgeon believed he was really curing people by halting vocal cord spasm. Today we have the American Speech Language Hearing Association, which details the positive impact speech therapy can have on those with speech issues.
In the 19th century, it was acceptable to pacify your little one with a gulp of codeine, opium, and heroin—known as Soothing Syrup back in the day. The stuff was openly advertised as a serum which would calm your infant, while providing rest for weary mothers. Two druggists from Bangor, Maine began manufacturing the syrup in the mid-1800s, after a relative created it while working as a nurse. Despite the truth eventually being revealed to consumers, the product managed to hang on until the 1930s.
Since before the Civil War, maggots were used to treat infected wounds, because they will only eat dying tissue, while healthy tissue is preserved. The treatment is so effective, it is still found in modern medicine. In a time where antibiotics don’t always work, these little fly babies could save your life. Read on to find out if these popular old wives’ tales are fact or fiction.