MEDICINAL CURES FROM EARLIER DAYS (July 27/01)

“How to lose 24 pounds of fat (and) at the same time gain in physical vigour and youthfulness,” the ad heading read.

This patent medicine notice, which appeared in an issue of The Advertiser 71 years ago, promised that a product called Kruschen Salts, as well as banishing fat, would rid the body of poisonous wastes, tune up the liver, kidneys and bowels, and in addition bring clear skin and “vivacious eyes that sparkle with health.”

Simply buy a bottle of Kruschen Salts and take a half teaspoon in hot water before breakfast and all these health benefits would be yours. On the same page, an advertisement for Sargon Pills promised similar health benefits and included a testimonial from a county resident who found that this medicine “put my liver in fine shape and got my bowels as regular as a clock.”

Look through any newspaper in the first half of the 20th century and you’ll find similar advertisements. A few generations ago people apparently were obsessed with health and with body functions. In one Advertiser issue from the 1920s, I counted five patent medicine ads on a single page and eleven in an eight-page issue. In most ads, the theme was the same – immediate (and miraculous) health benefits simply by taking pills, salts and tonics.

Amusingly, a few of the patent medicine ads contained sly innuendoes about cures for “health maladies” that the television ads for Viagara refer to openly. Advertisements that promised to “restore youthful vigour,” “return physical vigour and youthfulness” and “bring back the full blush of young manhood,” were certainly referring to something other than restoring the capacity to milk cows vigorously.

We should remember that less than a century ago health care was almost non-existent and people used home cures and patent medicine to treat common ills. One didn’t go to outpatients with the cold or the flu. The shelves of nearby general stores were the pharmacies and the doctors as often as not were the peddlers who sold patent medicine.

It wasn’t all that long ago either that medicinal cures for common ailments were cooked up in the kitchen. People of my generation will remember grandma boiling a mixture of vinegar, sugar and onions, sometimes as a spring tonic but mostly to treat a cold. I remember drinking this concoction half a century ago and it didn’t taste all that bad. I also remember that warmed up goose fat was rubbed on my chest when I had a cold.

Like most households in my boyhood days, it was a given that Minards Liniment was kept over the kitchen sink. No household was without it. Minards claimed to be good for an amazing number of human and livestock ills and as far as I’m concerned, it was literally true. There were a few competing liniments on the market but nothing cleared the head and chest or eased aches and pains like Minards. As one who was slathered with Minards when I was a boy, I’m a walking testimonial to its effectiveness.

Another cure-all usually found in the kitchens of my boyhood was Epsom salts. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary explains that this is a preparation used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory and a purgative. A purgative it was indeed – and fast acting. My father used to pass me a catalogue along with a glass of water containing a teaspoon of Epsom salts. “Drink this,” he’d say. “The outhouse door is open.”

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