Got Tonic?

tonic-bottles.jpgI remember when I was young my mother used to give us kids all kinds of home remedies because in those days we didn’t go to a doctor unless we were dying. One medicine that she kept on hand was called paragoric. Sold without a prescription, paragoric was given to colicky babies but was also administered for diarrhea. The principal ingredient was morphine. It’s no wonder it put us right to sleep! No one really knew how dangerous paragoric was until much later when it was finally taken off the market.

sss-tonic.jpgAnother familiar sight around our house in the 60’s was SSS Tonic and Geritol, both of which are still sold today. These tonics were supposed to boost tired blood and give a body energy. Shoot, I didn’t know blood could get tired! But, I guess when an elixir contains a great percent of alcohol, it can sure perk you up. Another common over-the-counter medicine sold today is Nyquil and it’s also alcohol-based.

elixir.jpgIn the old West, where were lots of traveling medicine shows. A wagon decorated in fancy banners would roll into town and a colorful salesman would begin an entertaining show. He’d tout the virtues of all kinds of patent medicines, tonics and bitters, making all manner of outrageous claims to the gullible public. Then, invariably he’d have someone planted in the crowd to step out and testify of the amazing results the tonic had given him. That always boosted sales because it was relatively cheap and doctors were few and far betweeen. Folks grasped at anything that offered relief.

blood-tonics.jpgOne particular tonic, Vino Kolofra by Johnson and Johnson, claimed to be a brain stimulant, would eliminate hay fever, cure drunkenness, and was also an aphrodisiac. Just name your problem and it cured it. Some tonics were said to cure venereal disease, epilepsy, and paralysis. In the 18th century, Dr. Ebeneezer Sibley even went so far as to advertise his Solar Tincture would restore life in the event of sudden death. These were nothing more than con men who pushed their quackery onto desperate, unsuspecting people.

The truth was that most patent medicines contained large amounts of opium, cocaine, morphine and alcohol. What they did was create addictive, drug-dependent junkies. One of the more popular, Dr. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, contained 44.3 percent alcohol and was more potent than 80 proof whiskey. Husbands could get drunk without ever frequenting a saloon. As you can imagine, they used it widely for whatever ailed. Or even if they were healthy as a mule.

Don’t get me wrong though. Not all patent medicines were bad. Products such as Milk of Magnesia, Pepto Bismal, Fletcher’s Castoria, Vicks Vapo-rub, Castor Oil, and Campo-phenique have been around for ages, are beneficial, and are still used today. Thank goodness the federal government stepped in around 1920 and began making our medicines safe.

What home remedies did your mother give you when you were a child? And are you still using some of them now?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

34 thoughts on “Got Tonic?”

  1. I can’t remember any home remedies my mom gave me, but my grandma put monkey blood on cuts and scratches. I was trying to remember the actual name of it and did a google. I found a handful of sites that mention it and its called mercurochrome. When I was sick my gran would let me lie down in her bed, rub Vick’s on my chest and feet, cover my chest with a warm towel right out of the dryer, and warm socks on my feet. When I was a teenager I had very bad eye infections. My gran had my mom crack an egg in a bowl and put the bowl under my bed. It was supposed to help my eyes. That bowl stayed under the bed for months. It was forgotten for so long.

  2. I can remember getting cuts and having mecurochrome or methyolate(sp?) put on them. Or some sort of cow salve.

    My grandma and my mom would make a spoonful of sugar with a drop or two of what I seem to recall being the methyolate for a sore throat. It did clear it up in no time, but you weren’t supposed to ingest it. If I could still find it though, I’d get some because it ALWAYS cleared up the beginnings of a sore throat for me within hours of taking it. So a “spoonful of sugar” did help the medicine go down and it DID work! LOL

    My grandpa let me eat Alka-Seltzers and Rolaids (the old white ones that were chalky/minty) like they were candy.

    I remember having to take the Fletcher’s Castoria or something similar as a very small child and there was this “cough syrup” but I can’t remember the name of it right off. It was dark coffee colored and I liked the taste of it, whatever it was. I’ll have to ask my mom…speaking of…

    Back in the 1970’s she took Ayds weight-loss candies. They were small chocolate squares to “curb” your appetite. She took them when she and my dad first got married, turned up pregnant with me a short time later. A few years later they had been trying to get pregnant and hadn’t been able to, so my mom decided not to worry about getting pregnant and decided to diet again…she got pregnant with my sister shortly after that. She never took the Ayds weight-loss candies again! LOL

  3. Thanks for your posting. I would love to share it with my friends on horsematch internet. They are also interested in this.

  4. Taryn, there was a cough syrup called Smith Brothers. I wonder if that’s what you remember.

    Wow, Linda, I have a few old medicine bottles and tins and would love to have the ones you show in these pictures. LOL

    When my aunt was a baby, she got so sick that the doctor came and said there was nothng he could do. She was going to die. My grandmother rocked her in a rocking chair, while her older baby stood on the rockers behind her and cried. I heard this story several times when my Grandma St.John was alive.

    Grandma said her baby had something thick and white in her throat that it looked like cobwebs inching upward, and she coudn’t breathe. She turned blue, and at that point my grandmother took a mixture of sugar and kerosene and spooned it down her throat.

    Amazingly the concoction cleared the cobwebby stuff away so that the baby could breathe, and she lived!

    I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for parents back in those days, long before there was safe medicine. We’ve come a long way, baby.

    Great blog, Linda!

  5. Hi Linda- My mother used rubbing alcohol to give us a dry bath when we had a cold or to reduce a fever. I found out years later that the alcohol got absorbed into our blood, drugging us. This was a commonly used practice. Also castor oil was used to promote labor back in the day. It would irritate the bowel area that would start up contractions. Castor oil tastes like motor oil, I hear. Neither of those methods are used today, thank goodness!

  6. My mom would make a mustard plaster and put it on our chests. I looked it up (no idea what it was) on wiki and it’s kinda weird, more warnings than descriptions.
    My mom also took caster oil when she was overdue with a baby, that was thought to bring on labor. But my mother-in-law says it DIDN’T bring on labor it just made you feel so sick it felt like labor.
    Vicks Vaporub on my chest for colds. I once, thinking the consistancy was the same, used it on my lips like vasoline and AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!

    Do NOT do that.

    Burned Toast and tea for flu.

    Chew for a long, long time on a slice of bread and watch the horizon for car sickness. (this one worked pretty well)

    I think, fundamentally, most of these ‘cures’ were just something to do while you got well on your own.

  7. Morning Bluecat, what an interesting comment. I never heard of putting an egg under the bed to cure an eye ailment. Oh my gosh! That egg must’ve started smelling after a while. Yeah, my mom did the Vicks Vapo-rub and the warm towels. That sure felt good and it did cure a chest cold. Some of those home remedies worked very well.

  8. Taryn, great to see you here this morning! I remember mecurochrome. My mom used it too for scratches and cuts. It stained everything red but it did heal the wound. I think you can still buy that. I’ve heard of methyolate for sore throats but I don’t think I ever had the pleasure of taking it. Sounds horrible. But if it cured a sore throat I guess I could stand anything.

    With you eating all those Rolaids you shouldn’t ever have indigestion. lol But they did taste pretty good. Guess it didn’t hurt you any. And yeah, that old cough syrup did taste bad. You needed someone to hold a gun on you to get it down! 🙂

  9. Petty Lady, you’re welcome to share my blog. Good morning to you over on horsematch internet.

    Cheryl, what an amazing story about your grandmother. She must’ve been terrified. But, surprisingly I’ve heard of drinking kerosene laced with sugar. Yuck! Bet that tasted good. It couldn’t have been good for your internal organs. I guess though when it’s the last choice you have in trying to save a life it’s worth considering. I’m glad the baby pulled through. That’s wonderful. Yes, Smith Brothers Cough Syrup was the thick, black liquid given for sore throats and cough. Thank you for remembering that. It sure tasted horrible. Have a great day!

  10. Hi Charlene! I remember using rubbing alcohol to bring down a fever. Who knew it got absorbed into your skin and drugged you? It was a common practice and it worked. Back in those days they didn’t know anything about how safe a product was. I shudder to think of some of the dangers of those remedies. I never had to drink castor oil but one time and it was one time too many. I never took any again. Yeah, it was used sometimes to start labor contractions but it was also given in the spring to children to ward off colds supposedly. Have a wonderful day!

  11. Hi Mary, I think you’re right. Some of the home remedies just gave us something to do while your body took care of the problem by itself. Mustard plaster didn’t sound like something I’d want but I have heard of it. Some folks swore by it.

    Oh you poor thing! I can’t imagine how much your lips burned when you put Vicks on them instead of Vaseline. Yes, you wouldn’t ever do that twice.

    Parents had to use what little they knew in trying to cure the ailments. They didn’t know the dangers back then. I wonder if some of those remedies has anything to do with the drug culture today? Might be something to investigate. There was certainly great harm in giving babies paragoric which contained morphine and alcohol. And they had a toothache rub product that was nothing but cocaine. I found a picture of it but didn’t have room to use it.

    Have a good day, Mary!

  12. Mom had the bottle of mecurochrome and I remember being painted pink alot. My grandmother used to give me hot lemonade with a shot of whiskey in it when I had a cold, always made me feel better! 🙂

  13. Wow, Linda. Is this discussion ever bringing back the memories!

    Taryn, ohmigosh. Ayds!!! Is that a name from the past or what! I remember taking those–for weight loss. They were expensive and did absolutely nothing to help me lose weight. But they were the rage at the time.

    One home remedy I remember was when I’d get ear aches, my mother would put hot water in a glass jar, wrap it in a thin towel and have me keep my ear against it for the warmth.

    Something else, too–so many women smoked back then, and we had a family friend who would gently blow cigarette smoke in my ear to help alleviate the pain.

    Mothers didn’t drive–and so, no unnecessary trips to the doctor.

  14. Hi Lynn/Elsandra! Bless your grandmother and her lemonade and whiskey! They say whiskey cures almost anything. Ha! Maybe it’s true. I know you can sure get drunk on NyQuil.

  15. The family medicine cabinet included all the
    previously mentioned items. No family was “safe”
    without all those remedies! The egg under the bed
    I thought was mainly an Hispanic “curandero”
    procedure. I’ve never actually done it myself,
    but all the “abuelas” and “tias” knew how to “cure” a patient with an egg! To my knowledge, this combination of prayer and “cleaning” with an egg is still used. And don’t forget the most important medical resource of the day, the family doctor who actually came to your home when you called him!!

    Pat Cochran

  16. Pam, some of those home remedies were kinda strange, weren’t they? Don’t really know what blowing smoke in someone’s ear was supposed to do. I remember reading how to treat a bad wound. They would gather cobwebs and stuff into the wound and bind it up. Another remedy was for snakebite. They’d chew up tobacco and place it on the bite. Kinda weird.

    Looks like we’ve got a good discussion going and one that’s reliving old memories.

  17. Hi Pat! Glad you stopped by. Wow, I didn’t know they still use the egg for a cure today in some cultures. And yes, if it wasn’t too far back in time and a doctor was available, all they had to do was call him to your home. Boy, times have changed. Now, you can hardly get to see one if you go to their office.

  18. I can remember my mother chopping up an onion, putting it in a little bit of water with some sugar and boiling it It was a pretty effective cold reliever.

  19. Mom used to use something called “mini-poo” or downright babypowder on our hair when we had colds and she thought it dangerous to shampoo the normal way. I guess it was supposed to soak up oil (?) and then you’d just brush it out. But…I seem to remember having to wash my hair the normal way anyway, as it turned out like major dandruff…I also remember mecurochrome and mertholiate…made your skin all red. The mertholicate was the one that stung like heck…

  20. Taryn, I seem to remember a cough syrup called Creomulsion. Made with pine tar?? Yuck! No wonder it tasted so nasty. Bet it wasn’t very good for you either. Probably gummed up your insides.

    Hi Estella! I think what you’re referring to was called onion tea. I’ve heard of it but never had the pleasure of tasting it. They made tea out of a lot of things like sassafras and mint and chamomile. Not sure any of it tasted very yummy. Thanks for dropping by to comment.

  21. Hi Tanya! My mom used to use some kind of powder on our hair too when we were sick and couldn’t wash it. Yeah, I think the idea is that it soak up the oil, but all I remember is that it made my hair stiff and my scalp itch. My kids are sure glad I didn’t make them do any of this stuff when they were little. It was bad enough trying to get some Robitusson down their throats. Ha! 🙂

  22. Wow, I’m feeling my age. I remember a lot of this stuff. As a youngster, I got dosed on cod liver oil. Awful stuff. And if I missed a day without a b.m., my mom would chase me down and give me an enema. Boy did I hate that. The mother of a friend of mine put mustard plasters on his chest when he had a cold. He said they burned like fire. Oh–I tried the castor oil thing, Mary. With my first baby it worked like a charm. With the second I took, over a couple of days, a whole bottle of it. It got rid of everything except the baby, who came when she was ready!

  23. Oh, I’ve been gone all day and just read today’s post.

    SSS tonic-I’ve never taken it but my mom has told me about it a million times. My great-grandmother (who was slightly off her rocker :0)) used to say that there was a baby in every bottle. My mom got anemic really bad after the birth of my older brother and the doctor prescribed SSS tonic to build up her blood. When Mom told her grandmother, she laughed and pinched Mom’s cheek and told her ‘Keep the baby clothes, there’s a baby in every bottle.’ Sure enough, here I sit.

    One rememdy that everyone in my family swore by was Yellow root for sore throats. UGH! That was the nastiest stuff on earth. I don’t know if it actually cured the sore throat but I know it made me stop complaining of having a sore throat ever again.

  24. The Baby in every bottle line reminded me of an old saying I’ve heard. A tooth for every child. Woman would plan on losing a tooth because their bodies would be so stressed and drained of calcium.

    And I remembe BUYING a bottle of Castor Oil when one of my children was stubborn about coming. Somewhere around the eleventh month of pregnancy, trust me, you’ll try ANYTHING.

    Terry LOL isn’t that the truth? When the cure is that bad a kid thinks long and hard about complaining.

  25. This definitely brings back memories and none of them good lol. Castor oil mixed with coke or orange juice, cod liver oil – yum, vicks forced up my nose so I still couldn’t breathe, milk of magnesia and if that didn’t work I won’t even mention the “e” word – my parents thought that was the cure to everything, and yes I was always covered in shades of pink from iodine and then later mecurochrome lol.

    I think we have way to many medications today that down the road we find are probably more damaging than the illness. Everyone wants a quick and easy fix unfortunately. But horray for some of the miracle drugs.

  26. I’m late as usual getting in on the comments, but Milk of Magnesia was my daddy’s treatment for everything … and I do mean everything. I can still taste the grit in my mouth. Stumped toe, Phillips Milk of Magnesia. Now maybe one of you can tell me how in the heck a laxative cured a stumped toe, but he sure thought it did. Monkey Blood, that’s my mama called it too. Aydes! Oh yes. I’d forgotten about them. I ate my share. Sure were good, but don’t think I lost a pound on them. Good, fun to think about post, Linda. Hugs, Phyliss

  27. Until recently cough suppressants containing codeine were available over-the-counter. Codeine remains one of the best cough suppressants out there but you have to get a prescription for it. I remember one particularly tasty cough medicine, Formula 44. It was thick. It was tar-black. It tasted just like licorice and unbeknownst to me, it contained codeine. And I loved it. I love licorice and I’m sure that’s what made me want to drink it long after I had recovered from my cough. I snuck it out of our medicine cabinet and remember taking it to school with me and sneaking swigs from it all day long. I know I knew it was bad because I can just see myself lifting my desk top and sneaking the bottle to my lips. It’s amazing I didn’t start to ask my mom to purchase it more often. I’m sure I could have become addicted to it. That sticky sweet stuff contained a powerful narcotic like many old remedies. It wasn’t uncommon for people to get addicted to that kind of concoction. Remember the sad plight of Lilly Bart in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.
    Today’s Formula 44 just isn’t the same…

  28. Elizabeth, I think we all had our share of dosings when we were growing up. Cod liver oil was what I was thinking about when I said mothers gave it to their children every spring and at the beginning of winter. I mistakenly said castor oil. I sure don’t want either one. I gag just thinking about that thick liquid sliding down my throat.

    Hi Terry! Yuck, yellow root for sore throat? The mention of that would cure my throat. No one’d even have to pour any down it. Sounds gross.

    Jeanne, thanks for stopping by to weigh in. Your story is similar to all of ours. Life wasn’t so easy back in our early days.

    Phyliss! Glad you logged on. Doesn’t matter if you’re late. What matters is your support and friendship. I remember Ayds for weight loss. My mother took boxes of them and never lost a pound. Wonder what they were really made of?

    Hi Barbara! Yeah, Formula 44 was a biggie for cough and yes it was addictive. I’m betting it had a high degree of alcohol in it. I bet we can trace some of the addictiveness of our society back to those home remedies. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  29. Well…I am alot of that stuff had phased out when I was young..BUT..I was raised mostly by my grandmother.who is now in her mid 70’, I def know about the old of the one’s I got alot of was for coughing: whiskey, rock candy and peppermint..YUCK! Also..I didn’t ever get this..but I heard my grandmother say alot that you needed a good dose of caster oil..geez…Im so happy we dont have to subject ourselves to those sorts of things anymore

  30. My grandma used to take the ribbon Christmas candy that was left over after Christmas and crush it. She would then pour Jack Daniel’s Whiskey over it and seal it up. The next Christmas it was declared medicine and given for every ailment imaginable. Worked every time or we just slept through whatever it was, I don’t know which. I bet is would be good for a cough though.

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