I 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.
Another 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.
In 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.
One 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?