For pioneers and settlers on the frontier, doctors and medicine were often too expensive, too far away, and probably not that reliable anyway.
Medicine was usually a home-grown affair built up of knowledge that was tried, tested and handed down over generations. A common feature of 19th Century medicine was the use of poultices.
Just like recipes for meals, there was hundreds if not thousands of poultice recipes. Some were freely shared and some were closely guarded.
Poultices are usually some kind of warm compress used to treat skin sores, boils and splinters as well as muscle and joint aches and arthritis.
But even bed-wetting had its own poultice treatment. Basically if there was a medical complaint, somebody had a poultice to treat it.
From the Golden Aid book of 1885, we have five recipes for poultices:
Take boiling water, and stir in ﬂaxseed meal to make a thick paste; spread on linen, and apply.
Mix 1/2pt. of yeast with 1 lb. of ﬂaxseed meal; stir carefully while heating.
Poultice, Slippery Elm
Stir ground slippery elm bark into hot water, and let it swell. This is a very soothing poultice for irritable sores.
Boil a quantity of onions till they are quite soft, strain off the water, mash them to a pulp, and add a little lard or sweet oil to prevent them getting hard, then spread. This is quite stimulating, and induces indolent sores to maturate more freely.
Boil a quantity of carrots till they are quite soft, strain off the water, mash them to a pulp, and add a little lard or sweet oil to prevent them from getting hard, then spread. A good application for malignant and offensive sores.”
The full title of the book is “The Golden Aid: or money making directory, containing directions for manufacturing and preparing for sale some of the best selling articles of the day.
Like the big Home Mechanic book we have featured here many times, the Golden Aid book was written to help settlers start new businesses when they got to the frontier.
But it’s also interestingly edgy for the time period.
Among other things it explains how to increase the weight of gold bars by doping them with silver and sulfur.
Golden Aid indeed. I’ll post that trick here as soon as I’m finished upgrading all of my gold bars.
If you are interested in homespun medicine, the Grandma’s Remedies book offers a good selection of old fashioned treatments that you can safely use.
At minimum these poultice recipes are a great reminder that not everything has to be over-the-counter and medicine doesn’t always have to be industrial strength.