Doctors were scarce in early New England, and the colonists had to make do with home remedies. Some home remedies they learned from the Indians. Some they brought from home back in England. And some – well, they may have just made them up. Like wearing a ring made from a dry raw potato to prevent arthritis. Or wearing a necklace of dried corn kernels to cure a headache.
Here are some of the stranger home remedies the early New Englanders tried. And who knows, maybe some of them worked – if only through the power of suggestion.
Removing warts: Rub them with a live toad every day until they are drawn into the toad’s skin. You can also rub them with the inside of a brown bag, close the bag tightly and throw it away. Anyone who picks up the bag and opens it will get the warts and yours will disappear.
Nutmeg: A single nutmeg worn around the neck on a string will protect agains croup, boils, body lice and lung disorders.
Arthritis: You won’t get arthritis if you wear a ring made from a dried raw potato on the middle finger of your right hand, or if you carry a pignut, a hickory nut, a pecan or a horse chestnut in your pocket at all time. You can alleviate the pain of arthritis by wearing a copper bracelet on your wrist. It’s better if electricity has passed through it, but it will lose its effectiveness if given or loaned to someone else.
Sore throats: You can prevent sore throats by wearing a clove of garlic around your neck or tying a dirty shoelace around it.
Convalescing: Patients shouldn’t read while convalescing because it will put too much of a strain on his eyes and brain. Both could be permanently damaged.
Headache: You can cure a headache by wearing a necklace of dried corn kernels.
Colds: You can cure colds and other minor respiratory ailments by putting the skin of a black cat on your chest at night.
Cure for baldness: Pound the dried leaves of a sunflower into a powder, mix it with vegetable oil and rub it briskly into your scalp once a day for 30 days. Your hair will grow in luxuriously. Prevent baldness by rubbing bear grease or juice from baked beans into your scalp every day.
Measles: Beat a pinch of soot from a hardwood fire and a raw egg into a glass of white wine; drink it, and you will recover from the measles much faster than normally.
With thanks to Strange Beliefs, Customs & Superstitions of New England by Leo Bonfanti.