Cures from a bottle

Sainsbury’s has a startling range of bottles of olive oil. How many types of olive oil do people need? Can most of the customers surveying the choices tell the difference between one sort and the other?

When I was a child, we used to have a bottle of olive oil in the house, but it was in the bathroom cupboard and not the kitchen. A little would be warmed and drops put into the ear of my baby sister if she had earache. I’m not sure if it was efficacious, or even if it was safe, but it was part of the folk wisdom of our community. It’s hard to imagine that we were the best customers of the olive oil business.

Olive oil was not the only questionable medication in our house. There was always a bottle of rose hip syrup, presumably bought from a supermarket or a chemist’s shop, for there would have been no other options. Rose hip syrup now is available from health shops, which suggests that our use of it was probably not something suggested by Dr Ingram, the chain-smoking saintly country doctor who literally kept alive members of our family and who had time to make unannounced calls to our house when I suffered severe asthma.

Olive oil was for external use and rose hip syrup had a benign taste.  Less tasty was a yeast extract of some sort that came in a large tin and had the consistency of Marmite without any of its charm.  A dessert-spoonful was considered to be beneficial to children.

Some of the other concoctions taken for health were not so pleasant, and might have been downright dangerous.

There were cough mixtures which seemed to be bought on the basis of how unpleasant it tasted. Syrup of figs was still sold to ensure the regular functioning of the digestive system. Mercifully, I was able to rely upon others for accounts of its vile taste. Liver salts were effective, a tin of Andrews was always in the cupboard. There was also a tin of something called Eno’s, which seemed fizzier than Andrews.

In retrospect, the alarming medication was kaolin and morphine: the kaolin to settle the upset stomach, the morphine to settle the pain. I don’t even think it required a prescription. A bottle of medicine containing morphine would very quickly disappear from the shelves in more addictive times.

Perhaps the homespun cures were rooted in days before the NHS. How much money was spent on medications of dubious efficacy is incalculable.

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7 Responses to Cures from a bottle

  1. Doonhamer says:

    And Milk of Magnesia seemed to be good for tummy upsets.
    Cod liver oil and malt extract, sometimes combined in one concoction, and taken with a spoonful of orange juice. Bemax added to porridge.
    All helped keep a child healthy.

    • Ian says:

      I remember my grandmother always having a large bottle of Milk of Magnesia, it might have been connected with the large amount of codeine she took!

      I had forgotten the cod liver oil. My mother would buy it in capsule form but even then it left a nasty taste.

      I must look up Bemax, it sounds the sort of thing from which I would benefit now.

  2. Brian says:

    I can distinctly remember the taste of gripe water. I believe it might still be available, but not the alcoholic version which I used to have.
    Another homespun cure which my mother told be about, and would probably be looked at with horror nowadays – her father used to put his finger in his glass of rum and give it to her brother to suck, when he was a young child, to help him get to sleep.

    • Ian says:

      The original form of gripe water sounds more likely to have been effective.

      There were families in Ireland who would have claimed to have a drop of whiskey in a baby’s bottle. I never questioned them too closely about it.

  3. Grandad says:

    Senna tea! As a kid I regularly was made drink senna tea – revolting stuff but an effective laxative.

    And whatever happened to Virol? I used to actually like that, whatever it was.

    • Ian says:

      What baffles me is the amount of stuff people took to keep their bowels working. As I remember it, food was plain and included loads of vegetables, perhaps the laxatives were just to be on the safe side.

      I have never heard of Virol, it sounds excellent.

      • Grandad says:

        There certainly seemed to be an extraordinary fascination with bowels all right.

        I just looked up Virol. I wish I hadn’t! –
        “a British twentieth century brand of malt extract preparation that also included bone marrow, and was designed as a nutritional supplement for the feeding of infants.”

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