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.