Published on February 4, 2020

When it came to home remedies, not all kids were treated equal

By Edward A. Forbes / The Bulletin

Those were the good old days. Or were they? When it comes to the home remedies of my youth, they were far from it.

When I was a child in the dark ages, a long time ago, we used to have home remedies for certain medical conditions that would make you want to face death rather than be subjected to the home therapy. We also had some medical treatments that were seasonal. They, too, were something to be dreaded.

Spring cleaning takes on a new meaning when your family decides that castor oil for all dependents is part of the process. Myself and my siblings decided we hated the insidious treatment but were denied having a vote in this process. This left only ill-feelings toward anyone who escaped it.

Some cousins resided with us one spring, and their daughter was awarded special privileges (by her parents not ours). We had to take our dose of castor oil straight. She, however, could have hers mixed with orange juice and chilled in the freezer to mask the taste and consistency of the dreaded potion. We hated her for years despite the fact it was not her doing.

As a child, it seems that nearly every youth had a carbuncle (boil). These were allowed to fester until they became painful. They were then treated with ichthammol (icky oil or drawing salve). It was a sticky black compound that stained and was supposed to “draw” the carbuncle to a head. The offending boil was then drained or expressed. These infections usually had a “core” that had to be removed, painfully, of course. The core was either squeezed out or drawn out with a sterile needle.

In today’s world, these infections are treated carefully, as they are a staph infection. They are drained or expressed gently and treated with antibiotics. Squeezing the old-fashioned way could lead to complications, such as cellulitis or sepsis.

Ichthammol is no longer available, as it was never an FDA-approved medication. It was on the market for years as a grandfathered drug, and getting a new drug approval was far too expensive for a small market.

As if the treatment wasn’t cruel and unusual enough, the addition of SSS tonic (triple S tonic) was added to our daily regimen for a few weeks. The tonic was noxious in flavor and smell. If you are masochistic enough, you can probably still order it from your favorite drug store to see if I’m right.

My grandfather held the FDA-unapproved belief that the cure for a sore throat was diluting Absorbine Sr. (a horse liniment that was forerunner of Absorbine Jr.) in an atomizer and spraying your throat several times a day. It contained methanol.

I was extremely nearsighted (like legally blind) as a youth and blamed it on my grandfather. Methanol is also known as wood alcohol, which if consumed, can cause blindness and death. None of us children died, but we all wore glasses. It could have been worse. He claimed they cured his mother’s breast cancer with a cow manure poultice. Try to explain that to the other members of the congregation or your fellow diners.

You are now allowed to snicker when your children or grandchildren complain about the taste of their medication.

(Edward Forbes wants to hear from you. Email him at eforbes1946@gmail.com or send comments by snail mail to The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX. 77516.)