Household Hints: Take a bucket of water into your bedroom at night
Points of advice from The Irish Times’ health and household tips column of the 1800s
The 19th-century health column advised a bucket of water brought into the bedroom at night would ‘absorb all poisonous gases’
During the second half of the 1800s readers of this publication were delivered regular health and medical advice via its weekly Household Hints and Recipes column.
In 1888, the column featured a “Cure For Diphtheria”, sent by a correspondent from Australia, who claimed that his remedy for this highly contagious and potentially fatal disease was simple, but certain.
The cure called for the application of dry sulphur “as soon as the white spots appear are seen on the glands of the throat”, and then to “Mix two teaspoonfuls of sulphur in half a pound of honey, stirring thoroughly, then give a teaspoonful every hour until quite better; red onions are roasted and applied as poultice to the neck, a white linen cloth well covered with lard being placed around the neck. Under the poultice, in extreme cases, well-roasted salt is necessary; after being carefully roasted on a shovel, place it in a stocking foot the heel to be downward on the chest.”
Most medical advice, however, was delivered as short pithy dictums, often sandwiched between tips on cleaning, cooking, and domestic economies, and alongside ads for marvellous medicines and embrocations, and booklets promising consumption cures.
These health hints were sometimes contained under the heading Things Worth Knowing.
However, it is now apparent that some – though not all – were things worth forgetting.
Things Worth Knowing
– That the skin of a boiled egg is the most efficacious remedy that can be applied to a boil. It will draw off the matter and relieve the soreness in a few hours.
– Never go to bed with damp feet.
– The sure preventative of cholera is cleanliness.
– Never lean with the back upon anything that is cold.
– Bathrooms should not open into sleeping apartments.
– Never begin a journey until the breakfast has been eaten.
– Never take warm drink and then immediately go out into the cold.
– Half a teaspoonful of common salt dissolved in a little cold water and drunk will instantly relieve heartburn.
– Take a bucket of fresh water into your bedroom at night and let it remain uncovered. It will absorb all poisonous gases.
– Never omit regular bathing, for unless the skin is in regular condition the cold will close the pores and favour congestion or other diseases.
– Everyone should have eight hours’ sleep, and pale, thin, nervous persons require 10, which should be taken in a well-ventilated room.
– When hoarse speak as little as possible until the hoarseness is recovered from, else the voice may be permanently lost or difficulties of the throat produced.
– Both Sydenham and Boerhaave, great names in medicine, asserted that acute pneumonias were rarely cured without the abstraction of 40 ounces of blood.
– For good tooth powder mix together one ounce of powdered orris root, one dram of gum camphor, two drams of powdered myrrh, half an ounce of prepared chalk.
– Merely warm the back by the fire, never continue keeping the back exposed to the heat after it has become comfortably warm. To do otherwise is debilitating.
– Never stand still in cold weather, especially after having taken a slight degree of exercise, and always avoid standing on ice or snow where the person is exposed to the cold wind.
– For a burn or scald, make a paste of common baking soda and water, apply at once and cover with a linen cloth. When the skin is broken apply the white of an egg with a feather. This gives instant relief, as it keeps the air from the flesh.
– To cure warts, take an Irish potato and cut a piece off the end and rub on the wart two or three times a day, cutting a slice from the potato each time used. Very often one potato is sufficient for the cure.
– The best thing for a burn is, wet the burn with cold water, then cover it with wheat flour so thick that it will keep out the air. Keep it on, it will prevent blistering.
– For a cough, boil one ounce of flaxseed in a pint of water, strain and add a little honey, one ounce of rock candy, and the juice of three lemons. Mix and boil well. Drink as hot as possible.
– Prof Brinton says that the very best thing for a sprain is to put the limb into a vessel of very hot water immediately, then add boiling water as it can be borne. Keep the part immersed for 20 minutes, or until the pain subsides; then apply a tight bandage and order rest. Sometimes the joint can be used in 12 hours.
– A solution of thymol, used as a mouth wash after smoking, will remove the unpleasant odour of tobacco.
– In some forms of headache a towel or a napkin wrung out of hot water, as hot as can be borne and wound around the head affords relief.
– For a cold on the chest, a flannel rag wrung out in boiling water and sprinkled with turpentine, laid on the chest, gives the greatest relief.
– Those who are troubled with sleeplessness should, if strong enough to do so, take a long walk in the evening. Riding in the open air also promotes sleep.
– For the dyspeptic fried oysters are forbidden. When roasted in the shell oysters are delicious, and can be digested with ease even by a weak stomach.
– A slice of raw salt pork is an old-fashioned poultice. An improvement upon it now suggested is raw, fat salt pork and onions, equal parts, chopped up together and applied in a thick layer to wounds made by rusty nails or the teeth of dogs or other animals. Such wounds are not only very painful but dangerous. The above poultice is said to extract the poison, allay the pain and inflammation, and heal up the flesh in a way superior to drugs, and in a wonderfully short time.
– After exercise of any kind, never ride in an open carriage or near the window of a car for a moment; it is dangerous to health or even life.