As I’ve mentioned before, I really enjoy research because I discover all kinds of fascinating information, usually far more than I can use.
For the book I'm currently writing, Wild Justice, I've been researching methods of treating smallpox in the late 1790s.
One treatment for the sore throat suffered by smallpox patients involved a mixture of refined nitre – a white, bitter tasting powder used in gunpowder and in pickling meat – and soda - made from wood ash.
A treatment for fever-induced thirst recommended barley water flavoured with sugar and lemon and a few drops of spirits of vitriol – dilute sulphuric acid.
For a chin-cough (what we know as whooping cough) a promised cure involved taking a spoonful of bruised woodlice mixed with breast-milk each morning for three or four days. (Who was first to come up with that idea?!)
A recipe to treat “A trembling at the heart” listed a syrup of damask roses to which was added small quantities of powdered red coral, pearl and ambergris. The dose was a spoonful at a time. It didn’t specify the size of spoon. (This reminded me of my grandmother whose recipe for a “cut-and-come-again cake” included a nut of butter and a nicely of sugar!)
We may smile – or flinch - at such remedies. Yet last week I read an article in the press about a new anticoagulant drug that is being developed from the saliva of leeches. Surely one more case of looking to the past to aid the future.