Health – Introduction

HealthGood health is a presumption upon which everything else is planned. Until antibiotics were developed in the 1940’s, health was mainly dependent upon body resistance, minimal exposure to sick people, and control of other disease vectors. Doctors were unable to cure most diseases, and their services were needed mainly for accidents. Home medicines were used for all but life-threatening illnesses. Today, excellent medical services are available in large cities, but intelligent self-diagnosis is important in small towns and isolated rural areas. People should learn as much as possible about their chronic diseases and conditions.


Raw onions reduce allergies in some people. See “Antihistamine” and “Hay fever.”


Rub the face with a little hydrogen peroxide on a cotton ball. Another old treatment was to rub wetted yeast or buttermilk on the face, allow it to dry, and wash. Modern over-the-counter and prescription medications are more effective.

Abdominal Cramps

Drink chamomile, dill, or mint tea made by steeping 1 tsp. to 1 Tbs. of herb in 1 cup boiling water. If the cramping is caused by bacteria (raw food or untreated water), drink 1 tsp. chlorine bleach in 2 cups of water; or drink wine (see “Antibiotic”). The pectin in apple cider is useful for cramping and diarrhea in children. Hot peppers kill bacteria and protect the stomach. See “Diarrhea.”

Preparing Herbs

Dry small amounts of herbs in paper bags in a warm attic. The standard dose for medicinal herbs is 1 cup of sweetened tea containing 1 rounded tsp. (1.8 grams) of dried herb. For ointment, melt lard in the top of a double boiler; add dried herb until barely covered and simmer 30 min; use rubber gloves and squeeze through a jelly bag.

*** Warning *** on Herbal Remedies

Some home medicines can cure simple problems and relieve the symptoms of some diseases, but there is much more fiction than fact in books on herbal remedies. It is well to keep in mind that there are no herbal cures for most diseases and that herbs are unlikely to be as effective as modern medicines. Some of the old medicines had a physical effect only because of an alcohol content above 50% or an opium or cocaine content.

If an alternative medicine must be taken, do not give it to children. The illnesses of babies and young children tend to end quickly without treatment. If not, the problem is almost always serious enough to require professional diagnosis and the best modern medicine. For adults, most herbs are harmless in small occasional doses but some can damage internal organs with large, frequent, or long-continued doses. Finally, a mixture of three herbs probably contains two or more inactive ingredients.

The remedies listed here are believed to be effective or useful, and nearly all are safe for occasional use. However, an effective dose of some drugs is close to a harmful dose, and good sedatives and stimulants can be addictive.

Herbal Cures as a Business

In earlier times, herbs were raised or hunted by older people who could not endure the labors of farming, but only the patent medicine companies made a lot of money. Customers expect healing herbs to be cheap and do not buy them until needed. Frequent purchases were made only by people with chronic conditions like dropsy (weak heart), arthritis, headaches, and pain; it may or may not be a coincidence that effective herbs were found for these problems. The herbalists made most of their profit on these sales and by mixing love potions, stimulants, and sedatives with secret ingredients.

Life Span

In the middle 1600’s, the average life span in the cities was 16 yr., and, for people who lived to be adults, the life span was about 35 yr. In sparsely populated rural areas, people lived 10-15 yr. longer. Most deaths resulted from disease, and many adults were made susceptible by rotten teeth. This situation improved slowly until the early 1900’s, when simple measures such as improved sanitation (hand washing and an outhouse instead of a chamber pot, which was emptied by throwing the contents out the back door), the pasteurization of milk, and the purification of drinking water reduced infant mortality and produced a 15-20 year increase in average life spans. Disease resistance was also improved by effective dentistry and by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. The common serious diseases at that time were malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis. However, many men died in accidents, and an almost equal number of women died in childbirth.