Recent articles on old medicines and remedies have prompted several readers to write in. Last week, best selling Black Country novelist, Meg Hutchinson, entertained us with recollections of her mother's fearsome home remedy for coughs, called 'Old Nick's Warning'.
This week, a Halesowen reader recalls some of the more popular old-style treatments, some still going strong today. Margaret Baxter, of Lodgefield Road, remembers "Wintergreen Rub for strains, sprains and aches, 'Snowfire' Creams for chaps and chilblains and swallowing white Vaseline when I had whooping cough, to help with the coughing''.
Wintergreen is still widely used, especially in the sports world, and as Margaret says, it is particularly good for relieving aches and pains and sports injuries. The aromatic oil comes from an evergreen plant native to North America. I must admit I'd not heard of 'Snowfire', but discovered that you can still buy this remedy for chapped skin and chilblains. The emollient comes in a solid tablet, and the ingredients include: paraffin, chlorophyll, oils of Thyme, lemon thyme, cloves, citronella, 'snowfire perfume', and cade oil made from juniper.
Margaret also remembers using "sugar and soap paste, made at home, to draw cores out of boils and whitlows.'' Last, but not least, she recalls something called "Thermogene, which came in a roll, a pink material like cotton wool, which was pinned inside Liberty Bodices and vests, to keep chests warm and help banish winter ailments.''
Thermogene was one of many treatments for rheumatics and lumbago, in years gone by. Medicines, like other products, come and go according to fashion. Adrenaline Cream was another popular product recommended for arthritis, fibrositis and rheumatic complaints in general. Or, you could use Thermogene Wool or Wadding. This was cotton wool impregnated with Capsicum Oleoresin, methyl salicylate and orange dye. It was used as a counter irritant to treat lumbago and neuralgia. Unfortunately, even a tiny amount of Capsicum Oleoresin could cause a severe burning sensation when in contact with delicate skin.
During the 1980s, Thermogene was actually used to develop non-lethal weapons for use by the military and law enforcement agencies. Capsicum Oleoresin is an extract of dried, ripe chilli peppers, and one of the main ingredients of pepper sprays. No wonder Thermogene burned sensitive skin! It also came as a rub, like Vick. In this form it was used to treat coughs, colds, catarrh and neuralgia.
Aching joints and muscles were also treated with 'Dols Impregnated Flannel. This contained Iodine, gaultheriae, capsicum and boric acid. The flannel came in different sizes, shaped to fit knees and elbows. Dols Flannel had some devotees who swore by its healing powers, but it was fairly expensive and not available on prescription. So, despite Thermogene's reputation for stinging, it was more widely used. During the last war, it cost 1/3d and 3/- a pack. As Margaret recalls, it was pinned inside Liberty Bodices, vests, nighties and kids' pyjamas. It beats me how anyone got a good night's sleep back then, what with goose grease and brown paper vests and chillies in your jim jams!