Monday, 23 July 2012

Mr. Carroll's Concoctions

Suffering from a bleeding nose? Chew newspaper.

Newspaper!?! What were the pioneers thinking?

Mr. Charles Carroll was an apothecary from Cork, Ireland. He was the father of Eliza Good (founder, along with her husband Allen Good, of Myrtleville House). Carroll’s partner was Thomas Daunt and he owned a house called Myrtleville House in Ireland. It got its name from the Myrtle bushes that grew around the home. In an effort to remember this house when she moved to Brantford, Eliza Good and her husband built a house to look just like the one in Ireland and named it Myrtleville House. There is no doubt that Eliza knew about medicine and herbs from her father and helped her family and the families of Brantford with many illnesses. Although it was common for infants to not live past infancy, all ten of her children survived.

When Eliza and her husband came to Brantford she brought her father’s apothecary kit with her. This is now on display in the library at Myrtleville House Museum. One of the most interesting items in the kit is a scorpion. Pioneers believed if the scorpion ran across your chest it could cure diseases. Not understanding germs, and the science behind many illnesses, the pioneers relied on superstitions and old wives tales. Here are some of my favourites:
If suffering from the flu- Kill a chicken and hold its body against the bare feet of a patient or have the patient swallow a cobweb, rolled into a ball.
If suffering from a cold- Hang a sock full of roasted potatoes around the neck of a patient
If suffering from a cough and sore throat- Simmer a piece of salt pork in hot vinegar and let the meat cool. Fasten the pork around the patient’s neck with a piece of red flannel. If you have no pork, tie a dirty sock around the patient’s neck.

There were also some old wives tales that did actually work:
For someone with a chest cold- Apply a warm towel or blanket to the patient’s chest over night. This warm towel was called a poultice or mustard plaster. Pioneers would apply herbs, spices, cow manure and mustard to the plaster. These extra items did not have any medicinal value. It was the warmth from the towel that would help the chest cold.
To cure hiccups- Swallow a spoonful of sugar with a cup of water. The sugar works because it makes muscles relax.
To whiten your teeth- Clean your teeth with baking soda.

Herbs were also used for medicinal purposes. Willow Bark cured general pain, horehound was said to cure sore throats, horsetail helped to keep skin youthful and Rosehips were said to be high in Vitamin C and prevent scurvy. There were many different herbs pioneers used, some causing more harm than good.

Grade 3 classes can explore early health and medicine with our grade 3 outreach program “Mr. Carroll’s Concoctions”. Students create their own poultice, learn about different herbs and their uses, play a game of “could this cure you?” and talk about pioneer ideas and early beliefs through many hands on activities.

I enjoyed researching for this education program. It makes me wonder what future generations will say about our medicine beliefs.

Lisa Anderson, Education Officer

For more information about booking programs visit our website or call Lisa Anderson, Education Officer at 519-752-3216 or

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