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10 Century-Old Pain Relief Remedies That Still Work

10 Century-Old Pain Relief Remedies That Still Work

The 1800s and 1900s saw many pain relief solutions, often sold by traveling salesmen with excellent pitches. Many examples of these medicinal solutions are on display at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.



There are bottles of total snake oils or those that contain dangerous ingredients. Cocaine, heroin, arsenic and opium are frequently found in the bottles. What's more surprising is the number of medicines that are actually safe and incredibly effective today. Here are 11 pain relief remedies that work as well in the 2000s as in the 1800s.

1. Arnica

The arnica plant is found in drugs starting from the 1500s and is often used in salve form. Its healing abilities ease the pain of muscle soreness, alleviate bruises and helps with sprains. Modern products such as our very own You+Relief incorporate arnica into the cream to relieve chronic pain.

2. Willow Bark

Aspirin is a wonderful painkiller and it got its start from the willow tree. The bark of this plant provides relief from headaches and brings down fever. Typically, the bark is brewed in a tea or included in a tincture to get its effects. Modern aspirin is more effective than willow bark, but for mild pain, this natural material works well.

3. Chamomile

The chamomile herb is beneficial in many forms for nausea, as a sleep aid and for anti-inflammatory purposes. The essential oil is incorporated into salves, the flowers go into tea and it also works as a culinary herb. Its ability to heal is well-known, especially for surface wounds. Soothing chamomile baths are a common remedy for dealing with severe sunburns, and it can be used as a salve for topical application.

4. Electrical Stimulation

Once electricity was harnessed in the 1800s, a wide variety of so-called medical devices tried to use this power source for healing purposes. Violet ray generators and rejuvenators were two examples of these "quack" medical tools. Today, electrical stimulation is used for soothing muscle pain and physical therapy with a TENS unit. Contact pads deliver a controlled current to different parts of the body. The contracting of the joints, tendons and muscles have a long-term therapeutic benefit for many types of injuries.

5. Cranberries

This widespread fruit provided people with an excellent source of antioxidants and infection-fighting capabilities. Even after hundreds of years, cranberries are still commonly turned to for urinary tract infections, as well as other inflammations. Outside of these characteristics, it's also an excellent source of Vitamin C, E and K. The juice from these berries typically formed the base of old time medicine, with a sour note that contrasted well with overly sweet formulas.

6. Epsom Salt

Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate, is a naturally occurring material first discovered in natural springs. Unlike salt that goes in food, Epsom salt is dissolved in water as part of a warm bath for muscle soreness and sprains. In oral form, it works as a laxative. This compound can also speed up the healing time of surface cuts and bruises.

7. Dandelion

Dandelions are more than just pretty flowers. The flowers and extract added their own distinct taste in old time sodas, which started off as medicinal beverages. The entire plant, from root to petals, go into its medicinal uses. The anti-inflammatory effect helps to bring down pain levels in joints and muscles. Some modern craft sodas emulate the older therapeutic styles.

8. Peppermint

Peppermint first popped up in medical circles in the 1700s, when its essential oil started providing benefits in English formulas. Peppermint soothes the stomach and provides relief from indigestion. The menthol also clears up sinuses and calms the throat of any irritation. The refreshing taste also made it a favorite among the salesman of the early 1900s, especially when they combined the mint with fruit juices.

9. Juniper Berries

The juniper tree has a widespread habitat and plentiful berries that have medicinal properties. The berries get extracted and added to tea and other drinks. Stomach pain is the main ailment it fixes, although it's also known for appetite problems, skin irritation and heartburn.

10. Ginger

Ginger root is one of the oldest medicines known to humanity, and its origins as a medicine stretch back to ancient Chinese history. Ginger candy, tea, ale and spice are effective at stopping stomach upsets. In fact it's star of our "Herbal Holy Trinity" tea designed to relieve pain. The warm and spicy flavor added a bit of exotic allure to the medicines in the 1900s, with plenty of antique soda formulas extracting this flavor. Ginger also eases discontinuation syndromes related to SSRIs, headaches, muscle pain and throat irritation.

Medicine Throughout History

Medicine has come a long way throughout human history. While some ingredients have fallen out of favor due to their harmful nature or ineffectiveness in the modern world, other compounds have stood the test of time. Looking at the medicine from yesteryear is fascinating. The fanciful antique glassware now lines the displays at museums like the one in New Orleans, giving a glimpse into the past. One hundred years from now, it will be interesting to see which ingredients will still stay popular and which ones will find themselves shown off as a piece of history.