The Other I

August 16, 2013

The olden days

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:35 pm

My husband’s parents and grandparents grew up before the National Health Service was set up in Britain after WWII, and access to professional medical help was available only to those who could afford to pay for it.  In the coal mining villages of Yorkshire, a lot of people relied on what today we would probably call folk medicine.

When we were taking care of Peter’s father, aged 90, we discovered a collection of various medicines in his cabinet that I had never heard of.  What was interesting to me as an American with an anthropological bent was that it was impossible to distinguish between what worked and what didn’t, what was  superstition, and what was truly effective medication — some of which quite probably have been re-named, re-packaged, re-priced, and re-marketed by today’s pharmaceutical companies.

Although ultimately most of the medicines in the cabinet were discarded, if only because they were well past a sensible use-by date, I never lost my respect for the processes which had led to the collection.

When a friend who grew up in Europe during the war told me about the uses for hydrogen-peroxide I was amazed, but not incredulous.  The only use for peroxide I’d ever heard of was as a hair lightener.   I’ve now learned that it consists solely of hydrogen and oxygen and was used during WWI as a disinfectant, and treatment for wounds.  It can used as a mouth wash or stain remover on leather and other upholstery.  It can be added to steam cleaners,  humidifiers and laundry, will remove mold, and combined with vinegar, it is more effective at killing pathogens than bleach.  Surprisingly, it can also be used in food preparation to sanitize meat and wash salad vegetables.  It will even aid sprouting seeds and house plants love it as a refreshing spray.  There are 42 uses suggested by Fluster Buster.  Googling “hydrogen peroxide uses” brought up a page full of sites with long lists of potential uses.

So three days ago I went to our local pharmacy and bought a bottle of hydrogen peroxide mouthwash.  To my delight, within hours it had removed the rust and mold stains on the white blinds in our sun room.  So I tried it on an irritating fungal rash I’d picked up in the garden last week that was itching but not showing any signs of going away.  The rash is now gone.

They say it also works as a teeth whitener.

I bet it does.  And whatever else chlorine bleach might do, I don’t think it’s recommended for a bright smile.

I knew those old medicine cabinets weren’t all filled with silly superstitions.



  1. This was common to all of the industrial North of England and probably wider still. It reminded me of this recent item on my family research forum. Makes interesting reading and the basis for a book ??


    Comment by lairdglencairn — August 17, 2013 @ 8:53 am | Reply

    • I read the item on your family research forum, and found myself saying things like “for bee stings my grandmother used…” Then I googled “old remedies.” I think the book has already been written several times — some of them before the remedies were old.

      Fascinating, isn’t it?


      Comment by Terry Sissons — August 17, 2013 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

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