Top 7 Strangest Cures Ever

Video highlights from Origins: The Journey of Humankind

Thank Goodness for Penicillin

Before penicillin, before Nurofen, Panadol or antibiotics humans have been coming up with creative and bizarre ways to cure; illness, rashes, broken bones and infections.

Here are 7 of the more outrageous “cures.”

1. Bloodletting


Image: Wikimedia Commons

The practise of bloodletting or phlebotomy is thousands of years old. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians, bloodletting was believed to cure any illness. The process involved cutting into the patient’s arm, opening their vein and draining the ‘bad blood’.  In some cases, instead of slicing open a patient’s arm leeches were used to suck out the bad blood. Sound gross? This practise often lead to accidental death. Strangely bloodletting was practised way into the 19th Century. 

2. Animal Faeces

The ancient Egyptians loved rubbing poo into cuts, sores and infections. Crushed mice, Lizard blood and mouldy bread, were also said to have the same healing properties as animal dung. According to the Eber’s papyrus, poo was used to cure any and every illness. Although it sounds pretty heinous, and probably most of the time resulted in tetanus research has shown that there are some strains of microflora in some types of poo that may’ve contained antibiotic-like substances.

3. Pelvic Massage

Pelvic Massage

Image: Wikimedia Commons, From Maygrier, Nouvelles...1825

Basically medical masturbation. If a woman were depressed, promiscuous or anxious she was diagnosed with “hysteria.” A female-only disease, it was a blanket diagnoses for many illnesses. Making a woman organism or "hysterical paroxysm” from pelvic rubbing was prescribed for hysteria. The practise dates back to the renaissance and although has no medicinal properties, orgasming as a treatment paved the way for the vibrator.

4. Human Flesh and Bones

‘Corpse medicine’ was said to treat everything from headaches to muscle cramps to epilepsy. A surprisingly and disgustingly common practise the medicine was usually crushed bone or blood. King Charles II was known to take ‘king’s drops’ made from the human skull and alcohol.

5. Drilling holes in the Skull

Drilling holes in the Skull

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Trepanation illustration France 1800s

Probably one of the most disturbing cures ever practised was drilling holes in a patient’s head or Trepanation. Traced back 7000 thousand years ago this grisly cure was said to release the sick or evil spirit from the brain. It was also used as a means of treating headaches, abscesses and epilepsy. Trepanned skulls found in Peru is evidence that many patients actually survived the surgery.

6. Tar Water and Dried Toad pills.

A weird concoction.

For “moist” asthma: a brew of tar and water would fix the problem. For “dry” or “convulsive” asthma- dried and powdered toad made into small pills.

That'll fix the croaks.


7. Mercury

Used as a topical medicine and elixir in the Renaissance, mercury was said to cure sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis. Most people who ingested Mercury died of Liver or Kidney damage.

Tune into Origins Thursday night at 8.30 to learn more about the origins of medicine

Header: Wikimedia Commons, Totentanz Lübeck

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