The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

Here’s some stuff from: “Quackery–A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.” This continues last week’s column which dealt with the fact that, once upon a time, tobacco could cure just about everything.

Tobacco did have a brief run as a disinfectant, which, time would prove, wasn’t a complete mistruth. It all started when Columbus observed the people of Cuba burning tobacco leaves to disinfect homes where people had been sick. From there, that belief, along with tobacco, migrated to Europe.

During a plague outbreak in London in 1665, schoolchildren were told to smoke in their classrooms. That would, they believed, ward off the disease. Perhaps the only positive outlook on all this–since being alive in London during a plague was nearly a death sentence for sure–was that kids didn’t have to play hookey to get their nicotine fix.

Some American Indian tribes combined powdered tobacco with lime or chalk to create toothpaste. Tobacco toothpaste is still in use in South Asia, where it is marketed commercially. “Creamy Snuff,” in addition to having a pretty unique name, contains clove oil, menthol, some other stuff, and of course tobacco. Creamy Snuff is quite popular, and lots of users have been known to clean their teeth several times a day.

By the early 1900’s, concerns about the health risks of tobacco were starting to show up. An alarmed tobacco industry forged a powerful alliance with physicians. Doctors smoked as much as the general public, and since not everyone who smoked had health problems, optimistic physicians were offered cases of cigarettes in exchange for their support.

Pretty much now, we accept that tobacco isn’t good for you, but it was a long haul. The tobacco industry is still a multi-billion-dollar force to reckon with.

Over the years, many drugs were thought to be beneficial to humans, although they certainly were not. One of these popped up on the market just after the Civil War, when many soldiers became addicted to morphine. A man named John Pemberton believed that the best way to get off morphine was with cocaine, which he blended into a fizzy drink we all are familiar with: Coca Cola.

When it first hit the market in 1886, no one knew for sure exactly how much cocaine was in it. It was advertised as a “brain tonic and intellectual beverage.” People especially liked the fizzyness of it. It was credited with treating just about any disease or ailment known to man. However, as people learned that cocaine was addictive, by 1929, it was cocaine-free. We know though that Coca Cola, the greatest success story in the history of beverages, still contains a hint of coca leaves in its taste. The exact recipe is not known.

Let’s skip the many years when mercury was given to people. It’s an awful story, one which existed into the quite recent past. Instead, let’s talk about dirt.

Eating dirt goes back as far as 500 BCE, when inhabitants of a Grecian island harvested red medicinal clay from a special hillside on a special day of the year. The clay was turned into tablets which were then sold as medicine.

For what? Well, just about everything, depending upon the salesman.

In fact, I was in the hardware store one day when a local sales enthusiast–he’d tried to sell just about anything by then–came into the store with a small jar of powdered something, which he claimed was tested and contained many vitamins. Since he owed me money, I took the stuff in trade.

It was sitting on the dining room table when my parents visited us from their farm in Iowa. “What’s that?” my dad asked, seeing the small bottle sitting there. Oh, just some miracle vitamins.

Dad opened the jar, wet his finger, stuck it in there, got some, and tasted it. (Somewhat gingerly, I recall.) He looked at me and said: “It’s clay.”

I have two observations to make here. The first is that yes, there are probably vitamins and minerals in clay. Therefore, its properties were not completely falsely represented.

The second?

How in heck did dad know what clay tasted like?