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The Scrivener: Dental Cucumbers And Fierie Noses

If your dentist lectures you while your mouth is unable to answer back perhaps the time has come to consider some 17th Century dental remedies.

Brian Barratt’s Friday columns are a generous helping of guaranteed joy. To read more of them please click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page. And do visit Brian’s Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Going to the dentist is always worse for other people than for yourself, isn't it? You know the sort of thing I mean. You've just had two uncomfortable fillings. You tell your aunt's next door neighbour's cousin, but she had four fillings and they were much worse than yours. Thank goodness my visit to the dentist this week was pretty well painless. I don't need to tell anyone about it and hear how much pain they had last time they went.

He's a nice chap, my dentist. He's South American and he speaks very clearly. A dentist who respects the fact that I'm deaf. Oops, sorry. I'm supposed to say hearing handicapped, but nobody knows what that means. One of his colleagues is Greek, and she's very nice, too. Into holistic dentistry, she is. However, I'm not at all sure that I have much faith in holistic. Please could we concentrate on the holes, instead?

A few years ago, a young Korean dentist did a good job in my mouth and then we started a conversation. Behold, I was in the presence of a person who wanted to tell me about Jesus and salvation from sin. That would have been OK if it had been a two-way discussion of religious beliefs. It wasn't. It was one-way evangelism. I struck him off my register.

Before that, I had availed myself of the services of a dentist for several years after he set up his own practice. A nice chap — until I was thrown on the scrap-heap of retrenchment. When I visited him a few months after that traumatic event, he started lecturing me while my mouth was full of nice shiny metallic instruments, and I was unable to reply.

He issued forth a veritable tirade, telling me that I wasn't making an effort to get a job. Not being industrious enough. Not looking for ways of earning an income. Being lazy. On and on he went, while I twitched and seethed. When I could again use my mouth to answer him, I told him that I was in fact working as hard as I could — writing books; teaching private students; acting as curriculum editor for a national educational organisation; and more besides. I gave him a right proper telling off. He seemed surprised. That was my final visit to him, of course.

To avoid that sort of thing, perhaps we could search old books for dental remedies. Take asparagus, for instance. In the 1630's, its roots were 'many thicke soft and spongie strings hanging downe from one hed, and spred themselves all about, whereby it greatly increaseth'. It could be 'boiled in faire water, and seasoned with oile, vineger, salt and pepper, then served up as sallad'. So far, so good, but it also had a dental use. From another book: 'To draw out teeth without pain — Some say that roots of Sparagus dried, and stuck into the teeth, will pull them forth without pain.'

Cucumber seems to have the same numbing virtue: 'Boyl wild Cucumber, first bruised and infused in Vinegar, untill it be as thick as Vinegar, then scarifie the Gums about the teeth, and wet the tooth around with this Medicament, then bid the Patient shut his mouth awhile, then take the tooth in your fingers, and it will come forth without pain.'

It's rather versatile stuff, this wild cucumber root. When chopped up and mixed with Ote-meale and a piece of mutton, it can be eaten each day 'for three weeks without intermission' and 'doth perfectly cure all manner of sauce flegme and copper faces, red and shining fierie noses (as red as red Roses) with pimples, pumples, rubies, and such like precious faces'.

However, another wise writer of the 17th century warns: 'Of wild cucumber roots; they purge flegm, and that with such violence, that I would advise the country man that know not how to correct them, to let them alone.'

I wonder what your aunt's next door neighbour's cousin would say in response to that? If she can beat you on purging flegm, tell her about your pimples, pumples, rubies, and red and shining fierie nose. That'll stump her.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008

References
Culpeper's Complete Herbal, 1653.
John Gerard's Historie of Plants, 1636.
John Wecker's Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature, 1660.


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