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The Scrivener: Hurts In The Head

...'Take a Moles tooth out, and let the Mole go, this will cure the Toothache.'

First catch your mole, of course. But perhaps you would prefer to catch and dismember a toad?...

Ace columnist Brian Barratt reveals some of the supposed cures for toothache in the time of diarist Samuel Pepys.

Samuel Pepys had a really bad day on Monday 13 February 1660. The entry in his diary was reprinted in Open Writing on the same date 2012. Here are some extracts:

'To my office till noon, thence home to dinner, my mouth being very bad of the cancer and my left leg beginning to be sore again... At my fatherís I staid a while, while my mother sent her maid Bess to Cheapside for some herbs to make a water for my mouth... [Mr Fage] did give me something for my mouth which I did use this night.'

Maybe he had a gumboil. He might have had very bad toothache too. In the 1600s, yellow Henbane, then also known as English Tabaco ó a plant with narcotic and poisonous properties ó was used as a remedy for toothache. The leaves were boiled in water until the liquid 'will not boile of bubble any more; then shall you have an excellent green oile'. This is then strained; half a pound of wax, four ounces of rosen, and two ounces of turpentine are added. 'Keep it in pots for your use, to cure all cuts and hurts in the head.' Thus wrote John Gerard in his 'Historie of Plants' in 1597. (Rosen probably means rosin oil, not a distillate of roses.)

Mr Pepys certainly had a hurt in the head. 'Tabaco, or Henbane of Peru' could also be used. 'It is likewise a remedy for tooth-ache, if the teeth and gumbs be rubbed with a linnen cloth dipped in the juice, and afterward a round ball of the leaves laid unto the place.'

Wild tansy, or mugwort, was also used as a remedy for toothache. If that sounds too ordinary, have a look at some more exotic remedies which might be useful:

'Take a Moles tooth out, and let the Mole go, this will cure the Toothache.'

First catch your mole, of course. But perhaps you would prefer to catch and dismember a toad?

'It ofttimes cures the Toothach, if you touch the Teeth with the hip boanes of a Toad, for there is an Antipathy between them.'

Bess or Mr Fage might have offered this:

'Take long Pepper, Mastick, Origanum, Savory, Wood of Balsamum, Pellitoy of Spain, of each half an Ounce, bruise them, and infuse them in one Ounce of Aqua Vitae [an aqueous solution of ethanol], drop a little of this water into your Tooth.'

These wonderful remedies can be found in 'Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature, being The Summe and Substance of Naturall Philosophy, Methodically Digested. First designed by John Wecker Dr in Physick, and now much Augmented and Inlarged by Dr R. Read', which was published in 1660.

The same book records how Gerolamo Cardano, an Italian mathematician, physician and astrologer, dealt with toothache, in his own words:

'Of late I had a great pain upon my upper Teeth, the two last of the left Jaw; and by consent with them, all the other Teeth were afflicted in the upper Jaw of the same side, and the whole Jaw indeed, that I thought the bone would be torn to pieces; it also tormented my eye, ear, and part of my nose, and nothing would do me good, but it still came again, with my right hand I pulled my Teeth but found no ease. At last by chance I perceived that when I gently moved the pained Tooth with my left hand, and laid hold on it with my thumb on the outside of it, and my forefinger on the inside, presently not only the pain of that Tooth but of the whole Jaw left me. But what seemed more strange to me that the more gently I touched it, the better it was for me, and the pain left me the sooner, and it was presently well; and still as the pain returned I tried if often above twenty times, untill it quite left me, and so I was cured.'

There you are, then. You don't need a mole or a toad or drugs or even mystical herbs to cure your hurt in the head. Just work on your teeth with your fingers for a long time. Very gently.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2012.

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