The Black Death Triggered Many Crazy Health Remedies
The Black Death killed about a third of Europeans. Victims often died within days, with horrific symptoms like gruesome boils, bloody lungs, severe vomiting, and high fevers. People panicked, and many latched on to crazy cures. Most such health restoratives were based on superstition, ignorance, and dubious logic of the kind that put two and two together to come up with nine. Take the logic that took people from figuring that the plague – or some variants thereof – was airborne, and the solution: head to the sewers. People visited, and sometimes even lived in, stinky sewers. It was thought that the sewers’ horrible stench would discourage the clean but disease-ridden air from coming near them. Not only did it not work, it also made those who visited or lived in sewers susceptible to other illnesses caused by their vile surroundings.
A popular plague remedy was treacle – an uncrystalized syrupy byproduct of sugar refinement. In and of itself, treacle, although without any health benefits, was relatively harmless. However, this was a medieval plague cure, so there was a wacky medieval twist: the syrup had to be rotten. As in it had to be aged at least ten years to be considered effective. Operating on the dubious logic of “if it tastes horrible it must be good“, physicians swore by the health benefits of rotten treacle. The old, stinky, and sticky syrup was believed to not only ward off the plague in the first place, but to also cure those unfortunate enough to have come down with the illness.