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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Monday, 8 April 2013

An ointment for lice in the eybrows


Take one apple roasted and cleansed, quicksilver killed [neutralised] with spittle, mix them well and anoint.

Cosmeticks, or the Beautifying Parts of Physick, Johann Wecker, 1660

I worked in a school once where a teacher came into the staffroom during morning break and told us about a child whose hair appeared to be moving of its own accord. I assumed at the time that it was a case of headlice. I hope so. I have never heard of lice infesting the eyebrows, but I suppose there is no reason why they should not.

‘Killing’ mercury with spittle presumably involves briskly whisking the two fluids to get them to mingle. But would this in fact neutralise the mercury? Spittle can have the opposite effect, that of activating mercury in tooth-fillings – see www.hugginsappliedhealing.com/digestive-disturbances.php in which Dr H Huggins points out that chewing stimulates the releasing of enzymes in saliva, and at the same time stimulates the release of mercury from tooth-fillings. Wecker occasionally specifies 'fasting spittle', but does not in this recipe. The mercury/saliva mix may have increased the absorbtion rate of the mercury via the skin. It cannot have done the lice much good, so with luck the whole mess would have worked and been removed fairly quickly.

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