At around 1550 B.C., Egyptians used honey, lard and lint for dressing wounds. We now know that honey actually contains substantial amounts of hydrogen peroxide which can kill bacteria.
More than 2,000 years ago, moldy bread was used in China, Greece, Serbia, Egypt and probably other ancient civilizations as treatment for some disease conditions, parti cularly infected wounds. The observed curative powers may have been due to some raw forms of antibiotics produced by the mold growing on the bread.
Many ancient cultures used molds, soil, and plants to treat bacterial infections. In Ancient Serbia, China and Greece, old moldy bread was pressed against wounds to prevent infection. In Egypt, crusts of moldy wheaten bread were applied on pustular scalp infections and “medicinal earth” was dispensed for its curative properties15. These remedies were believed to influence the spirits or the gods responsible for illness and suffering. Today we know that the occasional efficacy of these early treatments was due to the active metabolites and chemicals present in these concoctions.
The Advent of Patented Potions
Probably owing to the dramatic impact of infectious diseases and the lack of any other available effective cures, people living before the antibiotic era often relied on a variety of largely untested remedies to treat their illnesses. These remedies were of highly variable efficacy and safety, and sometimes had no bearing in the cure or relief from disease conditions, but were nonetheless patented and utilized by desperate people with no other alternatives.
Godfrey’s Cordial (also called Mother’s Friend) and Dalby’s Carminative were among the most widely used patent medicines given to infants and children in England and the United States during the latter years of the 18th and early part of the 19th centuries. Both preparations were used-almost always without a physician’s advice for a wide variety of symptoms ranging from run of-the mill fretfulness and colic, to the severest forms of dehydration caused by explosive, bloody diarrhea.
Despite their innocuous names, they were sinister preparations because of their opium content; Godfrey’s Cordial contained one grain of opium in each two ounces; Dalby’s Carminative contained 3ı grain of opium in the same amount. As a result many infants died of opium poisoning during this time (T.E.C. Jr., 1970 “What Were Godfrey’s Cordial and Dalby’s Carminative?” Pediatrics 45:1011)