From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hot Salt Packs Remembered

Old-time earache remedy


Earaches are part of my earliest memories.

There are two things I remember vividly about them. One thing is the unpleasant sensation of ear-drops trickling through the inside of my ear and down into the depths of my head.

My other memory about earaches is the hot salt packs my mother fixed for me. I could lay my head on their good warmth and feel the pain of my ear melt away.

The hot packs were simply homemade cotton bags, about the size of a potholder, filled with salt. My mother warmed them carefully in the oven, and they held heat for quite a while. The warm salt had a distinctive odor that only warm salt has. I would still know it if I smelled it.

I think the heat was naturally moist. Salt loves to soak up moisture, you know.

Apparently we didn't have an electric heat pad. It was the mid-1950s -- maybe heat pads hadn't even been invented yet, or maybe they were too expensive for country folks like us.

Hot salt packs were an old-time earache remedy that my mother probably remembered from her own ear problems as a child. An 1868 book of advice for mothers suggests this very treatment for earache: "Apply to the ear a small flannel bag, filled with hot salt—as hot as can be comfortably borne..."

4 comments:

alissasanderson said...

I'll have to remember that for my boys. I remember eardrops--what a creepy feeling! But my mom never used a hot salt pack...

Genevieve said...

Alissa, I doubt if hot salt packs accomplished anything more than an electric heat pad would have done. I think it was probably the heat that helped, not the salt. A hot pack of any other sort would probably have had the same effect.

Collagemama said...

Earaches were a misery of my childhood, too. We used a hot water bottle to ease the needle sharp pain. Years later I gave my parents an electric heating pad, but they declined to ever use it, and stuck with the hot water bottle.

Genevieve said...

I have a hot water bottle myself (as well as a heat pad.) Sometimes, the weight of the hot water bottle as well as the warmth feels good.

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