the proximal end of a donkey’s tail

Li Shih-Zhen’s Compendium of  Materia Medica took 27 years to write, including 10 years which he spent entirely indoors.

According to traditional Chinese pharmacological literature, pubic hair was claimed to be therapeutic, with power to cure snakebite, difficult birth, abnormal urination, the yin-yang exchange disorder and the ox that suffers from bloating.

image by Ferry Bertholet found here

The following were almost certainly used as medicine in 16th century China: human dandruff (best taken from a fat man), human knee dirt, ear wax, perspiration, old drumskins (ashed and applied to the penis for difficult urination), the juice squeezed out of pig’s faeces and dirt from the proximal end of a donkey’s tail.

image found here

During the same era in Europe, human fat was thought to be good for rheumatism and joint pain. Dutch army surgeons in the war for independence from Spain used to rush on to the field with their scalpels and buckets in the aftermath of a battle.

more butter sculpture to be found here

Then druggists would fancy up the goods by adding aromatic herbs and lyrical product names such as “Woman Butter” and “Poor Sinner’s Fat”. They also sold menstrual blood as “Maid’s Zenith” and prettied it up with rosewater. One recipe of the time called “Spirit of the Brain of Man” included not only brain membranes, arteries, veins and nerves but also peony, black cherries, lavender and lily.***

Black Cherry Comic found here

*** from Mary Roach’s book Stiff

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 7:51 am  Comments (38)  
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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And in the 21st century, the marketing of water by snake-oil salesmen as a catch-all remedy for whatever was ailing you became a rampant billion-dollar industry. They called it homeopathy.

  2. I am definitely going to have to purchase a copy of this book. As for poor sinner’s fat and the like, they sound like they could ahve come from the demented recipe book of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall…

    • I had to wiki Hugh…. “Man of the Year” huh?

  3. You wonder in 100-200 years what they will say about our primitive cures.

    • But there’ll always be a use for Vicks Vapour Rub

  4. I have the utmost respect for Chinese medicine but some of these charming remedies must surely have met with a degree of success based solely on the placebo effect. Yuck.

    He spent ten years entirely indoors?! My God. Now there’s a man devoted to his craft.

    • I’d be worried about his Vitamin D levels

  5. Love the butter sculptures – good find young Nursey! I’ll pass on the ‘Maid’s Zenith’ though if you don’t mind, however prettied up …….

  6. Knee Dirt- excellent early 80’s punk band from Portland. “Fat Man’s Dandruff”- largely overlooked second album.

    Wayne Neutral

    • there’s probably a copy of that album in the gimcrack’s vault

  7. We were talking about reincarnation the other day. Well, I believe that I was a Native American Shaman in one of my past lives… would actually explain a lot.

  8. We need some alternative reagents for these potions from todays modern world. Here are a few:

    Wood Grizzle
    Mental Polyp
    Manga Glue
    Essence of H1N1
    Tiger Woods DNA
    Zip Fizz

    • Haha… that wood grizzle pops up everywhere

  9. Modern medicine looks much more neater…

    • Ah, but looks can be deceiving. What is so neat about surgery, anyway? Well, I concede that if you have cancer or appendicitis, it is very neat. Oh forget it, modern medicine probably is neater.

  10. As usual, a brilliant, educational and amusing post, Nursemyra. I have seen fit to present you with an award, the details of which you may find on my blog today.

    • I’ll be right over

  11. Knee dirt… now that one I haven’t tried.

  12. Nurse darling…what in God’s name is Yin Yang exchange disorder???!!!! Please please do write a post on this!!! :p

    • I don’t know what it is 😦

  13. Matt at How to Get a Grip beat me to it with the comment about homeopathy – jeez, those people make me angry – so I’ll make do with a fine quote from Voltaire:-

    “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

  14. as I read the post


    aaah (the zedonkey)


  15. The ox should just drink more caffeine…

  16. I am so thankful I already ate. Or maybe not. Something’s coming back up.

  17. i am putting my knee dirt for sale on ebay.
    funny, though, nothing was said about the healing properties of scabs.

    I did an unsuccessful search on ebay for pubic hairs. except for a st. patricks day tee that read “i dyed my pubes green for this?”

    a search did reveal the following ad for
    “Pubes – Sale! Compare Pubes & Save”
    but no, i wasn’t curious enough to follow the link.

    • Let me know how much you get for your knee dirt 🙂

  18. They were so right too . . .DAMN MODERN MEDICINE

  19. how the hell can i be hungry after reading this? oh, wait… that’s the bourbon barrel ale speaking…

  20. I want to use the term Maid’s Zenith more often in my daily conversations.

  21. That zebra donkey dude is so pretty.

  22. Human are somtimes so ridiculous!
    Keep donkey free!

  23. There is not much Chinese medicine that I find compelling, except maybe pubic hair.

  24. Id rather go on being ill than take any of those remedies!

  25. […] the proximal end of a donkey's tail « gimcrack hospital (PG) […]

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