■ REVIEW: Pills & Potions
A little something to cure what ails you

This little book offers a fascinating trip down the memory lane of pills, potions and, in some cases I am sure, snake-oil treatments.

We would all like to think we are a pretty enlightened bunch, and that we can easily separate the dodgy from the useful.

However, a quick flick through this book shows that it is not so long ago we were buying into claims that various pills and potions could do anything and (almost) everything.

Although, I suppose we are not really a whole lot more sophisticated these days, if the number of shared Facebook posts making ridiculous health claims (please people, at least check snopes.com to make sure it is not a hoax before sharing it) and spam emails trying to sell me herbal viagra and the like are anything to go by.

This little book is a quirky – and at times quite scary – history of the cures of the past, complete with colour illustrations and plenty of background.

From gauze that contained what is jauntily described as “double cyanide of mercury and zinc”, to Fletcher’s Phosphatonic (“put your nerves right in a jiffy”), our medical history is here for the viewing, in all its entertaining, frightening and sometimes quite embarrassing glory.

Based on items in the collection of the Cotter Medical History Trust, which was set up in Christchurch by retired surgeon Pat Cotter to “collect, preserve and display artefacts of a medical nature”, author Claire Le Couteur has researched some of the popular medical remedies in our medical history.

The result is a book that will be of as much interest to those in the medical profession as it is to those of us who are not.

Pills & Potions At the Cotter Medical History Trust, by Claire Le Couteur (Otago University Press, RRP $25)

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