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Book review: ‘Can Onions Cure Ear-Ache?: Medical Advice from 1769’ by Robert Winston, William Buchan and Melanie King

Living in 18th century England would seem to be quite an education in terms of alternative treatments, and Domestic Medicine, Dr William Buchan’s 18th century bible on health, was the go-to guide for self help at the time. This book recategorises and condenses his original writings, as well as providing a fascinating introductory chapter on the background to the book, its author and its origins, with a foreword by none other than Professor Robert Winston.

Ever tried woodlice for whooping cough, or used an eel to aid hearing? And can onions cure earache? This book covers it all and much much more. Written as an A-Z of common ailments from chilblains to cancer, it provides a truly enlightening insight into medical knowledge and treatments of the time, from the sublime to the ridiculous and sometimes downright counterproductive; including bleeding as treatment for prolonged and difficult childbirth, and the treating of burns by holding them near the fire.

With nods to early palliative care, genetic counselling and a strong advocator of health promotion and the perils of ‘an indolent sedentary life’ some of the advice is just as relevant today, and this book has it all covered. A truly worthy read!

Rating: 9/10

Dr Kate Culley, GP locum, Eastbourne