A History of Medicinal Uses of Alcohol

A Brief Historical Look at “Grandpa’s Medicine”
By James Madeiros


It is a documented fact that my mom used to give me a “thimbleful” of Black Velvet when I had a cold as a child to help me sleep, or so she says. Then there’s the well-meaning mom who rubs booze on her baby’s gums when he’s teething … so what’s the deal?

The deal is that booze has been used for medicinal purposes pretty much since it was discovered (or invented, depending on your perspective), and not only for its obvious analgesic effects – although many a historical anecdote exists about sucking down some hooch before going under the bone saw.

It’s widely known that public water sources were a great source of disease and infection before modern sanitation and drainage was invented, and back then alcohol was often preferred to water due to its relative purity as well as its antiseptic qualities.

Even before this, though, Mesopotamians and other ancient civilizations used to mix herbs with wine and other fermented beverages and drink it. It took a while – about 1,500 years – before distillation was invented and purer alcohol was used as an anesthetic and conversation starter at parties.

It should be noted, though, that the part in the movie where the cowboy sterilizes his blade with whiskey before digging out the bullet is pure Hollywood. Isopropyl alcohol and ethanol do have disinfectant properties, but the only liquor capable of keeping death off of that blade is 190-proof Everclear.

Then again, it can also be used as a shellac solvent and fuel for camp stoves, so it’s not surprising that it will kill bacteria along with a healthy percentage of those who drink it.

Legal Stuff: Of course, we should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

← Older Post Newer Post →