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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bugs and Worms in Colonial Households

Housewives in Colonial America had to endure the same challenges that modern families face, but their methods for dealing with vermin were very different, indeed. There were no supermarkets stocked with traps and repellent in those days, so homemade solutions were the only option.

Any parent can relate to the dread of a bedbug infestation. So how did our ancestors tackle the problem? Homemakers would begin by distilling wine and mixing the result with turpentine and dried henna. This concoction would be spread around the entire room where an infestation is suspected, including the lacing on the beds and the folds of the curtains. The mixture, it is claimed, would not harm nor stain the finest silk or damask.

Any home that has suffered the invasion of other crawling bugs could be treated with a mixture of wormwood and mustard seed. A solution was created by bruising the wormwood leaves and boiling the two ingredients in water for fifteen minutes before adding salt.
House flies could be eliminated by steeping hellebore flower in cow’s milk and sprinkling the liquid around the home.

The destruction of clothing from and moths and worms was prevented by drying the herb botris and sprinkling the dust upon all garments.

But what if worms invade the children? A toxic mix of red seaweed, mercuric sulfide, ground savine, and saffron was said to do the trick. Sadly, the mixture was likely as damaging to the children as it was to the worms.

 Some of the information was adapted from The British jewel; or, Complete housewife's best companion, London, Printed and sold by J. Miller, 1769.

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