The material for this article comes from the Appletree Press book: "Irish Folk Medicine" by Patrick Logan. The publisher is careful to assert the following content is a matter of historical documentary only and should not be considered as medical advice.


There were two severe epidemics of influenza in this country, one about the year 1884 and the other in 1918. These were remembered in my youth and people were inclined to say 'the flu, God help us'. As a result, any disease which was called 'the flu' was treated seriously. One method was to give the patient as much gruel as he could be persuaded to take. A pleasant form of treatment was beef tea. I remember well, being given it and the way I finished it all must have been very good for my mother. Another method of treatment was stout mulled with a red hot poker. The most popular form of treatment was poitin (illicit whiskey) sweetened with honey.

After such enjoyable forms of treatment, eating boiled flax seed is not pleasant. Unfortunately, all the authorities agreed that it was a sovereign remedy so it had to be taken. This is what Whitla wrote about it:

Flax seed contains a mucilaginous principle which it yields to boiling water, and which acts as a soothing demulcent when it comes in contact with the gastrointestinal mucous membrane... It has reputed expectorant qualities.


All the usual mixtures, already mentioned, were used to treat colds; egg white; honey; linseed oil; sugar and mulled stout, etc. One rather elaborate mixture contained honey to which lemon juice had been added and all cooked into a thick paste with flour. If someone was caught out in cold rain or, worse, in fog, a glass of hot milk well laced with rum was given. A tickling cough in the throat might be relieved by a small pat of butter which had been rolled in sugar. The Dublin mixture was equal parts of porter and milk, sweetened with sugar.