People Really Thought These Plague Cures Worked

Using Snakes The practice of using snakes as a medical treatment involved placing live snakes on the buboes, the painful swellings caused by the plague. In… Alexander Gabriel - May 10, 2023

The plague is a highly infectious and deadly disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected fleas that live on rats and other rodents. The plague can take different forms, including bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes. Without proper treatment, the mortality rate for the plague can be very high. The plague has had devastating effects on human populations throughout history, including several pandemics that have killed millions of people. Today, the plague can be treated with antibiotics, but throughout history, humans have had some pretty bizarre “cures” for the plague. Let’s take a look at some of the most bizarre treatments for the plague in history.

All That’s Interesting


Bloodletting was a common medical practice throughout history, and it was often used as a cure for the plague. The idea was that by removing a certain amount of blood from the body, the patient’s “imbalanced humors” would be restored to a healthy state. Thus, the disease would be cured. Bloodletting was often done by making small cuts in the skin. It was believed to help rid the body of toxins and impurities. Unfortunately, bloodletting was not an effective treatment for the plague. In many cases, it may have actually made the patient’s condition worse. The loss of blood weakens the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to other infections. It also increases the risk of sepsis and other complications.

Ministry of Masks

Herb-filled Masks

Plague doctor’s masks are a distinctive and iconic symbol of the medical response to the plague in the 17th century. The masks were made of leather and featured a long beak-like protrusion. The beak was filled with aromatic substances such as herbs, spices, and perfumes. The idea was that the aromatic substances would help protect the doctor from the “miasma” or bad air that was believed to be the cause of the disease. The masks also had glass eyepieces to protect the doctor’s eyes from infection. They were often accompanied by a long coat and gloves made of waxed fabric. While the masks may have helped protect the doctor from some airborne diseases, they were largely ineffective against the plague, which was primarily spread by fleas on rats.


Powdered Mummy

During the 16th century, Europeans believed that ground-up mummies had medicinal properties and could cure the plague. Mummies were imported from Egypt in large numbers and were ground into a fine powder. This powder was then mixed with other substances and used in medicines. The belief in the healing power of mummy powder persisted for centuries, and it was used to treat various ailments other than the plague as well. The use of mummy powder was not helpful in treating any disease. Not only did it fail to cure the plague, but it also exposed people to dangerous diseases like tuberculosis. Eventually, the use of mummy powder as a cure fell out of favor.


Blood Sucking Leeches

The idea behind using leeches was that they could help remove “bad blood” from the body, which was believed to be the cause of many illnesses. The leeches were placed on the patient’s skin, and they would attach themselves and begin to feed on the blood. As they fed, they would release a natural anticoagulant, which prevented the blood from clotting and allowed the leeches to feed for longer. The belief was that the leeches would remove infected blood from the body, thus helping to cure the disease. However, using leeches to treat the plague was largely ineffective, and removing blood from the body did not address the underlying cause of the disease. Today, leeches are still used in some medical treatments, such as reconstructive surgery and the treatment of blood clots. They are not used as a treatment for the plague or other infectious diseases.


Liquid Mercury

Mercury was often applied topically in the form of an ointment or rubbed onto the skin. It was also sometimes ingested in small amounts, either as a powder or in a solution. While mercury may have had some mild antiseptic properties, it was not an effective treatment for the plague. In fact, mercury is a highly toxic substance that can cause a wide range of health problems. These include kidney damage – and even death. In addition to being ineffective as a treatment for the plague, mercury was also responsible for causing numerous other health problems in patients who were treated with it. Today, mercury is not used as a treatment for any disease due to its highly toxic nature.


Theriac Potions

Theriac potions, also known as Theriacum, were a popular medical treatment in ancient times and the Middle Ages. The potion was a complex mixture of various herbs, spices, and other ingredients, including snake venom, opium, and myrrh. The concoction was believed to have powerful healing properties and was used to treat a wide range of illnesses, including the bubonic plague. The use of Theriac potions was not limited to Europe but was also widespread in the Middle East and Asia. However, the production and use of Theriac potions were expensive and often reserved for the wealthy.

Tornado Studios

Bathing in Urine

Bathing in urine was a strange and unpleasant cure for the plague that was used in some parts of the world in the distant past. The idea behind this practice was that urine was believed to have purifying properties. By bathing in it, the body would be rid of toxins and impurities that were causing the disease. The practice was particularly popular during the Black Death pandemic in Europe in the 14th century, when people were desperate for any remedy that might help cure the disease. While bathing in urine may have had some mild antiseptic properties, it was not an effective treatment for the plague.


Sulfuric Fumes

Sulfur was often burned or boiled and the fumes were inhaled or applied to the skin to disinfect the body. The belief was that sulfur would help kill the bacteria and viruses that were causing the disease. Sulfur was also sometimes ingested and it was believed to help improve the body’s overall health and immunity. It could also be applied topically as an ointment or poultice. Sulfur can be highly toxic in large doses, and prolonged exposure to sulfur fumes can cause respiratory problems and other health issues. It is still used in some medical treatments, such as the treatment of acne and skin conditions, but it is not used as a treatment for the plague or other infectious diseases.


Powdered Emeralds

Powdered emeralds were a supposed cure for the plague that was used during the Renaissance period. The idea behind this treatment was that emeralds were believed to possess certain healing properties. By grinding them into a fine powder, they could be ingested or applied topically to help cure the disease. During the Renaissance, it was believed that emerald powder would help purify the body and expel toxins. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of emeralds as a cure for any disease, and the practice was likely ineffective. In fact, ingesting or applying emerald powder could have been harmful, as emeralds are a form of beryllium and can be toxic if ingested in large quantities.

Current Affairs


During outbreaks of the bubonic plague, some people engaged in self-flagellation, truly believing this could prevent the disease. This practice involved whipping oneself with a scourge or wearing a cilice, which was a spiked metal belt. Because many had the belief that plagues were punishments from God, it was thought one could atone for their sins and prevent the spread of the disease. Additionally, some people believed that the flagellation would stimulate the immune system and prevent the onset of the disease. Today, we know that diseases are spread by viruses, bacteria, and fungi rather than vengeful deities.



During the medieval period, dancing was believed to be a cure for the plague. By dancing vigorously and continuously for extended periods, the body would become so physically exhausted that it would purify itself of any impurities. This practice was known as “dancing mania,” and it was particularly prevalent during the Black Death pandemic. While dancing may have provided some temporary relief from the fear and anxiety caused by the plague, it was not an effective treatment for the disease. The practice likely caused more harm than good, as it may have contributed to the spread of the disease by bringing large groups of people into close contact with one another.

The Spruce

Consuming Vinegar

During the medieval period, it was believed that drinking vinegar could cure you of the plague. Vinegar was believed to have strong antiseptic properties that could get rid of diseases. Vinegar was often mixed with herbs and honey. It was typically consumed in very large quantities. The acetic acid in vinegar can act as a disinfectant, however, it was unhelpful in treating anyone of the plague. Consuming large quantities of vinegar could be harmful. Drinking vinegar can cause digestive issues that may lead to ulcers. Vinegar is still used as a common household ingredient for cleaning.

The Statesman

Using the Dung of Various Animals

Throughout history, dung has been used as a remedy for a multitude of ailments. In some cultures, cow or goat dung was applied directly to wounds or skin infections, as it was believed to have antibacterial properties. In ancient Egypt, animal dung was used as a poultice to treat eye infections and skin diseases. Dried and powdered dung was used in traditional medicine to treat digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation. It was not uncommon for dung to also be used as a cure for the plague, although it was wholly ineffective. While the use of dung as a medicine may seem strange, there is some scientific evidence to support its use. For example, some studies have found that certain compounds in cow dung have antibacterial properties.

Medical News Today

Arsenic Amulets

Arsenic, a toxic chemical, was widely used throughout history in the form of amulets or bracelets to cure various diseases. It was believed that wearing these amulets would prevent and cure illnesses like the plague, smallpox, and syphilis. The practice was prevalent in Europe, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries. The amulets were often worn by children. Unfortunately, the use of arsenic as a medical treatment was extremely dangerous and often fatal. Arsenic poisoning can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and even death.

The Counter

Rubbing a Chicken on Your Body

In the past, some cultures held the belief that rubbing a live chicken on the body could cure or prevent the plague. This practice is known as “live chicken therapy” or “chicken rubbing.” It was believed that the chicken’s feathers and claws could absorb disease from the body, which could then be transferred to the chicken. Some people also believed that the chicken’s blood could act as a healing agent. The practice is still prevalent in parts of Africa and is used to treat a wide range of illnesses, including malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. However, it can be dangerous. Rubbing a chicken on the body can spread disease and can also lead to injuries from the chicken’s claws.


Blowing Smoke Up the Rectum

During the 17th century, some doctors believed that blowing tobacco smoke into the rectum could cure the plague. This practice, known as “tobacco smoke enema“, involved inserting a tube into the rectum and blowing tobacco smoke into it. It was believed that the smoke would purify the blood and cure the disease. The use of tobacco smoke enema was not limited to the treatment of the plague but was also used to treat other conditions like colic and respiratory ailments. While it is true that tobacco has some medicinal properties, the use of tobacco smoke enema was dangerous and often resulted in burns and other injuries.

The New York Times

Toad’s Breath

The Washington Post

Mixing Buboes with Pigeon Blood

During the medieval period, the mixing of pus and blood from the buboes with the blood of a live pigeon was touted as a miraculous plague cure. The treatment involved cutting open the buboes of the infected person and mixing the pus and blood with the bird’s blood. The bird was then released, and subsequently, the infected person would recover. As grisly as this may seem, it wasn’t an uncommon treatment for that time period. The use of live bird treatment is now regarded as a bizarre and dangerous medical treatment, and it is no longer practiced.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Onions Absorbed “Bad” Air

During the outbreak of the bubonic plague in the 14th century, onions were thought to have healing properties. People of the era believed that the strong smell of onions would purify the air and prevent the spread of the disease. Onions were often placed in bowls around the house to absorb the “bad” air. Some also believed that eating onions could help cure the disease. While onions do have some medicinal properties, there is no current evidence to support the idea that they can cure the plague. Nonetheless, the use of onions as a remedy for the plague is still a popular folk remedy in some cultures.


Using Snakes

The practice of using snakes as a medical treatment involved placing live snakes on the buboes, the painful swellings caused by the plague. In the middle ages, it was believed that the snakes would suck out the poison and heal the infected area. The skin and venom of some snake species were also thought to have some healing properties. Today, some components of snake venom have been found to have therapeutic potential and are being studied as treatments for conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.


Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

CDC – Plague

History Channel – A Brief History of Bloodletting

National Archieve – Great Plague of 1665-1666

Healthline – What Is Leech Therapy?

EPA – Basic Information about Mercury

History Channel – Black Death

NPIC – Sulfur

NCBI – Beryllium Toxicity

EMD Group – Powdered Mummies Used as Medicine

Rick Steves – The Plague That Shook Medieval Europe

Onions USA – Onions & Flu