When the Spanish Fly Kicks In !

When the Spanish Fly Kicks In !

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Robert McDonald photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

The druggist, doctor or local medicine man was always ready to share his potions for all that ailed you– including the matters of Cupid. Instead of smiles or wise words he offered some nasty stuff put into beer or spread on bread. Yes, bread.

In the Georgian era medical blistering, also sometimes known as vesiculation, raised a blister on the skin, and was thought by Georgian doctors to be an effective tool to deal with certain medical issues. Among the issues and problems blistering was thought to correct or aid was hysteria, hypochonriasis, gout, certain types of simple inflammation, and fevers, as well as cases of insanity. Blistering was achieved with applications of a fine powder usually composed of cantharides (a powerful-blistering substance often obtained from blister beetles, sometimes called Spanish Fly.

Have you ever heard of Spanish Fly?  It’s actually an insect that can be found in hay and it can be really poisonous if eaten. Livestock have died after eating this insect and can you imagine there were people who used this poisonous liquid as an aphrodisiac? It is documented as really doing the job but it hasn’t killed you the next day you might be one of the lucky ones.  Due to its toxicity, it was some also used as a poison.


Uses of Oil

It was used sometimes as a rosy blush when applied to the cheeks– if your cheeks didn’t blister or peel off. After a popular potion of  a foul mixture of pigeons’ droppings, cumin, horseradish and beetroot didn’t work to grow hair people tried Spanish Fly. There is no doubt both remedies caused a scalp tingling sensation that felt as if it might be doing something positive, but the droppings probably didn’t win many friends and the Spanish Fly caused the scalp to bleed and blister profusely. Extreme ideas were the norm of the day back then. Feast your eyes on the 1891 animal remedies clipping below:



Clipped from Vancouver Daily World,  24 Jan 1891, Sat,  Page 3



Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.




The Peculiar Case of Jeanetta Lena McHardy

If Quackery Poison Gets You!! Blue Poison Ointment

Constipation Guaranteed to be Cured in Almonte

It’s Electrifying! Dr Scott’s Electric Corset

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I have been writing about downtown Carleton Place Bridge Street for months and this is something I really want to do. Come join me in the Domino’s Parking lot- corner Lake Ave and Bridge, Carleton Place at 11 am Saturday September 16 (rain date September 17) for a free walkabout of Bridge Street. It’s history is way more than just stores. This walkabout is FREE BUT I will be carrying a pouch for donations to the Carleton Place Hospital as they have been so good to me. I don’t know if I will ever do another walking tour so come join me on something that has been on my bucket list since I began writing about Bridge Street. It’s always a good time–trust me.

Are You Ready to Visit the Open Doors?


About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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