That Old Time Prescription
While most medications are a mystery to most audiences, there are a few whose native source is more familiar. Willow bark as a precursor to aspirin, or bread mold as that of penicillin, are the usual examples; others, such as poppy extract for a sedative or foxglove extract for heart trouble, are more obscure, but still recognizable to viewers who take an interest. Some, however, are still in use in less developed countries, such as mustard poultices (counterirritant and somewhat effective in dealing with respiratory infections), or propolis (honey bee glue, which is an effective antimicrobial agent). Therefore, in order to show that a primitive healer, herbalist, or apothecary is genuinely skilled, not ignorant or a fraud, they're shown administering one of these (very) few recognizable Real Life proto-drugs to patients in need. Never mind that an historical physician of the era may not know about the medicine in question, or be capable of extracting the active substance from its raw state in the proper dosage (foxglove is helpful small amounts for heart trouble; in large amounts it causes heart failure), or that another little-known remedy from the period might be safer and more effective: it's always the treatment audiences will recognize that gets used. Can be an example of Viewers Are Geniuses, for the more obscure remedies. Subversion of Artistic License – Pharmacology. Does not apply to fictional medications or recreational stimulants, as use of such drugs does not demonstrate legitimate medical know-how. Use of an unspecified or fictitious cure-all herb falls under Healing Herb.
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Anime and Manga
- A Cruel God Reigns: Whenever Jeremy gets upset, usually to the point that he sobs hysterically or throws up, Ian makes him ginger tea with honey. Ginger is a stomach soother, and ginger tea and ginger ale are common drinks given to individuals who have stomach bugs or nausea.
- In the first volume of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix, Em Dee, a healer from the comparatively advanced kingdom of Yamatai demonstrates his value to the chief of Nagi's village by curing Nagi's sister of tetanus, which he accomplishes by feeding her mold. He also has a rudimentary knowledge of germ theory, as he is able to determine that the infection, which he calls a "death spirit", entered the body through a cut on her foot.
- Disney's Pocahontas has Pocahontas give John Smith willow bark for the pain after he is shot in the side.
- The 13th Warrior: Ibn requests water to wash his wound, but a knowledgeable Norse woman insists that it will fester if not cleaned with sterile urine. This is a historically accurate belief that survives as an urban legend to this day. Modern tests reveal that urine is not actually sterile and shouldn't be used as a disinfectant, at least when genuinely germ-free water is available.
- This is done in the Circle of Magic series, in which willow bark tea is used for headaches, fevers, and the like. At one point there is an epidemic, and very modern steps to quarantine the disease and develop treatments through experimentation are undertaken.
- Willow tea is also present in the Tortall Universe. Female characters often use it to deal with menstrual cramps. This isn't an egregious case, though, since every Real Life culture that had access to willows managed to figure out its analgesic properties.
- In one of the Lord Darcy stories, set in the present day but in an Alternate History where magic has been developed as a science (meaning, among other things, that medical science has not developed because healing magic makes it unnecessary), two wizards have a conversation about unlicensed healers who do things like treat wounds with moldy bread and heart trouble with "a tea brewed of foxglove". They regard these (real) cures as superstitions, since there's nothing in the laws of magic to justify them working.
- In the Discworld series:
- The moldy bread poultice is one of Magrat Garlick's specialties. In Carpe Jugulum, Magrat also makes willow bark tablets for headaches.
- Willow bark also gets mentioned for a hangover treatment in Hogfather:
Bursar: Willow bark.
Senior Wrangler: That might work. It's an analgesic.
Ridcully: Well, possibly, but he might be better putting it in his mouth.
- Brother Cadfael is all over this. He was a soldier in the Crusades, and he's an apothecary in his monastic community. Lavender for headaches (The Price of Light), poppy extract, and so on.
- In the Earth's Children series it's mentioned that practically everybody knows about willow bark tea, even non-healers.note
- In the Garrett, P.I. fantasy/noir series, Dean brews willow-bark tea for Garrett after nights of heavy drinking.
- In the novel Outlander, Claire Beauchamp demonstrates even more knowledge that most examples of this trope, when she comments that willow bark tea can make bleeding take longer to stop while discussing the healing properties of herbs with the keeper of Castle Leoch's herb garden.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, maesters (essentially doctors, though they have other duties) commonly prescribe "milk of the poppy" (that is, opium) to anyone suffering from a particularly painful injury. note They're also known to dispense tansy tea as an abortifacient upon request. Zigzagged as many of them are also big believers in leeching (though leeches have been found to be helpful by draining excess blood from reattached body parts whose veins aren't fully healed yet).
- In Lois McMaster Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt (part of the Chalion series), Ingrey was given a pain-reliving medication made from poppies (among other things).
- Bread mold is among the assorted herbs kept in Vlad Taltos's witchcraft supply pouch, presumably for use on wounds. In Athyra, some of the treatments mentioned by Master Wag are also this trope.
- Willow bark tea shows up in the first Arrows novel. There's also a reference in the Collegium Chronicles to Bear's attempts to preserve bread mold for wound treatment, instead of shipping moldy bread out from Healer's Collegium and hoping the wrong type of mold doesn't develop. He also prescribes and administers leeches properly.
- Not a prescription, but Closer To Home shows conclusively that Valdemaran first aid includes CPR training.
- The King Killer Chronicle has relatively well-researched medicine, in particular at the University, some of which, like the metallurgy and other science-y bits, might even be over the head of a general reader. That being said, the main character spends a lot of time chewing willow bark, due to getting his butt kicked a lot and never having enough money for more pure medicine.
- In the Warrior Cats series, medicine cats use remedies like poppy seeds as a sedative. The authors took much of the medicine cats' herblore from an old book called Culpeper's Herbal.
- Averted in The Mysterious Island: The heroes are in dire need of quinina, but there are no willows on the island. It causes Nemo to finally abandon the pretense of his aid being coincidence or supernatural when he leaves a helpfully-labeled box of the stuff inside their home.
Live Action Television
- There is an episode of Dinosaurs in which the baby gets seriously ill and the family spends lots of money on fancy new medicines. When those fail, they go to a healer who lives in the woods, who cures the baby with moldy bread.
- In one episode of Queen of Swords almost everybody in the village gets sick; the Mighty Whitey doctor doses them with a practically magical healing elixir, which he later reveals is made from willow bark.
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman often prescribes willow bark tea.
- She is also seen prescribing digitalis to a woman for a heart murmur. She also prescribes several things given to her by the Native Americans, much to the town's distrust and horror.
- Set up and mercilessly subverted in the episode "Heat Wave" of Tom Fontana's Borgia: Faith and Fear, where fever seizes several characters in 1492 Rome:
- We first see the awful, counterproductive Christian European medicine of the time at work, making the sick sleep in closed chambers (in the middle of the torrid Italian summer!), not stitching open wounds, etc.
- We then see an apparently more professional Jewish doctor, doing something that the modern audience can recognize as actual medical practice: a blood transfusion. However, his patient does not need a transfusion, and the reason it is being applied is also because of Medieval junk medicine, humor balance theory. Not to mention that as a Medieval practitioner the doctor knows nothing about blood type compatibility. This transfusion does nothing to the (adult) patient and causes the death of the three children that were drained to give him younger, more vigorous blood.
- One character finally goes to fetch a witch, who takes her time to denounce the Church's persecution against her guild, claiming that all they do is curing people with completely natural remedies. Her remedy for the feverish is covering them in pig shit, again under the "humor balance" theory of Medieval junk medicine, and she notes that she herself is healthy because she bathes often in it. Ironically, she is the one to achieve the highest curative rate in the episode (two of her three patients survive), but it's debatable if her efforts had any relation with that.
- In Destroyer Of Light, pennyroyal is used for an abortion. It is not the safest herb for this purpose there is, but that is justified by the fact that the protagonist is a goddess - which means the poison won't affect her the way it would a human.