I’ve been under the weather lately with a bug that just won’t let go. It started as a head cold, turned into a sinus thing, and then got bored with my nose and decided to check out my lungs. It’s not anything that’ll kill me (I’m with Jim Henson on this), but it’s annoying to have mild body aches and lungs that burn a bit when I cough.
Folklore has it that whiskey is good for you when you’re sick, so I decided to give it whirl. Little did I know how much history there is behind booze as medicine.
Alcohol has been used medicinally forever. And by forever, I mean like starting 20 minutes after the first distilled spirit was made and someone with a cold took a sip. Okay, I’m speculating, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that spirits can make a sick body feel better.
In the 16th century the Swiss combined distilled alcohol and herbs to make remedies, and in the 17th century brandy became a popular form of medicine in France. Whisky was used as a medicine and antiseptic in Northern Europe, and actually gets its name from the Galic uisge, which is a shortened version of uisge beatha or “water of life.” That’s what I’m talking about!
Whiskey is also a great pain reliever. Dr. Harold George Wolff from Cornell did a study in which showed two ounces of 90 proof whiskey will raise the threshold for pain by 45% for two hours. Add in a five-grain tablet of aspirin and the pain can be dulled for hours. I’m sure if you add a few more ounces of whiskey the tolerance goes up even further, as do the chances of waking up with a faceful of profanities etched in Sharpie.
What I know about whiskey as medicine comes from westerns. Your cowboy pal got shot up by a nasty vaquero? Splash the wound with whiskey and give him a shot or two before you dig the bullet out. Little half-pint laid up with a nasty chest cold? Give her a couple tablespoons of Old Crow and rub some menthol on her chest.
Armed with this sketchy knowledge and desperate for some relief, I cracked open a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch and poured myself a nip. The heat of the whiskey instantly made my chest feel better, and after a few sips I started to feel human again. I’m sure this was due to getting a bit tipsy, but who cares – relief is relief. I repeated with a second glass of whiskey and felt great, so I decided to stop there. I didn’t feel drunk, just good, and I woke up without any lingering effects. The whiskey definitely did the trick.
I happily self-medicated for a couple of evenings until my wife decided my cold had been hanging around too long. She pressured me into seeing a doctor, and I’m now on an inhaler and antibiotics and already feel much, much better.
But while these miracles of modern medicine might have alleviated my symptoms, they cannot match the pleasure and relaxation of self-medicating with good old-fashioned Bourbon. Whiskey – It’s good for what ails ya.