top of page

Exploring Old Wives Tales: Unconventional Foot Remedies of the Past

groomed dry skin on feet and heels, cracked corn

In today's modern world, we rely on scientific advancements and evidence-based medicine to treat various ailments and conditions. However, there was a time when the collective wisdom of generations past guided healthcare practices. These often unscientific but well-intentioned remedies, known as ‘old wives' tales’, have been passed down through the ages, and many of them focused on treating ailments and conditions of the feet. It’s interesting to examine such remedies, which may seem bizarre or superstitious by today's standards.

The curious case of corns and calluses

Corns and calluses, those annoying and sometimes painful thickened areas of skin on the feet, were no strangers to our ancestors. Instead of consulting a podiatrist, they turned to their own bag of tricks. One common remedy was to soak a piece of bread in apple cider vinegar and place it on the affected area overnight. The acidity of the vinegar was believed to soften the skin, making it easier to remove the hardened layers in the morning.

Another peculiar remedy for corns used a paste made from crushed aspirin tablets mixed with water. This was applied to the corn, covered with a bandage, and left overnight. Aspirin contains salicylic acid, a compound still used in modern corn removers. Whilst this may not be the most effective treatment, it demonstrates how early generations experimented with readily available ingredients to address foot ailments.

The healing power of garlic

Garlic Bulb

Garlic, a staple in many UK kitchens today, was also revered for its supposed medicinal properties. One remedy involving garlic was to crush a few cloves and mix them with warm olive oil. The resulting mixture was then applied to the feet as a purported cure for fungal infections like athlete's foot. Garlic does have some antimicrobial properties; however, it's unlikely to completely eradicate a persistent fungal infection.

Furthermore, some old wives' tales suggested placing a clove of garlic in your shoe to ward off smells. The pungent aroma of garlic was believed to neutralise unpleasant odours. In modern times, we have a better understanding of the science behind foot odour and effective ways to combat it. It’s also a question of personal taste whether the smell of garlic cloves is better or worse than sweaty feet!

The mysterious magic of mustard plasters

Mustard plasters were a common remedy in the past for various ailments, including foot-related issues like cold feet. To make a mustard plaster, a mixture of powdered mustard and water was spread onto a cloth or piece of paper, which was then applied to the feet. The idea was that the heat generated from the mustard would improve circulation and warm the extremities.

Whilst mustard does create a warming sensation, it can also cause skin irritation, making this remedy more of a double-edged sword. Today, we have more comfortable and scientifically proven ways to keep our feet warm and promote circulation.

Vinegar soaks for toenail fungus

Toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, has plagued humanity for centuries. In the absence of modern antifungal treatments, old wives' remedies often turned to vinegar. Soaking the affected toenails in a solution of warm water and vinegar was a common practice. The acidic nature of vinegar was thought to combat the fungal infection.

Vinegar may provide some temporary relief; however, it’s unlikely to completely eradicate toenail fungus. Modern medicine offers more effective treatments, such as antifungal creams and oral medications.

The allure of Epsom salt baths

Epsom salt on a spoon coming out of a Jar

Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulphate, has been used for its therapeutic properties for generations. It was often recommended for foot baths to soothe tired, achy feet. Advocates claimed that the salts could reduce swelling, relieve pain, and relax muscles.

The actual effectiveness of this remedy in treating specific foot conditions may be limited. Nevertheless, Epsom salt baths remain a popular remedy in 2023 for those seeking a spa-like foot treatment at home.

Old wives' tales for foot ailments provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of healthcare practices. Whilst many of these remedies may seem strange or even superstitious by today's standards, they reflect the resourcefulness of previous generations in dealing with common foot problems. Some of these traditional remedies had a grain of truth or practicality, which modern medicine and scientific research has built upon for more effective and evidence-based solutions.


bottom of page