Bizarre Medicine
Unusual Treatments and Practices through the Ages
by Ruth Clifford Engs
January 2022, 349pp, 7x10
1 volume, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-7124-5
$97, £72, 84€, A132
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-7125-2
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

For centuries, disease was believed to be the result of an imbalance in the body’s “humors” or bad air, leading to a wide array of treatments that seem strange by modern standards.

This encyclopedia explores historical and contemporary fringe remedies seen as strange, ridiculous, or even gruesome by modern Western medicine but which nevertheless played an important role in the history of medicine.

From placing leeches on the neck to treat a cough to using crocodile dung to prevent pregnancy, a number of medical treatments that now seem unusual were once commonplace. While a few of these remedies may have been effective, most were either useless or actually counterproductive to good health. Even today, there are alternative and fringe treatments considered bizarre by mainstream medicine yet used by hundreds of thousands of people.

Bizarre Medicine: Unusual Treatments and Practices through the Ages offers a fascinating look into the history of medicine. Entries are organized by disease or medical condition and explore the folk and traditional "cures" used to treat them. Explanations are provided for why some treatments may have worked and why others may have done more harm than good. In addition, entries provide a clear description of the causes, symptoms, and current treatment options for each condition based on current scientific understanding. Each entry also discusses the condition’s enduring impact on society and the arts.


  • An introductory essay creates a robust conceptual framework for readers, allowing them to better understand the entries that follow
  • Entries not only explore unusual treatments but also provide a clear explanation of how the medical condition is understood and addressed today and how it has impacted society through the ages
  • A glossary defines terms that may be unfamiliar to readers
  • An extensive back-of-book bibliography serves as a gateway to further research and study
Ruth Clifford Engs, RN, EdD, is professor emerita of applied health science in the School of Public Health, Indiana University, Bloomington. She is author of numerous articles, chapters, and books. Her publications with ABC-CLIO and its imprints include Health and Medicine through History: From Ancient Practices to 21st-Century Innovations; The Eugenics Movement: An Encyclopedia; The Progressive Era's Health Reform Movement: A Historical Dictionary; and Clean Living Movements: American Cycles of Health Reform. These publications have won numerous awards and recommendations for libraries.


"A useful starting point for students and the general public interested in the history of medicine."—Library Journal, April 1, 2022

"Recommended for high-school students as an introduction to the topic, and to general readers interested in browsing brief but fascinating medical history."—Booklist, June 15, 2022
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