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Science - Remedies old and new

Would you be prepared to coat your head in mesquite and mud?

Would you be prepared to coat your head in mesquite and mud?

The head lice industry is said to be worth around #163;33.5 million in the UK alone - although cynics would argue that if these products worked there would not be an industry.

In the chemist you will find remedies such as tropical insecticides including permethrin, egg-removal shampoos, said to "help loosen lice", and chemical treatments containing dimeticone, isopropyl myristate and cyclomethicone, and malathion.

As for ancient remedies, pupils might have fun looking them up and formulating them, under supervision, in the lab. But would they be well advised to put any of these on their heads?

Stavesacre, sometimes known as lousewort: a herb known to both the Greeks and the Romans.

Stemona root: used in ancient Chinese medicine, it was boiled, strained and cooled before being applied to the head.

Mesquite: a plant used in a Native American treatment in the 1600s. It was boiled down and combined with mud. The mixture was spread on the scalp and left for two days.

Brimstone (sulphur): in Pennsylvania, US, in the mid-1800s children tied this to their throats to deter lice.

Pyrethrum: an insecticide made from the dried petals of a species of chrysanthemum, used by the Persians.

A mixture of mercury, hog fat and mutton suet rubbed on the head: a suggestion to destroy body lice from The Household Cyclopedia, published in 1881.

At the very least students will be introduced to - and intrigued by - some of the myriad herbs and potions the ancients believed would benefit their health. Dig deep enough and we are sure you will also find some sort of ancient head lice curse.

Adapted from The Little Book of Nits, published by AC Black.


Meet head lice, fleas and other organisms with michael1989's parasite PowerPoint.

In the forums

Teachers debate the demise of the nit nurse and whether or not they infringed children's rights.

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