Suffering is the mother of creativity. People will do almost anything to relieve their discomfort.

Perhaps that is why some folks have tried rinsing their scalps with Listerine for flaky dandruff. Others have dabbed vodka on their itchy poison ivy.

People reach for what they have on hand, which might account for why common household products show up so frequently in strange home remedies. Who knew you could use Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia as an underarm deodorant instead of a laxative?

Perhaps the most versatile of all is Vicks VapoRub. This old-fashioned salve has been used for more than a century to ease chest congestion. But there is an astonishing assortment of other uses that people have invented.

Seven years ago we heard from Jane Kelley, RN, a foot care nurse in Massachusetts. She told us that some of her colleagues were using Vicks VapoRub on patients’ fungus-infected toenails.

Then we heard from another nurse that smearing Vicks on the soles of the feet could help a child with a cough sleep through the night. It wasn’t long before the floodgates opened and we began to hear about using Vicks on paper cuts, mosquito and fire ant bites and seborrheic dermatitis.

Some folks use Vicks to keep frisky kittens from scratching their legs. Others find it useful for softening calluses on their feet or scaly skin on elbows.

One woman insisted that Vicks can relieve the discomfort of hemorrhoids, but we generally advise against this application. John Welter, an essayist who tried it, reported that “The active ingredients in VapoRub—which I think are menthol, camphor and napalm—instantly engulfed my hemorrhoidal locality in spontaneous combustion.

There is another place one should probably not put Vicks. We recently received this message from a reader: “I was experimenting with Vicks VapoRub to see if it would help my jock itch. I inadvertently got some where I shouldn’t. I believe I have found a poor man’s Viagra!

This is not the first we had heard of this effect of Vicks.

Pharmacist Anna Barrigan told us of her experience in Alaska in the 1950s, when most of the jobs were in construction, gold dredges, bars and the military. With a ratio of 50 to 60 men for every woman, there were long lines outside the houses of prostitution every payday.

The “ladies of the evening all got paid the same, so if they wanted to make more they had to work quicker. Apparently some of them sped things along with a tiny dab of Vicks in a critical location. According to Ms. Barrigan, “It would get the blood flowing to that organ in very little time. I guess this was a very early form of Viagra.

We urge readers NOT to try this at home! Vicks is intended for external use only and is not for delicate tissues.

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