The Strange History Of Madstones In Medicine

In the 19th century, prior to the development of vaccines by Louis Pasteur in 1885 (per the CDC), people desperately looked to various other remedies to treat ailments like rabies. For some, a madstone — if you could get a hold of one — seemed like a proper treatment. As a medicine, the “stone” would be applied to the infection site of a rabies victim, where it was thought that over time, the stone would leech the “poison” out and heal the affected person.

According to Ozarks Public Radio, when the madstone was needed, it would first be boiled in milk until it got quite hot; then it would be applied to the wound site — normally a rabies-infected bite, but madstones could also be used for snake or spider bites as well — and if the stone stuck to the wound, that was proof that there was indeed infection or poison within.

The stone would be left stuck to the wound until it fell off, which could often be as long as a day or two, at which point it would be placed in hot milk again. If the stone was working properly, the milk would turn green with the “poison,” after which the stone would be reapplied to the wound. This process would be repeated until the stone stopped sticking, which was a sure sign that the infection was gone.

Despite the high demand and subsequent value of madstones as a medicine, it was strictly forbidden to buy or sell one, or even to charge for its use. As a result, these stones were typically handed down from generation to generation.