Granddaughter shares recipe of plaster used to treat Irene Wanlass in 1919

May 13, 2020

The treatments for flu in 1918 were rather primitive. The most common prescription for influenza was to wrap up in warm blankets, go to bed, get plenty of liquids and open the window.

An open window during the winter often brought on pneumonia, so then a mustard plaster was called for. The purpose of a plaster was to heat up the chest and back to break up the congestion in the lungs.

Lehi native Rhea Wanlass Lewis recently shared how a plaster works and the mustard plaster recipe of her grandmother, Nellie Wanlass. It would be the recipe her grandmother used on Rhea’s Aunt Irene.

Mustard Plaster

6 tsp. lard

2 mustard [dry]

1 turpentine

Tear a sheet into four 18-inch squares.

Make a paste out of the ingredients.

Spread the plaster on one sheet. Place the other sheet on top of the plaster.

Place on bare back.

Repeat and place on bare chest.

Bundle up. The plaster is cold until it gets hot enough to turn your skin bright red.


Rhea knows how a plaster works as her mother applied them to her when she was young, only her mother used soda instead of turpentine so it wouldn’t burn so much.

Vicks VapoRub is a commercial plaster. During the epidemic of 1918, it was in such demand it was hard to find.

Lehi Timeline of the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1920

Many families lost more than one member

Granddaughter shares recipe of plaster used to influenza in 1918

Andrew Fjeld’s daily journal entries during the epidemic

Newspaper articles give bird’s eye view of epidemic in Lehi and around the state

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