To us, a piss is just a piss, but historically, urine has been used in many unusual ways. For example, urine has been incorporated into wedding ceremonies. At weddings in North Africa, for ceremonial purposes, the bride’s urine was sprinkled on the guests after the wedding. (Perhaps as a symbol of the sort of treatment the groom should come to expect.)
“You may now piss the bride“: Sometimes, even in “civilized” countries like England and Ireland, the guests drink the bride’s urine.
Because of its antiseptic properties, urine was once used to wash wounds on the battlefield. Centuries ago, when someone’s nose was cut off during a duel, the surgeon peed on it to clean it before it was stitched back on.
Urine has been used to make tweeds. According to Almanac of the Gross, Harris Tweed is still made today in Scotland the way it was made for hundreds of years. From yarn dyed with lichen – that has been soaked in human urine.
Urine was used as an eyewash – recommended in the thirteenth century by Pope John XXI, no less! And one pharaoh claimed he got his eye cured with the urine of a woman – whom he later thanked by marrying.
A squirt a day keeps the dentist at bay: Long ago, urine was often used as toothpaste. It was believed that brushing one’s teeth with urine would make the teeth whiter. It may have actually worked, too, because ammonia is a product of stale urine.
Urine has also been used as a mouthwash. Bad enough to swish it around in one’s mouth, but it was said to be most effective if kept in the mouth for long periods of time.
Urine may also repel cats and dogs. (Not to mention brothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends, and strangers.) In a bizarre letter to the editor of the New England Medical Journal, a doctor wrote that two of his patients who had applied urine around the edges of their gardens had successfully kept neighboring dogs and cats from entering them.
One man had poured sterile urine out of a vessel; the other had urinated every few steps until he had accomplished his goal. Not satisfied with merely freaking out his neighbors, he insisted on telling everyone about it.
A few other recorded uses for urine:
• To get rid of acne.
• To wash linens. The Romans used to do this.
• To tan leather.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
Uncivil war: Richard Zachs, in History Laid Bare, reveals that urine was distilled into nitre for gunpowder during the Civil War. It seems that Confederate wagons went down the streets so women could donate the pee from their chamberpots. This inspired an amusing poem by an Alabama soldier, part of which went as follows:
We thought the girls had work enough making shirts and kissing
But you have put the pretty dears to patriotic pissing.
…But ’tis an awful idea…gunpowdery and cranky,
That when a lady lifts her skirts, she’s killing off a Yankee!
This inspired a retaliatory verse from a Northerner:
… And vice versa, what would make a Yankee soldier madder
Than dodging bullets fired from a pretty woman’s bladder?
They say there was a subtle smell that lingered in the powder
And as the smoke grew thicker and the din of battle louder
There was found to this compound one serious objection
No soldier boy did sniff the stuff without having an erection!