Vinegar and Brown Paper

Vinegar and brown paper – remember Jack and Jill. This is a traditional remedy that has been under my nose for as long as I can remember, but I just didn’t see it.

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown 
And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got and home did trot
As fast as he could caper
Went to bed to mend his head
With vinegar and brown paper.


I have been singing this song my entire life. I only know these two verses but apparently there were 15 originally. As a kid I often wondered why Jack would want to put vinegar and brown paper on his head.  I also wondered why they went up a hill for water.

Anyway, I’d forgotten about these wonderings until we recently borrowed a book from the library – 1001 Uses for Vinegar. Evan has been reading this to the kids at bedtime and out of the blue this morning, Hugh started singing Jack and Jill. The ‘vinegar and brown’ paper line stuck in my head. Finally I looked it up to appease my curiosity.

The vinegar and brown paper remedy is a type of poultice used for sprains, bruises, bumps and bangs – the olden day version of the ice block.  (Very rarely though can I get them to keep the ice block on their sprain or bump).

The poultice is made out of strong brown paper that can soak up the vinegar and not fall apart. The vinegar was warmed for a few minutes and the paper soaked and softened. Apparently using sage infused vinegar adds extra healing value.

Several strips of vinegar soaked brown paper were applied to the wound and wrapped up with an old cloth to help hold it all in place. This was applied twice a day at least until the swelling and bruising had eased. I’ve read that the beeswax infused wraps (sold as zero-waste food wraps) are excellent for covering these types of poultices.

A vinegar compress is still considered an effective remedy for easing sprains, as vinegar brings bruises to the surface and helps to cool and reduce swelling. I will try this next time and cut up some large brown paper bags into strips to keep in the first aid cupboard. Worth a try.

I’ve been inspired actually to experiment a lot more with vinegar thanks to this little gem of a book. I’ll keep posting about interesting vinegar uses for a little, but for now, about going up the hill for water…. must explore the reasoning for that a little more.