The Practical Uses of Pee
While most of us think of pee as something to get rid of, some people -- both in modern and historical times -- have thought of pee as something to acquire, that is, as a useful and valuable substance which can be put to such uses as:
In the first century AD, the Roman's so valued the use of urine in the tanning industry that they imposed a tax upon it (the Roman Pee Tax. Most cultures never went that far in acclaiming it's worth. However vast numbers of cultures did discover the value of urine in tanning animal skins. Some merely sprinkled (tinkled?) urine on the toughest part of the hide, to soften it for working, while others actually soaked the hide directly in a container of pee.
One of the tasks acomplished through pee soaking was to dissolve fatty tissues and flesh that had remained on the hide after skinning. Once soaked in urine, the tissues semi-dissolved and could be scraped off much more easily. (Flesh left on the hide will stiffen and rot.) In a later phase of the tanning process, urine is rubbed onto the outside of the skin to remove any unwanted hair as well as the out layer of skin. Mixed with quicklime and wood ash, the urine loosens the hair, allowing it to be scraped off.
Urine has a variety of uses in the dying industry. First, it acts as a cleansing agent, removing oils and dirt -- especially important in preparing wool for dying. Reportedly, the resultant wool, once dried, is not only much cleaner, but also extraordinarily soft to the touch.
The second use for urine is as an extracting agent. Specifically, certain natural substances, when soaked in stale urine, will yield up a highly valued and highly useable pigmentation. For example, fermenting the lichen orchil in old pee will yield a lovely purple coloration that can then be used to die wool and cotton.
Finally, urine may be used as a dying medium and fixative. Add your coloring agent to the urine, toss in your wool or cotton, let soak, and voila. Interestingly enough, some who've experimented with the process say that fresh urine is better for this part of the process -- as rotten pee leaves in the fabric a rotton pee odor.
Naturally, if one thinks about the quantity of fabric necessary to make a large item of clothing (such as a dress or cloak), one cannot help but ponder the fact that a large quantity of fabric would require a large volume of liquid in which to be soaked for dying. The obvious question therefore is, "Where is all this urine coming from?"
And the answer is that most folks save up their own or their family's urine for the process. However, urban legend in remote parts of the U.K. would have it that some dyers used to leave a tub out for the lads to fill on their way home from the pub. Certainly there would be a value in having such ready contributors of fresh urine (such as a better smelling and more hygenic dye), but there is no proof that this practice really took place.
A more peculiar piece of folk history claims that some dyers would only use the fresh urine of nursing infants. The urine, which was obtained by squeezing out the diapers, then made from dried moss (in Britain at least), was saved until there was enough for a batch of dye. While this practice may seem a bit peculiar, as though harking back to witchcraft and superstitions, it is worth noting that breast fed babies do not have the same nasty odors in their sweat, urine, and poop as do adults and children eating solid food (especially meat).
While zillions of products marketed in the supermarket and online profess to clean away urine stains, giving the sense that urine is a powerful soiling agent only, urine itself has actually been used as a bleaching agent for centuries -- perhaps millenia. This fact may make more sense when you consider that both bleach and urine are strongly alkali and that both have the ability to dissolve or disintegrate biological material (seen Tanning, above. Nonetheless, most modern folks balk at adding fresh urine to the laundry machine ("But won't it make the clothes stinky?"), although they are quite confident about pouring nasty smelling, caustic bleach in with the wash.
But of course it is not the stink that makes urine a good bleach. It's the ammonia. (Don't believe me? Check the ingredients on a bottle of Mr.Clean.)
While it's hard to tell how extensive this practice really was, it is documented that at least some folks found that hanging their tobacco in the outhouse mellowed it and, oddly enough, lessened the stink it created when burned (as in a gentleman's after dinner cigar). Go figure.
Information about the origin of this practice is sketchy. But it is intriguing to note that the 1771 edition of Encyclopędia Britannica instructs that "A strong decoction of the stalks, with sharp-pointed dock and alum, is said to be of good service, used externally, in cutaneous distempers, especially the itch: some boil them for that purpose in urine. The same is said to be infallible in curing the mange in dogs." We can only speculate whether some accidental steaming of tobacco, during such medicinal concocting, might have led to the discovery of the value of urine fumes. Or then again, perhaps someone was simply hiding his smoke in the outhouse and noticed the subsequent improvement.
Restoring Color To Coral And Odor To Musk
Strangely enough, hanging coral in an outhouse, amidst all the eye-watering fumes, causes it to regain it's vivid color. More perplexing, hanging musk (the key ingredient in sweet smelling perfumes) in the outhouse revives its potency.
Most of us are familiar with the canine habit of marking territory by lifting a leg and peeing on just about everything in sight -- including your neighbor's leg and the crate of produce at the local fruit stand. But of course many other animals mark territory in a very similar way, most notably large predators such as tigers, lions, bears, and wolves. Human beings have actually found ways to make use of this phenomenon by collecting this urine (from zoos, wildlife rehab facilities, and etc.) and sprinkling it about their yard to ward off the pesky intrusions of deers and other garden gobbling wildlife. With the advent of the World Wide Web, you too can obtain predator pee of your very own. While it may scare off larger wildlife, it is actually a dandy way to attract butterflies.
Although not a common practice, the addition of urine to cheese-making has been known to make a richer, more piquant cheese, highly sought after by those who've tasted it.
Manufacturing "gold glue", aka chrysocollon
The method for creating chrysocollon, a substance which could allegedly repair cracks in gold vessels and other objects, was as follows: an innocent young boy must urinate into a mortar of red copper, while a pestle (also made of red copper) is in motion. Next, the mortar of urine must be exposed in the sun until it has become thick, like honey. It's now ready to spackle up your favorite golden goblet or dinner dish.
Chrysocollon was reputed to cure diseaase as well.
Urine has been used in various ways as a healing substance, both when taken internally (see Drinking Pee) and when applied externally. Native Eskimo people are but one of many cultures to use fresh urine as an antiseptic, and certain tribes of central Africa who mix it with mud to form a paste which relieves insect bites.
Mixed with coal dust, urine was used in some cultures for tatooing. You have to wonder as to who thought of this combination -- not to mention how and why.
"Hey look! You peed in the coal dust."
Removing Ink Stains
Strangely enough, the pee giveth and the pee taketh away. Although it wouldn't exactly remove your tattoo, pee has been used to dissolve away the dribblings from ye olde quill.
Salt Peter For Gun Powder
Here's yet another item for the "How did they come up with this" category. If you take earth that has been heavily peed on, place it in a bucket with holes (or wire mesh) in the bottom, and then run hot water through it, and so on and so forth, you come up with these funny little crystals (called potassium nitrate). Now, take these crystals and add them to equal parts charcoal powder and sulfur. Guess what -- you've just invented gun powder! Have fun. Don't forget to invent fireworks.
Believe it or not, you can make your hair cleaner by dousing it with urine. Kinda takes those "shower" games you tried to a whole new level doesn't it? I think we can figure out how this one was invented.
The more intriguing part is actually how it works. It turns out that urine shares some similar chemical properties with soap and detergent. Highly alkaline, urine can cut through greasy build-up and leave hair, dare we say it, "softer and more manageable".
Naturally the whole process provides more pleasant smelling hair (according to modern standards) if combined with warm water rinsing and, better yet, a sudsy plant product such as soap root.
Face And Body Wash
Similar to the shampoo above, urine has the ability to clean away dirt and oils from your skin. Some feel it gives their skin a softer, more radiant appearence. Supposedly its very popular with certain women (of the wealthy persuasion) in Japan. Imagine, Asian beauties lolling about in big vats of pee. Truth or folk legend? Here in America we simply distill the urea out of urine and slap it into every beauty product we can think of.
As An Ingredient In Cosmetics And Shampoo
Washing Cooking Utensils & Food/Drink Vessels
Now this may sound ridiculous and disgusting, but you have to consider where the practice is popular. First of all, it was very popular in cold places, like Siberia. Imagine if you will, living in a frozen wasteland where there is barely enough fuel to light your hovel and cook part of your food. Melting the snow and then further heating it -- just to get hot water for dishes -- is not going to be high on your list of priorities.
But imagine that your utensils have just been awash in smelly blubber and seal guts and whatnot. Assuming your home is at least warm enough that your nose hairs don't freeze and fall off, the odds are that the blubber smears are going to turn rancid and breed bacteria. So what does the smart Siberian housewife do? Passes the dish pan and lets everybody pee in it. Voila! Hot water for washing dishes and utensils. It dissolves grease and is virtually sterile (unless of course you live in a part of the world where no one ever bathes their genitals).
Another part of the world that is big on cleansing things in pee is East Africa-- where they are also big on cows. Here is a land where boys write poetry to their cows, where a woman's worth is measured in the number of cows she can be traded for at marriage, and where life just wouldn't be worth living without a big herd to gaze upon. It is also where -- in the hot, barren months of the dry season -- the blood, milk, pee, and poo of your cow provides all the conveniencs of bovine 7-11. Even shade can be found in the shadow of your four-footed friend.
Here water is sometimes scarce (and sterile water is often absent) and dishes are sometimes cleansed in urine -- although in this case cow, not human urine. Apparently the practice has led to a taste for the flavor of cow urine, as members of some tribes will actually go out of their way to spike a serving of cow's milk with cow pee. Clearly this is a land that cries for Nesquik.