of these, except for bloodletting and the tincture of laudanum,
were draughts, gruels, and medications that a woman could brew
up herself in a still room. Though the richer ladies left more
and more of such tasks to apothecaries and doctors, many still
prided themselves on being able to provide such remedies from
the domestic medicine chest. In many ways, the women who knew
the old secrets of the still room were better able to protect
their families than those who sought out the most popular and
prestigious doctor of the day. Culpepper's herbal compendium couldn't
have killed as many people as the doctors and their nostrums did.
Those unfortunate enough to need a remedy when away from home
and their own supply, had to depend on others to provide it unless
they had their medicine chest with them.
A housewife could whip up a bottles of saline draughts, barley-water,
lemonade, jars of calves' foot or pork jelly, as well as blisters
and plasters. The apothecary or doctor provided the laudanum,
the mercury and the calomel.
For centuries the most popular pain-reliever was a tincture of
opium in alcohol. Laudanum was prescribed for all classes of diseases
and was regularly used for sleeping draughts.
Laudanum, according to Dr. Thomas Sydenham's formula, consisted
of: 2 oz strained opium, 1 oz saffron, 1 dram cinnamon and cloves
dissolved in a pint of canary wine.
Though the addictive quality of opium was known, it was the major
ingredient in most of the medicines of the day, even that given
to teething children. Both de Quincy and S.T. Coleridge were addicted
to opium. Despite de Quincy's well known confession and description
of his addiction, opium continued to be used. Doctors and apothecaries
did, however, start issuing warnings about not taking more than
the prescribed dose.
even then known to be poisonous, was used as an ingredient in
calomel- a laxative mixture- and as a treatment for venereal diseases.
A saline draught, made from a distillation of the bark of the
willow tree boiled in white wine, gave patients salicylate, a
main ingredient of aspirin.
Bark (Peruvian or Jesuit's ) which contained quinine was also
used for fevers and in many other medicines.
Recipe for a Mouthwash
6 oz. tincture of Peruvian bark mixed with
1/2 oz. sal ammoniac. Shake well.
Rub on teeth and gums. Rinse mouth well. This will treat and
The diet of a sick / injured person is likely to include servings
of barley-water and/or barley gruel.
Boil together. Strain. Boil half the liquid away. Add 2 spoons
of white wine and sweeten to taste.
it is likely that the barley-water recommended by the doctor in
Fredericka for Felix was made from a second receipt which
does not include any wine.
Barley Water 2
Wash and cleanse 2 oz. of whole barley
in hot water, then boil in 5 pints water and 1/4 oz of cream
of tartar until barley opens. Strain and cool.
Barley Water 3 or Barley Gruel
Boil 1/4 lb. pearl barley with stick cinnamon in 2 quarts of
water until the water is reduced to half. Strain. Add 1 pint
red wine and sweeteners.
Pour a half-pint boiling water over a half pound lean juicy
beef sliced into thin pieces. Cool and drink with a little salt.
Pig's foot and calves' foot jelly is mentioned in various books.
Shin or knuckle of meat, except when a whole chicken was used.
Stew the bone or chicken in a pint and a half water or one pint
per pound until the juices are drawn from the meat, but no longer.
Add a little salt. Skim when cool. The jelly should be warmed
a little at the time in a cup set in boiling water.
Stew calf's foot or other animal feet in three quarts of water
until the jelly is drawn out. Skim when cool, clear off sediment
from the bottom. It may be mixed with egg whites and used in
jelly bag. Add orange juice, lemon juice, or wine and sugar.
Calf's feet jelly 2
Cut the calves' feet into pieces and cook in a gallon of water
until half the water is gone . Put the liquid through a sieve
and cool. Take off fat top and bottom and melt the jelly middle.
Add a pint Rhenish wine, the juice of four or five lemons, sugar,
whites of eight eggs, beaten. Stir and boil for thirty minutes.
Strain through jelly bag with rosemary and lemon peel. Work
This second recipe makes a food more suited for a dessert than
a sickroom concoction.
The New Female Instructor strongly advises against the
addition of wine when the jelly is to be used for an ill person.
Lemonade was often given to an ill-person along with barley water
2 Seville oranges and six lemons pared thinly. Steep the parings
for four hours in two quarts water. Add the juice of six oranges
and twelve lemons with 3/4 lb. fine sugar. A little orange water
may be added. Strain through a bag into bottles until needed.
plaster was put on a wound or a broken bone. A blister was used
to draw the bad essence to the surface of the body. A sticking
plaster could be wrapped around some part of the body to support
a broken bone.
A diachylon or common plaster
Boiling six pints of olive oil with two and a half pounds
of lead monoxide (litharge) together with half a gallon water
over a low, gentle fire while stirring continuously. Keep the
water at the half gallon level by adding more as necessary.
After three hours check to see if the plaster is of the proper
consistency to be applied to wounds and skin abrasions.
In The Antiques of the Pharmacy, Leslie Matthew describes
plasters as being "spread on leather, linen, or paper." (p.45)
Once the prescribed concoction was heated to the desired temperature
and cooked to the required consistency, it was taken from the
fire and spread on to the leather or cloth with the plaster iron.
The plaster iron looked somewhat like a corn dog on the end of
a barbecue fork.
The main use of the plaster is as a basis for other plasters.
A sticking plaster was made by melting 3 oz of diachylon or common
plaster with 1/2 oz rosin and spreading the mixture on a clean
piece of soft, smooth linen.
blister could include any harsh substance but mustard was one
of the most frequently used.
A blister plaster could be made by mixing turpentine, yellow
wax, Spanish flies and powdered mustard. The turpentine is added
to the slightly cooled melted wax. After they are blended together
the powdered flies and mustard are sprinkled in and the mixture
is stirred until it is cold. This is usually placed on chest or
back of a sufferer.
Some recipes for medicines include vitriolic acid. According
to a modern dictionary vitriolic acid is sulfuric acid with a
secondary meaning of any metal sulfate. It is caustic.
Typical recipes for Vitriolic Acid:
1.Boil an ounce of powdered Peruvian bark in a pint and a half
water. Boil until water is reduced to one pint and add one tea-spoon
of diluted acid of vitriol.
2. Boil 2 oz of bark in a covered pot with one and a half pints
of water, some cinnamon, and orange peel for twenty minutes,
cool, strain, and put in phials. Dose: 4 tablespoons three times
Another recipe for a tincture of bark in which Peruvian bark
was soaked in brandy with cinnamon and orange peel for five days
suggests that the resulting liquid be strained and used as medicine
with the addition of a few drops of vitriolic acid.
Ladies Medicine Chest
Naval Medicine in 1812 pages 1 | 2 | 3