Daffy’s Elixir was a well-known remedy, popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Reverend Thomas Daffy (1616/17–1680) was responsible for the original version of this concoction, which was sold as ‘elixir salutis’, a cure for colds, fevers and stomach complaints. The recipe was passed down the family, and was soon picked up by other apothecaries. The brand of ‘Daffy’s’ was so strong that it was taken up by herbalists and chemists for their cure-all potions, even though their recipes sometimes bore only fleeting resemblance to the Reverend Daffy’s original.
Here, our unknown ladies cut out the middlemen by making a home-brewed version of Daffy’s famous cure:
Take six quarts of spirit of malt & the same quantity of sack or white wine; four pounds of raisons stoned; allicampane root sliced, the best greene liquorice shred, senna, anniseeds, caraway seeds & coriander seeds, of each eight ounces; guiacum, 3 ounces; cochineal, three quarters of an ounce. Infuse all these in a crock, close stopped, for three weeks. Then, pour it off & put to the drags half the quantity of spirits & wine that you put on at first, & let it stand three weeks longer. Then, strain it off & mix it with the first you took off. Let it stand a few days after before you bottle it.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the ingredients:
Spirit of malt, an alcoholic distillation that would have helped to preserve the elixir
White wine, for creating the suspension
Raisins, to sweeten the mix
Elecampane root, used to relieve asthmatic complaints; also a stimulant
Green licorice – known as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, but also used to make medicines more palatable
Senna, a laxative
Aniseed, to combat flatulence
Caraway seed, another antiflatulent!
Coriander seed, for its aromatic properties
Guaiacum, a type of wood, first brought over to England from Central America and the West Indies in the 16th century. Used in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, but used in excess it could turn the patient’s skin yellow!
Cochineal, derived from crushed beetles. Attributed with diuretic and purgative qualities, but most commonly used for its red colouring
Perhaps Daffy’s elixir was useful for a spot of indigestion, or maybe even a cough of cold, but its effectiveness as a universal cure is doubtful!