Peristaltic Persuaders

Our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies contains quite a number of home remedies, tackling anything from rheumy eyes to whooping cough. Today’s recipes take on common but uncomfortable ailments. The first up is the wonderfully titled ‘peristaltic persuaders’, Dr Kitchiner’s cure for constipation:

These "peristaltic persuaders" contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

These “peristaltic persuaders” contain a laxative, rhubarb, would have been taken in cases of constipation

To Make Forty Peristaltic Persuaders

Take:
Turkey rhubarb, finely pulverized, two drachms
Syrup, by weight, one drachm
Oil of caraway, ten drops (minims.)
Make into pills, each of which will contain three grains of rhubarb.
Two or three to be taken according to the constitution.

Rhubarb was a well known laxative, and was easy to get hold of. It was even sold by itinerant street traders in Regency London. To find out more, check out our ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb‘ post.

The next recipe claims to combat ‘gravel’ – that is, pain experienced when passing urine, sometimes due to crystalline deposits. Ouch!

"For Ye Gravel": an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

“For Ye Gravel”: an 18th century home remedy from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Ye Gravel

Take two table spoonfuls of syrup of march mallows & one spoonfull of oyle of sweet almonds in half a pint of spring water, every morning before breakfast & every night going to bed for thirty one days & nights without missing a dose. You may warm the water a little if you chuse, but dont boile it.

As with all our Georgian recipes, please don’t try these at home! If you’re suffering from either of the above ailments, best check in with your doctor or pharmacist for modern medical advice.

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Kitchiner’s cure for an upset stomach

If you overindulged at a barbecue over the weekend, you’ll probably emphasise with the sickly soul for whom today’s ‘stomachic tincture’ was intended.

This home-made medicine includes Peruvian bark. Its source is the cinchona tree, from which bitter-tasting quinine is also produced. Catholic missionaries to South America were introduced to its medicinal properties by the indigenous peoples of Peru, and so by the 18th century it was also widely referred to as ‘Jesuit’s bark’.

Like so many of the active ingredients used in Georgian home remedies, it was believed to cure any number of ailments. Well known for its sobering, tonic and astringent properties, it was also given to patients to bring down a fever.

In this Regency recipe from Dr William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, it is made into a concentrate with orange peel and brandy, and then taken with water to settle the stomach.

Regency recipe for a home remedy, "stomachic tincture"

Regency recipe for a home remedy, “stomachic tincture”

Stomachic Tincture

Peruvian bark bruised, an ounce & a half; orange peel [bruised], one ounce; brandy or proof spirit, one pint. Let these ingredients steep for ten days, shaking the bottle every day. Let it remain quiet two days and then decant the clear liquor. Dose, a teaspoonful in a wine glass of water twice a day, before dinner & in the evening.

Kitchiner refers to this medicine as an ‘agreeable aromatic tonic’, but, with no sugar to offset the bitterness of the bark, it doesn’t sound too palatable to us. However he does offer an alternative stomach calming remedy, which is somewhat more appealing :

Tea made with dried and bruised Seville orange-peel, in the same way as common tea, and drank with milk and sugar, has been taken by nervous and dyspeptic persons with great benefit“.

Maybe an orange tea like this before bed would see off the stomach cramps? We’ll bear it in mind next time we feel the worse for wear…

Rhubarb rhubarb…

This image, taken from William Marshall Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London (1804), shows a man in Turkish garb, selling rhubarb in Russell Square.

Rhubarb seller from William Craig's Itinerant Traders of London, 1804

Rhubarb seller from William Craig’s Itinerant Traders of London, 1804

His wares are carried in a wooden box which hangs from his shoulders, and in his hand he carries a small pair of scales.

His trade was in rheum palmatum – Chinese or Turkey rhubarb. This rhubarb was not destined for the dining table, as in the spring fruit recipes we looked at yesterday, but rather sold dried as a medicine.  Well known for its purgative and antibacterial qualities, dried rhubarb root was commonly used as a laxative.

Rheum rhabarbarum (edible rhubarb) started to be used in English kitchens from the end of the 18th century, when sugar became more affordable.

In 1815, the accidental discovery of the ‘forcing’ technique at Chelsea Physic Garden led to another boost in its popularity. ‘Forcing’ extended the rhubarb season by several months, and gave a product with a sweeter flavour.  Today, forced rhubarb is best known as Yorkshire produce, but it is interesting to find that it has its ‘roots’ in London.