Winter remedies

The Georgian cookbook of our unknown ladies was not only used to record recipes for puddings, pies and other dishes for the dining table. The ladies also noted down home cures for a number of ailments. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the medicines they may have turned to when winter started to bite.

As with other the medicinal recipes in the Cookbook, we’d advise you not to try these ones at home!

The first is for watery eyes, a common ailment when out and about in bitter winds. Our ladies advise the following remedy:

A Georgian remedy for watery eyes, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian remedy for watery eyes, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

For Weak Eyes That Run Water

A pint of rose water, ten grains of white powder of vitriol. Wash frequently with it.

White vitriol, otherwise known as zinc sulphate, inhibits the production of eye secretions and is still used in eye drops today. The rosewater would have been selected not only for its fragrance, but also for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Our next remedy is attributed to a ‘Dr Mackbride’. The identity of this physician is as mysterious as that of our unknown ladies, but the following recipe shares one of his treatments for a cold:

Remedy for a cold, attributed to a Dr Mackbride

Remedy for a cold, attributed to a Dr Mackbride

Dr Mackbride for a cold

Tow [two] spoonfuls of rum
Tow ditto clarifyed honey
Tow ditto lemmon juice
Tow ditto sweet oyle

This remedy was unlikely to cure the common cold, but the measures of rum and honey may have gone some way to brighten the patient’s spirits!

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…

Daffys elixir

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:

Recipe for homemade Daffy's Elixir from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for homemade Daffy’s Elixir from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Daffys Elixer

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!