Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Common Medicines for the Family Home

By Anna Kathryn Lanier

A few weeks ago, I came across a reproduction copy of THE FAMILY NURSE or COMPANION OF THE AMERICAN FRUGAL HOUSEWIFE by Mrs. Lydia Child. It was originally published in 1832 and is full of helpful medical help. One chapter is Common Medicines.

Mrs. Child says, “Every family ought to keep a chest of common medicines, such as ipecac, castor oil, magnesia, paregoric, etc., and especially such remedies as are useful in croup.” She stresses that medicines should be kept covered and have their names on them. Medicines such as opium, laudanum, nitric acid, etc. should also be marked “in large letters, Poison or Dangerous" and kept out of reach of children.

“The operation of medicine is always favored by very simple food, very sparingly used. Gruel is the best article. As a general rule it is better to avoid the use of emetics, when cathartics [purging] will answer the purpose equally well.”

What do these medicines do?

Castor oil is a cathartic producing little pain. It is recommended for pregnant women and those who just delivered, as well as children. You can mask the taste of it by mixing it with cinnamon water or with sweet coffee.

Carbonate of Magnesia is good for an acid state of the stomach. “A heaped up table-spoonful, well mixed in water or milk may be taken.”

Paregoric is used to control diarrhea.

What kinds of medicines were common in an 1837 household? Besides those mentioned above, Mrs. Child suggests:

Manna as a laxative, but because of its mildness, it can mixed with senna, rhubarb or some other cathartic.

Rhubarb is “at once a tonic and cathartic…Some aromatic is usually combined with it, to render it less painful. 1 ounce of senna leaves, 1 drachm of bruised coriander seed, and a pint of boiling water; steeped an hour in a eathern vessel, and strained.”

Jalap is also a cathartic (evidently, making people vomit was considered a good remedy for many illnesses). It is recommended especially where physic is required and is good to use in cases of dropsy.

Alum in “a weak solution held in the mouth is excellent for canker.”

Ginger, cinnamon, cloves and carroway are not only cooking spices, but may be used for medicinal reasons as well. The Home Nurse knew how to use these spices for helping family members with such things as dyspepsia, tooth aches, digestive problems and flatulence.

Cayenne may also be used as home remedy. Sprinkled on flannel it can be used as a rubefacient [causing redness of the skin] and was thought to be effective “for violent pain of the bowels and as a wash for rheumatism.”

Camphor must be dissolved in alcohol or expressed oil and is good for nervous head-ache or faintness. “Likewise comforting to bathe the hands, feet, and forehead, in cases of dry skin and nervous restlessness.” Camphor can also be used for muscular pains.

Mrs. Child lists twenty pages of common medicines in her book (along with long definitions of how to use them…the list is not twenty pages long). THE FAMILY NURSE is available via Barnes and Noble and a great resource for anyone writing in the 19th Century.

Anna Kathryn Lanier


Paty Jager said...

Fun information. It was amazing how many were for vomiting! LOL I think the Native American remedies were more effective.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I know, Paty. Making people vomit seemed to be the remedy for a good many things.

Kathy Otten said...

Bleed, Blister, Purge I think is the name of another book on those same lines. I guess that and throwing up was, like you said, their answer to everything.
As much as I fantasize about living in the old west, I don't think I would.(As if I'd ever get the opportunity, LOL! But one of my character's might).

Anonymous said...

Was it was vomitting or for bowel movement?

Regencyresearcher said...

cathartic usually meant it worked on the bowels. It was a more complete laxative. They didn't usually make people vomit except when poisoning was suspected. However, many beleived that health was assured if the bowels were kept open. This continues to this day in many places.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Kathy, I have that book, too. It's a great reference source for anyone writing in the 1800's. Dr. Steele also talks about female doctors and I've used his book for several past blogs.


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Interesting, I had the impression she was talking about vomiting, and looking the word up, the definition indicated vomiting, too.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

This is great. I often wonder what medicines to use with my characters in 1850's. Thanks!

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Paisley, the book is only $10. I recommend getting it.

Anonymous said...

So interesting! Thanks for the link to this book - heading to B&N now!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks Anna Kathryn. I ordered it and apparently it is the last copy they have on hand.

Renee said...

I find these old remedies interesting. I have a book of Amish rememdies from way back when. I've also done some research on the Native American remedies for snake bites. I have to agree with Paty, I think their remedies were more effective.

Unknown said...

Fantastic information. Thanks so much for blogging about this. One of the best blog post I've ever read.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, all. thanks for stopping by. I think the Native Americans probably based remedies on fact, while the white man did it more on superstition. Living so close to nature as the NA did, I think they understood more. We lost a lot of science when we wiped out their cultures.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, all. thanks for stopping by. I think the Native Americans probably based remedies on fact, while the white man did it more on superstition. Living so close to nature as the NA did, I think they understood more. We lost a lot of science when we wiped out their cultures.

Nancy said...

Thanks for the heads-up! I have the Frugal American Housewife but didn't know about this book. As it happens, you shared this info at the perfect time for my WIP.


Debby Lee said...

Thanks so much for the educational and interesting article. I write in 1800's America and this book is going to be so helpful, one I'm definitely going to get. Thanks for the resource.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Fascinating article, Anna!

In fact there are still many household remedies that one can use to good effect. Cider vinegar, for instance, is very good for vaginal yeast infections (diluted 5% solution). Ginger tea soothes the throat, especially when mixed with a bit of cayenne and honey. I believe that turmeric also has some medicinal uses, though I can't recall them at the moment.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Nancy, Debby Lee and Lisabet. Thanks for stopping by. I'm always happy to pass on reference books, so glad to help, Nancy and Debby Lee.

Lisabet, thanks for the tips.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Anna Kathryn, great post. I have Dr. Chase's book, first published in 1837, and was surprised how many treatments involved turpentine. Many of his, though, were sound, such as his recommendations for treatment of tuberculosis. Thanks for sharing.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Carolyn, at the time I purchased this book, I also purchased one by a doctor, which is probably Dr. Chase's. I need to look to see if it is. I haven't had a chance to look through it yet.