Proprietary Panaceas and Not-So-Secret Recipes

By Alisha Rankin

How did peddlers of proprietary medicines negotiate the craze for recipes in early modern Europe? They offered recipes using their medicines, of course!

There are many examples of recipe books containing remedies for which the main ingredient is a secret cure attached to only one person. The reader would then have to purchase that ingredient before he or she could use the recipe. Famous examples of this phenomenon abound in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, Daffy’s Elixir among them, but many precursors can be found in sixteenth-century continental Europe. The medicines of Italian surgeon Leonardo Fioravanti were perhaps the most prominent, but there were a host of other empirical healers who fit this mold.

One such empiric was a German who called himself Georg am Wald, a noble-sounding name that belied his humble beginnings as the son of a bookseller. Am Wald received a law degree from Basel in 1573, but he never practiced as a lawyer. Instead, he set up practice as a healer, referring to himself a “doctor of both medicines”: a physician and surgeon. He received his medical degree from the Palatine Count in Padua in 1578, but these degrees were famous for being bought and sold–a reasonable assumption in am Wald’s case, considering that he spent less than a year in Padua. Despite being kicked out of Augsburg for failing the city’s medical exam, am Wald practiced as a doctor in Donauwörth for years, before being driven out for inciting religious dissidence. He then bought himself a castle, where he produced and sold alchemical cures.

A boring fellow he was not.

am Wald 1594 frontispiece
Panacea Amwaldina, 1594 edition
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, VD A2432

In the 1590s, am Wald became famous for an alchemical cure-all that he called the Panacea Amwaldina. He published a treatise on the cure-all in 1591, then revised and expanded it in 1594. There are many fascinating aspects of this cure–not least that it may be the first instance of using the word “panacea” to refer to an alchemical remedy–but most relevant to this blog is the way he incorporated the panacea into recipes.The recipe for the panacea itself was secret, of course. Even his closest friends were unable to pry it from him.

Nevertheless, am Wald used recipes aplenty, writing that:

Even though my panacea drives away all illnesses on its own, which the help and cooperation of the Almighty, I am nevertheless including … many recipes, which one can use in many ailments and conditions for a quicker cure.

In longstanding or especially deadly diseases, he recommended a purge before using the panacea. (An interesting recommendation, given that he touted the panacea as a gentle substance that was not a purgative.) He also gave recipes for the panacea’s use in 116 (!!!) different ailments. Am Wald included similar recipes in his letters to patients.

Am Wald 1594 marginalia
Marginal annotations on the recipes for using am Wald’s panacea
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, VD A2432

The reader of one copy of am Wald’s book in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek appears to have taken his directives seriously, as he wrote marginal notations to highlight particular recipes of interest. Even with a supposed cure-all, recipes remained crucial. Patients of course then needed to buy both his book and the panacea to be healed–a double win for am Wald!

Sources:

am Wald, Georg. Kurtzer Bericht, wie und was gestalt der Panacea Amwaldina als eine einige Medicin … anzuwenden sey. Frankfurt am Main, 1591.

am Wald, Georg. Kurtzer und zum andernmal gemehrter Bericht von der Panacea Amwaldina. 1594

Short Bibliography:

Eamon, William. The Professor of Secrets: Mystery, Medicine, and Alchemy in Renaissance Italy. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2010. (A fascinating study of Fioravanti.)

Leong, Elaine and Sarah Pennell. “Recipe Collections and the Currency Of Medical Knowledge in the Early Modern ‘Medical Marketplace.’” In Medicine and the Market in England and Its Colonies, c. 1450-1850. Edited by Mark J.R. Jenner and Patrick Wallis. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave, 2007.

Haycock, David and Patrick Wallis, “Quackery and Commerce in Seventeenth-Century London: The Proprietary Medical Business of Anthony Daffy,” Medical History, 25 (2005): 1-36.

Müller-Jahnke, Wolf-Dieter. Georg am Wald (1554-1616).” In Analecta Paracelsica: Studien zum Nachleben Theophrast von Hohenheims im deutschen Kulturgebiet der frühen Neuzeit, ed. Joachim Telle, 213-304. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1994.

Rankin, Alisha. “Empirics, Physicians, and Wonder Drugs in Early Modern Germany: The Case of the Panacea Amwaldina.” Early Science and Medicine 14 (2009): 680-710.


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