Newspaper Remedies and Commercial Medicine in Eighteenth-Century Recipe Books

By Katherine Allen

This post examines medical recipes and commercial medicine published in newspapers that were incorporated into recipe books. In a previous post, I discussed newspapers as sources of medical advice concerning cough and cold remedies. The print marketplace was thriving in eighteenth-century England and the proliferation of periodicals gave recipe collectors the opportunity to engage with published advice by pasting newsprint into their manuscripts. Some individuals alternatively copied out advice into their collections. Certainly, not every eighteenth-century recipe book includes medical information from newspapers. But, collections that do have newsprint show willingness on the compiler’s part to engage with a popular form of media and embrace, or at least consider, innovations in commercial medicine as part of domestic healthcare and the tradition of collecting recipes.

Newspaper recipes pasted into a manuscript recipe book.  Wellcome, WMS 7366, p. 78. [Credit: Wellcome Library]
Newspaper recipes pasted into a manuscript recipe book.
Wellcome, WMS 7366, p. 78. [Credit: Wellcome Library]
My first example is a remedy for consumption recorded in a recipe book from the Derby Mercury on 11 May 1786. The treatment involved breathing in vapours of white pitch and bees wax dissolved over a fire in a closed room. It was trialled by a military officer who ‘found the complaint of his breast greatly reliev’d’.[1] In this case, the recipe book compiler chose to include print advice in his/her collection and also selected a respiratory-based cure, not a standard domestic treatment for consumption at this time. This suggests that the compiler found the remedy intriguing and potentially useful, and therefore took the time and effort to copy it. New medical treatments were hence entering the world of domestic medicine through newsprint, and yet also remained part of the manuscript tradition.

Taken from The Economist, an undated article on using green walnuts in family medicine is an example of a newspaper clipping pasted into a manuscript. The article begins by declaring ‘every body eats walnuts; every body knows how to make a pickle of walnuts; few, however, know the medicinal virtue of walnuts’.[2] The purgative of green walnuts boiled in sugar was deemed a palatable treat for children, unlike ‘salts, jalap, and other doctor’s stuff’, and was claimed to save families from expensive doctor’s bills. Significantly, this newspaper advice recommended the use of homemade medicine over professional care. Syrup of green walnuts was a common recipe found in early modern recipe books. I suspect that this print advice was referencing green walnut remedies found in manuscript collections and printed domestic manuals and re-sharing the information, thus illustrating the three-way relationship of print, newsprint, and manuscript with regards to communicating domestic advice.

An article advertising Magnesia Lozenges for heart burn exemplifies commercial (including patent) medicines included in manuscripts used for domestic healthcare.[3] Found in Jane Frere’s recipe book, this advertisement is for the eighteenth-century version of TUMS. It was standard in medical advertisements to include a description of where the remedy could be purchased, in this instance by W. Box the apothecary, a chemist, a perfumer, and stationers across London. Clippings such as these were likely saved as reminders of commercial treatments to try, and where they could be purchased.

Magnesia Lozenges. Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715x9, p. 149 [Credit: Norfolk County Record Office]
Magnesia Lozenges. Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715×9, p. 149 [Credit: Norfolk County Record Office]
In a final case, a recipe book belonging to the Dolben family from Finedon, Northamptonshire included several newspaper clippings, one being ‘Directions for Using Mr. Mudge’s Inhaler’.[4] John Mudge is credited with inventing the inhaler in 1778 and publishing his work A Radical and Expeditious Cure for a Recent Catarrhous Cough. The inhaler was used in conjunction with an opiate-based elixir, and the user was to lay in bed with the inhaler three quarters filled with water. This example is again illustrative of a multi-textual exchange of medical knowledge. The inclusion of an advertisement for a physician’s new commercial cure in a recipe book demonstrates that collectors were aware of the diverse and innovative treatments available in the marketplace, and sought out these commodities as part of their healthcare.

Woodcut of John Mudge’s Inhaler [Credit: Hardluckasthma]
Woodcut of John Mudge’s Inhaler
[Credit: Hardluckasthma]
The addition of newsprint into manuscripts signifies an evolving material history of recipe books in eighteenth-century England. Fragments of newsprint and copied advice blur the lines between public and private, and between purchased cures and medicine prepared domestically. As these examples show, the medical and print marketplaces shared a close relationship with respect to conveying advice and advertising medical commodities through newsprint. This wider medical marketplace influenced changes in domestic medical practices, including they ways in which health advice was preserved in recipe books, creating a distinct material history of eighteenth-century manuscripts.


[1] Derbyshire CRO, D5430/50/5, f. 25r.

[2] Bodleian Library, MS Eng Misc es49 [no page number].

[3] Norfolk CRO, MC 433/1 715×9, p. 148.

[4] Wellcome, WMS 2201, f. 3r.


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