Category Archives: medical practitioners

Exploring CPP 10A214: Enter Lady Honywood, Continued; Getting it on Paper

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

Elaine Leong’s posting about paper’s use as a medical tool inspired me to look more carefully at instances of paper in the Layfield manuscript, which Rebecca Laroche and I have been examining in this series. What I found was much more than I expected. It turns out that concentrating on paper highlights some of the embedded puzzles about recipe transmission that have been lurking in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript, and even in the Recipe Projects blog itself. My exploration also brings us back to Lady Honywood, proving once more Rebecca’s observation that “one just has to take advantage of a name like ‘Lady Honywood’ if it’s given to you.”

Rebecca and Elaine both have written substantially about Lady Honywood (or Honeywood) in Recipe Project posts before. This past March, Elaine pointed out that Joanna St. John’s 1680 recipe book contains a remedy attributed to Lady Honeywood “for a cancer,” where the medicine is spread on paper and then laid on the sore. Not surprisingly, Lady Honeywood’s name rang a bell for me, since almost two years earlier, Rebecca had devoted two posts to Lady Honywood’s presence in the Layfield manuscript. Lady Honywood’s recipe for the gout, Rebecca showed, hinted that the compiler of the CPP manuscript’s second section had a particular need to treat that ailment since seven cures for gout appear there.

But it turns out that Elaine and Rebecca were talking about the same recipe, or so I found out when I searched for mention of paper in the CPP manuscript. While St. John labels the recipe as a cancer treatment, the Layfield manuscript identifies it as “The Lady Honywood: receite for the Goute, running & swellinge.”

Layfielde_MS Honywood

The Layfield manuscript mentions the concoction’s effectiveness against cancer as an afterthought, but it is nonetheless there – as is paper as mode of administration. The ingredients are identical as well, with two notable variations. First, the Layfield manuscript walks the user through the process of rendering juice from its herbal ingredients, while St. John begins with the juices:


Otherwise, the only difference is that St. John’s version calls for “bean flower” while the Layfield manuscript calls for “wheaten flour.”

The variation in recipe titles is not uncommon, of course, and it certainly highlights Rebecca’s point about the importance of local needs in the organization of these manuscripts. At the same time, it underscores how easily categorization schemes can obscure connections among texts and contributors. Lady Honywood and her recipe, variant title or no, forge a connection between two manuscripts, the St. John and the Layfield, that otherwise show no obvious overlap. And, ironically enough, a search for paper helped bring to light what had been an unidentified link within this very blog. The overlap between manuscripts, and the one between blog entries, hints further at what connections lie just beyond the reach of our current digital tools. Just more evidence that we need a searchable database of these manuscripts!


[1] Below is a transcription for the Layfield hand:

Rx. one handfull of Fetherfew, salladine, smalledge, &
Rhew, of each a handfull, pick them cleane, wash them &
drie the water out cleane, & beate them in a mortar very
small, & then straine the Juce of it into a dish, &
thicken it with wheaten-flower; & put into it the
yelke of anew-laid egg, & as much honey as [that] con-
taines too, all beaten together, & spread it vpon capp
paper, or Grossers browne-paper, & apply it to the
place pained; & as the paine remoues, or moues so
follow it with this medicine –
2. this same also will helpe the Ague in a womans breast
or any bruise, the bloode beinge setled, or kill a felon
or the Kings euell, if it be swellinge or runninge.
If it be runninge lay adrie peece of paper vpon the
soare, & the plaister vpon it, by Gods blessinge it will
do all these cures

Palm Trees and Potions: On Portuguese Pharmacy Signs

By Benjamin Breen

Figure 1. A pharmacy sign in Paris. Photo by Daniel Stockman, 2010.
Figure 1. A pharmacy sign in Paris. Photo by Daniel Stockman, 2010.

Anyone who has walked in a European city at night will be familiar with the glow of them: a vivid and snakelike green, slightly eerie when encountered on a lonely street, beautiful in the rain. They were once neon; now most are arrays of ultra-bright Chinese LEDs that blink on and off in intricate patterns. The glowing emerald cross of the pharmacy is among the most familiar symbols in Europe.

When I moved to Lisbon in 2012, however, I was interested to find that the pharmacy on my street bore a striking variation on the iconic green cross. In Portugal, the green crosses of many farmacias contain a small palm tree with a snake wrapped around it, or inside of it.

Figure 2. Farmácia Moz Teixera, on the Rua do Poço dos Negros, Lisbon.
Figure 2. Farmácia Moz Teixera, on the Rua do Poço dos Negros, Lisbon.

At first glance, there’s a fairly straightforward explanation for this: the iconography seems to owe its origin to the Sociedade Farmaceutica Lusitana (Portuguese Pharmaceutical Society), the emblem of which has featured a variation on the snake + palm tree + cross motif since the 19th century. But as with many explanations in history, this doesn’t really explain much at all. The Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in London glosses the symbol as simply representing the vegetable, animal and mineral kingdoms.

But this doesn’t satisfy – why a palm tree, in particular? Why Portugal?

As with many things in Lisbon, when we peel back a century or two, we find something surprising. The name of the street on which my local pharmacy was located, Rua do Poço dos Negros, offered a hint: literally translated, it means “The Road of the Pit of the Blacks.” Poço can also be translated as “well,” but as the historian James Sweet notes, this poço was in fact a burial pit, and Rua do Poço dos Negros was the main thoroughfare of a densely populated African neighborhood in sixteenth-century Lisbon known as Mocambo, the Kimbundu word for “hideout.” It was a center for what the Portuguese call feitiçaria, or sorcery, a term that was often employed by Portuguese-speakers in the early modern period to describe the practices of African healers who combined medical cures with religious rites that invoked ancestral spirits and divinities.

The snake and the palm tree were frequent motifs in early modern Portuguese depictions of African and indigenous American medical practices. To a Christian reader, the combination called to mind the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, thereby flagging the supposedly Satanic origins of cures from the non-Christian world.

But it also functioned as a proxy for the exotic and the tropical, showing up in places like the frontispiece illustrations of early scientific works about Brazil and the religious manuals of Catholic monks in Africa. Whenever early modern Europeans wanted to signify that a place was heathen, tropical and exotic, the trusty serpent and palm could be counted on.

Breen pharmacy 3
Figure 3. Left: an Italian capuchin monk destroys a Congolese “house of a feitiçeiro [casa d’un Faticchiero] filled with diabolical superstitions.” Source: Paolo Collo and Silva Benso, eds., Sogno: Bamba, Pemba, Ovando e altre contrade dei regni di Congo, Angola e adjacenti (Milan: published privately by Franco Maria Ricci, 1986), 163. Right: detail from the frontispiece of Willem Piso and Georg Marcgrave, Historia Naturalis Brasiliae (Amsterdam: Franciscus Hack, 1648).
To be sure, there were many, many ways of symbolizing the exotic and the colonial in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: alligators, dragons, Chinese maidens toting parasols, and mustachioed Turks with enormous turbans, to name a few. My personal favorite is the moose skull, seashell and pineapple combo that adorns this fanciful anonymous painting of an apothecary shop from early eighteenth century France.

Breen pharmacy 4
Figure 4. Anonymous eighteenth-century painting of an apothecary shop, University R. Descartes in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical and Biological Sciences in Paris, France.


But the snake and palm showed real longevity in the field of medicine and pharmacy, emerging as a common motif for the ceramic jars used to store drugs. Since at least the late medieval period, these jars had functioned as a form of advertising to display the wealth and judicious taste of the apothecary who dispensed drugs out of them: a shop with a full set of colorful Italian-made Maiolica jars, or with the more austere but beautiful blue-and-white Delftware jars favored in England and the Low Countries, promised to be a well-run establishment.

The introduction of new design motifs into drug jars was thus far from a random process. It was guided by the commercial needs of the drug merchant: how do I advertise the purity and potency of the drugs I have for sale? How do I broadcast my links to the Indies, where the most expensive drugs come from? We shouldn’t be surprised, then, to find our friends the serpent and the palm appearing as a prominent motif on jars containing tropical drugs by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries:


Breen Pharmacy 5
Figure 5. Nineteenth century drug jars for Basilicum (Basilicum polystachyon, a medicinal plant native to Africa and South Asia) and “Sapo Animal” (likely meaning “animal soap,” but perhaps the medicinal venom of the Amazonian sapo frog?) showing the serpent and palm motif in exoticized landscapes. Via Aspire Auctions.

The commercial pathways that carried medicinal drugs and recipes from the non-European cultures of Amazonia, Brazil and Africa also carried symbols. Can the palm and serpent motif of Portuguese pharmacies be directly attributed to this colonial-era transfer of materials and ideas between Europe and the tropical world? It certainly seems that way to me, although I acknowledge that the link is largely circumstantial.

What is more certain is that the larger culture of drug use in Portugal and its colonies was strongly shaped by indigenous American and African influences. Although today the contents of a pharmacy are divided from the domain of recreational drug use by formidable cultural and legal boundaries, this was not the case in the seventeenth century. This was a time when apothecaries freely dispensed opium, tobacco, alcohol and even cannabis alongside more familiar remedies like chamomile tea. And it is here, in the etymologies of three familiar words associated with recreational drugs, that the influence of the colonies upon Portuguese drug culture is most apparent.

Unlike other speakers of Romance languages, who typically puff on tubos or pipes, Lusophones smoke from cachimbos, a term derived from the word kixima in the Kimbundu language of West Central Africa. (This is an especially intriguing etymological origin because pipes are typically thought of as being introduced to Europeans via indigenous Americans, not Africans). From colonial times to the present, at least some of those who used cachimbos were filling them not with tobacco but with maconha, i.e. cannabis, derived from the Kimbundu makaña.

And perhaps they washed this down with a fortifying swig of jerebita, now known as cachaça or sugar-cane liquor, which, according to the historian João Azevedo Fernandes, has a not entirely unexpected point of origin: “the word jerebita very probably originated from the Tupi word jeribá, a species of palm tree.”


Ambire: An Amerindian Antidote Against All Types of Poison. New Kingdom of Granada (today Colombia) ca. 1628.

Pablo F. Gómez

Ambire, an Amerindian remedy for bites and poisons

During the last decades of the sixteenth and the first ones of the seventeenth century, the Spanish surgeon Pedro López de León worked at the San Sebastian hospital in the city of Cartagena de Indias in the New Kingdom of Granada.  At the time, Cartagena was the most important port of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean and the official entry of all the slave trade coming into South America. Not surprisingly,  San Sebastian was the busiest hospital in the region. Drawing from his work at the hospital and around the region surrounding Cartagena and the wider Caribbean, López de León wrote a medical/surgical treatise called Practica y teorica de las apostemas en general y particular that detailed his experiences treating patients from all over the Atlantic while using state of the art surgical and medical techniques, and incorporating treatments he first saw in the New World.

The portada of the first edition of Pedro López de León’s Practica y teorica de las apostemas published in Sevilla in 1628. Credit: Google Books.

Salient among the treatments López de León details in his work was his use of an antidote he learned from Amerindian practitioners in the Caribbean coast of the New Kingdom of Granada. This treatment was, in his words, the only effective remedy against the bites of native snakes that, López de León thought, “were worst than the vipers of Spain.” The famous theriac from Toledo, a variation of the common medieval European panacea for poison, was completely ineffective against New-World snakes’ poison. When one of these snakes bit a person, López de León, said, health practitioners should instead use ambire—a remedy he had learned from Amerindian health specialists. Ambire was “a mix of many counter-herbs, tobacco juice and honey.” Amerindians cooked these ingredients until the resulting liquid was “as thick as the egypciaco ointment, and with the same color and consistency.” Ambire was “so strong and with such virtue,” López de León maintained, that if a person who had been bitten by a snake “drinks the weight of a real [3.5 gm.]” of ambire “dissolved in wine or water” within fifteen minutes of the snake’s bite, or that of any other poisonous animal, the remedy would stop “and kill” the poison and “repair the heart.” López de León recommended that—besides administering ambire orally to patients bitten by poisonous animals—health practitioners should “cut and suck the bite wound” and put “ambire macerated with four garlic cloves in a mortar” on the wound which should be then covered. This procedure, including the drinking of the ambire potion, should be repeated after three, seven, and thirteen hours. If the recipe was prepared correctly and the procedure followed strictly, “most patients would be cured,” López de León maintained.

Remedies for “Fresh Wounds” in Pedro López de León’s Practica y teorica de las apostemas general y particular (1628), 160.


More impressively, ambire served as a prophylactic against any “poison” that “one will be given” during a day. Death, one should remember, lurked around every corner in the early modern world, and poisons of all sorts (and not only of animal origin) were a particularly common menace. In order to be protected López de León said, a person should “put three drops of ambire” in her palm and “lick them every morning.” According to the Spanish surgeon, this was a remedy that was highly esteemed by both Amerindians and Spaniards. Everybody in the region thought that ambire was far better than theriac. After all, ambire protected not only against physical but also spiritual poisons. Ambire made people expel the “spells through the mouth or anus” in the form of vomit or diarrhea. López de León himself had seen people that, after having been treated for spells with ambire, “had expelled bones of little toads,” a common description in the New Kingdom of Granada of the widespread bundles of evil associated with witchcraft, “in the quantity of an escudilla [a small bowl].”

López de León’s account of the uses of ambire is an illuminating example of the vibrant, multi-originated, and epistemologically diverse world of early modern Caribbean medicine. It showcases an era of pharmacological exchange, and of challenges to old Western medical traditions (including that of the quintessential Galenic remedy, theriac) on the basis of experiences gained from exchanges with native populations around the globe. It also reminds us of the fluid avenues linking the human body with the physical and spiritual realms in the ideation about nature of early modern people


León, Pedro López de. Pratica y teorica de las apostemas en general y particular: questiones y praticas de cirugia de heridas, llagas y otras cosas nuevas y particulares. Sevilla: Luys Estupiñan, 1628. 198.


Recipes for Curing Syphilis from Colonial Mexico

By Heather R. Peterson, Assistant Professor of History University of South Carolina, Aiken

Syphilitic man attributed to Albrecht Dürer (1496) Credit Wiki Commons

While there is debate about the origins of syphilis, most Spanish doctors in the sixteenth century followed the physician Nicolas de Monardes in believing it to be of New World origin. Because the disease had appeared and spread so suddenly, Albrecht Dürer and others supposed that the new disease was caused by an astrological conjunction. But Monardes pinpointed the moment of European transmission to Columbus’s return voyage. He supposed that there must have been sexual concourse between the Indians Columbus brought back and all of the armies of Europe who were assembled in Naples; they then spread the disease throughout Europe.[1]

Confronted with curing this new disease, Spanish doctors looked to New World medicinal herbs arguing that where God had planted the seed of contagion, he would also plant the remedy. Eager to understand the new pharmacopeia the Crown sent doctors, such as Francisco Hernandez, and included questions regarding local herbs and cures in the Relaciones geographicas, an ambitious survey of the lands and peoples in the Spanish realms (1580). While the reports identified a number of local cures for syphilis, such as chupirini, which apparently caused the genitals to go on fire, or the herbs administered by female doctors in Oaxaca chinanteca and matlacaptl, only mechoacán, a powerful emetic became a staple part of the Spanish pharmacopeia.[2]

File:A three-headed eagle in a crowned alchemical flask, represen Wellcome V0025636.jpg
An alchemist’s flask decorated with a three-headed eagle representing mercury sublimated three times. Splendor solis, attributed to Salomon Trismosin (1532). Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Many young doctors also made the voyage, hoping to capitalize on first hand experience of native cures. In his 1567 treatise, Pedro Arias de Benavides touted the New World origins of his cure for syphilis, which he claimed to have practiced and “perfected” during an eight-year stay in New Spain. The secret to Arias’s cure was mercury, the alchemists’ prima materia, which he argued opened the channels of the body to receive the herbs and oils. Arias had first witnessed a mercury cure in Salamanca, but claims that his cure was an improvement over the first, which left the cleric “cured” but missing four teeth. Though he claimed it was a New World cure, Arias’ recipe involved items such as theriac (which contained opiates from the Near East), pork fat, and three unguents, two of which refer to regions or places in Spain “aragon” and “dealtea” (de Altea contained fenugreek, a root from India that was probably introduced to Spain under the Moors) suggesting the transfer of pharmaceuticals went both directions. [3] What follows is a transcription of Arias’s recipe.

Doctor Pedro Arias de Benavides’s cure for Morbo Galico (1567)

Mix three quarts of mercury, weighing a mark, with theriac and beat it in the mortar until it is “dead,” which you will know because it does not return to mix although you throw a drop of oil in the mortar, and thus being well mortified, take the mixture from there, and beat six ounces of pork fat without salt, very ground up, and cleaned of all the little veins and nerves that it has, and this being well ground, return to incorporate it with the theriac and the mercury, and leave it there for fifteen minutes.

I have for certain that the theriac quits the harm of the mercury, for the following, because the teeth stay very firm and whiter than before (!) and [patients] are able to chew after the cure, because it does not impede the teeth, because this cure expels [the humors] through the stool and urine. This being so copious that there are men who will urinate thirty or forty times in a day, and it stinks so much that there is not a person who does not suffer from the stench of the urine.

Then in two days I give them one ounce of the unguent “macieton” and another ounce of “aragon” and another of “dialtea.” Later I would incorporate all of these unguents, and let them sit for two days, and after this time, I threw in four ounces of ash of vine shoot and another half of mastic, and another half of incense, and one clove, and another cinnamon, all well sifted, and oil of berry and of chamomile, of each one ounce, and three of oil of brick. And if you want to fortify this unguent for the more robust, throw in a half-dram of “euforbio” but if it is during a hot season I do not throw in any. This unguent has the property that it may go bad later, because all the things that are in it are good and noble and are incorporated, they make a good operation, as will be seen by whomever experiments with it.

Arias did not think that the mercury was a medicine in itself, but that it opened the channels of the body for the real medicine: the mixture of herbs. He argued that bubos was caused by an abundance of melancholy in the body, and noted that though it was normally spread by concourse with “unclean women” it could also arise from a corruption of the humors in the body, as must have been the case for the first person to have the illness. This sort of bubos, he claims to have seen among “very honored clerics, who could not be doubted,” and he sought to restore their honor from suspicion.

[1] Nicolás Monardes, Primera y Segunda y Tercera Partes de la Historia Medicinal de las Cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales que sirven en Medicina (Sevilla: Alonso de Escrivano, 1574), 13-13v.

[2] Anonimo, Relaciones Geográficas de la Díocesis de Michoacán Papeles de Nueva España (Guadalajara 1958), 12, 57. Francisco del Paso y Troncoso, ed. Relaciones Gegráficas de la Diócesis de Oaxaca vol. Tomo IV, Papeles de Nueva España (Madrid La Real Casa: Paseo de San Vicente núm 20, 1905), Atlatlauca y Malinaltepec, Item 17, pp. 172-73.

[3] For a recipe for unguent of de Altea see:  For the recipe for theriace see the list of ingredients for the Amsterdammer Apotheek (1683) on:

[4] See the list of ingredients for the Amsterdammer Apotheek (1683) on: