All posts by alunwithey

The Curative Power of Beer and Rhubarb

By Dr. Annie Gray and Dr. Alun Withey


I’m a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, a sort of cook’s question time, where an audience fires questions at a panel of cooking people. I come along both to answer questions and provide historical context for themes we know will come up (rhubarb in Wakefield, beer in Bury St Edmunds etc). I usually bring something with me for the panel to taste, and I’m constantly trying to get people to stop thinking ‘historic food’ and start thinking ‘food’, plain, simple and hopefully delicious.

For a recent episode, the aforementioned Bury St Edmunds, I was asked to come up with a few medicinal beer recipes as part of a discussion on the ubiquity of beer and ale in pre-nineteenth century Britain… Cue my asking Dr Alun to look in the Withey archive. He came up with a cure for vomiting and a cure for scurvy. They looked doable, so I duly did them. Usually I do food, so drink, especially with a medicinal slant, is slightly outside my normal sphere of recipe recreation. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Herewith my thoughts:

The ale

No one seems to produce a proper replica ale (I.e. an unhopped beer) anymore. There are various rather useful looking web resources for making your own, but I only had two days, so that wasn’t an option. After lengthy discussions with Alun, beer expert and fellow Kitchen Cabinetist Tim Anderson, and a very helpful chap from Harvey’s brewery in Lewes, I went for Harvey’s Old Ale, low alcohol version. At 1%, it’s slightly below the alcohol content of a seventeenth-century small beer, but close, and as a watered down version of the stronger and more mainstream Old Ale, it struck me that the flavours would be suitably insipid.

It is hopped, which I had a few moments of agony over. However, by the seventeenth century hops were in common use in many beers. They increased its keeping power and gave it a decent flavour which had previously been achieved through use of various herbal mixtures. Andrew Boorde and his moaning about their tendency to induce flatulence notwithstanding, hops caught on pretty quickly for these reasons, and by the early eighteenth century, it seems they were pretty universal.

I arbitrarily decided I was going for a mid-late seventeenth feel, so my hopped beer was fine. It was quite a sweet bevy as well, which I reckoned was not inaccurate. Later books (e.g. Mary Eaton, 1823) have recipes for substitute beer which are basically treacle, yeast and water, so at least some beers were clearly gut-wrenchingly sweet. The ale/beer formed the basis of both of the cures, and was the main taste, hence all the agonising.

(c) Wellcome Images
A cure for vomiting. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

This was an easy win. No mint water in my cupboard, so I seethed (simmered) my mint (1 decent sprig for my 250ml beer) for about 10mn along with half a stick of cinnamon. Strained, decanted, and allowed to cool, it was like a more interesting Pimms. A good summer cocktail, anyway.


Cinnamon has been used medicinally for centuries. Inevitably it has attracted loads of probably spurious medical claims. Among the less obviously ludicrous, it *may* be an anti-inflammatory, in which case it would presumably help if your vomiting is caused by fever or brain swelling?! (Seriously, vomiting is the least of your worries at that point, surely). It’s still suggested as an anti-emetic by some of those dubious home remedy sites you find on the web. I’m unconvinced. But the beer might be hair of the dog if your vomiting is caused by a previous dose of beer the night before. And at the very least, it will help rehydrate you.

L0029444 English recipe book, 17th century Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Page 4 17th century English recipe book,  Collection of medical recipes and memoranda on the properties of various medicinal and cosmetic preparations. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
English recipe book, 17th century. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A cure for scurvy

More of a challenge! Hedgerow and field scouring required, along with a bit of research into 17th century vernacular names for hedgerow plants…

Scabious – a rather gorgeous flower, often grown in gardens as its bee crack. Purple flowers, spreading habit. It was (and still is) variously promoted for use against cought, sore throats and skin conditions.

Scurvygrass – there are four types of scurvy grass, most of which grow predominantly on the coast, as they like a sandy, poor soil, and thrive with a bit of salt. The most common today is Danish scurvy grass (actually a British native as well), which now grows along roads which have been salted in the winter. It has heart shaped leaves and white, frothy flowers. It was widely used as a cure for scurvy in the past, hence the name. Like watercress tin flavour, but part of the brassica family, it is high in vitamin c, so it would have helped a bit. Not as much as lemons and oranges, but it might have stopped your teeth falling out quite so quickly.

Liverwort – probably hepatica, a plant which grows in damp, moist places and has purple flowers. The leaves are three-lobed, like a liver, apparently (as usual with the doctrine of signatures, you have to squint and use a bit of imagination to get it). The Greek for liver is heper, hence the name. It’s an astringent, a demulcent, a diuretic, and, as is so common with early modern ingredients, poisonous in large doses. Nothing like a hint of death to add a frisson to your everyday life.

Image from Wikipedia (creative commons)
Image from Wikipedia (creative commons)

Elderberries – I had to buy dried. Not inauthentic.

Rhubarb – see below. Not having any dark, instant diarrhea stuff, I used what was in my garden. It was used predominantly as a remedy for constipation in the past….until the English, especially, realise how amazing it is in a tart and developed the sweeter versions so familar today.

Senna – a laxative, available still for that purpose as tea bags, loose dried leaves (ideal here), and tablets.

Nutmegs – a miracle cure, if you believe some of the hyperbole. Skin complaints, pain, and, importantly for scurvy symptons, especially good for mouth ulcers and oral problems.

Aniseeds – the little seeds you used to get inside aniseed balls, and not to be confused with star anise.

Licorice – good for digestive issues (not so good for blood pressure, apparently).

The amounts, when scaled down to suit a 250 ml bottle of beer, are tiny, and seriously too small to have any real effect. But once seethed together for a while, I admit they are pungent. I hated this. The rhubarb added a proper bile note (and I LOVE rhubarb), while the spices and herbs were oddly bitter and rather green. However, my fellow Kitchen Cabinet panelists thought it was quite nice. Sigh.


One question I’m often asked about early modern medical remedies is whether they actually worked. People sometimes look slightly embarrassed about asking this, as if it’s a daft question. Surely they couldn’t work could they? One popular remedy for sore eyes was to get a friend or partner to blow powdered hen’s dung into your eyes just before you retired for the evening. (See this related post on fecal remedies.) The natural reaction is that such a course of action would be unlikely to bring the sufferer much relief. One seventeenth-century cure for ‘worems in the teeth’ involved putting a small quantity of mercury into a dish, lighting a fire underneath it and inhaling the vapour, or otherwise adding the mercury to a small quantity of oil and rinsing it around the mouth. Given that the effects upon the body of mercury poisoning range from psychosis and hallucination to death, this is clearly not advisable as a cure for toothache.

In fact though the question of whether they worked is a great one and, indeed, one that historians haven’t really considered enough. One notable exception is the work done by medical herbalists, such as Dr Anne Stobart, who have sought to identify the healing properties of many early modern herbs. In recent years there has been a great deal of attention paid to remedy culture, the sharing of medical knowledge and the making of medicines in the home. But the efficacy, potency or effects of early modern remedies have been largely overlooked. Why is this?

One issue is perhaps the anachronistic danger of looking at early modern recipes through modern eyes. Whilst we might sniff about the curative powers of powdered swallows, flayed puppies and the rest, the truth is that they’ve never been subjected to chemical analysis. I’m obviously not suggesting they should be available over the counter, but there is a great potential for collaboration between historians and scientists to uncover the medicinal (or otherwise) properties of ingredients used in medical remedies. Acquiring a better understanding of the effects upon the human body of the various substances commonly used in medicine would offer us a far more nuanced understanding of the experience of sickness in the past.

But to return to the question, much depends on how ‘working’ is defined. We tend to think of a remedy ‘working’ if it actually makes us better. Arguably, the early modern index of whether something ‘worked’ or not was if it had an effect. In other words, people took a purgative substance and waited patiently for a copious evacuation. Emerging later from the privy, sufficiently purged, they would judge that the remedy had worked; it had rendered the desired effect upon the body. Mustard plasters and blisters, designed to bring the blood to the surface and break the skin, worked if that was achieved. In this sense, the important element was not necessarily whether the patient had ultimately recovered, but whether the medicine had done what it should. Thus it is fairly common to see people noting that their Senna had ‘wrought well’ or that a remedy to ease wind had brought them relief.

One of the substances used by Annie in her reconstructions was rhubarb, and this gives a useful case in point. Even today, rhubarb is well known as a high-fibre product, and is commonly listed among other favourites such as figs and prunes, as a gentle cure for constipation. But it is worth noting that the rhubarb used by Annie in her reconstruction, the happy pink and green stalks that we commonly cover in custard after Sunday lunch, is not actually the same variety as that used in seventeenth-century medical remedies. And seventeenth-century rhubarb definitely ‘worked’! The variety popular in early modern Europe was Rheum Palmatum, known as Turkish Rhubarb, or Chinese Rhubarb. It was a particularly strong astringent and aperient, which was renowned for its ability to swiftly produce a stool! Even in 1923 the Lancet journal was reporting that small doses of powdered rhubarb were strong enough to treat dystentry!

L0031508 P. Mattioli, I discorsi ...nelli sei libri Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Dioscorides' rhubarb. Rhevbarbaro. (Rhubarb). A renaissance illustration from Pietro Andrea Mattioli's Italian translation of Dioscorides, ed. 3, Venice, V. Valgrisi, 1568. Coloured drawing 1568 I discorsi...nelli sei libri di Pedacio Dioscoride Anazarbeo della materia medicinale... Pietro Andrea Mattioli Published: 1568 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
Image of Rhubarb from Mattioli’s translation of Discorides. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Some of the extremely powerful ingredients used in early modern medicine, not least rhubarb and mercury (!) remind us to be cautious when recreating medical remedies of the past. They also act as a reminder of the ‘scientific’ nature of medical treatment – an element that might seem surprising in context of what we think we know about the medicine of our forebears.

In fact, creating medical remedies was extremely scientific. Ingredients were carefully weighed, measured and concocted. They then underwent a process of experimentation and use. Remedies that were adjudged to have ‘worked’ were kept and recycled. Those that didn’t were ditched or struck through. All of this was extremely ‘scientific’. It makes us think again about how we view the techniques and effects of medicines in the past.

Oral Testimony and Remedies Over Time

By Alun Withey

When studying the history of recipes, the longevity of certain remedies, ingredients or substances in healing is often striking. In terms of the early modern period, it is often remarked how far back certain remedies into ancient Greek or Latin texts; in many cases, how far forward they survived is also noteworthy – often long after the rise of (modern) biomedicine.

One of the ways through which we can track this process is through surviving examples in oral testimonies. While early twentieth-century antiquarian obsessions with all things weird and grotesque might not fit with modern academic approaches, the records they collected from oral testimonies, especially from people in rural areas, are often fascinating. Indeed, in many ways, these records are often the only remnants of medical traditions now past and, even more interestingly, the fact that they can be traced back through family generations tells us something about transmission.

An interesting survey was taken in the 1970s of herbal remedies still in use in rural Wales, which had some evidence of long-term family use. In many cases, recipes and ingredients they provided can be readily found in early modern collections. In the early modern period, it was common to use snails as ingredients in recipes to treat eye conditions. Typically, they might be impaled on a pin, with the juice allowed to drop into the afflicted eye. In the 70s, interviewees remembered similar recipes used in their families, including one involving skinning 12 black snails, putting sugar on them and leaving them overnight, before eating the gooey remains the next day!

Another enduring ophthalmic remedy was the ‘snakestone’ or ‘adder stone’ – essentially a polished river stone resembling a snake’s eye. Directions for use of the snakestone can commonly be found in Medieval and early modern texts and, when the survey was taken, reports were included for glain nadredd – in English, ‘adder beads’.

The example shown here was found in the foundations of an old Carmarthenshire house i 1836, and can be seen in the Carmarthenshire County Museum: –

An 'Adder stone' found in the foundations of a Carmarthenshire house in 1836

It was reportedly common to use the herb rue in preparations for children suffering from worms. Similar remedies occur in several Welsh collections of the 17th century. Lungwort and eyebright were still in evidence in the 1970s for respiratory and ocular conditions, respectively, and can be traced well back almost into antiquity. Human urine was another common ingredient in the seventeenth century in a variety of remedies and, in living memory, has still been noted as having cosmetic value and also in the treatment of ear conditions. Perhaps most interestingly, in a journal article of 1906, it was reported that a Montgomeryshire woman who injured herself with a scythe went back to the scythe for seven days after and repeated an incantation over it. This bears extraordinary similarity to the so-called ‘weapon salve’ noted by Sir Kenelm Digby in the seventeenth century, whereby the idea was to treat the instrument that had injured somebody, rather than the wound itself.

Image used with permission of the Wellcome Trust/Wellcome Images

It is also interesting to note some echoes of older practices involving modern substances. For example, inhalants were a common facet of early modern recipes, such as boiling herbs and drawing in the steam or even, in one remedy, inhaling the vapour of Mercury as a cure for worms in the teeth. The modern practice of putting Olbas Oil or Friar’s Balsam into boiling water is little different.

In many respects then, it is worth remembering the longevity both of remedies and medical practices. While manuscript collections give us evidence of usage, of remedy networks and contributors, oral testimonies often yield more direct evidence of the transmission of remedies from generation to generation. They also speak of people’s continuing belief in the power of old remedies, even in the face of modern, scientific, alternatives.

(For a fuller discussion of this survey see Anne E. Jones, “Folk Medicine in Living Memory in Wales”, Folklife, 18 (1980), pp. 58-68)

See Lisa Smith’s blog post about cure-all medicines here:

Also, for a different version of this post, see my blog article at:

What is a ‘remedy collection’?: Recording Medical Information in the Seventeenth Century

What exactly is a ‘recipe collection’? The most obvious answer is something like the example shown below, a formal ‘receptaria’ book of medical receipts and remedies. In the early modern period, and across Europe, these types of collections were fairly common, and especially in wealthier households. These were often carefully constructed documents, containing indices and sometimes containing groups of remedies according to various types of remedy, or parts of the body. In many ways these were the high-end of domestic medicine.

But were such formal collections necessarily representative? In other words, did everyone (or at least everyone capable of writing remedies down) collect their medical information this way? No. As a great deal of recent work by historians is revealing, the committal of recipes to paper was often a much more haphazard, and far less regimented, process.
For a start, paper was an expensive commodity in the early modern period. It could often be bought easily enough; apothecaries often sold reams or ells of paper, as did other retailers from merchants to haberdashers. But it was nonetheless quite costly. Unlike today, where scribble pads and notebooks can be bought for pennies, the buying of paper, or a bound book of notepaper, would have been something out of the ordinary, especially for those on low incomes.

Firstly, the recording of remedies was an expedient and often pragmatic process. Remedies usually spread firstly by word of mouth, with people passing on their favourite receipts to friends, neighbours and acquaintances. As Adam Fox’s work on early modern oral culture has shown (Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000)) people had a strong ability to commit information to memory, and this made sense at a time when the majority of the population couldn’t read or write. Nevertheless, for those wishing to record the remedy accurately for future use, there was a need to do so quickly, and often using whatever was to hand.

As such, many ‘remedy collections’ are little more than assemblages of roughly scribbled notes, sometimes on torn bits of paper, sometimes on the back of unrelated documents, and sometimes even including a variety of other information on the same page. In fact, the very survival of many remedies is probably attributable to the fact that they have been incorporated into other, non-medical, documents.

Nevertheless, the recording of remedies in certain types of document was often a more deliberate decision. In Wales, for example, there were several instances of medical remedies being written on notepaper purloined from a church. In one sense this was pragmatic and reflected the simple availability (and probably abundance) of paper, given the needs of the church to keep records. But some were written inside church documents. In parish registers, for example, it was not uncommon to find receipts. A common example was that of a ‘receipt for the biteinge of a mad dogge”, often originally attributed to the register of Cathorp Church in Lincolnshire, but which seemed to move around the country. An example of the remedy, occurring in the Monmouthshire church of Llantillio Pertholey, can be seen here:

In another sense, though, putting remedies in amongst religious verses, as often occurred in commonplace books and notebooks, was a way of allying the remedy to the power of religion. If it was next to God’s word on paper, perhaps it would have more power?
Above all, for the remedy to be of any use, it had to be easy to find when needed. Some, for example, kept remedies within the pages of their business ledgers. Here, the regimented layout perhaps suited ease of future reference. But perhaps most common was to keep remedies within the pages of personal sources. Many diarists noted down examples of favoured remedies, especially when they had suffered from an ailment and attributed their recovery to the taking of a particular remedy.

Commonplace books, notebooks and copy books were also common places for the jotting down of useful information, and could be easily referred to if needed. It was not uncommon to put remedies within pages of miscellany, including accounts, quotes, poetry and family records, locating it firmly within the context of ‘useful’ information. Many literate families also kept letters. Health was a regular topic of conversation amongst letter writers, and it was common to fire off a few missives seeking potential remedies from within one’s social network. When a reply duly came, here was a ready-made receipt that could be kept without needing to write it down again. Prescriptions and directions from practitioners might be especially prized as they represented a virtual consultation, specially tailored to the recipient’s humoral constitution.

One often-overlooked method, however, were medical almanacs. It’s worth looking at a typical example of how these sources could be used. Cardiff Public Library MS 1.475 is a small memoranda book dating to around 1708, and seemingly originating from London, with the names John and Elizabeth Price prominent. A little list of family notes inside the front cover reveal a touching and tragic tale.

February 10th 1708/9
Married then to the pretty, the charming Mrs Elizabeth Price by the Rev’d Dr Typing of Camberwell.

My daughter Anne was born the 17 of April 1712 about twenty min(utes) after eight in the morning and baptised the 1. of May
She was a very beautifull, lovely child but God was pleased to take it May 3. 1712

Much of the document, however, is actually drawn on the reverse side of copies of almanacks. These were part-astrological, part-magical and part-news documents which contained everything from prognostications and predictions to religious dates, weather information and medicine. The first almanac in this document is ‘Merlinus Liberatus, being an alamanack for the year of our Blessed Saviour’s Incarnation, 1708…by John Partridge, student in Physick and Astrology at the Blue Ball in Salisbury Street in the Strand, London”. Partridge was clearly an entrepreneur; the very next page of his almanck is dedicated to ‘Partridges Purging Pills, useful in all cases where purging is required”!

A second almanac pasted into the book is “The Country Physician; or a choice collection of physic fitted for vulgar use: Containing 1) a collection of choice medicaments of all kinds, Galenical and Chymical, excerpted out of the most approved authors 2) Historical observations of famous cures collected out of the works of several modern Physicians 3) A Cabinet of specific, select and practical chymical preparations in two parts, made use of by the Author, by W. Salmon M.D”

This sort of document was a cheap means of buying a ready-made remedy collection, complete with the latest thinking and couched in terms of the layman. There were many self-help volumes of family physick available, but these cheaper almanac and chapbook style documents were easier to read and easier to keep. It is also clear that the spaces on the back of pages were useful places to note down other remedies as they accrued.

For example, the Prices noted down a number of receipts on the back pages, including a receipt “To prevent a return of the ague”, another for the “dead palsy”, including mistletoe, oak and saffron, and another for “flushings in the face”. Here, then, the printed and the written remedy intertwined to become a completely distinct and individual family collection. In many ways this was as formal a collection as a ‘receptaria’, and probably included many of the same sorts of remedies, but in a different form.

The recording of remedies, and the idea of a ‘remedy collection’, therefore, shouldn’t necessarily be limited to a single, formalised and regimented document. These were organic documents, sometimes constructed carefully, but often just growing as collections of rough notes. Remedies might be deliberately placed within documents, or they might be the result of a roughly-scribbled note. Equally, people might keep ready printed or written remedies, and simply add their own notes as required. In this sense, there is no single ‘remedy collection’ document; instead, there are a myriad different ways in which people collected remedies.

Apologies for cross-posting. This post appeared on my own blog: (22 August 2012).

Social networks and sharing medical recipes: The receipt book of Amy Rowlands of Henblas

By Alun Withey

Much recent work by historians has highlighted the extent that medical knowledge was part of a ‘knowledge economy’ in the early modern period. Put simply, health and medicine were regular topics of conversation, whether in person or by letter. Just like today people told each other of their symptoms, suggested favourite remedies or recommended particular doctors. In some ways too, early modern people were perhaps more sensitive to their own bodies than we are today; they understood their bodies through a framework of the four humours, and had some idea of their own particular humoral balance. Also, they monitored their health constantly, ever vigilant for potentially unusual or dangerous changes.

With less easy access to medical practitioners for many of the population, self-medication was the first recourse in times of sickness. It made sense to have an armoury of remedies at the ready, just in case. In literate households, manuscript collections of remedies were effectively the next best thing to a consultation with a physician. But how were these collections assembled? Where did the remedies come from? By looking at a typical eighteenth-century recipe book in more detail, we can start to see the ways that medical information travelled through social networks in early modern Britain.

Between roughly 1706 and 1717, Amy Rowlands of the wealthy Rowlands family of Plas Gwyn, Anglesey, compiled her own book of medical and culinary receipts (available to see at the University of Bangor library, as MS Henblas A5). Her book is typical of the form. It is carefully laid out, written in a fair hand and fully indexed, following the format of a ‘receptaria’ medical book.  The image below is from the first page of the book, where Amy seems to be trying out a few writing exercises, based on a moral pnemonic.

Amy’s book contains more than a hundred recipes for a variety of conditions and using a wide range of ingredients. This one, “for the stone”, is fairly typical.

“Dry the roots of Red nettles and make them into pouder and drink a spooonfull of the powder thereof in a draught of white wine something warme and it will break the stone though itt bee ever soe great. And that with speed use it every day until the stone and gravell be all broken and consumed, A thinge of smale prices and great virtue”.

Looking through the book, it is clear that the sources of Amy’s recipes were broad, and included local acquaintances as well as a variety of more intriguing sources. Some, for example, were clearly given directly to her by people from her network of family and friends. Examples of these include:

To make Ginger Bread with honey Madam Griffiths way’‘To make Ginger Bread the best way Cosen Sidney Rowland is way’.

“Madam Griffiths is more difficult to trace, but ‘Cosen Sidney Rowland’ lived in Dewis Bren near Llangollen, and therefore in reasonably close proximity to Amy.  “A Reciept for a Consumptick Cough” was provided by  “Mrs Jane Williams of Ty yn ystrithsons”, clearly another acquaintance, as was a recipe for “flower water” attributed to Mrs Griffiths of Carnarvon – again, in very close proximity to Amy’s Anglesey home.

Aside from family and friends, there were other potential sources of remedies. One recipe, for example, was kept from a consultation with a practitioner:

“A Diett drink Dr Humphreys Recett to me Amy Rowlands

Take of the bark of Ash of the tender twigs of tamarisk of each two ounces of the same of Brooklime: scurvy grass, Liverwort, Hartshorn, Agrimony: Sage of each one handful: of Sene three ounces. Bruse all these and infuse them in seven quarts of smale(?) ale: after 24 hours you may drink of itt about half a pint furst in the morning and last att night you may ad quince seeds Brused to correct the wind if you please”.

For me, these records are especially interesting. Firstly, and obviously, they confirm that Amy sought the help of a doctor – one ‘Dr Humphreys’. Receipts attributed to doctors often appear in remedy collections, without the author having necessarily ever consulted the physician in question. Hence can be found remedies such as “Dr Butler’s receipt for the plague water”, noted in several collections from Wales at this time.  The inclusion of the title leant provenance and value to the remedy, especially if it had a positive reputation. Amy’s note here, however, strongly suggests that she had met (or perhaps consulted by post) this “Dr Humphreys”, and she recorded his directions for future use. Locating Humphreys is difficult given the commonness of his surname, but he was likely a local practitioner or apothecary, and unlikely to have been licensed.

Indeed, Amy Rowlands was seemingly not overly concerned about the ‘professional’ credentials of a practitioner; it was the reputation of a remedy that mattered more. A remedy for a ‘Meigrim in the head’ is included, attributed to “Pembrockshir Bess” – perhaps a cunning woman or magical healer.

Sources could, though, also come from much further afield, and suggested spread by word of mouth, rather than personal acquaintance.  The remedy below is attributed to “Mrs Pitt who lived in Stippleton in Dorsettshire” and is a receipt to make “a very good seercloth”. Amy included a note that she had made this recipe herself, and found it good – perhaps the best indicator of its reliability.

The efficacy of a remedy, though, was not just based on whether it had cured the author of the collection; the opinions and testimonials of others were just as valuable.

‘An infallible cure for sore Eies effected on Captain Fitspatrick in London when Given Over by all doctors, Given me by Mr Moris Owens of Holy Head

Taking some Garlick and pound them and bay salt together into a sort of a pultiss and apling them to the soles of the feet spread on leather for nine nights sucksesifly the which has done a wonderful cure upon the above Gentilman

In this example, the benefactor of the remedy was “Mr Moris Owens’ who perhaps (although by no means certainly) knew the ‘Captain Fitspatrick’ upon whom the initial remedy was so successful. Here, the remedy had travelled a physical distance (from London to North Wales), but had also moved through a social network by several removes, connecting people who otherwise had nothing to link them.

It is this last point that really highlights the value of these fantastic sources. They certainly reveal much about medicines, ingredients and the physical processes of manufacturing remedies in the early modern period. But, in cases where authorship and attributions are known, they also reveal much about the diversity of sources of medical information and the sheer wealth of medical knowledge that was available. Far from being helpless in the face of sickness, people in fact were surrounded by potential sources of relief. Recipe collections offer us a unique insight into this process.

Apologies for cross-posting. This post appeared on my own blog: (19 July 2012).