Category Archives: Medicine

Introducing the UG series

By Laurence Totelin

For the last five years, the Recipes Project has been running an annual September Teaching series. That series has proven extremely successful, and the blog is now a mine of resources for any teacher in search of inspiration. Repeatedly, posts published as part of the series have demonstrated the extraordinary pedagogical power of historical recipes, as texts or as interface between the written and the material.

Parallel to this, fostering the career of younger scholars has always been part of the Recipes Project’s mission. It has published — and continues to publish — the work of MA and PhD students, some of whom have now settled into their careers, academic or otherwise.

Inspired by my own experience as a contributor and editor of the Recipes Project, in the academic year 2015/16, I decided to incorporate blogging into the assessment of my Cardiff University UG module on Greek and Roman Medicine. I was overwhelmed by the quality of the work of my students. Most of them had neither studied ancient medicine nor blogged before, but they took on both challenges! They inspired me to push myself further as a teacher. 


Advert for poducts of the Pharmacie Centrale de France representing a professor teaching pharmacy to students in mid-16th century Paris. Colour lithograph, after 1889. Source: Wellcome Images

They also sowed a seed in my mind: what about starting an undergraduate series for the Recipes Project? So, this month, for the first time, we are showcasing the fabulous work of  four undergraduate students: Joanna Cunningham, Allison Shichen Du, Eboni John, and Hazel Lunn.

We hope that our readers will enjoy their work. We also hope that those readers with teaching responsibilities will consider encouraging their UG students to blog and share their fresh insights into historical recipes.


‘Used With Constant Success’: Animal Ingredients in Eighteenth-Century Remedies, and their Success in the Beauty Industry

It’s Halloween, so it’s fitting that I’m writing about slimes and sticky oozes, though somewhat misleading. This post considers three common animal-derived medicinal ingredients found in eighteenth-century recipes. Earlier this week, Lisa Smith looked at a relatively unusual ingredient: puppies. Today’s ingredients, however–snails, honey, and asses’ milk–were staples in domestic medicine.

Although my research is on eighteenth-century domestic medicine, I also have a personal blog on lifestyle, baking, and beauty. Here we’ll explore the historical uses of these ingredients, and you can visit my blog to find out why these same ingredients are celebrities of the beauty community – I do my best to put their efficacy to the test!

One of my favourite pastimes is experimenting with skincare and makeup, and it’s intriguing that ingredients once treasured for their medicinal and beautifying properties have had resurgence in the beauty industry. A historical perspective certainly makes me think about modern cosmetics differently, especially in relation to their medicinal properties and efficacy claims.

Jennifer Sherman Roberts has written on the efficacy of an early modern pimple remedy, and the work of Michelle DiMeo, Rebecca Laroche, and Edith Snook investigate the use of animals in medicinal recipes, and cosmetic practices in early modern England[1].  

Snails:

The garden snail was one of the most used animal ingredients in eighteenth-century remedies. In my doctoral research, where I examined 5,000 recipes from 27 eighteenth-century manuscripts, I found 104 references to snails (4% of all animal ingredients).

R. Bradley, A philosophical account of the works of nature... Credit: Wellcome Library, London. 

The snail was claimed to be ‘one of the cleanest feeders in the world’,[2] and seventeenth-century physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted that ‘the reason why they cure a consumption is this; Man being made of the slime of the earth, the slimy substance recovers him when he is wasted’.[3]

In today’s cosmetic industry, snail gel is used as a moisturiser and skin brightener (see my blog for details), but the most common use of snails in eighteenth-century recipes was in the form of a distilled water. This was prevalent remedy for respiratory conditions like consumption.

A mid-eighteenth-century recipe book belonging to the Arscott family from Tetcott, Devon has two consecutive snail water recipes. The first, titled ‘for a Consumption’, used a peck of grey snails wiped clean and distilled in both asses’ milk and red cow’s milk alongside dates, raisins, liquorish, and aniseed. A second recipe, attributed to Lady Robert Russell, noted its efficacy by claiming that she had ‘experienced good in Cough, Heatick, Heals a Sharpness in the Blood’. Lady Russell received this recipe from Dr Francis Willis (famous for treating the madness of George III).[4]

See Jennifer Sherman Robert’s post on snail waters and spa treatments.

Honey:

Honey was the most frequently cited animal-derived ingredient in my research. It was used for plasters, poultices, and ointments, and was a sweetener. Honey was used for treating swelling, cancers, ulcers, and eye complaints. ‘A poultis for a Swelling by My Aunt Dorothy Pates’, for example, used honey as a binding agent.[5] Another recipe, said to be ‘approved by the best doctars [sic]’ used a clove of garlic saturated in fine English honey and put in the ear for eight days to cure pain and restore hearing.[6]   

Hair Water from the Duchess of Marlborough using honey. Kent History Centre, U1590/C43/2, f. 75r.

Honey has long been valued for its restorative properties, and today it’s a ubiquitous ingredient in hair conditioners and skincare. It also featured in eighteenth-century hair treatments. The Duchess of Marlborough was claimed to have ‘preserved her hair good to her death’ by using a hair water created from two pounds of honey distilled with rosemary flowers and wire of the vine [grape stems?]. This hair wash was said to thicken and ‘give it a gloss’.[7] On my blog, you can see how a similar hair wash using rosemary and honey turned out!

Asses’ Milk:

Another animal-derived ingredient that has been used since ancient times is asses’ milk. It was used in the eighteenth century to treat respiratory ailments. Lisa Smith has also written about the medical uses of asses’ milk on The Sloane Letters Project.

Returning to the Arscott Family, Mrs Arscott (Thomasine) suffered from breast cancer and her husband John recorded several cancer treatments in their collection. It’s unclear from the records exactly what kind of cancer she had, but it’s evident she was in pain. Mrs Arscott tried different remedies prescribed from physicians, ranging from cardus Benedictus (thistle) to opiates.    

A Mr Ranby advised in December 1748 that she must ‘never omit Asses Milk’ in her cancer treatment (and also not omit opiates). This description is followed by a detailed account of Mrs Arscott’s experience with the treatment, which did not agree with her and she had a ‘terrible return of her complaints’.[8]  

Mrs Arscott’s treatment using artificial asses’ milk. Wellcome MS. 981, insert.

It was also common practice to create an artificial variety, and Sally Osborn has written about the creation of artificial asses’ milk. Once again, the snail proves his worth as it was used to make this mock version (more information see here). Both genuine and artificial versions of asses’ milk treated respiratory problems.

For treating a ‘hectic or inward heat’, a recipe from Dr Ratcliff found in multiple recipe collections called for snails with pearl barley and candied eringo root, boiled and strained.[9] The frequency at which both snail based and genuine asses’ milk were recorded in recipe books, alongside claims of their efficacy, is testament to the credibility of these animal ingredients.

From slime and ooze to elixir of life, animals (and their derived products) held great significance in medicine and cosmetics in the eighteenth century. The snail, honey, and asses’ milk were clearly valued for their medicinal properties, and it’s fascinating that they have renewed purpose in the beauty industry. Today’s miracle anti-aging elixirs, hair tonics, and brightening creams don’t contain revolutionary ingredients. They are in fact, old news – tried and tested since 1700!

(And earlier…)


[1] Michelle DiMeo and Rebecca Laroche, ‘On Elizabeth Isham’s “Oil of Swallows”: Animal Slaughter and Early Modern Women’s Medical Recipes’, in Jennifer Munroe and Rebecca Laroche (eds.), Ecofeminist Approaches to Early Modernity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 87–104; Edith Snook, ‘“The Beautifying Part of Physic”: Women’s Cosmetic Practices in Early Modern England’, Journal of Women’s History, 20, 3 (2008), pp. 10–33.

[2] As stated in M. Mascall’s late 18th–early 19th C. collection: Wellcome Library, London, MS 7875, f. 96.

[3] Nicholas Culpeper, Pharmacopoeia Londinensis: or, the London Dispensatory (London, 1708), pp.108–9.  

[4] Arscott family, ‘Physical Reciepts [sic]’ (c. 1725–76). Wellcome Library, London, MS 981, ff. 8r.-v.

[5] Abigail Smith and others, ‘Collection of medical and cookery receipts’ (c. 1700).  Wellcome Library, London, MS 4631, f. 7r.

[6] Ibid., f. 23 v

[7] Grizel, Lady Stanhope (née Hamilton), ‘Recipe Book (culinary and medicinal)’ (1746), Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts. Kent History Centre, U1590/C43/2, f. 75r.  

[8] Wellcome Library, London, MS 981, insert.

[8] Ibid. 53v.

The Puppy Water and Other Early Modern Canine Recipes

By Lisa Smith

At first I thought it was a joke when I read a recipe for “The Puppy Water” in a recipe collection compiled by one Mary Doggett in 1682. “Take one Young fatt puppy and put him into a flatt Still Quartered Gutts and all ye Skin upon him”, then distill it along with buttermilk, white wine, pared lemons, herbs, camphire, venus turpentine, red rosewater, fasting spittle, and eighteen pippins.

Mary Doggett, Book of Receipts, British Library MS Add 27466, f. 24r.

Although Mary Doggett’s recipe does not specify purpose, puppy water was a facial treatment – as immortalized by Jonathan Swift in his poem, “The Lady’s Dressing Room” (1732):

There Night-gloves made of Tripsy’s Hide,
Bequeath’d by Tripsy when she dy’d,
With Puppy Water, Beauty’s Help
Distill’d from Tripsy‘s darling Whelp.

Swift also, however, refers to another canine usage: gloves made from dog’s hide. As noted in Nicholas Culpeper’s Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (1718), “little puppy dogs” (and various other animals, such as hedge-hogs, snails, foxes, moles, frogs, or earthworms) “may be made beneficial to your sick bodies”. Robert James’s entry for “Canis” in his Medicinal Dictionary (1743-5) explained that Europeans “generally abstain from Dogs Flesh, till Necessity… obliges them to use it.” But use it they did: the flesh, fat, skin and excrement could all be incorporated into medicines recommended even by renowned medical practitioners.

These remedies ranged from the foul: Culpeper’s Oleum Catellorum (Oil of Whelps) “to bath the Limbs and Muscles that have been weakened by wounds or bruises” or George Bate’s gargle for mouth ulcers and thrush that included a white dog turd (Pharmacopoeia Bateana, 1706). To the cruel: Philip Woodman suggested cutting a live puppy lengthwise through the middle and applying it hot to the head to treat a frenzy (Medicus Novissimus, 1712). To the comforting: for iliac passion (intestinal obstruction), Thomas Sydenham instructed that a live puppy should be laid to the patient’s naked belly for two or three days (Praxis Medica, 1707).

Etched image of a dog nursing three pups.
Nursing dog. Etching by C. Lewis after E. H. Landseer. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

James’ dictionary entry explained the rationale for these treatments. For example, keeping a warm puppy next to one’s colicky belly or gouty leg provided “kindly and cherishing Heat”, but it also worked sympathetically by transferring the disease into the animal instead.[1] Having a dog lick one’s wounds and ulcers could cure them more quickly. The fat of the dog was thought to be better externally than any other animal fat, owing to its penetrating quality, and the drippings could be eaten to treat lung problems or epilepsy. Turned into gloves, the skin of the dog would reflect summer sun; as a piece of leather, it could protect gouty or arthritic legs from cold. Dog dung, being hot and acrid, might treat internal bleeding or toothache.

James did not mention “The Puppy Water” itself. However, for that we might look to the ancient Greeks whom he did discuss. According to Hippocrates, “the Flesh of Dogs is of a heating, drying, and corroborating Nature… whereas that of whelps is of a moistening, lubricating Quality.” The other ingredients in the recipe point to a similar use as the puppy: pippins were moistening and good against inflammation; fumitory and agrimony treated diseases of Saturn (such as old age) and were strengthening and cleansing; plantain firmed the sinews and helped skin problems. Just the thing for a face wash!


[1] The evidence for this is dubious. James recounted the case of a patient in 1742 being salivated (by mercury). When a visitor arrived, the patient put aside his basin filled with his saliva, which his dog proceeded to drink. Within ten hours, the dog suffered from convulsions and died.

This post first appeared at the now-defunct, but much missed, Wonders and Marvels blog in May 2012.

‘The Cholera Manuscript’: A collection of recipes and cures from Co Limerick

By Dorothy Cashman

Several years ago a manuscript collection of recipes came up for auction in Dublin. At the time, Ireland was in the throes of an IMF bailout and funding across all cultural institutions was grinding to a halt. This was the background to my suggestion to the National Library of Ireland that they should consider purchasing this manuscript to add to their collection.

Several things stood out about it, not least a nota bene attached to a recipe for White Current Wine, which for obvious reasons had particular resonance, and lent a touch of gallows humour to the initial reading of the contents (Fig. 1).[1] There was very little to grasp onto in terms of family history, other than an assertion that a block of the recipes were taken ‘from Lord Buckingham’s cook’, that reference to Mrs Hawksworth in the nota bene and the name ‘C. O’Carroll’ on the inside flyleaf. A trade label indicated that the slim book had been purchased from James Draper of Crampton Court in Dublin, bookbinders and paper merchants who coincidentally were appointed stationers to the Bank of Ireland in 1802.[2] The auctioneer verbally indicated that the manuscript was from Co Limerick.

National Library of Ireland, MS 42,105 .

The entries span twenty years, 1811 to 1831. The reference to Lord Buckingham’s cook, John Simpson, has added resonance for Irish readers, historically and in the present. Lord Buckingham, the first marquess, was twice lord lieutenant of Ireland, briefly in 1782/3 and subsequently from 1787 to 1789. In this latter period he created, by royal warrant, the Order of St Patrick.[3] The great ballroom of Dublin Castle was renamed St Patrick’s Hall at the time of the first investiture and is known as such to this day. It is the setting for the Irish State’s most significant ceremonial occasion, the inauguration of the President of Ireland, and where Ireland’s most honoured visitors are entertained.

Buckingham was also connected to Ireland through his marriage to Mary Nugent, daughter of the 1st Viscount Clare, and died two years after this manuscript was commenced, predeceased by a year by his wife. There is no reference to the fact that the recipes are from John Simpson’s published cookbook itself,[4] from which one could infer that the reflected glory from the provenance of these recipes arises as much from the fact of Lord Buckingham being the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland as it does from being a marquess on a distant shore.

Mrs Hawksworth, the other name accorded some weight by the scribe (Fig. 2) may be traceable to John Hawksworth, agent to Lord Castlecoote. One of the estates held by a junior branch of the Coote family through to the early twentieth century was in the townland of Mountcoote, Co Limerick, lending some credence to the intimation that the manuscript was of Limerick origin.  Interesting and amusing as the interjections and references to John Simpson and the chief bookkeeper of the Bank of Ireland were, it was the unusual assembly of four remedies for cholera that caught the attention, to the extent that I mentally referenced the collection as ‘the cholera manuscript’ thereafter.

National Library of Ireland, MS 42,105

Anglophone Ireland was an avid consumer of household and childcare books produced in Britain. There was also a healthy Irish market in reprinting popular British books; the copyright laws did not extend until the turn of the nineteenth century. Information of a domestic nature contained in gazettes, magazines, circulars and other printed material was quickly absorbed into the narrative in Ireland and this collection is evidence of this, notably so in the entries regarding the deadly disease. Cholera morbus is recorded as arriving in Limerick in June 1832.[5]

Tellingly, the recording of the first cure for cholera is located between a cure dated April 1831 and another dated August of the same year. This predated the spread of the disease from Britain to Ireland, indicating a heightened awareness in Ireland of impending disaster. This first entry is a close unattributed transcription of one appearing in The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany of 1831.[6] By March 1832 the disease had struck Belfast and Dublin, and between April and June it was ‘wrecking destruction in Ennis, Limerick and Tullamore’.[7]

Subsequent entries concerning cholera are positioned some time after October 1831, indicating perhaps a growing sense of panic in the household. The first of these, an ‘effectual cure for the cholera’, is transcribed as published in both The Lancet and The Isis: A London Weekly Publication.[8] The second is a cure ‘sent by Dr Shanfer from Warsaw to the Prussian Government’, while the final one is via the ‘Hon. Mrs Knox’, attributed to the Asiatic Journal ‘published nearly two years ago’. The disease having progressed through the country, normal domestic life resumes with the next entry, to take out stains or spots upon silk.

The National Library purchased the manuscript at auction. It fits neatly into their collection as being representative of what appears to be the narrative of one of the ‘less grand’, if not minor households in Ireland. Although relatively anonymous, it is noteworthy with respect to all of its quirks and sotto voce commentary, and recording of the passage of the dreaded cholera through the medium of possible cures.  Sufficiently noteworthy that they decided that it (MS 42,105) would be the first of the household manuscripts to be digitized. [9]

[1] The Irish state stepped in to secure Bank of Ireland in the form of a state guarantee in 2009.

[2] Mary Pollard, A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800 (London: Bibliographical Society, 2000), 168.

[3] The highest chivalric order for Ireland, established February 1783. The last peer appointed was in 1922. Since the foundation of the Irish state the order is officially dormant, as it was never abolished.

[4] John Simpson, A Complete System of Cookery (London: W. Stewart, 1806)

[5]Historical Records of the Existence and Progress of Cholera in the City of Limerick During the Months of May and June (Limerick: Edward Deane, 1832).

[6] The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Vol. 5 New Series May-August 1831, (London, Parbury, Allen, and Co.)  The recipe appears to have been copied from Thomas J. Graham, M.D., Modern Domestic Medicine, A Popular Treatise, (London: published for the author, 1827).

[7] T. De Bhaldraithe, ed., Cín Lae Amhlaoibh  (Cork: Mercier Press, 1979), 135. Sligo town suffered the highest number of fatalities in Ireland or Britain, fifteen hundred in a six-week period.

[8] The Lancet, 1831-32 (London, Mills, Jowett, and Mills), 216; The Isis: A London Weekly Publication,[iv] ed. Eliza Sharples, 1832, No 5, Vol. I, 74.

[9] The manuscript is un-paginated, the first cure for cholera morbus may be found on page sixty-four of the digitized copy. In its collections the NLI has the most extensive collection of archival material relating to Irish culinary history in public ownership, and the author would like to record her gratitude for their unfailing support in this regard.