Old Time Remedies

The remedies our ancestors used -- or, at least, were told to use! Folk remedies, old wives' tales, mediaeval cures... they're all here.

NOTE: these remedies are listed only for information and/or amusement. They are not to be construed as medical advice of any type, nor are they recommended for use. Consult your doctor for any medical advice you require.

 

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Ingredients: Potato

Our invaluable Potato, which enters so largely into the dietary of all classes, belongs to the Nightshade tribe of dangerous plants, though termed "solanaceous" as a natural order because of the sedative properties which its several genera exercise to lull pain.

This Potato, the Solanum tuberosum, is so universally known as a plant that it needs no particular description. It is a native of Peru, and was imported in 1586 by Thomas Heriot, mathematician and colonist, being afterwards taken to Ireland from Virginia by Sir Walter Raleigh, and passing from thence over into Lancashire. He knew so little of its use that he tried to eat the fruit, or poisonous berries, of the plant. These of course proved noxious, and he ordered the new comers to be rooted out. The gardener obeyed, and in doing so first learnt the value of their underground wholesome tubers. But not until the middle of the eighteenth century, were they common in this country as an edible vegetable. "During 1629," says Parkinson, "the Potato from Virginia was roasted under the embers, peeled and sliced: the tubers were put into sack with a little sugar, or were baked with cream, marrow, sugar, spice, etc., in pies, or preserved and candied by the comfit makers." But he most probably refers here to the Batatas, or sweet Potato, a Convolvulus, which was a popular esculent vegetable at that date, of tropical origin, and to which our Potato has since been thought to bear a resemblance.

This Batatas, or sweet Potato, had the reputation, like Eringo root, of being able to restore decayed vigour, and so Falstaff is made by Shakespeare to say: "Let the sky rain potatoes, hail kissing comfits, and snow eringoes." For a considerable while after their introduction the Potato tubers were grown only by men of fortune as a delicacy; and the general cultivation of this vegetable was strongly opposed by the public, chiefly by the Puritans, because no mention of it could be found in the Bible.

Also in France great opposition was offered to the recognised use of Potatoes: and it is said that Louis the Fifteenth, in order to bring the plant into favour, wore a bunch of its flowers in the button hole of his coat on a high festival. Later on during the Revolution quite a mania prevailed for Potatoes. Crowds perambulated the streets of Paris shouting for "la liberté, et des Batatas"; and when Louis the Sixteenth had been dethroned the gardens of the Tuileries were planted with Potatoes. Cobbett, in this country, exclaimed virulently against the tuber as "hogs' food," and hated it as fiercely as he hated tea. The stalks, leaves, and green berries of the plant share the narcotic and poisonous attributes of the nightshades to which it belongs; and the part which we eat, though often thought to be a root, is really only an underground stem, which has not been acted on by light so as to develop any poisonous tendencies, and in which starch is stored up for the future use of the plant.

The stalks, leaves, and unripe fruit yield an active principle apparently very powerful, which has not yet been fully investigated. There are two sorts of tubers, the red and the white. A roasted Potato takes two hours to digest; a boiled one three hours and a half. "After the Potato," says an old proverb, "cheese."

Chemically the Potato contains citric acid, like that of the lemon, which is admirable against scurvy: also potash, which is equally antiscorbutic, and phosphoric acid, yielding phosphorus in a quantity less only than that afforded by the apple, and by wheat. It is of the first importance that the potash salts should be retained by the potato during cooking: and the tubers should therefore be steamed with their coats on; else if peeled, and then steamed, they lose respectively seven and five per cent. of potash, and phosphoric acid.

If boiled after peeling they lose as much as thirty-three per cent. of potash, and twenty-three per cent. of phosphoric acid. "The roots," says Gerard, "were forbidden in Burgundy, for that they were persuaded the too frequent use of them causeth the leprosie." Nevertheless it is now believed that the Potato has had much to do with expelling leprosy from England. The affliction has become confined to countries where the Potato is not grown.

Boiled or steamed Potatoes should turn out floury, or mealy, by reason of the starch granules swelling up and filling the cellular tissue, whilst absorbing the albuminous contents of its cells. Then the albumen coagulates, and forms irregular fibres between the starch grains. The most active part of the tuber lies just beneath the skin, as may be shown by pouring some tincture of guaiacum over the cut surface of a Potato, when a ring of blue forms close to the skin, and is darkest there while extending over the whole cut surface. Abroad there is a belief the Potato thrives best if planted on Maundy Thursday. Rustic names for it are: Taiders, Taities, Leather Coats, Leather Jackets, Lapstones, Pinks, No Eyes, Flukes, Blue Eyes, Red Eyes, and Murphies; in Lancashire Potatoes are called Spruds, and small Potatoes, Sprots.

The peel or rind of the tuber contains a poisonous substance called "solanin," which is dissipated and rendered inert when the whole Potato is boiled, or steamed. Stupes of hot Potato water are very serviceable in some forms of rheumatism. To make the decoction for this purpose, boil one pound of Potatoes (not peeled, and divided into quarters.) in two pints of water slowly down to one pint; then foment the swollen and painful parts with this as hot as it can be borne. Similarly some of the fresh stalks of the plant, and its unripe berries, as well as the unpeeled tubers cut up as described, if infused for some hours in cold water, will make a liquor in which the folded linen of a compress may be loosely rung out, and applied most serviceably under waterproof tissue, or a double layer of dry flannel. The carriage of a small raw Potato in the trousers' pocket has been often found preventive of rheumatism in a person predisposed thereto, probably by reason of the sulphur, and the narcotic principles contained in the peel. Ladies in former times had their dresses supplied with special bags, or pockets, in which to carry one or more small raw Potatoes about their person for avoiding rheumatism.

If peeled and pounded in a mortar, uncooked Potatoes applied cold make a very soothing cataplasm to parts that have been scalded, or burnt. In Derbyshire a hot boiled Potato is used against corns; and for frost-bites the mealy flour of baked potatoes, when mixed with sweet oil and applied, is very healing.

The skin of the tuber contains corky wood which swells in boiling with the jackets on, and which thus serves to keep in all the juices so that the digestibility of the Potato is increased; at the same time water is prevented from entering and spoiling the flavour of the vegetable. The proportion of muscle-forming food (nitrogen) in the Potato is very small, and it takes ten and a half pounds of the tubers to equal one pound of butcher's meat in nutritive value.

The Potato is composed mainly of starch, which affords animal heat and promotes fatness, The Irish think that these tubers foster fertility; they prefer them with the jackets on, and somewhat hard in the middle--"with the bones in." A potato pie is believed to invigorate the sexual functions.

New Potatoes contain as yet no citric acid, and are hard of digestion, like sour crude apples; their nutriment, as Gerard says, "is sadly windy," the starch being immature, and not readily acted on by the saliva during mastication. "The longer I live," said shrewd Sidney Smith, "the more I am convinced that half the unhappiness in the world proceeds from a vexed stomach, or vicious bile: from small stoppages, or from food pressing in the wrong place. Old friendships may be destroyed by toasted cheese; and tough salted meat has led a man not infrequently to suicide."

A mature Potato yields enough citric acid even for commercial purposes; and there is no better cleaner of silks, cottons, and woollens, than ripe Potato juice. But even of ripe Potatoes those that break into a watery meal in the boiling are always found to prove greatly diuretic, and to much increase the quantity of urine.

By fermentation mature Potatoes, through their starch and sugar, yield a wine from which may be distilled a Potato spirit, and from it a volatile oil can be extracted, called by the Germans, Fuselöl. This is nauseous, and causes a heavy headache, with indigestion, and biliary disorders together with nervous tremors. Chemically it is amylic ether.

Also when boiled with weak sulphuric acid, the Potato starch is changed into glucose, or grape sugar, which by fermentation yields alcohol: and this spirit is often sold under the name of British brandy.

A luminosity strong enough to enable a bystander to read by its light issues from the common Potato when in a state of putrefaction. In Cumberland, to have "taities and point to dinner," is a figurative expression which implies scanty fare. At a time when the duty on salt made the condiment so dear that it was scarce in a household, the persons at table were fain to point their Potatoes at the salt cellar, and thus to cheat their imaginations. Carlyle asks in Sartor Resartus about "an unknown condiment named 'point,' into the meaning of which I have vainly enquired; the victuals potato and point not appearing in any European cookery book whatever."

German ladies, at their five o'clock tea, indulge in Potato talk (Kartoffel gesprach) about table dainties, and the methods of cooking them. Men likewise, from the four quarters of the globe, in the days of our childhood, were given to hold similar domestic conclaves, when:--

"Mr. East made a feast,
Mr. North laid the cloth,
Mr. West brought his best,
Mr. South burnt his mouth
Eating a cold Potato."

With pleasant skill of poetic alliteration, Sidney Smith wrote in ordering how to mix a sallet:--

"Two large Potatoes passed through kitchen sieve,
Unwonted softness to a salad give."

And Sir Thomas Overbury wittily said about a dolt who took credit for the merits of his ancestors: "Like the Potato, all that was good about him was underground."

Source: Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, William Thomas Fernies

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Monday, 19 January 2009

Bronchitis, General Relief for

"Dose of castor oil every night; one teaspoonful for child. Grease well with camphorated oil or any good oil." The castor oil is very good for carrying off the phlegm from the stomach and bowels that children always swallow instead of coughing up like an older person. It is well in addition to the above remedy to give a little licorice or onion syrup to relieve the bronchial cough.

Source: Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remidies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, T. J. Ritter

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Sunday, 18 January 2009

Gray Hair

"The only thing to do with gray hair is to admire it." This is true. Nothing so sets off an aged face like the crown of silver. To color it is a great mistake. There is absolutely no cure for it; the one thing we can do is to make it a beauty. Gray hair is due to the exhaustion of the pigment or coloring cells of the hair, supposed to be occasioned by the lack of a regular supply of blood.

For the progressive whitening of the hair due to the advance of age, curative agents are rarely of any avail, especially if the trouble is hereditary. Not that gray hair and baldness are handed down from father to son, but that the peculiarities of constitution which produce them are inherent in both. Nervousness, neuralgia, a low physical condition, aid the falling and blanching of the hair, and the victim should build up the general system. Preparations of iron and sulphur, taken internally, are supposed to supply certain elements of growth and pigment-forming power to the hair.

A solution of iron for external application to the hair, calls for two drams each of citrate of iron and tincture of nux vomica, and one and one-half ounces each of cocoanut oil and bay rum. It may be mentioned here, that faithfulness in treatment means even more than the tonic applied. To gain any real benefit, one must be persistent in application.

Hair often turns gray "in streaks" to the chagrin of the victim. Or it whitens above the forehead and temples and remains dark at the back. Nothing can be done for this.

Gray hair should be kept scrupulously clean, and requires more frequent washing than hair that holds its color. A very little blueing in the rinsing water gives a purer, clearer white. For this use indigo, not the usual washing fluid which is made of Prussian blue. Five cents worth of indigo will last a lifetime.

Source: Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remidies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, T. J. Ritter

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Saturday, 17 January 2009

Ingredients: Pimpernel

The "Poor Man's Weather Glass" or "Shepherd's Dial," is a very well-known and favourite little flower, of brilliant scarlet hue, expanding only in bright weather, and closing its petals at two o'clock in the day. It occurs quite commonly in gardens and open fields, being the scarlet Pimpernel, or Anagallis arvensis, and belonging to the Primrose tribe of plants. Old authors called it Burnet; which is quite a distinct herb, cultivated now for kitchen use, the Pimpinella Saxifraga, of so cheery and exhilarating a quality, and so generally commended, that its excellence has passed into a proverb, "l'insolata non buon, ne betta ove non é Pimpinella." But this Burnet Pimpinella is of a different (Umbelliferous) order, though similarly styled because its leaves are likewise bipennate.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is named Anagallis, from the Greek anagelao, to laugh; either because, as Pliny says, the plant removes obstructions of the liver, and spleen, which would engender sadness, or because of the graceful beauty of its flowers:--

"No ear hath heard, no tongue can tell
The virtues of the Pimpernell."

The little plant has no odour, but possesses a bitter taste, which is rather astringent. Doctors used to consider the herb remedial in melancholy, and in the allied forms of mental disease, the decoction, or a tincture being employed. It was also prescribed for hydrophobia, and linen cloths saturated with a decoction were kept applied to the bitten part.

Narcotic effects were certainly produced in animals by giving considerable doses of an extract made from the herb. The flowers have been found useful in epilepsy, twenty grains dried being given four times a day. A medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared with spirit of wine. It is of approved utility for irritability of the main urinary passage, with genital congestion, erotism, and dragging of the loins, this tincture being then ordered of the third decimal strength, in doses of from five to ten drops every three or four hours, with a spoonful of water.

A decoction of the plant is held in esteem by countryfolk as checking pulmonary consumption in its early stages. Hill says there are many authenticated cases of this dire disease being absolutely cured by the herb. The infusion is best made by pouring boiling water on the fresh plant. It contains "saponin," such as the Soapwort also specially furnishes.

In France the Pimpernel (Anagallis) is thought to be a noxious plant of drastic narcotico-acrid properties, and called Mouron--qui tue les petits oiseaux, et est un violent drastique pour l'homme, et les grands animaux; à dose tres elevée le mouron peut meme leur donner la mort. In California a fluid extract of the herb is given for rheumatism, in doses of one teaspoonful with water three times a day.

The Burnet Pimpinella is more correctly the Burnet Saxifrage, getting its first name because the leaves are brown, and the second because supposed to break up stone in the bladder. It grows abundantly in our dry chalky pastures, bearing terminal umbels of white flowers. It contains an essential oil and a bitter resin, which are useful as warmly carminative to relieve flatulent indigestion, and to promote the monthly flow in women. An infusion of the herb is made, and given in two tablespoonfuls for a dose. Cows which feed on this plant have their flow of milk increased thereby. Small bunches of the leaves and shoots when tied together and suspended in a cask of beer impart to it an agreeable aromatic flavour, and are thought to correct tart, or spoiled wines. The root, when fresh, has a hot pungent bitterish taste, and may be usefully chewed for tooth-ache, or to obviate paralysis of the tongue. In Germany a variety of this Burnet yields a blue essential oil which is used for colouring brandy. Again the herb is allied to the Anise (Pimpinella Anisum). The term Burnet was formerly applied to a brown cloth. Smaller than this Common Burnet is the Salad Burnet, Poterium sanguisorba, quod sanguineos fluxus sistat, a useful styptic, which is also cordial, and promotes perspiration. It has the smell of cucumber, and is, therefore, an ingredient of the salad bowl, or often put into a cool tankard, whereto, says Gerard, "it gives a grace in the drynkynge." Another larger sort of the Burnet Pimpinella (Magna), which has broad upper leaves less divided, grows in our woods and shady places.

A bright blue variety of the true Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis) is less frequent, and is thought by many to be a distinct species. Gerard says, "the Pimpernel with the blue flower helpeth the fundament that is fallen down: and, contrariwise, red Pimpernel being applied bringeth it down."

The Water Pimpernel (Anagallis aquatica) is more commonly known as Brooklime, or Beccabunga, and belongs to a different order of plants, the Scrophulariaceoe (healers of scrofula).

It grows quite commonly in brooks and ditches, as a succulent plant with smooth leaves, and small flowers of bright blue, being found in situations favourable to the growth of the watercress. It is the brok lempe of old writers, Veronica beccabunga, the syllable bec signifying a beck or brook; or perhaps the whole title comes from the Flemish beck pungen, mouth-smart, in allusion to the pungent taste of the plant.

"It is eaten," says Gerard, "in salads, as watercresses are, and is good against that malum of such as dwell near the German seas, which we term the scurvie, or skirby, being used after the same manner that watercress and scurvy-grass is used, yet is it not of so great operation and virtue." The leaves and stem are slightly acid and astringent, with a somewhat bitter taste, and frequently the former are mixed by sellers of water-cresses with their stock-in-trade.

A full dose of the juice of fresh Brooklime is an easy purge; and the plant has always been a popular Simple for scrofulous affections, especially of the skin. Chemically, this Water Pimpernel contains some tannin, and a special bitter principle; whilst, in common with most of the Cruciferous plants, it is endowed with a pungent volatile oil, and some sulphur. The bruised plant has been applied externally for healing ulcers, burns, whitlows, and for the mitigation of swollen piles.

The Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella), is common in boggy ground, having erect rose-coloured leaves larger than those of the Poor Man's Weather Glass.

Source: Herbal Simples Approved for Modern Uses of Cure, William Thomas Fernies

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Friday, 16 January 2009

Acute Illness.

The simplest and quickest method of recovering from attacks of acute illness, fevers, inflammatory diseases, etc., is to rest quietly in bed in a warm but well-ventilated room, and to take three meals a day of fresh ripe fruit, grapes by preference. If the grapes are grown out of doors and ripened in the sun so much the better. I have found from two to three pounds of grapes per day sufficient. If there is thirst, barley water flavoured with lemon juice should be taken between the meals.

Source: Food Remedies: Facts About Foods And Their Medicinal Uses, Florence Daniel

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Thursday, 15 January 2009

Good Old Mother's Remedy for Sore Throat

"Steep a medium sized red pepper in one-half pint of water, strain and add one-fourth pint of good vinegar and a heaping teaspoonful each of salt and powdered alum and gargle with it as often as needed. This is a very good remedy."

Source: Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remidies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, T. J. Ritter

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Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Croup, for Baby or Older Child

"Take a teaspoonful alum, pulverize it and sprinkle it on the whites of two fresh eggs in a cup or glass, let it stand for a few minutes, until the combination has turned to water, or water is produced; then give one-half teaspoonful to a child six months old or less and increase the dose to one teaspoonful for older children, and repeat the dose in fifteen or thirty minutes as the case may require. Remarks: From personal experience in my own and neighbors' families, I have never known a case where it did not bring relief and cure. The dose must produce vomiting."

Source: Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remidies from Mothers of the United States and Canada, T. J. Ritter

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