Take this arsenic and see me in the morning


In Victorian times  (1837-1901) there was a radical change in healthcare available to the average person on the street. At a time when it was too expensive to seek ‘professional’ medical help, there was a sudden influx of chemist stores offering medicines and wonder cures amongst their wares. Many of these remedies were age old folk medicine and others we now know to be horrible toxins that were sold under the guise of science.

These days some of us feel similarly about mordern pharmaceuticals even though the science behind it has come a long, long way. Where it used to be common to find medicines containing heroin, cocaine, asbestos, lead and arsenic, today we know that those substances did not cure anything at all and in fact made many people much more ill (and often a lot less alive in general). The picture I used above is for a Soothing Syrup, which is an innocuous name for opium drops given to infants and children to keep them quiet.

What is old is new again and just as fashion trends keep coming back around, so do a lot of other things that were once deemed outdated.  Yes of course, I am talking about old folk remedies and natural “cures”.

As it seems to be once again the time of year for horrid coughs,  regardless of whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere, I consulted my copy of Victorian Pharmacy to see if I could find some interesting recipes to share with you.

Marshmallow Milk – to relieve a hoarse cough

1 oz  freshly grated marshmallow root
1 pint milk
1-2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)

  • Put the marshmallow root and milk in  apan and bring gently to the boil.
  • Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Strain and add honey, mix well.
  • Take one teaspoon three times a day.
  • This mixture does not keep for more than a couple of days.

Horseradish Syrup – for a persistent cough

1 1/2 oz chopped horseradish root
1 1/2 pints water
1 lb golden granulated sugar (or jar of honey)

  • Put horseradish and water in a pan, bring gently to the boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  • Strain and discard root.
  • Return liquid to the heat and simmer until reduced to 7 fl oz.
  • Add sugar or honey.
  • Simmer gently, stirring continuously until everything is dissolved.

I really wanted to make these two recipes before writing this post, because I dont like telling you about things I havent even tried myself.
Try as I might I can not get my hands on fresh horseradish or marshmallow root  (but I havent stopped trying), so for now I am passing on the recipes for information and entertainment.  If you do want to make these, let me know of the result please 🙂

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8 Responses to Take this arsenic and see me in the morning

  1. Debs Cook says:

    Ahhhh a period of herbal history that I’m in love with, did you see my post http://herbal-haven.co.uk/blog/2010/12/finding-pharmaceutical-formulas-in-the-loft/ perchance? Scan around there’s several similar posts and lots more to come. Victorian Pharmacy is a wonderful book, some of the old herbals/pharmaceutical texts though are unbelievable. You may also find http://herbal-haven.co.uk/blog/2010/12/composition-powder-recipes/ of interest Anke 🙂 Ohhhh I can feel some more research coming on 🙂

  2. Rhianna says:

    Great info

  3. You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in the next century, the people will be looking back on our time like we were nuts to have aluminum cans, plastic containers, microwave ovens,gmo crops, neonicitinoid herbicides/pesticides or things like that! lol! I can remember when I was a young woman with my first child, who wasn’t feeling well and my mother telling me to go to the drugstore and ask the pharmacist for some Paregoric. I don’t think she had any idea that it had opium in it, and it was obviously something she used with me when I was a baby, but had since been deemed a no- no! lol! Might explain why I don’t mind a nice sedating tea these days! lol! Probably hooked as a babe:) I have made garlic honey before and used it by the spoonful. Surprisingly, it is delicious so I will try your syrup recipe also. Now I have infused marshmallow root and mullein leaves in warm milk and added honey for coughs and it is delicious and something the grandchildren take readily! So I can vouch for your marshmallow root remedy! big hugs xxxxx

  4. oh heavens, it was horseradish not garlic you were referring to! sorry dear, i have never made a horseradish honey or syrup, but I do have some, grow it in the gardens, so will let you know what I think of it when I do it:) xx

    • anke says:

      No idea what that would taste like, can’t imagine the combinations.

      I have made onion honey plenty of times and that works great guns for throat and coughs.

      Love that you already make the marshmallow milk. I wondered about using milk to be honest. We stay away from dairy when we’re all phlegmy, so I wasnt sure how that would go. Now of course I’ll have to make it 🙂

      Re sedating babies:
      We still use a lot of antihistamines and the likes to babies and children, especially during travel times, to calm and sedate. I’m not sure if they had opium drops when I was a baby but I know that if they were available my mother would definitely have used them. *laughs* ANYTHING for some quiet time. I agree with your love of a calming cup of tea as well 🙂

  5. Bringing the milk to a gentle simmer, breaks down the protein molecules that contribute to phlegm, so scalded milk drinks are ideal for little ones, and truthfully, for me too:) One could always add a bit of cocoa to flavor it if a little one balked at even trying it plain:) sneaky grandma here! Now I have never made onion honey, and I will now have to try that:) Love all this free flow sharing we do here Anke!! xx

  6. anke says:

    I do too!! This is the whole poin behind starting the Herbology site in the first place. No one is precious about what they know, if anything want to share and learn. Brilliant 🙂

    Onion honey: I chop up a small onion, pop it into a jar, just cover with honey, leave overnight. Then it’s ready 🙂

  7. Yea, thanks for the tip on making it. Will do if I still have a good onion. My hubby has an onion intolerance, so sometimes the ones I buy for myself go off before I get them all ate! If not, will let you know when I do it:)
    And exactly why I have always whole heartedly loved this site! xx Sharing is how we grow:)

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