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old is new again and just as fashion trends keep coming back around, so do a lot of other things that were once deemed outdated.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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