Sunday, May 24, 2015

Good For What Ails You

Vintage seed catalog image found on Pinterest

We have taken two cuttings off the rhubarb already.  It was called Pie Plant in pioneer days, and was a welcome antiscorbutic  after the long winter months of eating dried and salted foods.Victorian cookery writer Elizabeth Lea had only one pie recipe for rhubarb in her 1845 cookbook, but gave a dozen medicinal uses for it.  Twice she calls for pills made of rhubarb and (shudder!) Castile soap.

RHUBARB PIE. Peel the stalks, cut them in small pieces, and stew them till very soft in a little water; when done, mash and sweeten with sugar; set it away to cool; make a puff paste, and bake as other pies. Some prefer it without stewing, cutting the stems in small pieces, and strewing sugar over them before the crust is put on. These pies will lose their fine flavor after the first day. They take less sugar than gooseberries.

FOR SORE THROAT.  Make a gargle of cayenne pepper, honey and spirits, or sage tea, with alum and honey, or figs boiled, mashed and strained, and use it once in two hours. If it is very bad, steam the mouth with a funnel held over hot vinegar, and put on a hot poultice of hops, boiled in weak ley and thickened with corn-meal; there should be a little lard spread over; renew it every time it gets cold. Another very good poultice, is hot mush strewed with powdered camphor; put it on as hot as can be borne, and change it when cold. A purgative should be given, either of senna and salts, castor oil; or rhubarb and soap pills. An emetic is of great importance, and has caused the throat to break when persons have been very ill.

FOR THE CROUP. Put the child in warm water, and keep up the temperature by putting in more hot water; keep it in fifteen or twenty minutes, then wipe it dry and put it in a warm bed, or wrap a blanket round it and hold it on the lap; give it an emetic, and put powdered garlic and lard to the throat and soles of the feet; keep up the perspiration, by giving a few drops of antimonial wine every half hour. The next morning give it a dose of rhubarb tea or castor oil, and keep it from the air for several days. This treatment has been very beneficial when a physician was not at hand; and nothing had been done till his arrival, perhaps the child would have been too far gone to recover. In cases of croup, to wet a piece of flannel with, alcohol, and apply it to the throat as hot as it can be borne, has often a salutary effect, applied frequently. It is also good to use for a bad cold, &c.

SUMMER DISEASES. The food of children in summer, should be light and nourishing; if of milk, be careful that it is sweet. If you cannot get it fresh as often as you want it, boiling will keep it sweet. Sour milk and improper food sometimes bring on the summer disease, which is easier prevented than cured.

A little rhubarb tea or tincture, with a small quantity of prepared chalk, will sometimes check it in its early stages, but the most effectual medicine that I have tried is called by some apothecaries, "red mixture," of which I will give a recipe.

RED MIXTURE.  Take sixteen grains of powdered rhubarb, thirty of soda, fifty of prepared chalk, and two drops of the oil of spearmint, mixed in a vial with two ounces of water; keep it corked up and shake it before giving a dose. A child of ten months old should take a tea-spoonful every three or four hours. If there is much pain, two drops of laudanum may be added to every other dose. A table-spoonful is a dose for a grown person.

FOR RHEUMATISM. Persons are liable to have the rheumatism from taking cold in the winter. Where the pain is most violent, put on plasters of Burgundy pitch, spread on leather. Persons that are subject to it, should always keep pitch in the house to use, as it will give relief; a silk handkerchief tied round the joint, keeps it warm and relieves stiffness. If the pain is in the back part of the head, put a blister on the neck, by all means. When persons have a bad spell of rheumatism, they should always take medicine, and avoid eating meat for a few days. Equal parts of rhubarb and castile soap, made into pills, with a little water, is a valuable medicine for rheumatism, and suits aged persons; the pills should be taken at night on going to bed. They are easily made, and should always be at hand: it is valuable as a cathartic in almost every case where mild medicine is necessary. The use of the shower bath is also beneficial. Flannel should always be worn next the skin, and the feet kept dry. Bathing with camphor sometimes relieves the pain, but there is a danger of driving it to a more vital part. Salt and water is useful to bathe for the rheumatism, when it is of long-standing.

WARNER’S CORDIAL FOR GOUT IN THE STOMACH. Take one ounce of rhubarb, two drachms of senna, two of fennel seed, two of coriander seed, one of saffron, and one of liquorice; stone and cut half a pound of good raisins, and put all in a quart of good spirits; let it stand in a warm place for ten days, shaking it every day; then strain it off and add a pint more spirits to the same ingredients; when all the strength is extracted, strain it and mix the first and last together. Take from two to four spoonsful of this cordial in as much boiling water as will make it as hot as you can take it; if the pain is not removed in half an hour, repeat the dose, and if your stomach will not retain it, add ten drops of laudanum.

 (I have looked for a modern definition of “summer disease” and can’t find it.  Perhaps it was diarrhea, which would of course be rampant, not to mention deadly, in the days before refrigeration and IVs).

The rest of Mrs Lea’s rhubarb cures can be found in  Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers, a free download from Project Gutenberg.


Lady Anne said...

I don't know exactly what Summer Disease or Summer Sickness was, either, but definitely caused by milk that was "on the turn", and it was generally fatal. A tremendous number of children died in their second summer, having been weaned from the breast and put on cows milk.

I have a book from 1909 called "Before the Doctor Comes" and although they mention Summer Sickness and give suggestions on curing it, they don't describe it. It was probably so common it didn't need explaining.

Raising kids was risky business.

Bunnykins said...

This is from Yahoo re effect of spoiled milk, but I'm an old techie so don't know whether it's right.
After a certain period of time, milk starts to develop a bacteria called Streptococcus lactis. While this bacteria is often deliberately added to milk under controlled circumstances to make products such as sour cream and buttermilk, when left to its own devices, this normally beneficial bacteria consumes the milk and leaves behind waste materials that negatively affect the food. These waste materials lead to food poisoning in humans. Raw, unpasteurized milk is more likely to contain these pathogens.

Now I know why my great aunt was so careful with the milk in the cooling shed on their dairy farm.

Shay said...

Supposedly it was the deaths of some children from drinking bad milk that inspired Gail Borden to develop his canned milk.

Lady Anne said...

Didn't know that about Gail Borden. Interesting.

Shay said...