WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Aegrotat

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Aegrotat

For as much as many doctors in the Georgian Era and Long 19th Century still clung to bloodletting, leeches, and purgatives, medical advances were steadily coming along. Although way too many medical professionals still wanted to examine the feces of the sick.

But I’ll leave that for the medical journals of the time to discuss.

Metallic-Tractors by James Gillray, 1801, Public Domain.

Along the lines of the more things change, the more things stay the same, I was surprised to learn there was a slang term for ‘ye olde doctor’s note.’ Apparently, students have always been trying to get out of class, and always will. The first – and last – time I tried it was the third grade, and it earned me a trip to the doctor’s office for a throat culture to check for strep throat. Never again.

Aegrotat

(CAMBRIDGE). A certificate from the apothecary that you are INDISPOSED, (i. e.) to go to chapel. He sports an Aegrotat: he is sick, and unable to attend Chapel.

Geri Walter, in her post Health Remedies, Preventatives, and Cures in the 1700 and 1800s, makes a handy list of restoratives. Her list; my summarizing commentary.

Baths

Baths were considered profitable for myriad ailments, from hygiene and hysteria, to inflammations and sprains/fractures – problems that warm baths are still prescribed for today (well, except for the female hysteria). However, some historians have theorized that cross contamination between public bath springs and open sewage may have led to its own health concerns.

Bloodletting and Leeches

When your body was full of foul and noxious humors, sometimes you just needed 20 leeches applied. At the same time.

Bread

Not for eating, but for making a poultice or plaister, for application to areas afflicted with boils or other injuries. Thank the Egyptians for this one.

Calomel and Opium

Interestingly, delving into several 19th century books, one finds very little evidence that opium ever did much of anything for any patient beyond addicting them. It started off as a topical curative, and was so useless that doctors moved on to (1) having patients ingest it, and (2) combining it with mercury. Both terrific ideas.

Palatable Physic, Pub 5th of April by W. Heath, 5 April 1810, Public Domain.

Cold Water

In the late 18th century, James Currie proposed a cold water treatment for fever while a student at the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, because of the link he discovered between evaporation and cooling. He based his proposal on observations made after a shipwreck and those exposed to salt water, the effects of evaporation, and what happened to the men when they were given warm blankets. Although not initially applying this discovery to illnesses, his subsequent research on other volunteers, and himself, led him to focus on its application to fevers. Needless to say, the “establishment” that favored patients lying in the dark, in bed, in cloistered rooms with firmly shut windows, under copious blankets, were less than thrilled or interested in his findings.

Epsom Salts

Epsom during the Regency era was as popular for horses as for healing. Since it’s discovery in 1618, the salts (here meaning the generic term salt, defined as any crystalized chemical compound; in this case, magnesium sulfate) had been used for everything from soaks for tired muscles, poultices for wound healing, and a solution to fight dandruff and combat acne. When dissolved in water, it even aided digestion. Epsom salts also became a key ingredient in the newly popular tonics (read quack medicine) of the time.

Flower of Sulphur

This one baffles me, because if you’ve ever smelled sulphur, you know that it has a distinctive odor. Back in the day, it was said to protect against toothache and prevent bad breath. To be sure, it has anti-fungal and antiseptic properties, and could have been efficacious in these pursuits, but how bad was a person’s breath that they wanted to replace it with the smell of rotten eggs?

Flour

One recommendation at the time was to treat burns by applying flour thickly over the injury, and any inflammation that spread. Of course, we know now that the heat needs to be drawn out first, else the flour simply aids in the burn continuing to cook the injured area. Otherwise, flour isn’t too terrible an idea, as a protectant.

Ginger Root

Ginger is my go-to for an upset stomach. Regency apothecaries used it as a syrup or tincture, for gout, colic, or indigestion.

Horseradish

I imagine if you could get straight horseradish down your gullet, it could go a long way to curing what ailed you. It was claimed to be effective for rheumatism and dropsy.

A Pinch of Cephalic by George Cruikshank after James Gillray, 25 January 1822, National Portrait Gallery.

Limit Star Gazing

Did they really want to prevent eye strain, or rather keep people indoors, properly supervised, and away from the bewitching moonlight that tended to result in disorders of the nine-month kind?

Mercury

History had its own little blue pills called “blue mass.” Mercury was dispensed in this manner: one pill twice daily, for apoplexy (stroke), constipation, depression, melancholy, toothache, and syphilis. Today we would call this throwing something at the wall to see what sticks. We would also call it mercury poisoning.

Myrrh

In the 19th century, hygiene was still considered equal parts unnecessary and unhealthy. As people were slowly coming around to the idea of better health through cleanliness, people still balked at brushing their teeth more than once a day. One dentist said if you must choose, brush at night, the reason being that people tended to sleep in heated, unwholesome atmospheres just swirling with bodily humors. Whatever we accumulated in our mouths from the day’s adventures, really needed to be removed before going to sleep in the suffocating cesspits of our bedrooms for eight hours. Add a little myrrh for good measure for its antiseptic properties.

Oatmeal Paste

I love this recipe for chapped hands: 4 ounces of lard, 6 ounces honey, 8 ounces oatmeal, 3 egg yolks, and 1 ounce powdered gum arable. Mix well into a paste, then leave on the skin until “exceedingly soft and supple.” Then good luck keeping your pets and farm animals from eating you alive.

Mustard Poultice

As we learned last week, a poultice is a soft, warm, moist mass of bread, meal, or herbs applied to an affected part of the body to relieve an injury. The magic ingredient here is powdered mustard, made for a sore throat.

Mixing a Recipe for Corns by George Cruikshank, 1819, Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library.

Reading Aloud with the Teeth Closed

To cure stutters and stammers, “for two hours a day, for three or four months.” Mercy.

Recital

To cure a lisp, recite the following rapidly and repeatedly:

Hobbs meets Snobbs and Kobbs;
Hobbs bobs to Snobbs and Nobbs;
Hobbs nobs with Snobbs and robs Nobbs’ fobs.
“This is,” says Nobbs, “the worst of Hobbs’ jobs,” and Snobbs sobs.

Sheep Sorrel

This miracle medicinal was used to treat inflammation, scurvy, cancer, and diarrhea. Essiac tea today is brewed with sheep sorrel and touted as a homeopathic treatment for cancer.

Stimulating Drinks and Whipping

Quite possibly the most horrifying hilarious prescription in the list. When “poisoning (there’s truth you don’t see in today’s medical journals) by laudanum (opium), morphine, paregoric, and sleeping mixtures in genera,” patients often needed stimulating drinks to be “kept warm, breathing (more truth),” and “awake by whipping if necessary.” Dear Lord. Medicine may still be a practice, but God bless the 21st century.

Toads

No longer just for witches, toads were now in vogue to treat everything from dropsy to bed wetting, scrofula, cancer, colic, inflammation, headaches, nose bleeds, smallpox, and quinsy. The poor toad could have various parts cut off, be cooked or boiled and eaten, or dried and ground into powder for internal and external use. Still sounds like witchcraft to me.

 

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WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grunter

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Grunter

One of my favorite phrases is ‘dab hand,’ and to quote Manuel from Fawlty Towers: “I learned it from a book.” Which also happens to be one of the funniest twelve episodes of television, ever.

But I digress.

I often make one of the characters in my novels a ‘dab hand’ at home medicine. This could be anything from herbal concoctions to poultices and plasters. This is historically accurate: at least one female in a Regency household would have known how to confer simple remedies in a pinch, until a doctor could be fetched or patient transported for care, if on the road.

Grunter

Complain of sickness.

George III Mahogany Medicine Chest, late 18th century, with label printed Ireland & Hollier Apothecaries & Chemists, No. 22 Pall Mall, Family Medicine Chests compleat [sic] and Genuine Patent Medicines &c, sold at Sotheby’s in 2017.

So what would those with a dab hand dispense? After heading to their still room, where all their ingredients would be stored, they’d brew, grind, or compound some easy to swallow (elderberry syrup), and some not-so-easy-to-swallow creations:

Take pearls, crab’s-eyes, red coral, white amber, burnt hartshorn, and oriental bezoar, of each half an ounce; the black tips of crabs-claws three ounces; make all into a paste, with a jelly of vipers, and roll it into little balls, which dry and keep for use.
(from The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, 15th edition, 1753, compiled by Eliza Smith, as reported at Jane Austen’s World)

19th Century Traveling Apothecary Medicine Chest, containing 10 glass bottles and original scales, sold at Auctions at Showplace in 2017.

Also according to Jane Austen’s World – from The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run – here are the myriad ways an herbal remedy may be prepared:

Infusion: A liquid made by soaking an herb – usually its dried leaves or flowers – in liquid. An herbal tea is really an infusion.
Decoction: A liquid made by boiling an herb.
Poultice: A soft, moist mass of bread, meal, herbs, etc. applied to the body.
Plaister: A solid or semi solid remedy, spread on cloth or leather and applied to the body.
Electuary: Powder dried herb and mix with three times as much honey.
Oil: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in oil to extract the essences of the herb. Usually applied externally.
Ointment: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in lard to extract the essences of the herb, then mixed with beeswax and turpentine. Applied externally.

Mahogany Regency Medicine Cabinet with 23 medicine bottles, circa 1820, from Richard Gardner Antiques.

The handy housewife, well-trained housekeeper, or bluestocking daughter (otherwise known as a spinster-in-the-making) could make things such as “bottles of saline draughts, barley-water, lemonade, jars of calves’ foot or pork jelly, as well as blisters and plasters,” according to Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher. Surely being fed calves’ foot jelly was the source of the idiom the cure is worse than the disease.

To procure the more potent medicines, you’d need to consult an apothecary or doctor, although potent didn’t necessarily mean safer (think mercury and opium).

We’ll visit them next week.

Until then, please consider heading over to Regina Jeffer’s delightful home on the internet and reading her exhaustive Herbal Medicine Used in Regency Period. There was no need for me to re-hash what had already been done thoroughly and well (Bonus: she shows how she incorporated her research into a novel!). Pin it, bookmark it, and put a shortcut to it on your desktop while you’re there.