During Jane Austen’s time, the woman of the house was in charge of making and dispensing simple medical remedies for common complaints, such as a cold, headache, or a rash. Recipes for herbal remedies were handed down from mother to daughter. A young girl’s education included knowledge about herbal properties, growing vital herbs in the kitchen garden, and maintaining a book of recipes for simple common cures. (Eighteenth Century Remedies and Receipts.) Recipes were available in the common cookbooks of the era, such as Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife and Hanna Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. People drank hot wine made from the berries of the elderberry tree to ease cold and flu symptoms; made cold lozenges (see the Hannah Glasse “recipe” below); and concocted soothing syrups and herbal tea infusions.
The following instructions for a method of a cure (making cold tablets) were printed in the 15th edition of The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, a 1753 cookbook compiled by Eliza Smith and published in London. (Official Site of Colonial Williamsburg)
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.
The recipe for cold lozenges by Hannah Glasse uses more commonly known ingredients. (The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, p. 385.)
Take two pounds of common white loaf-sugar, beat it well in a mortar, dissolve six ounces of Spanish liquorice in a little water; one ounce of gum-arabic dissolved likewise; add thereto a little oil of anise-seed; mix them well to a proper consistence, and cut them into small lozenges; let them lie in a band-box on the top of an oven a considerable time to dry, shaking the box sometimes. – Home Remedies, PDF doc
Listed below are the ways an herbal remedy can be prepared (from The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run):
An infusion: A liquid made by soaking an herb – usually its dried leaves or flowers – in liquid. An herbal tea is really an infusion.
A decoction: A liquid made by boiling an herb.
A poultice: A soft, moist mass of bread, meal, herbs, etc. applied to the body.
A plaister: A solid or semi solid remedy, spread on cloth or leather and applied to the body.
An electuary: Powder dried herb and mix with three times as much honey.
An oil: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in oil to extract the essences of the herb. Usually applied externally.
An ointment: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in lard to extract the essences of the herb, then mixed with beeswax and turpentine. Applied externally.
- Book of Herbal Remedies, Scottish, 18th Century
- University of Glasgow: 18th Century Medicine
- Also on this site: The Physician in the 19th Century