Elizabeth Ambler started compiling her household book of cures in the early eighteenth century, including in it treatments which were much older and had been passed down to her. These intriguing remedies include Sir Walter Raleigh’s Receipt against Plague, Viper Broth, Snail Milk Water and Tobacco for the Eyes, as well as Ginger Bread and Apricot Ratafia. In addition to traditional flowers and herbs, ingredients consist of precious stones, exotic and expensive spices, and large amounts of brandy and wine. Mrs Ambler’s book of cures is exceptional in that has been handed down through her female descendants over nearly three centuries. Set against the backdrop of the family’s country houses, silverware and lavish portraits, this book is much more than just a collection of curiosities; it offers a fascinating insight into the sickness and health of our Georgian ancestors, and into what really went on in their kitchens.
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Lavender Water & Snail Syrup
Miss Ambler's Household Book of Georgian Cures and Remedies
By Nicola Lillie, Marilyn Yurdan, Laura Lillie
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Nicola Lillie & Marilyn Yurdan
All rights reserved.
Dr Mead's Receipt to make Asses' Milk
Take the white of an egg and put a lump of sugar into it and beat it till the sugar is dissolved, then put it into half a pint of red cow's milk and drink it as you do real asses' milk.
Five of the receipts of Dr Richard Mead (1673–1754) appear in Elizabeth's book. In 1702 Mead had published A Mechanical Account of Poisons, the work that made his name in the world of medicine. The following year he was elected physician at St Thomas' Hospital where he helped to persuade Thomas Guy to found the hospital which bears his name, in order to help ease patient pressure on St Thomas' due to the rapid population increase of the capital. In 1703, the young Mead was elected Fellow of the Royal Society; further achievements included lecturing in anatomy at Surgeons' Hall, attending the deathbed of Queen Anne in 1714, and two years later being elected Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. At the same time he continued to build up a fashionable practice and among his most illustrious patients were Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Robert Walpole (the first prime minister) and the Prince and Princess of Wales. In 1727 he became Physician in Ordinary to George II and Queen Caroline, and his income was rumoured to be a colossal £6,000 a year. Dr Mead was an enthusiastic supporter of inoculating against smallpox and in 1721, sixty years before Edward Jenner's work on vaccination, he took charge of the inoculation of seven condemned criminals at Newgate Prison, all of whom recovered.
Asses' milk: William Buchan MD wrote in his Domestic Medicine (Manchester, 1819): 'Asses' milk is commonly reckoned preferable to any other; but it cannot always be obtained ... I have known very extraordinary effects from asses' milk in obstinate coughs, which threatened a consumption of the lungs; and do verily believe, if used at this period, that it would seldom fail ... If the milk should happen to purge, it may be mixed with old conserve of roses. When that cannot be obtained, the powder of crabs' claws may be used in its stead. When a cough, a difficulty of breathing, or other symptoms of a consumption, succeed to the small-pox, the patient must be sent to a place where the air is good, and put upon a course of asses' milk, with such exercise as he can bear.'
* * *
Take a Gallon of the best Brandy, 300 apricocks, almonds two dozen and a half apricocks, divide them, take 3 quarters of a pound of white sugar candy broken in lumps, 9 fine Newington peaches, 3 fine nectarines and cut them in pieces. Put all these into a glass jar, lett it stand a fortnight then stir them every fortnight, and at two months end it is made. Note: strain it out and let it stand a month and then strain it again and do so until it is fine.
Apricock: not a misspelling or the result of someone hearing the word 'apricot' incorrectly. 'Apricock' derives from the Latin praecox, meaning early, in this case early ripening.
Ratafia: an alcoholic drink flavoured with the kernels of cherries, peaches or other fruit, as well as apricots, spiced, and sweetened with sugar.
A gallon: 8 pints or 4.55 litres.
Newington peaches: a variety of peach thought to have been so named because they were first grown at Newington Butts in South London.
* * *
To Make Ginger Bread
One pound of flour, six ounces of butter, six ounces of coarse sugar and one ounce of dried ginger powdered up in an ounce of Jamaica pepper, one ounce of caraway seeds. Mix the butter with the flour as fine as possible and put in an ounce of treacle (if wanted) [and] a spoonful of water that has been boiled and stood to be cold, then mix all these ingredients together and put in a slack oven.
Jamaica pepper: Pimenta officinalis, the more usual name of which is allspice.
A slack oven: one that burns slowly.
* * *
To Make Lavender Water
Strip the lavender from off the stalks and fill the pot for the alembic almost full with them, then put to them about three quarts of cider and draw off two quarts. If you would have it very fine, then you must take the same quantity of flowers and put to it one quart of cider and two quarts of water and drain it off as before, but take care that it don't burn nor boil too fast.
A Quart: 2 pints
* * *
Mrs Davison's Receipt for Snail Milk Water
Take four quarts of new milk, two quarts of sack carduus, ground ivy, balm, of each one handful. Sixty ox-eye daisies, one handful of millipedes, fifty shell snails, well purged with fennel, sixty earth-worms slit and an ounce and a half of balsam of Tolu. Still all in a cold still; drain off four quarts. Drink a quarter of a pint going to bed, at eleven in the morning and at five in the afternoon or at any time when thirsty. This receipt is for a grown up person and must be given in proportion for a child.
Millipedes: or woodlice, are frequently found in seventeenth-century receipts but their use was largely discontinued in the eighteenth century, suggesting that this is one of the older receipts in Elizabeth Ambler's collection.
Balsam of Tolu: this balsam takes its name from a town in Colombia, now named Santiago de Tolu. It is produced from the resin of Myroxylon balsamum (formerly Myroxylon balsamum (prior to which it was M. toliuferum)) which is collected and allowed to harden in the sun.
Sack carduus: white Spanish wine in which the carduus thistle has been steeped.
* * *
One peck of garden snails, two pecks of ground ivy, two gallons of spring water, one gallon of milk: ingredients to be distilled in a cold still, a quart to be taken the first thing in the morning and the same quantity going to bed, sweetened with capulaire.
Capulaire: capillaire, a type of syrup made from maidenhair fern in syrup flavoured with orange blossom or orange-blossom water.
* * *
Syrup of Snails
Take shell snails when the dew is upon them, take their shells off and slit them. To one pound of snails put half a pound of white sugar candy fairly powdered; put half to the slit snails in a flannel bag, the other half of the sugar into an earthen basin. Hang your bag over the basin for your snails to drop into it. Set in a cellar or damp place to melt the sugar candy.
* * *
Mrs Shank's Receipt to make Vipers Broth
Take a small chicken, skin it, boil it six minutes in a quart of water then put the viper in and boil it four minutes, then strain it off. Let the patient take a quarter of a pint, three times a day.
Viper broth: thought to be both nourishing and invigorating. The peak of its popularity was in the early eighteenth century.
* * *
Lady Chesterfield's Receipt to make Whay [Whey]
Put in the evening three pints of milk (if poor) or one quart (if rich) into a flat earthen pan and next morning skim off the cream entirely; put the milk into a well-seasoned earthen pipkin that holds two or three quarts or five pints. Let it boil on a gentle heat. When it boils up to the top put in one dram of Cream of Tartar. Take it off the fire, let it boil up a second time then put in another dram of Cream of Tartar, let it boil a little then take it off the fire, cover the pipkin and let it stand by the fire for about half an hour, then pour it into a basin and drink it.
Cream of Tartar: the common name for potassium hydrogen tartrate, which is obtained from the sediment produced in the wine-making process.
Pipkin: a small earthenware pot used for boiling.
* * *
The Famous Water called Dr Stevens's Water
Take a gallon of French wine, cloves, mace, caraway, coriander, fennel seeds, gallinga, ginger, cinnamon grains, nutmeg, anniseed each a dram, to these add camomile, sage, mint, rue, red rose, pellitory, the roots of fennel, parsley and setwall, of each 4 ounces and having bruised them, put them into two quarts of Canary and the like quantity of ale, and then having stood sixteen hours with often stirring, draw off the quintessence by Alembic over a soft fire.
Setwall: a variety of valerian.
Canary: a fortified wine from Spain or the Canary Islands.
An Alembic: a piece of apparatus used in the distilling process. Often shown in pictures of alchemists, it was the forerunner of the modern retort.CHAPTER 2
Fevers and Diseases
Mrs Robinson's Receipt for Ague
Take the snuff of a candle, add to it an equal quantity of nutmeg, grated, and half an hour before the fit is expected give it to the patient in a glass of warm water and white wine. If 'tis a child, the powder must be about as much as will lay upon a sixpence, and a grown person as will lay upon a shilling. You must lay the snuff of candle upon a piece of white paper to dry then pound it and mix it with your nutmeg. This receipt all ways stops the third fit and often prevents the second fit coming; has never been known to fail of a case.
The patient must go to bed as soon as they have taken the medicine for it causes great perspiration.
Ague: (pronounced 'ayg-yoo') a malarial infection marked by chills, fever and sweating which recur at regular intervals. Depending on length of time between attacks, the different types were known as the quotidian or daily ague, the tertian which returned every second day, the quartan which returned every third day, and the quintan every fourth day. Johnson notes, 'An intermittent fever, with cold fits succeeded by hot. Ague fit: the paroxysm of the ague.'
Snuff: a candle's burnt wick.
* * *
To Make a Red Powder for a Feaver 'our own way'
Take a quart of white wine and half a spoonfull of Rose water, wormwood, mugwort, carduus dragon, southernwood, chamomile, scabuis [scabious], snackell, betony, hartshorn, wild sage, thyme, burdock roots, lovage, thistle, celandine, wall-flower leaves, feverfew, of each a small, and red nettles, brookline, bay leaves, single heartsease, mint, pennyroyal, tamarisk, borage, angelica finger, dock, of each a small handful. Cut them small and steep them in the wine 24 hours. Take a pound of the best bole armonack, then take your wine, as much as will make it as soft as pap. Sett it in the sun in a basin, stirring it once or twice a day. When it begins to grow thick and dry, add more of the wine to it and continue till [as] you began. Then take metridate, London Treacle Diascordium, alhermes, black crabs' claws finely beaten, of each 2 ounces, 2 drachms of snake root finely powdered, bezoar, ambergris, red coral, white amber, of each 2 drams. Stir these together in the sun till they be dry and come to the thickness of a plaister, then make them up in little balls or cakes as you please, then dry them for your use; 'they must be maid in May.'
Carduus: a type of thistle, most commonly the blessed, holy or milk thistle.
Snackell: snake oil, now used as a general term for a quack cure-all. Real snakes were used medicinally (see Viper Broth), and Egyptian dried vipers were considered very desirable.
Brookline: Veronica beccabunga, a plant related to speedwell, which was eaten in salads and often found with and eaten with watercress, with which it is also used medicinally. Alternative spellings are 'brooklime' or 'brook lime' and another name is 'water-pimpernel'.
Bole armonack: bole armoniac, an astringent, clay-like earth.
Metridate: an expensive medicine taken as an electuary and containing many ingredients. It was considered to be a remedy against all manner of poisons and infections. The name comes from King Mithridates who, according to legend, made himself immune to poisons by regularly taking them in tiny doses as antidotes.
Diascordium: a medicine made from dried herbs, especially Teucrium scordium, the water germander, but over the years the ingredients varied considerably. Among other complaints, it was used for plague and syphilis.
Alhermes: a liquid coloured by kermes, the bodies of female insects, coccus ilici, which yield a reddish-coloured dye.
Bezoar: a stone-like concretion found in the stomachs or intestines of certain ruminant animals, especially the wild goat of Persia. It was supposed to have medicinal qualities.
Plaister: an older spelling of plaster.
* * *
Any body inclined to a Consumpsion, Mrs Steaven's Receipt
Drink every morning red cow's milk upon balm and pennyroyal and sweetened with conserve of roses or ginger root.
3 pints or 2 quarts of candid water, 5 ounces of hartshorn, 1 ounce of candid ginger root, 1 ounce of caraway comforts and 4 pipings of nutmeg.
A pint of milk, 3 spoonfulls of red roses' water, 5 spoonfulls of planting water, 1 ounce of sugar of roses.
Consumption: an old word for pulmonary tuberculosis, it was later superseded by the word 'phthisis'. Johnson described consumption thus: 'In physick, a waste of muscular flesh. It is frequently attended by a hectick fever [one which accompanies consumption and similar diseases and is marked by flushes] and is divided by physicians into several kinds, according to the variety of its causes.'
Hartshorn: shavings from a deer antler used as gelatine.
Pipings of nutmeg: water in which nutmeg has been boiled.
* * *
Mrs Sweet's Excellent Receipt for a Consumption or a Cough
Take a pint of oil of turpentine, 4 ounces of flower of brimstone, an ounce and a half of letharges of gold. Let them be prepared in a sand heat.
Take seven drops on a moist spoonful of sugar morning and evening for three days and rest three days then take nine drops morning and evening [for] three days then rest three days again. Eat no cheese and leave off other medicines.
Brimstone: a common name for sulphur.
Letharges: the left-over scum or ashes after boiling or burning.
Sand heat: heated sand in which a vessel was placed to give an even temperature.
* * *
Receipt against the Plague
Take of rue, mint, rosemary, wormwood and lavender a handfull of each, infuse them together in a gallon of white wine vinegar; put the whole into a stone pot, closely covered up and pasted over the cover. Sett the pot thus closed, upon warm wood ashes for eight days, after which draw off (or strain through fine flannell) the liquid and put it into bottles, well cork'd, and into every quart bottle put a quarter of an ounce of camphor. With this preparation wash your mouth and rub your loins and your temples every day. Snuff a little up your nostrils when you go into the air, and carry about with you a bit of sponge dipped in the same, in order to smell to upon all occasions, especially when you are near any place or person that is infected.
Sir Walter Rawleigh's Receipt against Plague
Take three pints of Malmsey or Canary sack, boyle in it one handful of sage and as much rue, till one pint is wasted away, then strain it and set it over the fire again and put thereto one dram of long pepper, half an ounce of ginger and a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, all well beaten together. The let it boil a little and put thereto one dram and half of methridate, one dram of Venice Treacle and a quarter of a pint of aqua vitae or hot angelica water.
Keep this as your life above all worldly treasures; take it always morn and eve, three spoonfuls at a time if the party be disease[d], if not, every morn is sufficient in all the plague time trust to this, for certainly God be praised, for it, there was never man, woman or child whom this drink deceived, if the heart was not poisoned or drowned with the disease before.
Malmsey and Canary: general names for fortified wines from Spain or the Canaries.
Long pepper: Piper longum, which looks a little like a catkin, is good for throat irritations and, it is claimed, leads to long life.
Venice treacle: an electuary on a honey (later molasses) base, particularly useful against venom, but with many other properties. First developed in Italy, it was later exported from Venice throughout Europe, hence its name.
Methridate: see note on p. 61.
Excerpted from Lavender Water & Snail Syrup by Nicola Lillie, Marilyn Yurdan, Laura Lillie. Copyright © 2013 Nicola Lillie & Marilyn Yurdan. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Elizabeth Ambler and her Family,
Elizabeth's Descendants and the Physick Book,
Medical Care in Elizabeth Ambler's Time,
Enter the Kitchen: The Old Recipe Book,
Fevers and Diseases,
Aches and Pains,