Doctor Osborn had a fairly diverse collection of medicines referred to in his vade mecum.    These medicine varied from raw plant materials grown in the garden and gathered in the wild, to specific plant products that had to be imported like Balsam of Peru or Opium, to proprietary or official pharmacy formulas produced by apothecaries, to patented formulas typically sold in a store-like environment such as Hooper’s Pills for Women.  Osborn also spent a significant amount of time producing some of his own nostrums based on the local philosophy for the time and the need of his patients.   In terms of their history and temporality, Osborn’s recipes spanned about 150 years of pharmacal and medical history, including some official remedies developed during the 16th century, to several Native American uses that were possibly centuries older, to the most innovative recipes developed in recent times by fairly experienced chemists like Robert Boyle.

In terms of cultural content, Osborn’s remedies were a mixture of modern and “antient” thinking (applying a term more often used to refer to late 18th century new and old remedies).   There are hints of the older Dutch nomenclature found on and off throughout his recipes, although for the most part Osborn’s work focused on English medicine.  There was also a significant amount of professional pharmaceutical Latin used throughout the manuscript, suggesting he had some familiarity with these professional writings.  Osborn also included in his recipes a number of very local names for plants, possibly developed by just the immediate locals, and even some nomenclature popularized almost a century earlier, for example by one of the most popular scientists-Christians for the time in the New England-New York Colonial setting, Christian Alchemist George Starkey.

This mixture of philosophies, nomenclature and ideology expressed by Osborn in his writing is in fact the major reason this work took nearly a decade for me to decipher.  It was not so much the need to be able to review his pharmaceutical latin that was so much a problem, as it was discovering the sources for some of his pharmacal terms.    At several points in his text, Osborn tells us about some of the sources he used for this knowledge.    In particular, he referred to a number of authors, some very much contemporary, with works published just in Latin, others more than a century old, with their works transcribed from Latin to English for contemporary republication (Thomas Sydenham, as translated by Peter Shaw).  Osborn’s writings also provide evidence for his familiarity with several authors who were highly famous one or two generations before he began his practice of medicine in the late 1730s.  These 1720s writers (esp. Daniel Turner) produced books that were made available mostly to those living in close proximity to the local library of medicine at Yale College in Connecticut.

Osborn’s mention of specific plants also tell us that he had some familiarity with the botanical writers for some reason.  It is well known in New Netherlands history that the work on medicinal plants by Matthiolis was a popular book owned by members of the estates in the more urban settings like New Amsterdam.   Likewise, the very popular Herbals by John Gerard and John Parkinson were probably at some point in time described to Osborn or made available for him to review to meet the needs of his own curiosity for such less than professional takes on medicine.  During this period of time, there was little to no publications on New York flora, with the exception of the work then in the process of being developed by Cadwallader Colden.  This work included unique local knowledge that few outside the region would ever come to learn.  A review of Osborn’s materia medica also suggest to us that he was trained as well in some of these very local beliefs systems and associated cures.

In terms of medicine and surgery as stand-alone professions, Osborn learned each in different manners.  His clinical medical training was the consequence of reading Sydenham’s work, in which the focus was on the patient and his/her symptoms, and not the underlying scientific reasoning for how and why these diseases should be treated.  For Surgery, it is possible that Osborn read Daniel Turner’s writings on this as well, although he makes more such references to the works of Robert Sharpe focused on Surgery, then one of the chief and most up to date references on this topic. 

With all of this in mind, when we take a look at Osborn’s Materia Medica (listing of medicines or pharmacopoeia), we find his practice to be quite diverse, and more the result of some very local medical training, perhaps by a fairly old physician trained in the same 50 years earlier.  One of the major features this form of training provided Osborn with was the ability to emphasize a little more of the philosophy of his work, than the science helping to define what it had become.   This made Osborn very different from recent graduates of a medical program at some professional college and/or hospital setting.  Osborn’s metaphysical philosophy really played a heavy role in how he treated people and selected his medicines and their methods of preparation.   He was in part one of the last alchemically-learned physicians to practice and perform his work as a doctor, using many of the same techniques his peers were also trained in just a few decades earlier.

Local Flora

The following is a list of the local plants that Osborn made use of.  Some of these are directly developed from Native American philosophy or practice.  Many are European uses for these plants in the local colonial setting [CC = Cadwallader Colden cited, JC = Jane Colden related, T= Traditional, H = Historical/herbal, N = Native American, I = Introduced].

  • Barberry    (Berberis sp.)  (T)
  • Bayberry    (Myrica odorata; M. cerifera; M. gale; M. pennsylvanica)  (T)
  • Black Snake Root          (Actaea racemosa or Sanicula Europaea)  (CC)
  • Bloodroot         (Sanguinaria canadensis)  (CC)
  • Butternut    (Juglans cinerea)  (CC)
  • Daisy   (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Bellis perennis?)  (I/N)
  • Dogwood  (Cornus spp., esp. Cornus florida)  (CC)
  • Duck’s Meat        (Lemna minor)  (T)
  • Elder/Elderberry        (Sambucus canadensis; S. niger)  (CC)
  • Golden Rod  (Solidago species)  (CC)
  • Juniper  (Juniperus communis; J. sabina; J. virginiana)  (T)
  • Leather Bark        (Dirca spp., esp. D. palustris; Thymelea sp.; Daphne Mezereum; or Chamaedaphne calycuta)  (N)
  • Maidenhair Fern   (Adiantum spp. esp. A. capillus-venerus; A. pedatum)  (T)
  • Mugwort   (Artemisia vulgaris)  (T)
  • Peperidge  (Berberis vulgaris)  (T)
  • Pitch Pine       (Pinus spp.; esp. P. rigida (Pitch Pine);  P. strobus (White Pine)  northern; and P. palustris  (Yellow Pine) southern)  (T)
  • Pond Lilies        (Nymphaea spp. esp. N. albae, N. odorata)  (T)
  • Poppel/Poplar  (Populus spp.; in particular Balsam Poplar (P. balsaminifera), or perhaps Trembling Aspen (P. tremuloides))  (F)
  • Prickly Ash   (Zanthoxylum (Xanthoxylum) americanum )  (CC)
  • Virginia Serpentaria (Virginia Snakeroot)    (Aristolochia serpentaria (Linn.)) /Radix Virginae Serpentina/Root of Virginia Snakeroot  (VA)
  • Rattlesnake (root)  (Prenanthes alba;  Alternatively, Polygala seneka)  (CC)
  • Rose Willow       (Cornus sericea; local variant–C. stolonifera)  (CC)
  • “Rushes such as they Scower with”/Scouring Rush  (Equisetum spp.; especially E. arvense)  (T)
  • Saint John’s Wort        (Hypericum perforatum)  (JC)
  • Sarsaparilla  (Smilax spp., esp. S. ornata and S. aristolochiaefolia)  (CC)
  • Sassafras  (Sassafras officinalis; S. albidum; and especially the locally-occurring S. variifolium)  (H)
  • Skunk Cabbage  (Local species: Symplocarpus foetidus, or Dracontium foetidum)  (CC)
  • Sow’s Thistle  (Sonchus spp.; especially S. oleraceus, S. arvensis, S. palustris, and S. alpinus)  (CC)
  • Spignel (Aralia racemosa; alternatively Meum athamanticum)  (H,CC)
  • Stink Cedar        (Juniperus sabina (?); Thuja sp.?; Torreya sp.?)  (I/T)
  • Sundew        (Drosera spp., esp. Drosera rotundifolia)  (T)
  • Tamarack         (Larix spp.; locally, Larix americana)  (T)
  • Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa)  (CC)
  • Water Lilies/Pond Lilies  (Nymphaea spp. esp. N. alba, N. odorata)  (T)
  • White Ash  (Fraxinus americana; F. excelsior?)  (T)
  • White Hemp (Urtica?)  (T)
  • White Lily        (perhaps a Lilium sp.; i.e. L. candidum;  alternatively Nymphaea alba)  (I/N)
  • White Oak        (Quercus spp. esp. Q. alba)  (T)
  • White Pine        (Pinus strobus)  (T)
  • Wild Bramble  (Rubus spp.)  (I/T)
  • Wild Cherry        (Prunus virginiana; P. serotina)  (I/T)
  • Wild Hollyhock        (Malva spp.?; Althaea sp.?; Hibiscus sp.?)  (I/T)
  • Rock Polypodium   (Polypodium vulgare)  (I/T)
  • Solomon’s Seal  (Polygonatum spp., esp. P. multiflorum; P. biflorum;  P. virginianum; sometimes Smilacina stellata, a look-alike.)  (I/T)

Domestic Plants

Another collection of remedies used by Osborn were primarily domestic in nature, and were more than likely grown in his garden or in a neighbor’s garden.   Some of these plants overlap with the above listing, and in some cases have since Osborn’s period in local history naturalized to the Dutchess and Orange county areas of the Valley.

  • Agrimony       (Agrimonia eupatoria)
  • Angelica          (Angelica atropurpureum)
  • Anise seed     (Pimpinella anisum)
  • Asparagus         (Asparagus officinalis)
  • Barley        (Hordeum vulgare; H. distichum)
  • Bee Balm; Balm         (Melissa officinalis)
  • Betony         (Betonica officinalis. Stachys officinalis; Stachys Betonica)
  • Bittersweet         (Solanum dulcamara)
  • Black Hellebore   (Helleborus niger)/Tincture of Black Hellebore
  • Borage   (Borago officinalis)
  • Burdock   (Arctium lappa)
  • Burnet   (Sanguisorba sp.)
  • Calamus  (Acorus calamus)
  • Carduus benedictus; Holy (or Blessed) Thistle       (Carduus benedictus)
  • Catnip   (Nepeta cataria)
  • Celandine, Lesser     (Ranunculus ficaria; once known as Chelidonium minor)
  • Chamomile flowers  (Anthemis nobilis)
  • Clown’s Heal-all        (Stachys palustris)
  • Comfrey        (Symphytum officinale)
  • Daisy   (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Bellis perennis?)
  • Elecampane         (Inula helenium)
  • Featherfew   (Chrysanthemum parthenium)
  • Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare; F. dulce)
  • Flaxseed  (Linum usitatissimum; L. sativum)
  • Garden Coltsfoot  (Tussilago farfara)
  • Garlic        (Allium sativum)
  • Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
  • Hempseed  (Cannabis sativa)
  • Horehound    (Marrubian vulgare)
  • Horse Radish  (Armoracia rusticana; A. lapathifolia)
  • Hyssop  (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Lavendar   (Lavendula spp.; especially L. stoechas)
  • Lesser Centaury    (Centaurium minus; C. ramoissimum; C. umbellatum)
  • Licorice Root  (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Maidenhair Fern   (Adiantum spp. esp. A. capillus-venerus; A. pedatum)
  • Marigold        (Calendula officinalis)
  • Marsh Mallows        (Althaea officinalis)
  • Motherwort   (Leonurus cardiaca; L. marrubiastrum)
  • Mustard seed  (Brassica or Sinapsis spp., or close relative(s))
  • Parsley        (Petroselenium vulgaris;  P. macedonium)
  • Plantain  (Plantago major)
  • Radish       (Raphanus sativus)
  • Rhei/Rheum/Rhubarb        (Rheum spp.; esp. R. palmatum)
  • Rock Polypodium   (Polypodium vulgare)
  • Rosemary  (Rosemarinus officinalis)
  • Saffron        (Crocus sativus; C. officinalis)
  • Sage  (Salvia officinalis)
  • Scabious  (Scabiosa arvensis; other species.  Alternatively, Erigeron spp.)
  • Solomon’s Seal  (Polygonatum spp., esp. P. multiflorum; P. biflorum;  P. virginianum; sometimes Smilacina stellata, a look-alike.)
  • Southernwood  (Artemisia abrotanum)
  • Spiderwort  (Tradescantia spp.)
  • Tansy  (Tanacetum vulgare  Linn.)
  • Tormentil        (Potentilla spp., esp. P. tormentilla (Neck.); the local species Potentilla canadensis?)
  • Wormwood        (Artemisia absinthium)
  • Yarrow        (Achillea millefolium)

It is possible that some of these plant names used by Osborn also referred to local plants of similar form and function as the European species.  Such may be the case for common and broadly distributed genera such as Potentilla, Artemisia, Ranunculus, Gentiana, and others.  Some of these plants have very important European histories attached to them, such as the Clown’s Heal All, a plant described by Gerard that was considered to be the poor man’s substitute for the highly popular and highly expense true heal all plants medicines then being marketed.   (Gerard’s work is influentual from ca. 1585-1605).

Proprietary or Official Pharmacopeial Medicines

This next list of medicines that Osborn made use of consists of medicines that at time Osborn produced from scratch, but often were acquired through either an apothecary producing the nostrum or a merchant obtaining the medicine produced in some sort of traditional, ritualistic fashion in a foreign country. (These are all described in the Appendix on Osborn’s medicines).  

  • Balsam of Honey
  • Balsam Peru/Balsamum Peruvianum      (Myroxylon Perierae, or Toluifera Periera (Royle))
  • Balsam Lucatelli/Balsamum Lucatelli
  • Balsam of Sulphated Anise/Sulphated Anise Oil
  • Balsam of Sulphated Turpentine; Sulphated Oil of Turpentine
  • Balsam Tolu/Balsamum Tolutanum     (Myroxylon toluiferum, or Toluiferum Balsamum)
  • Composition Cooling Powder
  • Compound Powder of Contrayerva; Compt pul Contrayerve; Pulvis Contrayervae Compositus
  • Confection Alchermes
  • Conserves of red Rose
  • Crocus Martis Aperient; Crocus Martis Aperitivus
  • Diascordium Electuary
  • Elixir Proprietatis; Elixer of Propriety
  • Elixir Vitriol/Spirit of Vitriol
  • Emplastrum de Minio/Plaster of Red Lead
  • Emplastrum oxycrate/Emplastrum Oxycroceum (?)
  • Ens Veneris
  • Florum Benzoin; Benzoic Acid
  • Haarlem Oil/Harlem Oil
  • Hiera Picra; Tincture of Hiera Picra
  • Lenitive Electuary; Electuarium Lenitivum
  • Pill Coche/Pilule Cochiae/Pill Cochiae majores, or minores
  • Pilule Foetidae/Foetid Pills
  • Poterium/Poteria
  • Unguent alba camphorated (sic); Unguentum album camphoratum   (White Camphorated Unguent/Ointment)

Osborn in fact probably made a number of these medicines.  Some fairly complex formulas like the Balsam of Locatelli, Conserves of Red Rose, Confection Alkermes, Crocus Martis Aperient, Lenitive Electuary,  Diascordium Electuary, Elixir Proprietatis, Haarlem Oil, and Compound Powder of Contrayerva he probably obtained as pre-made mixtures, perhaps sold in sealed apothecary jars.  Others such as the Balsam of Honey, Composition Cooling Powder, Florum benzoin, Pilule Coche, Pilule Foetidae, Tincture of Hiera Picra and Ungent Alba, he probably could have made on his own.

One of the most intriguing medicines Osborn makes reference to is the Ens Veneris–the essence of Venus, a medication akin to the alchemical philosopher’s stone.  In his manuscript Osborn he provides some details on how he personally manufactured this formula and other medicines that require the use of pyrolatry (the alchemist’s skill of fire).  From his description of this magical, metaphysically-contrived remedy, we develop a better understanding of his sociocultural training due to his upbringing in this fairly religious community setting.  (Ens veneris was created ca. 1651/2 by Christian Alchemist George Starkey, and modifed by Robert Boyle about 10 years later to produce the recipe that Osborn employed a century later.)

Commonplace remedies and formulas

Several formulas were fairly popular and somewhat common during Osborn’s years of practice.  These include:

  • Antihecticum Poterii/Poterius’s Antihectic
  • Bole Armeniac; Bole Armeniae; Bole Ammoniac
  • Chalybeatus 
  • Cooler’s Tartar/Cream of Tartar
  • Epsom Salts
  • Flower of Sulphur/Tinctura Sulphuris (Tincture of Sulphur)
  • Glauber’s Salt/Sal Glauberi
  • Treacle
  • Venice Turpentine

Items like the Flower of Sulphur could be made by Osborn, but may have been purchased in pure form via an apothecary or merchant.  The Epsom and Glauber’s salts were patented items sold in a packaged crystal form.  The same could be said for the Bole Armoniac, Chalybeatus and Cream of tartar.

Even more local in nature were the following mineral remedies or non-plant products, each of which had some means for production locally by Osborn and others.

  • Alum    (Alumen/Alumen rupeum)
  • Antimony, powdered
  • Ashes of Wormwood
  • Borax
  • Calomel
  • Magnesia alba
  • Niter/Nitre/Sal Nitre
  • Pyrrol Water
  • Rust of Iron
  • Sal Ammoniac
  • Sal Succin
  • Sal Tartar/Tartar
  • Steel Wine/Steeled Wine
  • Tartar
  • Vitriol/Sal Vitriol

Two of these products required some skill from Osborn, and we know from his writings that these recipes were actually produced by him by hand.  The first, pyrrol water, was a reddish water beverage produced by splashing an iron rod with water, allowing it to rust overnight, preferably fully exposed to air underneath a full moon, and then heating it and “squenching” it in water so as to cool the metal and cause the rust to be dissolved into a concoction enriched with all the elements.  The second, Steeled Wine, involved much the same method, with less emphasis on heat and the additional requirement of converting a wine, not just water, to steeled wine.

Another series of materials that were inorganic in nature, all earth elements,  served as base compounds for some of Osborn’s formulas:

  • Clay soil
  • fine bole
  • Sealed Earth; Hermetically Sealed Earth
  • White Lead

Domestic Ingredients

Osborn’s recipes included a number of domestic or typical household goods, namely:

  • Barbadoes Tar
  • Bread, Freshly baked
  • Constant Drink
  • Diet Drink
  • Honey
  • Ivory Castile Soap
  • Lime Water
  • Loaf Sugar
  • Madiera Rum/Wine
  • Molasses
  • New Milk
  • Olive Oil/Oleum Oliva        (Oliva europaea)
  • Sugar/Loaf Sugar
  • West India Rum
  • Whey
  • Wines, Assorted

Animal Products

Osborn also made use of the following animal products, some domestic or local, some imported:

  • Bees/Beehive
  • Bees Wax (honey comb)
  • Blood of a Cat, besmeared (Civet Cat)
  • Cat Skin
  • Cobwebs (vs. Cubebs?)
  • Hog’s Lard
  • Spermaceti   (Physeter catodon)
  • Corals (dried coral)
  • Crab’s Eyes (a stone like concretion found in certain crayfish and crabs)
  • Partridge Feathers  (Perdix sp.; Perdix perdix: European/Hungarian variety of partridges)
  • Sal Cornu Cervi (burned deer or elk horn)
  • Tincturum Castoreum/Castor fetid  (beaver musk)

Nostrums or Patent Medicines

Osborn mentions a few recipes that were very much patent medicine in nature.  That is to say, these recipes were either his version of the product commonly sold by the local merchants and mountebanks, or they were the actual product sold to a patient. 

  • Ferdinand’s Powder
  • Dr. Hill’s Balsam of Honey
  • Hooper’s Pills
  • Macleen’s Electuary
  • McMunn’s Elixir
  • Morrison’s Pills
  • Theriaca Andromachi
  • Tully’s Powder
  • Turlington’s Balsam (of Life)


The following miscellany are also noted in Osborn’s vade mecum:

  • Sandheat
  • Issue Peas
  • Leaden Mortar
  • Waxed Cork 
  • Whale bone, (ring made of)

Sandheat was a sandbearing tray in which a glass or metal vessel was place, for use in providing a stable constant heat to prepare a recipe with.

Issue Peas are pea-shaped balls of a powdery substance rolled together into this shape between fingers and by hands.  They were used to to keep a wound open, in order to allow the infection to expunge from the body rather than be absorbed internally and dispersed throughout the system (internalization of an infection could be fatal; this fatality was known, although not its cause).

The leaden mortar was used to compound a powder-based remedy for treating piles, to which the lead was added as a part of the preparation process.  (This in fact had a very drying effect on the piles, and was part of a turn of the century product popular until the 1960s, but also quite capable of staining garments due to this lead content.)

The Waxed Cork and Ring of Whale Bone is related to a 16th century device used to treat a prolapsed uterus, mechanically.  This device served as a physical support for the uterus.   


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