Cornelius Osborn’s Materia Medica, ca. 1768

pltstem33Agaric       (Fomes/Polyporus officinalis)

Tree Shelf Fungus.

“agaric”                  “Dr. Firdinand’s Recipe”: p. 78

A fungus used to treat Tuberculosis-induced night sweats.

The official Agaric is a shelf fungus that grows primarily on Larch and sometimes Oak trees.

      Greek herbalist Dioscorides, around 160 A.D., noted this medicine to have “binding and warming virtues” and recommended its use for numerous maladies including dysentery, fever, and “Asthmatical” problems.

      Pomet notes the best Agaric to be “white, light, tender, brittle, and of a bitter Taste, pungent and a little Styptic…”.  He is not as specific as Dioscorides in recommending uses of Agaric, but agrees that it is “not only for purging Flegm, but likewise in all Distempers proceeding from gross Humours and Obstructions,” such as Epilepsy, Vertigo, and Asthma.

      By the time Osborn was learning medicine, the use of Agaric was less acceptible. Its use as a cathartic was rejected by the two most prestigious medical schools that published pharmacopoeias–the London and Edinburgh Colleges.  Another 18th century pharmacopoeia written by Lewis gives its own version, noting that Agaric may still have some value as a styptic.

      Medical historian J. Worth Estes identifies the Agaric as Boletus igniarus, and states that it was used as a styptic.


Agrimony       (Agrimonia eupatoria)

“ageramony”                   Consumption/Decay: p. 12

Used by Osborn for making a Dia-drink Beer (Diet Drink Beer) “for all Decay”.

Roman physicians and their surgeon Galen described this as a hot and dry herb that would “help to stop the bloody flux and close up ulcers”.  Its use as an astringent and tonic was repeated by later herbalists including Nicolas Culpeper (ca. 1640) who recommended it for cleansing the breast and dealing with the cough.

      The Edinburgh Dispensatory notes its value as an aperient, a detergent, and “to strengthen the tone of the viscera.”  During the 18th century, its primary use was as a medicine was for treating debility and laxity of the intestines. 

      It is also noted in the Edinburgh Dispensatory for its use in the spring as a diet-drink, being “not ungrateful to the palate or stomach.”   Since Agrimony was considered a weak astringent, it would later be discarded from the London and Edinburgh Dispensatories.


Aloes   (Aloa species)

“aloes”                                         Consumption: 5

      Part of the Turlington Balsam of Life recipe.

“aloes”, “Aloes”                             Decay: p. 16

      In purging pills/boluses.

“aloes”                                        Jaundice: p. 32

      Pill Coche recipe; Electuary recipe; Bolus recipe.

“aloes”                                   Bilious Colic: p. 40

“aloes”                     “Dr. Firdinand’s” Recipe: p. 78

Several types of Aloe have served as valuable medicines.  Socotrine and Barbadoes Aloes were the chief types; both had to be imported for use.  Socotrine Aloes comes from the Island of Socotra in Africa near the East Indies; Barbadoes Aloe comes from the Barbadoes.  Lewis recognised a third Aloe–Caballina Aloe–that has a distinctly fetid odor.

      In his discussion of the fluids that come from Aloe leaves, Lewis notes one to be yellowish, inclining to red, and therefore resembling the colour of bile or the liver.  Also known as Barbadoes Aloes, Lewis refers to this as Aloe hepatica, in reference to the Doctrine of Signatures suggested by its fluids.  Its tendency towards the reddish colour had lead to its use for treating disorders marked by bleeding.  The Socotrine Aloes on the other hand produces yellow-red lumps that when dried and powdered form a golden powder.  This can also be linked to the bile by eighteenth century practitioners.  Thus, we can understand the use of Aloes by Osborn in accordance with the Doctrine of Signatures, namely for treating the Jaundice that occurs due to liver disorders.

      The use of Aloes for treating Consumption and Decay is also referred to by the Doctrine of Signatures.  These two disorders are often accompanied by a spitting or coughing up of blood and phlegm. Dioscorides discusses the use of Aloes for treating wounds and “ye spitting of blood.”  He felt that it had “the power of the thickening of bodies, & of loosening of ye belly, & of cleansing of ye stomach…it stops ye spitting of blood, & it cleanseth ye icterus.” 

      The ability of Aloes to loosen the belly and cleanse the stomach give reason for its use in the treatment of bilious colic.  Still, Lewis warns against its use because it is so effective as a laxative and can inflame the bowels. 



      Alumen/Alumen rupeum. (Pharmaceutical Latin)

      Other name: Rock Alum or Roche Alum.

“alom roop”, “alum rup”             Dysentery: p. 51, 52

      For an astringent decoction.

“Alm: rup”                                  Whites: p. 66

      As part of a powder blend.

Several types of Alumen rupeum are described by James in his dispensatory.  Its major sources were as mineral deposits in England, Germany and Italy.  It was also produced from urine, Kali (a Potassium salt), and calcined stoned.

      Alum is considered to act as a drying and incrassating astringent.  It was often used to treat diarrhea and bleeding of the lungs during the 18th century.  Lewis refers to this in his description of its use for “lessening improper intestinal flux” (dysentery).  He may be referring to the Doctrine of Signatures when he notes: “Exposed to the fire, it easily melts, emits a copious phlegm, and the turns in to light spongy, white mass…”  (Is this the reason for using it to treat the Whites?)  Cullen also mentions its use for the treatment of Fluor Albes (the Whites) but adds “I have been very often disappointed of its effects.”


Angelica          (Angelica atropurpureum)

(Also A. archangelica, and A. officinalis)

“angelica”                          Consumption:  p. 6

      As part of the Turlington’s Balsam of Life recipe.

“angelica”                                Decay: p. 15

      Syrup recipe for Spitting of Blood.

Traditionally, the best Angelica was believed to have come from Bohemia and Spain.  It was often grown by

colonists in their gardens.

      According to Madame Grieve in her herbal, one legend states that Angelica was revealed by an Angel in a dream as a cure for the Plague.  The plant’s name may have also come from the fact that it blooms on the day of Michael the Archangel (May 8).  It is highly aromatic, making it popular as an herbal medicine for the intestinal tract and respiratory system.

      The roots produce an odorous gummy resin that was used in numerous treatments for the plague such as Alexiterial Water.  Herbalists Gerard and Parkinson recommend it for treating the plague.  Gerard claims it will drive away “pestilentialle air”, and as a wine “It attenuateth and maketh thin, grosse and tough phlegme.”  Parkinson notes its use to make a syrup that is “very profitable to expectorate flegme out of the chest and lunges, and to produce a sweete breath”.

      The seeds were valued as well for their aromaticity, although they were more often used as an aperient (mild laxative) and carminative to treat intestinal disorders. 


Anise seed     (Pimpinella anisum)

“annis Seed”                              Bilious Colic: p. 39

      For a decoction recipe.

“aniseed”                   “Dr. Firdinand’s” Recipe: p. 78

Commonly grown in herb gardens.

The medicinal properties of the seed are similar to seeds from other herbs of the Carrot or Parsley family. (See Angelica and Fennel).  Being rich in essential oils, these plants have served as effective carminatives, aiding an ailing digestive tract.  Gerard notes: “the seed wasteth and consumeth winde, and is good against belchings, and upwardings of the stomacke, alleyeth gripings or the belly…”. 

      He also makes note of the use of aromatic herbs for the treatment of lung diseases:  “being dried by fire and taketh with honey (it) clenseth the brest very much from flegmatick superfluities; and if it be eaten with bitter almonds it doth helpe the old cough.”  In his Materia Medica, Cullen also notes it to “promote expectoration in some diseases of the breast”.  


Antihecticum Poterii/Poterius’s Antihectic

“anty hectic poteara”             Decaying fever: p. 21

Also known as the Jovial Diaphoretic, or Diaphoreticum Joviale, this recipe was named for Pierre de la Poterie, a sixteenth century Paracelsian alchemist and physician from France.

      One way in which this was made was by incorporating Tin (an anti-hysteric) and Antimony Nitrate (a weak diaphoretic and emetic). [Estes].

       James’s recipe makes use of 3 ounces of “the best Tin” and 6 ounces of “Regulus of Tin made with Iron”, melted together in a crucible, then add grease, cool, and make into a fine white powder.  This powder was then immersed in Nitric Acid, heated, re-ground, and then suspended or dissolved in water.  What remains after the milky water is evaporated off is the official medicine.  Lewis gives a similar recipe using “Fine Tin” and “Martialis regulus of Antimony”.

      James notes the useof this medicine for cleansing “the Blood contaminated with Contagion.”  Lewis believed it to be an excellent diaphoretic, and a useful treatment for the hectic.  By the end of the eighteenth century, it was falling into disuse, and in 1804, Cullen thought it to be an inactive and superfluous medicine. 


Antimony, powdered

“Antimony”                             Rheumatism: p. 49

As a chemical element and metal, Antimony was used by alchemists in search of the Philosopher’s Stone.  It was introduced by 12th century German monk Basilus Valentinus who used it for fluxing many of his preparations.  After laying it near his swine he noticed they ate it, only to purge violently.  Soonafter, they began growing fatter.  So he continued this practice only to result in their deaths.  Thus, he gave it the name “Antimony” for “a destroyer of the Monks”.

      The use of Antimony became less popular in the years to come until nearly three centuries later when Paracelsus brought its use back in vogue.  It was soon condemned by an act of Parliament in 1566, only to regain its popularity as a purgative in 1637.

      During the 18th century, when Cormelius Osborn was practicing medicine, Antimony was mined in Germany, France, Hungary, Britany, and Transylvania.  It was officially compounded as a medicine by Dr. Andrew Plummer in England who published his recipe in 1751.  Earlier, Compound of Antimony Powder had been patented by Dr. Osborn’s mentor, Dr. Robert James, as a secret nostrum in 1747.  Yet, it wasn’t accepted as a medicine by the London Pharmacopoeia until 1788.  Eighteenth century writers such as Lewis did not note its use as a remedy for Rheumatism as Osborn concludes.  Cullen does make mention of its use for treating several internal diseases including rheumatism.


Asafoetida    (Ferula asafoetida)

“assafett”           Barring Down of ye Matrix: p. 74

For a Suffumigation Bath Therapy.

Native of India, Persia, Assyria, and Libya.

Asafoetida is an aromatic gum that flows from cuts made in this woody herb or shrub.  Pomets notes the gum to be white, inclining to red, and often very putrid, “for which reason, the Germans call it Stercus Diaboli, or Devil’s Dung.”  Paracelsus claimed it to be “a Specific of the Matrix” and recommended it for the treatment of “Suffocation” noting: “As soon as ever its fume enters by the vulva the disease is expelled.”   By the eighteenth century this gum was considered a valuable medicine for the liver, the spleen, the lungs, and especially the hysteria and other “Diseases of the Head”.  Cullen reiterated this, stating “the force and the diffusibility of the odor allows it to penetrate the nerves more readily than any other vegetable odour. …I have found it to be the most powerful in all hysterical cases.”  To him as well as others “foetid gums have always been commended as emmenagogues.”

      The value of asafoetida’s aromaticity is noted by Cornelius Osborn.  In his treatment for “Barring Down of the Matrix”, he recommends that asafoetida’s odor be retained along with the fumes produced by a low heat. In doing so, by sitting over the suffumigation bath with a towel, the towel directs the fumes towards the matrix (uterus) so as to stop its contractions.


Ashes of Wormwood

      “For a Durat in the Dropsy”         Dropsy:  p. 27, 29

      See Wormwood Ashes, Sal Absinthe.



      (Asparagus officinalis)

“aspara Grass”                                  Gravel: p. 55

For decoction to be taken with Harlem Oil.

Originally Asparagus grew as an abundant weed in Europe.  Colonists brought it to America, not only for its value as a food, but also as a medicine.

      Referred to as “Aspharagos” by Dioscorides, the young stalks were known by the Greeks for their edibility and medicinal virtues.  They were eaten to “mollify the belly and provoke urine”.  Their seeds and roots were said to “help the Dysureticall, Inctericall, Nephriticall, and Ischiadicall…”.

      The Renaissance herbalists including Culpeper, Gerard, and Parkinson were all in agreement with this, noting in particular its ability to expel stones and gravel.  During the 18th century, the roots and shoots were most often employed as medicines; the young tops served as food.  Lewis and Cullen comment on the peculiar odor it imbues to urine.


Balsam of Honey

      “balsms of huney”             Dropsy: p. 26

      See Honey.


Balsam Peru/Balsamum Peruvianum

      (Myroxylon Perierae, or Toluifera Periera (Royle))

“Bals prue”                   Consumption: p. 4

Originally obtained from a tree in Central America, the resin was introduced to Spain around 1525.  The balsam was introduced as a medicine by Nicolas Monardes of Seville in 1574. 

      The balsam is a rather viscous, dark brown liquid,  of a vanilla-like odor and a burning, bitter-acrid taste.  It was valued as a medicine for strenghtening the nervous system and attenuating viscous humours.  Thus its use for treating asthma, dysentery, and other problems that occur due to a debility of solids.  Its use resembled that of many other balsams, gums and resins including Balsam Tolu and Gum Benzoin, also used by Osborn.

      Also see Balsam Tolu.


Balsam Lucatelli/Balsamum Lucatelli

“Bals Locotil”                            Consumption: p. 3

Balsam Lucatelli was invented by Ludvico Locatelli, an Italian alchemist, during the 17th century, and was considered a specific remedy for the plague.

It was prepared from Ointment of Lucatelli, the recipe for which is:

“Take of Alkanet-root, three Ounces; Oil-Olive, or Oil of Walnuts, three pints; let these infuse warm for a Night, then strain off the Oil, where unto add yellow wax, eighteen Ounces; Venice Turpentine, a Pound; simmer them with a slow Heat till they are quite melted; then removing the Vessel from the Fire, sprinkle into it three Ounces of red Saunders, reduced to fine Powder, and keep the whole continually stirring till it be cold, so as to make an Ointment.”  [Fuller]

Fuller then goes on to give a recipe for Lucatelli’s Balsam:

“Take of Ointment of Lucatellus, twelve Ounces; Balsam of Peru, three Drams; mix them together, so as to make a Balsam according to Art.”

Later recipes added Dragon’s Blood for a more elegant color.

      This balsam was used as an astringent and emollient, and served as a treatment for “some coughs and asthmas”, “erosions of the intestines”, dysentery, bruises, bleeding, and the cleansing of wounds and ulcers.  The Doctrine of Signatures may be inferred here due to the resemblance of Balsam Lucatelli to the bloody phlegm coughed up by sufferers of the Consumption. 


Balsam of Sulphated Anise/Sulphated Anise Oil

“Bals Sul anis”               Consumption:  p. 3

“bals Sulph annis”                  Decay: p. 11

“bals Sulph anisum”           Decay: p. 20

Pomet describes this in his “Of Balsam of Sulphur” as “the green or expressed Oil of Aniseed, and the best Flowers of Sulphur, melted and dissolved together…”.  Because of its ability to resist putrefaction, it was considered “a celebrated medicine Medicine in pectoral Cases, being very beneficial in Coughs, Asthmas, Pleurisies, and Ulcers of the Lungs.”  Lemery gives a similar recipe. 

      The Doctrine of Signatures is indicated by the color of the final preparation.  Lemery notes: “the Flowers are perfectly dissolved into a blood-red Balsam…It is good against Coughs, Colds, Asthma, Consumptions, &c., outwardly applied, and is taken inwardly four Drops to twenty.”


Balsam of Sulphated Turpentine; Sulphated Oil of Turpentine

“bals Sulph Terpentine”                     Decay: p. 20

Balsam of Sulphurated Turpentine is an ethereal oil of Turpentine and essentially the same as Haarlem Oil, a 17th century English nostrum. (See Haarlem Oil).


Balsam Tolu/Balsamum Tolutanum

      (Myroxylon toluiferum, or Toluiferum Balsamum)

“Bals Tolue”                              Consumption: p. 4

“bals Tolue”

This balsam comes from a Columbian/Venezuelan tree and was introduced to Spain in 1754 by Nicolas Monardes.  According to Pomet, it is yellow-red to golden-brown in color, and like the Balsam Peru, it has a vanilla-like aroma.  Lemery offers a different description of this aroma that he felt much resembled “the smell of Lemons and Jessamine flowers, but stronger.”

      The uses for Balsam Tolu were as a tonic, a weak laxative, a weak expectorant, and for the treatment of numerous disorders including paralysis, the whites, hemorrhoids, and problems with the urinary passages.


Barbadoes Tar

(Pharmaceutical Latin: Bitumen Barbadense; Petroleum Barbadense)

In an Electuary Recipe for treating Consumption.

Bitumens such as this came from the Islands of Barbadoes, Nevis, and Saint Christopher.  The “Tar” was obtained from mineral or fossil oils and considered the thickest of the “rock oils”.  It was first described in 1629 by Franciscan friar De la Roche D’Allia and later accepted as a medicine for use in the preparation of liniments.  Ingested, it served as a laxative, diaphoretic, vermifuge, and expectorant.  Boerhaave described its virtues as a medicine:

“It is a coarse, unpleasant Medicine, but certainly an admirable Balsamick…of great Efficacy in obstinate Coughs, and many Disorders of the Breast.  Internally…it is a good Digestive, and a mighty Remedy with some for Agues, tied about the Wrists and Feet.”


0_Untitled-13 copy  Barberry    (Berberis sp.)

“berbery” bark                            Jaundice:

For a Decoction Recipe.

Barberry grows in the rocky soils of mountains and hills in North America.  It is very common in New England.  European species were also introduced into this country serving as garden plants and even hedge rows that eliminated the need for fences.  Osborn’s spelling (and inferred pronunciation) of this plant is reminiscent of its Latin name.

      Barberry is a well-known herbal medicine and was  considered valuable as an astringent and a remedy for a number of diseases in accordance with the Doctrine of Signatures.  Its red berries, and yellow inner bark are suggestive of its use as a remedy for cholera and Jaundice.   The berries are use to make a drink that is mildly astringent and serves as a febrifuge; a drink made from the bark acts as a strong laxative. 

      The distinction Osborn made between Barberry and the peperidge is uncertain.


Barley        (Hordeum vulgare; H. distichum)

“barley malt”                                     Decay: p. 12

“Barley Water”                                    Decay: p. 12   

Used for Barley Malt, in the production of assorted diet-drink beers.

Dioscorides speaks of the medicinal virtues of Barley, Zuthos (soured Barley water), and Kourmi (a fermented drink).  He claims that pure Barley has many medicinal virtues whereas he warns about making use of the fermented drink for “it is a causer of the headache, and a breeder of ill humours, & an hurter of the Sinewes.”   The Sour Barley Water was considered “diureticall, but hurting the kidnies & the nerves,…& it is windie, and begetting of bad humours, & causing ye Leprosie.”

      By the 18th century, the definition of beer had changed somewhat.  Barley served as a part of the diet in both its malted and unmalted state.  The malted form was considered to be more medicinal due to the greater release of saccharine material.  Unmalted barley, on the other hand, was considered more valuable as a nutrient. The London and Edinburgh Dispensatories note the value of beer as a pectoral medicine.  Lemery notes Beer to be “of an opening, fortifying, moistning, and refreshing Nature…nourishing enough, and makes People fat….”


Bayberry    (Myrica odorata; M. cerifera; M. gale; M. pennsylvanica)

“bay berrys”                              Decay state: p. 15

Used in a syrup for treating the Spitting of Blood.

Myrica cerifera was used to produce for its wood and wax. Myrica gale grows locally in New York. 

      These North American shrubs were discovered by the settlers and later used for their wax to make candles, plasters to treat scrophulous ulcers, and included in medicines for “black jaundice”.  In general, the Myrica species served as emetics, astringents, and stimulants.  Those with strongly aromatic leaves served as carminatives and sternutatories (snuffs).  They serve to treat diarrhea, jaundice, scrofula, and stomach and uterine disorders.  Little mention is made of using this plant for treating the decay as was suggested by Osborn.


Bee Balm; Balm         (Melissa officinalis)

“Bea: Balm”, “balm”                         Consumption: p. 8

      Decoction recipes for a Hectic.

“balm”                                      Consumption: p. 10

      Tea to be taken with a balsam.

Culpeper wrote of the many virtues of this Balm.  Its lemony vapour made it useful for bathing and was said to open any obstructions of the brain and help purge away any melancholy vapours from the spirits and the blood.  It was used to cure an assortment of diseases including gout, the gripe, swooning, swellings, and the delayed menses.

      Parkinson recommended its use for comforting the heart by making a “baulme-water for sudden passions.”  Lewis attributes its effects to its lemony smell and strong flavor, which are appropriated to the head, stomach, and uterus.  He recommends acidulating it with the juice of lemons to produce “a very grateful drink in dry parching fevers.”  Other herbalists note it to serve as a weak tonic.

      Other Balms/Bee Balms include:

      Monarda fistulosa   of Europe, and

      Monarda didyma      of North America. 

      These were ruled out due to the fact that they were not very popular and they lacked a history of use as a medicine. 


Beer—  See Barley; Diet Drink.



      (Pharmaceutical Latin: Apes, Offic.)

      “bea hive”                                Gravel: p. 56

Used in the production of a Diet Drink “Beer”.

Dr. Osborn’s description for producing the “beer” makes it unclear as to which part of the beehive he is including in his recipe, i.e. the bees, the honey, and/or the hive?   During the eighteenth century, a pharmacist or physician made use of many of the products produced by nature as medicines.   The use of bees as medicine can be found in the literature, along with the less-surprising uses for honey and beeswax in the prezaration of medicines such as sweetened beverages and liniments. 

      It is unlikely that Osborn included the bees in his recipe.  He is probably immersing the hive in water in order to remove them from the hive.  Still, eighteenth century pharmacist James gives a reason for their use were they to be used as a medicine: 

“The Bees themselves, their Honey, the Wax, and Propolis, or Bee Glue, are used in Medicine.  The Salts of Bees are very volatile, and highly exalted; for this Reason when dry’d, powder’d, and then taken internally, they are diuretic and diaphoretic.”  [James] 

The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia notes a simple that can be prepared from bees–Apes praeparatae:  

“Put Bees into a proper vesel, and dry them with a very slow heate”.  [Edinburgh (1737) p. 51]


Bees Wax (honey comb)

“hunney comes”                                  Gravel: p. 56

Used in the production of a “Beer”.

As for the use of the Beeswax, it is unlikely Osborn is making use of this as well in his preparation for treatment of the Gravel.  Chances are he is extracting the honey from the comb for use in producing a medicine  or diet drink. 

      As for the use of beeswax, Dioscorides made mention of some of its properties.  He noted the bees wax to be “pale yellow, sommewhat fatt, & of a sweet savour, and having ye scent, as it were, of the Honey, yet pure…”.  This wax, later known as Cera Flava, is described by Lewis: “a yellow kind, removed from the honey comb by pressing the comb between heated metal plates once the honey is removed.”


Betony         (Betonica officinalis. Stachys officinalis; Stachys Betonica)

“bitony”                                    Consumption: p. 8

      For a Decoction to be taken with Balsam.

“Bitony”                                           Decay: p. 12

      For a Dia-drink Beer for all Decay.

Dioscorides briefly describes its use as a confection for treating disorders of the lungs such as “spitters of pus” and “ye blood spitters”.   Culpeper, Gerard, and Parkinson make little reference to its use as a treatment for consumption or decay.  Lewis and Cullen note its use as an errhine or sternutatory, due to its rough hairs, and its roots capable of causing purging.


Bittersweet         (Solanum dulcamara)

“biter Sweet”                               Rheumatism: p. 47

For a Drink made with Cider and warmed with bread.

Unlike the Tomato and Potato, this Solanum is of Old World origin.  It was introduced as a medicine in Germany during the mid 1500s.  Due to the immigration of Dutch and English settlers it naturalised throughout the United States.

      Dutch physicians valued it as a restorative for rheumatism, jaundice, scrofula, fever, and inflammatory diseases of all kinds.  The twigs vary in flavor from mild to acrid.  The acrid ones were used for the treatment of Rheumatism.


Black Hellebore   (Helleborus niger)

“black heleber”         A Stoppage of ye Terms:

      Tinct: of,

         Added to a Decoction or Tea.

“Heleb: nigrm”                A Stoppage of ye Terms:

This herb grows in the wild in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Africa.  A potentially toxic plant, it was  valued for its use as a purgative during the 15th century.  Its neurological and psychiatric effects led to its use for treating disorders that were associated with the nerves such as hysteria.  Earlier, herbalists and physicians applied it to the treatment of dropsy and amenorrhea (“A stoppage of the terms”).

      Dioscorides wrote: “it purgeth the belly from above, driving out Phlegm, & choler…”.  He considered it effective for the treatment of epilepsy, melancholy, arthritis, and paralysis, and given as a suppository, “it expels ye menstrua & kills ye embrya…”.  Culpeper also notes its ability to “provoke the terms exceedingly…”. 

      This use of the Hellebore continued into the eighteenth century and was again noted in texts by Lewis and Turner who give vivd descriptions of its effects such as numbing of the tongue, and some paralysis.  Pomet felt: “It is almost infallible in Obstruction of the Menses, and may be often be given in such Cases where Steel cannot without danger…”.  He claimed the Steel worked by “encreasing the Blood’s Velocity and by giving it a greater Momentum in the Uterine Arteries,” whereas he felt the Hellebore worked by “dividing it and rendering it more fluid.”

      James gives a recipe for the Tincture of Hellebore as follows:

black Hellebore   4 ounces

Cochineal               half dram

Bruise them and pour thereon a quart of Spanish White Wine.  Digest them together, in a very gentle heat, for 4 days.  Strain off the tincture.

This results in “a very good Diuretic and Deobstruent, and is much used for promoting the menstrual Discharge, in many Cases where Steel acts too forcibly, and excites great Commotions in the Constitution.”


0_Untitled-13 copy   Black Snake Root          (Actaea racemosa or Sanicula Europaea(?))

“black Snake roots”                       Dysentery: p. 51, 52

Part of a Decoction recipe for a strong astringent.

The identification of this plant is uncertain.  Several “snakeroots” are noted in the dictionaries of plants and medicines, i.e.:

Actaea racemosa               Of North Amnerica

Sanicula Europaea       Sanicle, of Europe

Polygala senega 

Aristolochia serpentaria      Virginia Snakeweed  of North America

Eupatorium rugosum                 White Snakeroot of   North America

The Black Snakeroot, or Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa, formerly Actaea racemosa) is probably the plant Osborn is referring to.  As an herbal medicine, it was primarily used for treating menstrual disorders as well as serving as a diuretic, an expectorant, and an alterative.  Referred to as “Squaw-root” by Benjamin Barton in the first American botanical Materia Medica or herbal, it was noted for its use by the Indians for treating sore throats as a gargle and considered to have an effectively astringent root.

      Sanicle (Sanicula Europaea) also served as another herb for treating profuse menstruation, “and all other fluxes of the blood, either by mouth, urine, or stool,” according to Culpeper.  In addition, it was considered an effective treatment for wounds, infections, ulcerations, and other chronic skin diseases.  By treating bleeding and the fluxes of the blood, its use as a remedy for Dysentery may be inferred.

      Of these two alternatives, the former is most likely being referred to by Osborn.  Its availability, local history, and references made by Barton help support this claim.  Later, an early 19th century doctor, Wooster Beach, would refer to the same plant as Black Cohosh and its use as a treatment for Dysentery.


Blood of a Cat, besmeared

      “blood of a cat”       St. Anthony’s Fire: p. 57

      See Cat, Civet.


0_Untitled-13 copy   Bloodroot         (Sanguinaria canadensis)

“blood root”                                Decay state: p. 14

      Tincture or Syrup recipe; for the Spitting of   Blood.

“blood root”                                   Jaundice: p. 31

Bloodroot is a native of Dutchess County.  It is found growing throughout in thinly wooded regions and adjacent fields.  Herbalists best know it as a blood tonic, emetic and expectorant.  When cut or broken, its roots exude a yellow-red exudate which is suggestive of the Doctrine of Signatures.  Blood root has been used to treat menstrual difficulties, liver problems, dysentery, and various skin conditions.  Its nauseant properties made it a good expectorant and in higher doses, an emetic, which is perhaps the reason why Osborn applies it for the treatment of Decay.


Bole Armeniac; Bole Armeniae; Bole Ammoniac

      “bole armon”            Ye Overflowing of the Terms: p. 67

A bole is a clod of earth.  This bole is made up of a clay that originally came from Armenia, thus its name.  Also known as Argillea ferruginea rubra, it contains Aluminum Silicate and Rust.  It is red-yellow to brown in color. Its purest form was considered to be of a bright red color with a tinge of yellow and of a hard, compact nature. 

      Earlier practitioner-chemists such as Hermann Boerhaave argued that bole armeniac, as well as other alkaline earths, interacted with the vegetable acids in the stomach or intestines.  Its medicinal virtues were further ascribed to the sensation of dryness and astringency it gives to the tongue.  By the 18th century, physicians were beginning to question whether or not its effect upon the tongue implied an astringeny once inside the intestinal tract.  Therefore, 18th century practitioners such as Cullen began to doubt its medicinal virtues.  Cullen noted that the boles lacked any solubility in animal fluids.  He was convinced: “I cannot believe in their exerting any astringent power even in the alimentary canal”, adding “I have never found them of any use.”

      By the eighteenth century, few of the boles were being imported from the East where they originated, so the true Bole Armeniae was rarely found in an apothecary.  Still, a description of its medicinal virtues could still be found in the London Pharmacopoeia but not the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia.  Medicinally, it served as an astringent, a hemostat, and an absorbent.  It was taken internally as a treatment for diarrhea, dysentery, “the internal fluxes” such as “thin acrimonious humours”.  Osborn uses it to treat the “fluxes” of menstruation.


Borage   (Borago officinalis)

“burrage”                           Decay state:

Tincture recipe for the Spitting of Blood.

This herb originated in Europe and has naturalised to some degree in the United States.  Along with Comfrey, it could be found in many herb gardens during the 18th century serving as a source for food and medicines.

      It bears a strong cucumber-like odor and is very moist and mucousy when cut.  The leaves were eaten, and the young parts and flowering tops used to make confectionaries.  Parkinson recommends its use in making cordials.

      The flowers were considered medicinal.  Their tea served as a demulcent and a diuretic.  Poultices for wounds could be made using the entire plant.  As for its expression of the Doctrine of Signatures. the mucousy nature of this plant led to its use for the treatment of lung disorders.  Culpeper adds his own recommendations for its use in defending the heart, clearing the blood, mitigating heat, dispelling melancholy, and opening obstructions.  In particular, he recommends it for consumption, sore throat and rheumatism.  As an official medicine, it is only found in the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia.



      “Borax”                         Lying in, or Delivery: p. 76

Borax occurs naturally as colorless, odorless crystalline deposits of anhydrous sodium borate.  Historically, it was obtained from the East Indies during the 18th century, where, according to Pomet, it was referred to as Chrysocolla.  From there it had to be purified and refined.  Today it can be found in immense quantites even in Death Valley, U.S.A..  It was (and still is) used in soaps and other cleansing preparations, rose water ointment, mouth washes, and has served as an antacid.

      Cullen describes its discovery as an invention of Homberg.  Due to its medicinal properties he called it “Sedative Salt”.  It has also served as a febrifuge, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, emmenagogue, and was used to promote labor or delivery.


Bread, Freshly baked

“batch of bread”                      Rheumatism: p. 47

Baked alongside another medicine in an oven.

Bread was used not only as a food but also as a medicine, or the vehicle with which medicine is applied.  In his book on “all Sorts of Foods” Lemery writes: “Bread differs according to the various Things it is made of…and according to how the Dough is prepared and how it is baked.”  He felt that the best was made “of a good Wheat Flower, wherein they leave a little Bran….”  Lemery cautions that “It ought not to be eaten too new because it will clog the stomach, but you ought rather to stay ’till it is a little stalish.” 

      As a food, the bread was not only considered nourishing but also as a crust, it was considered binding; and when leavened and sourish, “composed of volatile and acid Salts, (that) agitates and divides the insensible Parts of the FLower…” thereby easing digestion.

      Breadcrumbs were used in cataplasms to soften, digest, sweeten and dissolve any disturbances.  Monardes describes a use of the bread for treating “the paine of Stone in the Kidnies or Raines.”  Hot bread is laid over the kidneys to “taketh them away.”  In his book Natural Magick, Porta used it to treat the Colic by applying Civet, “the quantity of a Pease”, to the navel, and then laying upon it “a hot Loaf out of the Oven”.

      Osborn’s recommendation that the bread be cooked alongside a medicine he describes suggests that he may either be using the bread to judge the temperature of the oven, to act as a timer, or to be eaten as a nutriment/medicine or used as a carrier for an external treatment for Rheumatism. 


Burdock   (Arctium lappa)

“burdock”                 The Whites, or Fluor Albes: p. 66

The use of Burdock for treating feminine disorders is ascribed to its astrology.  Culpeper described this well in herbal when he wrote:  “Venus challengeth this herb for her own: and by its leaf or seed you may draw the womb which way you please, either upward by applying it to the crown of the head, or downwards in fits of the mother, by applying it to the soles of the feet….”  Like other herbalists he considered Burdock to be “cooling and moderately drying…good for old ulcers and sores.”

      Its leaves and roots were used as a medicine which served as a blood tonic, an alterative, a diuretic and a diaphoretic.  The root was traditionally applied as a blood tonic.  The seeds were decocted for use as a remedy for kidney stones, dropsy and sciatica.  No mention can be found for its use for the treatment of the Whites as Osborn prescribed.


Burnet   (Sanguisorba sp.)

(New World:  Sanguisorba canadensis; S. officinalis)

(Old World:  Sanguisorba minor)

“Burnet”                      Dr. Ferdinand’s Formula: p. 78

The Latin name “Sanguisorba” comes from “Sanguis” meaning “blood” and “sorbeo” for “to staunch”.  This plant serves as an astringent and a tonic.  It is administered internally for all sorts of abnormal discharges including vomiting/purging, diarrhea, dysentery, and the whites. 

      In his A Garden of Pleasant Flowers, Parkinson claims it “to make the heart merrie… and to stay fluxes and bleedings”.  Culpeper claimed very much the same adding “It is a special help to defend the heart from noisome vapours, and infection from the pestilence… The continuous use of it preserves the body in health, and the spirits in vigour.”  Later he writes in his Theatrum Botanicum his recommendation for “all manner of fluxes of blood or humours, to stench bleeding inward and outward, Laskes of Scowrings, the Bloody Flix, womens too abundant courses, and the whites…”.


0_Untitled-13 copy   Butternut    (Juglans cinerea)

“buter nutt”                              Bilious Colic:p. 40

Used in a Decoction, then for producing an Ointment.

Native to the United States.

The Butternut was discovered by the early settlers of this country.  This was one of the few Colonial medicine which Thacher strongly recommended for inclusion in the Revolutionary War listing  of medicines.  Following the war, it was written up in a medical publication by Benjamin Barton who noted its acrid juice and effectiveness as a blistering agent.  He then went on to describe the use of its inner bark as a purgative and the unripe fruit as a milder purgative and anti-inflammatory agent. 

      More can be told in regards to its use by a later writer and Nineteenth century practitioner Wooster Beach, who wrote: 

      “During the American Revolution, when medicines were scarce, this article was brought into use by the physicians of the hospitals, and was esteemed by them an excellent substitute for the ordinary cathartics.”