Cornelius Osborn’s Materia Medica, ca. 1768


Calamus  (Acorus calamus)

“Calamus” roots                     Decay state: p. 15

      Syrup recipe for Spitting of Blood.

“Calames”                                         Piles: p. 43

      Decoction–use is reminiscent of a Sitz bath.

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

This reed-like aquatic plant is found growing along lakes, rivers, and other semi-stagnant waterways around the world. 

      It has been used extensively for its aromatic rhizomes bearing a somewhat bitter, pungent taste.  The sweet smell of this plant made it a popular rush to be strewn across the floors of living quarters to keep them warm.  Other uses have included as an additive to bath salts and perfumes, a cordial, a candy, and medicinally as a carminative, a stimulant, a digestive aid, an intestinal anti-bacterial agent, an additive for the production of cough lozenges, and a remedy for fevers, typhoid and ague.  It is found in a number of Treacles due to the once-popular belief that it served as a resistor of poisons.    

      A description of the best Calamus according to Lemery is:   “The True Sort is bitter, and of a sharp Taste, stomachick, heating, and drying, of thin and subtil Parts, attenuating, inciding, and aperitive.”  The London Pharmacopoeia notes its use in the Theriac and Mithridate’s Treacles.



“Calomel”                                      Decay: p.18, 19

                                                         Dropsy: p. 24

                                                         Jaundice: p. 33

                                                         Bilious Colic: p. 39

Used for treating “pent up blood vessels”.

Calomel consists of Mercurous Chloride, known in Latin as Hydrargyri Chloridium Mite.  It is an odorless and tasteless white powder that yellows with age and was the most popular Mercury-based medicine since the late 16th century.  It was highly valued as a Liver stimulant and an alternative.  In addition it served as a purgative, as well as a biliary stimulant when used with Jalap.

      According to Cullen, Mercury was thought to act as “a stimulant to every sensible and moving fibre in the body to which it is immediately applied…it is particularly a stimulant to every excretion of the system to which it is externally or internally applied.”  Calomel was felt to be the mildest of mercurial medicines, operating upon the intestines as it passes through thereby serving as a laxative.


Camphor   (Cinnamomum camphora)

“Camphor”                                 Rheumatism: p. 46

      Unguent recipe.

“Campher”                                   Pleurisy: p. 79

      Dr. Hill’s Formula.

The Camphor tree is an evergreen tree of tropical and sub-tropical rainforests.  During the eighteenth century it was chiefly harvested in Japan and the West Indies.  A valuable aromatic oil was distilled from its roots and leaves.

      Camphor was used as an essential spirit, an oil, a simple and a compound.  It was externally applied as a liniment for the tratment of arthritis, sprains, rheumatism, asthma, congestion, fevers, and pneumonia.  Internally taken it was used to treat heart problems, and act as a sudorific and stimulant.

      Cullen comments: “This is a substance, whether chemically or medicinally considered, of a very peculiar nature.”  He could not decide whether Camphor served as a cooling or a heating medicine, and whether it acts as a stimulant thereby “exciting a sense of cold air”, or as a sedative thereby “inciting internal pain”.   He recommends its use internally as a treatment for rheumatism and gout. 

      Lewis notes that it “penetrates very quickly”, inducing sweating and acting as a coolant for febrile conditions.  He recommends it for dealing with feverish states adding that it helps prevent mortification in cases of inflammation.


Cardamom         (Eletteria cardamomum)

“Cardemons”                           Decay state: p. 13

As part of the recipe for Metheglin or Wine.

As a Stomach Bitter: serving as an Appetite Stimulant and an anti-febric.

Pomet recognised three types of Cardamom:

The Great Cardamom (Cardamomum Arabum majus)

The Lesser Cardamom–Grana Paradisi sue  Melleugeutta (Cardamomum genus maximum)

Cardamomum simpliciter in Officinis dictum.

Originally native to Southern India, the dried ripe fruits of Cardamom are used as medicine and as a flavoring for medicines.  They are rich in essential oils that are responsible for their effectiveness as a sedative and a carminative.  Regarding their use as a treatment for the Decay, Pomet wrote:  “they serve to attenuate, and refine the gross Humours, to expel Wind, fortify the Head and Stomach, assist Digestion… resist malignant Vapours, and to chew in the Mouth to procure Spittle.”  He considered the Cardamom-water to be a good “Stomachick Water”.


Carduus benedictus–see Holy Thistle

Castile Soap–see Ivory Castile Soap

Castoreum foetidus–see Tincturum Castoreum (Tincture of Castor)


Catnip   (Nepeta cataria)

“Catnip”                                        Dropsy:  p. 29

      Poultice Dressing/Fomentation for treating the Mortification.

“Cat nip”                                       Piles: p. 42

      Ointment made with Leaden Mortar.

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


“Catnip”                            The Epilepticks: p. 80

      As part of a Decoction made with Rum.

This herb can be found growing wild throughout North America.

      Dr. Osborn’s use of it suggests his knowledge of the herbals.  Culpeper considered Catnip to be an herb of Venus and therefore representative of the feminine spirits.  Gerard, Parkinson and Culpeper commended its use against cold pains of the head, stomach, and matrix, “and those diseases that grow of flegme and raw humours, and of winds.”  They also make note of its use as a bath “for women to sit over to bring down their sicknesse and make them fruitfull.”  Culpeper added: “The green herb bruised and applied to the fundiment, and lying there two or three hours, easeth and cureth piles….” 

      The recognition of Catnip as an anti-spasmodic led to its use by Osborn for treating Epilepsy, which he limits his definition to the seizure or convulsion having influences upon the motions of certain body parts such as an arm or leg.


Cat Skin

      (Pharmaceutical Latin: Catus & Felis, Officinalis)

“Take the blood of a Cat… and Skin to be Stript of and besmeared to be Cuvered with the

Skin…”                            St Anthony’s Fire: p. 57

      Osborn is probably referring to the use of a cat such as the domestic feline or a wild variety known as Civet Cat.  The true Civet was not found in North America although another feline bearing similar appearance was noted in early records by Arnoldus Montanus.  This could have been used as the true Civet it was thought to be, or as  substitute, or as an adulterant.

      According to James, the use of the cat in general was thus:  “The Fat, Blood, Head, Dung, Skin, and Secundines are used in Medicine.  The Fat of a Wild Cat heats, mollifies, discusses, and is of great Service in Affections of the Joints.  The Blood cures a Herpes..The Skin is worn to heat the Stomach, and contracted Joints.”

      See Civet Cat.


Celandine, Lesser     (Ranunculus ficaria; once known as Chelidonium minor)

      “Sulendine”                               Piles: p. 42

Used in Ointment recipe with Leaden Mortar.

      Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus) and Lesser Celandine (Chelidonium minor) were both considered medicines during the 18th century.  Lesser Celandine is a very small plant that grows in moist meadows and hedgesides.  Originally from Europe, it has naturalised along the East Coast.  The Greater Celandine is the most commonly cited Celandine used as a medicine in contemporary reviews of historical literature.  Of these two, Osborn is probably referring to the Lesser Celandine.

      The Doctrine of Signatures suggests the use of Greater Celandine as a treatment for Liver disorders such as Jaundice.  Its bright yellow flowers and the yellow to orange exudate given off by its cut roots are more indicative of bile than blood.  Lesser Celandine, on the other hand, had a Doctrine of Signatures that was highly suggestive of the Piles and was commonly referred to as “Pilewort”.  Lewis gives an impressive description of its roots, reminiscent of the piles for which it was used as a medicine in accordance with the Doctrine of Signatures: 

“the roots consist of slender fibres, with some little tubercles among them, which are supposed to resemble the haemorrhoids; from whence it has been concluded, that this root must needs be of wonderful efficacy for the cure of that distemper…”  

      In his herbal, Culpeper gave a similar description of the roots, adding a description of the leaves and their pile-like nodes which to him appeared “flat, smooth and shining, but in some places marked with black spots, each standing on a long foot-stalk.”



“Chelbeats”                                 Dropsy: p. 33

“Chlebates”                             Pleurisy: p. 38

“Chelebets”               A Stoppage of ye Terms: p. 71

The Chalybeatus is a drink impregnated or flavored with Iron.  Also known as Steel Wine, it was made from ferrous salts or oxides, and water.

      In his Joyfulle Newes of the Newe Found World, Nicolas discusses Iron and Steel in a section entitled “The Dialogue of Iron”.  He wrote “…in Latine it is called Chalibs, by reason of certeyn smal townes that were so called, whereas was yron most strong and harde.  The steel serveth for many things, because it is of greater might, and stronger that yorn….”

      According to Cullen, like other metals, Iron had to be combined with an acid to render it active as a medicine.  These acids present themselves in the stomach or in the form of certain medicines that the Iron was combined with.  Once the Iron was introduced into the acid, the medicine became an astringent-tonic that worked “by increasing the tone of the vessels and increasing their vigour and activity.”  He adds that in the case of the blood vessels of the uterus, a laxity or weakness causes a retention of the menses. In which case, Chalybeates works by “invigorating the force of the vessels”.   Cullen was also a believer in the Doctrine of Menghini which states that the amount of Iron present in the blood remains constant in a state of good health.  Being a tonic, Chalybeatus was often taken as a nutritional supplement.

      The following recipe for the Chalybeatus or Steel Electuary is given by Fuller:

“Take of the Conserve of the yellow Part of Lemon-peel, an Ounce and half; that of Orange-peel, an Ounce: candied Ginger, Rust of Iron (ground exceeedingly fine upon a Porphyre) each half an Ounce; distilled Oil of Nutmegs, four Drops: of Cloves, two Drops; of Mint and Wormwood, each one Drop; Syrup of Steel, a suitable Quantity to mix the whole into an Electuary.  The Dose thereof is two or three Drams.”

Buchan gives a similar recipe for Chalybeate, or Steel Wine and recommends it for treating what Osborn refers to as “A Stoppage of ye Terms”:

“Take filings of iron, two ounces; cinnamon and mace, of each two drachms; Rhenish Wine, two pints.  Infuse for three or four weeks, frequently shaking the bottle; then pass the wine through a filter.  In obstruction of the menses, this preparation of iron may be taken, in the dose of half a wine-glass twice or thrice a day.”

      Throughout his manuscript Osborn makes reference to the Chalybeatus or Steel Wine, as well as several other medicines of his made from Iron.  Ironically he fails to mention any of these for one disorder common for that time due to malnutrition–the Green Purges that occurred in associaiond with Iron deficiency.  

      Also see: Crocus Martis; Ens Veneris; Iron; Steel Wine.


Chamomile flowers  (Anthemis nobilis)

“Camamoil flors”                  Bilious Colic: p. 39

Part of a recipe for a Decoction.

A variety of Chamomiles are noted in the herbals.  What is best known today as chamomile is different from the chamomile referred to by Osborn and by most 18th century herbals and pharmacopoeias.  Today’s Chamomile is Matricaria chamomila, whereas Anthemis nobilis was considered the official medicine back then.

      Dioscorides states: “there are three kinds, differing only in ye flowers”.  Numerous chamomiles were also noted by Parkinson; Cullen recognised two varieties.  Today we know the official Chamomile as Roman Chamomile or Mayweed (Anthemis nobilis).  A close relative to it that is native to America, Dog’s Fennel (Anthemis cotula).  It resembles Chamomile in its overall appearance, but lacks the pleasurable smell of the European variety, so it was probably not used by Osborn except as a substitute and/or without intent being it was also harvested for use as an adulternat or counterfeit drug. 

      According to Parkinson, the virtues of Chamomile led to its “divers and sundry uses, both for pleasure and profit, both for inward and outward diseases, both for the sick and the sounde, in bathings to comfort and strengthen the sounde, and to ease paines in the diseased….”  He recommends its flowers to be boiled as a tea so that they may “provoketh sweat, and helpeth to expell colds, aches, and other griefes.”  Gerard recommended it for colic and the stones, as well as for aches and pains, and coldness of the stoamch.  Cullen and Lewis note its bitter taste and suggest that its effectiveness as a stomach tonic, an anti-diarrheal agent, and a febrifuge is due to this.  Barton comments briefly on the use of the flowers as a mild bitter-tonic, but recommends that others be used.


Cherry, Wild–see Wild Cherry.


Civet Cat

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

The use of animal blood as a medicine was discussed by Dioscorides:

“The blood of a Goose, a duck or drake, a kidde, an wood Culver, a Turtle, a pidgeon, a Partridge, and goates, &c. have their uses…the Hares bloud being anointed on warme, doth cure sunburnings….and Dogges bloud being drancke, is good for such as are bitten by a mad-dogge, and for such as have drancke poyson.” 

      No direct reference to the use of animal blood for St. Anthony’s Fire is mentioned by Dioscorides.  Yet, he goes on to state: “ye menstruous bloud of a woman, being anointed around her….doth mitigate ye paines of ye gout and Erysipelata.” (Erysipelas is another term for St. Anthony’s Fire.)  Osborn may have used animal blood to treat this disorder.  Yet, a better explanation is at hand regarding his treatment for St. Anthony’s Fire.

      The Oxford dictionary gives as one definition of blood–the blood-like liquid of an animal or plant.  Similarly, the definition of Cat includes animals of similar appearance to the domesticated cat Felis/Catus domesticus.  In a letter to Europe entitled “A Description of New Netherland”, written by Arnoldus Montanus in 1671, the civet-cat or “musk cat” is noted to exist in New York.  Eighteenth century apothecarian Pomet describes the medicine derived from Civet Cat as a musk extracted from a gland located between its hind-legs.  This medicine was felt to comfort the spirits and served as a treatment for “all Diseases of the Head, Brain, and Womb…”  Its value led to counterfeiting.  Whereas the best Civet was white to yellow in color, counterfeit Civet, which Pomet referred to as “Guinea Civet”, was of a reddish tone.  Osborns lack of understanding of the origin of Civet may have led to his referring to it as cat’s blood due to his receiving the more common counterfeit samples.

      See: Cat’s Skin.


Clay soil

“Claye Soil”                              Rheumatism:  p. 48


Plaster–Laid onto the afflicted area as a warm sod.

See: Bole Armeniaca.


Clown’s Heal-all        (Stachys palustris)

“Clowns heal all”                   Decay state: p. 14

Tincture or Syrup recipe for the Spitting of Blood.

This plant has a great reputation as an effective vulnerary, or treatment for wounds.  Therefore, it bears the other common name Clown’s Woundwort.  Gerard coined the name for this herb, making it famous as a folk medicine in his herbal where he gives an account of his first attempt to use this plant as a medicine.  He writes of his attempts to use it as a poultice to treat a countryman wounded by a scythe:  “I saw the wound and offered to heal the same for charitie, which he refused, saying I could not heal it so well as himself– a clownish answer, I confesse without any thanks for my good-will: whereupon I have named it “Clown’s Woundwort.”” 

      Nearly a century later, Culpeper, notes this herb to be “of a dry and earthy quality” and “very valuable in staunching blood, and to dry up the fluxes of humours in old fretting ulcers, cankers, &c., that hinder the healing of them.”  He recommends a syrup for treating inward wounds, broken blood vessels, and spitting, voiding, or vomiting of blood.”

      Estes suggests that this may be another common herb for New England, Prunella vulgaris, commonly known as Heal All or Self Heal; little was written about this herb by the time Osborn had become a physician.  Josselyn discusses the “Clownes all heal of New England…another Wound Herb…”, identified by some as Vervain (Verbena hastata).  Of these three possibilities, Prunella was probably the most available one for Osborn to make use of; Stachys is of European origin.



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

Note: It is also possible that “Cubwebs” refers to Cubebs. 

Spider Cobwebs or Aranearum Telea is discussed as an official medicine in the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia.  According to the Edinburgh, Cobwebs were “never met with in prescriptions anymore; but are sometimes applied by the common people to stop the bleeding of slight wounds…”



      (Citrullis colocynthis)

“Colocynth”                         Bilious Colic: p. 40


Clyster/Ointment recipe

Also known as Bitter Cucumber, Bitter Po, Bitter Apple and Coloquintida, this plant was native to Turkey, Africa, Asia, Smyrna and Trieste.  Most of it was grown and harvested in Turkey.

      Pomet described Colocynth as “one of the bitterest and most purgative Drugs in Physick”.  He recommended that it be used only after the seeds are removed.  The very light, spongy part of the dried fruit was considered medicina.  It was thought to cohere and stick to the intestinal wall thereby irritating it and eroding it.  Excessive amounts caused violent griping and bloody discharges.  Due to this, many practitioners such as Lemery felt “it ought to never be administered alone, but used in Compositions such as Pills, Confections, Troches, and the like.”  To exemplify its strength as a purgative, he adds “mixed with Ox Gall (it) will purge Children if apply’d to the Navel.”

      The seeds that are removed are sometimes covered with sugar and sold by confectioners “to catch or delude Children with.”  It is interesting to note that powdered seeds are found in another one of Osborn’s recipes, the Lenitive Electuary.

      Dioscorides’s “Kolokuntha” was the common, edible Cucumber (Cucumis sativus).  It was bruised and laid upon wounds, infections, and inflammations.  Pieces of it were laid upon sore eyes, and areas inflamed by the gout.  The juice was “dranke with a little Honey and Nitre” to “gently loosen the belly”.


Comfrey        (Symphytum officinale)

“Cumphrey” roots                    Consumption: p. 10

      Recipe for a Syrup to be used with Balsam.

“Cumphre”                                 Decay state: p. 14

      Tincture of Syrup for the Spitting of Blood.

“Cumphre” roots                           Whites: p. 66

      Decoction or Syrup.

This originated as a European plant that was brought over for use as a medicine and a salad herb.  Its young tops were considered edible and were used to make a tea.  Its roots were also valued for their medicinal virtues.

      Dioscorides described a drink for lung disorders: “being sodden with Melicrate, and drank doth rid up noysome stuff from ye lungs…it is given with water to such as cast up blood….”  Other uses to him included the treatment of convulsion, ruptures, new wounds, inflammations, and “the womanish red-flush”; no mention was made of the Whites or Flour albes.

      Gerard and Culpeper note its high mucilaginous consistency.  Both agree that “The Great Comfrey restrains spitting of blood and bloody urine”, as well as aids in curing the fluxes and humours, and stopping the excess flow of practically any body fluid.  Lewis feltd that this herb was “full of viscous glutinous juice, of no particular taste,” but disagreed with the “many ridiculous histories of the consolidating virtues of this plant.”  Cullen does not add to this, except to agree that Comfrey is of service for treating diarrhea, dysentery, and the spitting of blood.  The London and Edinburgh Dispensatories recommend a Compound White Decoction of Comfrey made with a Hog’s Lard base. 

      The use of Comfrey for treating the Whites is not mentioned, although it can be inferred by applying the Doctrine of Signatures to the mucilaginous quality of Comfrey and its Compound White Decoction.  A nineteenth century physician Wooster Beach would later claim Comfrey to be very useful for dealing with the Whites as well as serving as a treatment for consumption.


Composition Cooling Powder

“Comp Coolin Pul”            Continual Feviour: p. 64

“Compt Cool. in pul”

This medicine was primarily made up of Sodium bicarbonate, Sodium tartrate, and Tartaric Acid.  It served as an aperient and a refrigerant.

      Hoblyn’s Dictionary (1846) gives the following:

2 Drachms   Potassium tartrate

2 Drachms         Sodium tartrate

      in a blue paper;

1/2 Drachm  powdered Tartaric acid

      in a white paper.

Add to 1/2 pint of water.  Add recipe contained in blue paper followed by the ingredients contained in the white paper.

      An earlier version of this recipe would make use of Tartar and Sal Tartar for making this medicine.


Compound Powder of Contrayerva; Compt pul Contrayerve; Pulvis Contrayervae Compositus

“Compound pouder of Contrayerva”         Pleurisy: p. 35

“Compt ponder Contrayerva”    Continual Feviour: p. 62,                                                         p. 64.

Also known as Compound Powder of Crab’s Claws or Pulvus Chelarum Cancri Compositus.  This is an ancient remedy that served as an Alexipharmic.  Originally, an alexipharmic was meant to be used as an antidote to poisons, it later developed other uses such as as as an antiseptic and diaphoretic.  By the eighteenth century, the Alexipharmic became synonymous with Huxham’s Tincture, a remedy for certain classes of fevers.  As a result, many eighteenth century practitioners, like Cullen and Osborn, recommended the Compound Powder of Contrayerva for use as an antiseptic and a powerful stimulant for treating fevers.

      Numerous recipes were used to make this compound medicine.  Fuller’s recipe was:

“Take of Contrayerva-root, half an Ounce; Pearls, red Coral, each three Drams; Amber, six Drams; the black Tips of Crab’s Claws, two Ounces: Mix these together for a Powder.”  He notes”the Contrayerva makes it more heating, stomachic, and diaphoretic.”

      The Edinburgh Dispensatory recipe makes use of Contrayerva, Virginia Snake-root, Cochineal, English Saffron, Bole Armonic, and Powder of Crab’s Claw.  Later recipes would substitute English Saffron for Crab’s Claw regarding its use as a colorant.

      Most interesting are the Crab’s Claws, also known as Crab Stones or Cancer Lapilli.   These were actually stones found in the gut of a Crayfish (Astacus fluviatilis) imported from Russia that were often counterfeited with other forms of clay.  According to Estes, they were comprised of Calcium Carbonate.  Other sources of Calcium Carbonate include Chalk or Creta, and Red Coral (Corallium rubrum).

      Once the mixture was complete, the resulting powder was taken and formed into balls known as Lapis Contrayervae.  These were used for storage of the medicine and had to be re-pulverized for use.

      See: Contrayerva (“Rad: Contraver”); Crab’s Eyes.


Confection Alchermes

“Confect alchermes”                                Decay: p. 21

The name Alchermes or Alkermes is derived from the Arabic term “al-qirmiz”, referring to a Scarlet-grain Insect known as Kermes (Coccus illicis).  During the eighteenth century, this medicine was primarily found in Portugal, Spain, Provence, and Languedoc.

      Apothecarians were uncertain whether Kermes was an insect or a gall.  In his writings of Virginia, Captain John Smith notes: “The fruits are of many sorts and kinds, as Alkermes, Currans, Mulberries…” (1624).  Around the same time, Sir Francis Bacon described the kermes as a “berry” Advancement of Learning (1605).  By the early 18th century, John Quincy’s English Dispensatory stated:  “The Juice of the Berries is wonderfully grateful to the palate, and a fine Cordial.” (1718).   Others referred to it as the Scarlet Grain, the “Excrement of a little Shrub, whose Leaves are prickly, almost like those of Holly…”

      Pomet made an attempt to clarify what exactly the Kermes was:

“It is proper here to remark the Impropriety with which the Drug is called Grain, or Seed; it being no other than small Bladders, which are formed on the Leaves and Bark of a little Shrub… for Proof of which I shall declare what the first Physician informed me of by Letter, December 22, 1694:  the Kermes is not a Seed, but the Shell of a little Worm, which produces it by pricking the Bark of the Ilex or Holm Oak, on which it is frequent, and incloses itself in the Juice that flows out at the Wound, as the Worms which Occasion the Galls.”

      Estes identifies it as a pregnant female insect, Coccus ilicis, once thought to resemble a berry found on an evergreen Oak (Quercus coccifera). 

      It was used to make the scarlet dye for Pope Paul II in 1464, and replaced the traditional Tyranian purple color of the Cardinal’s apparel.

      As a medicine, Dioscorides wrote about the Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), of which “being bruised and beaten small, doe help Oedemata, and doe strengthen the feeble parts.”  Its black hairy bark was used as a source for a black hair dye.  

      Lewis described its elegant, agreeable value in Cordials.  It is mildly astringent, and served as a general and cardiac tonic. 

      Fuller’s recipe for the “Electuary (called Confection) of Alkermes” (Electuarium Alkermes, Confectio dictum) was:

“Take of fresh Juice of thorough ripe golden Pippins, procured by a gentle Expression, and unclarified, a Quart;  the strained Juice of Kermes, three Pints; the finest Sugar, eighteen Ounces; boil these together into a pretty thick Syrup:  Then removing it from the Fire, whilst it remains warm, add thereunto Ambergrease, two Drams, first cut small and well rubbed in a Mortar, with Oil of Cloves, three Drops, and Powder of Hart’s-Horn, two Drams:  When these are well mixed, add Cinnamon in Powder, an Ounce and Half; Species of Diambra, half an Ounce; Leaves of Gold; the best Musk, half a Scruple:  Bring the Whole into an Electuary, or Confection, according to the Rules of Art.”

      A Kermes mineral was considered medicinal as well.  It was officially known as Sulphurated Antimony, and used as a secret remedy during the latter part of the reign of King Louis XIV.


Conserves of red Rose

“Conserve red Rose”                         Consumption: p. 3

Bolus or Lohock for Consumption.

Many different varieties of Rose were recognised by herbalists and apothecarians.  Often each one was considered to have its own medicinal virtues. 

      Concerning the medicinal Roses, Pomet wrote mainly of the Provins Roses, “Of a deep Red and velveted”. Common white roses were felt to be of little value.  Of their virtues Pomet notes: “These Provins Roses are Flowers much esteemed by all the World, because they are astringent and cordial, strengthen the Nerves, and other weak Parts of the Body: they are of considerable Use in Physick, and enter several Compositions of Value…The true Provins Roses are so esteemed in the Indies, that sometimes they will sell for their weight in Gold.”  He recommends the use of Roses in a syrup, and as liquid and dry conserves.

      Pomet also recognised the use of the Rose hip from Red Roses to make conserves and a tea.

      For the gathering of Roses, Lemery recommended “You ought to Observe to gather all your Roses in the Morning before the Sun has got high, for then the essential Parts are, as it were, concentrated by the coolness of the Night; otherwise when the Sun has been upon them, it exhales a considerable Part from them.”  Thus indicating that they were highly prized for their aromatic nature.

      Cullen recognised all of the Roses as having the same medicinal properties.  He recognised that they had less versatility regarding their use as medicines, instead admiring them for their fragrances.  He accepted their use as an astringent and suggests that they may also be used to produce a syrup and an infusion, but adds, their best virtues would be found in a conserve made of them.

      Fuller gives a description of how to prepare Conserves of Red-Roses: 

“Take of red Rose Buds, one Pound; bruise them with a wooden Pestle in a Marble Mortar,ading by degrees of white Lump Sugar, powdered and sifted, three Pounds; continue beating them, till no Particles of the Roses can be seen, and till the whole appears a similar and homogenous Mass.”

      Buchan adds “(in) the same manner are prepared the conserves of orange-peel, rosemary-flowers, … and of the leaves of wood-sorrel, &c.”  He recommends the Conserves of Roses noting it is “one of the most agreeable and useful preparations…A Drachm or two of it, dissolved in warm milk, is ordered to be given as a gentle refrigerant in weakness of the stomach, and likewise in phthisical coughs, and spitting of blood.”

      Estes identifies this variety or Rose used as Rosa Damascena.  The Rose hips come from Rosa Gallica.

The following is from Fuller’s Dispensatory, 1739


Constant Drink–see Diet Drink



      (Dorstenia Contrayerva; D. braziliensis)

“Compound pouder of Contrayerva”          Pleurisy: p. 35

      For a powder blend.

      For Pleurisy with a feverish state.

“Rad: Contrayerve”              Continual Feviour: p. 62, 63      For a Decoction.

“Rad: Contrayer”               Continual Feviour: p. 64

The discovery of the New World by Spain also meant the discovery of this medicinal herb.  Different species of Contrayerva grow in Mexico, Vera Cruz, and Brazil.  Lemery notes a species from England.

      Pomet gives a description of this herb’s medicinal root:

“The Contrayerva is the Root of a Plant which has green creeping Leaves, full of small Fibres of the Figure of a Heart, in the middle of which arises a Stalk wholly naked…”

He recommends that fresh roots be chosen, yellow-red in color and white within, and with long filaments and a knotty appearance.  He considers it to be an Alexipharmick–“very powerful for resisting several Sorts of Pains.”  The name Contrayerva is from the Spanish words meaning “Counter Pain”.

      A century earlier, Parkinson wrote: “it is good against agues, either tertian, quotidian, or quartaine, to be taken before the comming of the fit…”.  Later physicians and apothecarians would agree with Parkinson, recommending Contrayerva for poisons, infections of the Plague, spotted fever, measles, small pox, the bloody flux, rheumatism, sciatica, and pains in the head, chest, and other afflictions.  It was felt “to preserve the heart & vitall spirits from danger, and to expell it by sweating, &c.”, thus its use for treating pleurisy.

      Osborn uses this herb primarily as a Diaphoretic.  This use for Contrayerva is hinted at by Parkinson who wrote abouts its ability to work by “forcing the pain upward, and avoiding and expelling it by sweating”.

      See: Composition Powder of Contryerva.


Cooler’s Tartar/Cream of Tartar

“Cooler’s Tartar”                   Continual Feviour:

The traditional source for Tartar this was as a crystalline substance deposited in German wine casks due to the fermentation of grape juice.  The best was felt to come from Montpellier. 

      Consisting primarily of Potassium bitartrate, Tartar was considered to serve as a coolant and antiseptic, quenching the thirst and correcting or preventing putrefaction.  A larger amount served as a mild laxative. 

      Pomet:  “The Cream, or Crystals of Tartar, is a white or red Tartar reduced to Powder, and by Means of boiling Water, converted into little white Crystals…”  When found sticking to wine casks he notes “It ought to be thick, easy to break…brilliant within, and as little earthy or dreggy as may be.”  The tartar from red wine was considered inferior to the white.

      As a medicine Pomet felt it served “to attenuate and dissolve gross and tartarous Humours, which cause Obstructions in the Regions of the Belly, Liver, Spleen, Mesentery, Pancreas, Reins and Womb.”  It was considered a universal Digestive and was commonly given with Jalap and Senna as a strong Purgative.   As for the treatment of fevers he notes “it is good for all such as are naturally hot and costive.”

            See Sal Tartar/Tartar(?)



“Corals”                                    Dysentery: p. 53

Calcined to form a salt or ash for use as a medicine.

Of all the Corals, historically, the bright red coral was considered the most medicinal.

      Dioscorides describes “Korallion”:

“Corall (which some have called Lithodendron) seems to be a sea plant, and to be hardened when it is drawn out of the deep… ye best is that which is deep red in colour…easy to pound…withal having a mossy smell, alike to seaweeds, and withal having many branches, & imitating Cinnamon in ye form of little shrubs.”

A Doctrine of Signatures is inferred by Dioscorides’s recommendation for using it to treat a spitting of the blood.

      Pomet also referred to Coral as “a Plant that grows at the Bottom of the Sea” adding “it is cover’d with a Bark that is adorned with Pores like Stars.”  That “bark” is the living organism found in all corals.  He noted it as being smooth and almost oily, and did not recognise it as being a living creature, but rather as “a tartarous Crust, red upon the red Coral, and white upon white.” 

      He recognised four types of Coral, including Red, White, and true White, which he valued as being “the scarcest and dearest”.   A black Coral was also known.  Referred to as “the Antipathes”, it was felt to be of no use at all.

      Medicines were prepared from the coral by either tincturizing or powdering it.  According to Pomet, “By means of certain Acids, they make the tincture of red Coral, which is afterwards reduced to a red Syrup, which is reckoned an admirable Cordial, and used to purify and cleanse the Mass of Blood.”  It was also “prepar’d by levigating it on a fine Marble into a fine subtile Powder.”   He adds, the powder was felt to be cooling, drying, and astringent, and used to strengthen the heart, stomach, and liver, and purify the blood.  It helped stop bleeding along with the fluxes of the body for which reason Osborn used it to treat Dysentery.

      The Red Coral served more as an absorbant and was used like the pulverized Crab’s Claw.

The following is from Pierre Pomet’s Compleat History of Drugges . . .


Cortex Peruviana

      “Cort: prue/pruv”                Continual Fever: p. 63

      See Quina Quina/Tincture Peruviana.


Crab’s Eyes

“Crabs eys”                             Dysentery: p. 53

Crab’s eye, also known as Crab’s Claw, is a round conretion found in the stomach of Crayfish and some other crustacea. 

      In his Chapter on Animals, Pomet wrote “Of the Sea-Crab and Craw-Fish”:

“As to the Craw-Fish, we sell nothing but certain little white Stones, made in the form of Eyes, from where they take their Name., tho’ very improperly, since they are nothing but little Stones which are found in the Head of the large Craw-Fishes.  These Stones, which are called Crabs Eyes, or Oculi Cancrorum, are never found but in May or June, which are at the Times that the Craw-Fish leave their Shells.  The Craw-Fish, or Crevise Stones, which we now sell at Paris, come from Holland…”

The popularity and scarcity of Craw-Fish at certain times led to the production of counterfeits.  Pomet goes on to describe these:

“…if we can believe a Physician of the Poland Envoy, who was a very honest able Man…he assured me, that what we sell now under the Denomination of Crabs Eyes, was nothing but a white Earth washed and made into little Pastiles, and molded with little Instruments made for that Purpose…and afterwards baked to a Dryness and sent over to us.” 

To tell the counterfeits, he recommends that they be tested by burning them, for “they blacken and calcine as all Bones and Shells do…”.  In America, tobacco-pipe clay and other chalks were also used to make counterfeits.

      Crab’s Eyes was most often used in the form of a Levigated Powder (see recipes for Coral).   It served to “absorb Acids, open Obstructions, and cleanse the urinary Passages of Gravel; to provoke Urine, and bring away the Stone…”.

      Crab’s Eyes (Cancrorum Oculi) are mentioned in an acquisition of drugs during the Revolutionary War.


Crocus Martis Aperient; Crocus Martis Aperitivus

“Croc mart apperent”                      Dropsy:

“Crocus Martis Aperitive” translates to “Iron Rust Opener”.  The use of “Martis” comes from the alchemical association of Iron with the planet Mars.

      A simple recipe used for producing Iron rust was heating a mixture of Sulphur and pure Iron Filings.  The purest Iron filings could be collected from a blacksmith’s shop using a magnet through some gauze to filter out the debris; (an easier task for Dr. Osborn to say the least). [Estes]. 

      A more detailed description of how to make this medicine is offered by Pomet:

“Of the aperitive Saffron of Mars, or the Crocus Martis.”

“The Crocus Martis…is a preparation of Iron or Steel which is made after three Manners:  the First, by exposing Plates of Iron to the Dew.  The Second is by sprinkling the filings of Iron with Rain Water, or Water mixed with Honey; from whence, after some Time, you shall have a Rust of a brown Colour…a third Way, which is to take a Piece of Steel, and heat it in a Smith’s Forge, and then applying to it a Roll of Sulphur, melt it down, and reduce it into a Powder…put in a Crucible, together with more Sulphur, and reduce it by the Fire…into a Powder of a beautiful red Colour…”     

      Pomet considered this “an excellent Remedy for the Dropsy, and to cure Green Sickness.”

      The Astringent Saffron of Iron (Crocus Martis astringens) was Crocus Martis Aperitive washed several times with vinegar and, according to the Edinburgh Dispensatory, “reverberated a long Time in a very vehement Fire.”

      See: Chalybeatus; Ens veneris.


Cubebs  (Piper cubeba)

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

The Isles of Java, Bantam, and other parts of the Eastern World produced great quantities of this herb.  A close relative of Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), it was also known as Tailed Pepper due to its resemblance to the pepper corn.  Pomet describes the Cubeb corn as “a little Seed, or Berry, so like the Black Pepper, that if it was not for their little stalke or Tail, and that they are a little greyish, no Body could find out the Difference between them and Pepper.”  Its odor and flavor are also reminiscent of the table-top pepper. 

      Pomet felt Cubebs to be “of some use in Physick, from the pleasant Taste, especially when held in the Mouth without chewing, likewise of admirable Use to make the Breath sweet, and help Digestion.”  For the “Barren Woman”, he felt it would take away “the Coldness, Moistness, and Slipperiness of the Womb.” 

      Cullen felt that the heating powers made both Pepper and Cubebs effective medicines for the intermittent fevers.  Other uses included as a remedy for urinary tract infections, (i.e. the Whites, cystitis, and urethritis), as well as the Piles and bronchitis. 

      See: Cobwebs.